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How fast are the "Mid-2011" Aluminum "Unibody" Mac mini models compared to the "Mid-2010" models replaced?
Please note that all models mentioned in this Q&A have been discontinued. The "Mid-2011" Mac mini models were replaced by the "Late 2012" Mac mini models on October 23, 2012. For more recent performance Q&As, please refer to the main Aluminum Mac mini Q&A page.
Apple formally proclaims that the "Mid-2011" Aluminum "Unibody" Mac mini models -- the Mac mini "Core i5" 2.3 (Mid-2011), "Core i5" 2.5 (Mid-2011), "Core i7" 2.7 (Mid-2011) and "Core i7" 2.0 Server (Mid-2011) -- "deliver up to twice the processor and graphics performance of the previous generation."
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (Non-Server Mid-2010 - Left, Mid-2011 - Right)
With a quick review of a comparison between the "Mid-2011" models and the "Mid-2010" models replaced -- the Mac mini "Core 2 Duo" 2.4 (Mid-2010), "Core 2 Duo" 2.66 (Mid-2010), and "Core 2 Duo" 2.66 Server (Mid-2010) -- it is obvious that there are substantial differences in processor and system architecture that will make a substantial difference in performance. How much of a difference, however, requires benchmarking and real-world tests.
General Performance Overview
For a solid general overview of the performance differences between the "Mid-2011" Mac mini models and earlier models as well as other Macs, EveryMac.com's own Ultimate Mac Comparison makes it quick to compare side-by-side 32-bit and 64-bit Geekbench benchmark averages with all other G3 and later Macs for thousands of possible performance comparisons.
The Geekbench benchmark shows that the stock entry-level Mac mini "Core i5" 2.3 (Mid-2011) is roughly 11% slower than the stock mid-level Mac mini "Core i5" 2.5 (Mid-2011) model. In turn, the mid-level Mac mini "Core i5" 2.5 (Mid-2011) is roughly 8% slower than the custom configured Mac mini "Core i7" 2.7 (Mid-2011). The quad-core equipped server configuration -- the Mac mini "Core i7" 2.0 Server (Mid-2011) -- is roughly 23% faster than even the custom configured "regular" model.
Geekbench benchmarks also show that the standard "Mid-2011" Mac mini models are both in the neighborhood of 77% faster than the Mac mini "Core 2 Duo" 2.4 (Mid-2010) and "Core 2 Duo" 2.66 (Mid-2010) replaced, respectively. Likewise, the "Mid-2011" server model is a whopping 136% faster than the Mac mini "Core 2 Duo" 2.66 Server (Mid-2010).
Other Benchmarks & Real-World Test Results
Geekbench provides a convenient overview of overall performance, although real-world tests may be a bit less dramatic. Consequently, a number of third-parties with an assortment of tests and perspectives for the non-server models follow.
In CPU-intensive tests, including our Cinebench CPU test and HandBrake MP4 encode, the [US]$799 2011 Mac mini with the 2.5 GHz Core i5 processor was more than twice as fast as last year's 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo model; the new [US]$599 2.3 GHz Core i5 mini also left last year's model in the dust, clocking in at approximately 45 percent faster in the same two tests. For the other CPU-intensive tests, the new models were between 30 percent and 50 percent faster than last year's, with the [US]$799 2011 model slightly faster than the [US]$599 2011 model across the board for CPU-intensive tasks. . .
When it comes to graphics performance, our benchmark results were mixed. Thanks to its discrete graphics chip, the [US]$799 2011 mini was nearly twice as fast as the 2010 model in our Cinebench OpenGL and Portal 2 tests; it was roughly 50 percent faster in our Call of Duty test. But the [US]$599 model, with its integrated graphics processor, was roughly even with the 2010 model in our Cinebench test and only 12 percent faster in Portal 2.
Last year's 2.4 GHz model with Intel P8600 scored 93 points in WorldBench 6, indicating a relatively quick PC able to take on some creativity without forcing you to wait around too long.
This Mac mini has dramatically raised its game -- all the way up to 123 points in WorldBench 6. That's a 32% score increase, more than enough to move this desk-hugging slug of aluminum into the performance-PC realm.
We tried the venerable FEAR game to test the AMD Radeon HD 6630M's mettle, setting the detail quality to Max. It played at a smooth 53 fps, up from the 29 fps of the previous nVidia'd Mac mini.
The Mac mini (Thunderbolt) completed our Handbrake video in a quick 1 minute 42 seconds in Windows and 2:23 in Mac OS. The system also finished the Photoshop CS5 test in 3:47 in Windows and 5:10 in Mac OS. This is significantly faster than the Core 2 Duo equipped Mac mini from last year, which took around 3:32 to complete Handbrake and 7:14 to complete CS5.
Likewise, the Mac mini (Thunderbolt) has improved 3D graphics capabilities as well: Back then, the Mac mini (HDMI) was the best 3D performer in the compact PC class, scoring 21 frames per second (fps) at Crysis at medium quality. The Mac mini (Thunderbolt) completed the same test at a much more playable 48 fps.
Ultimately, Apple's proclamation that the "Mid-2011" Mac mini models are "up to" twice as fast as their predecessors certainly is reasonable overall. However, the graphics performance in the entry-level Mac mini "Core i5" 2.3 (Mid-2011) still leaves much to be desired.
For those interested in an internal optical drive, or just saving money, the "Mid-2010" Mac mini models remain well worth consideration, particularly given discount prices on the used market.
In the US, site sponsor PowerMax has new and used Mac mini models available for sale free of sales tax. Also in the US (and many other countries), site sponsor Other World Computing sells Mac mini memory and hard drive upgrades that improve performance at affordable prices.
In Canada, site sponsor The Mac Market sells Mac mini compatible memory with flat rate express shipping across Canada.
In Australia, site sponsor RamCity sells Mac mini compatible memory with free shipping Australia-wide.