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How fast are the "Mid-2010" Aluminum "Unibody" Mac mini "Core 2 Duo" models compared to the Mac mini models replaced?
Please note that all models mentioned in this Q&A have been discontinued. The "Mid-2010" Mac mini models were replaced by the "Mid-2011" Mac mini models on July 20, 2011. For more recent performance Q&As, please refer to the main Aluminum Mac mini Q&A page.
With a quick look at a comparison between the "Mid-2010" Aluminum "Unibody" Mac mini models -- the Mac mini "Core 2 Duo" 2.4 (Mid-2010) and 2.66 Server (Mid-2010) -- and the "Late 2009" Polycarbonate Mac mini models -- the Mac mini "Core 2 Duo" 2.26, "Core 2 Duo" 2.53, and "Core 2 Duo" 2.53 (Server) -- it is clear that they differ quite a bit in design and connectivity.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc (Aluminum - Left, Polycarbonate - Right)
However, the only factors that have a significant impact on performance are the processor speed, graphics processors -- and for some configurations -- the amount of pre-installed RAM.
Official Performance Info
With the clock speed difference quite minor -- roughly 5% to 6% -- Apple instead chose to emphasize in the company press release that the NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics processor in the "Mid-2010" line "delivers up to twice the graphics performance" of the previous generation's NVIDA GeForce 9400M. The company also reported that Call of Duty 4 and Doom 3 are 1.9x faster.
The GeForce 320M graphics processor is notably faster than the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M, but it still is an "integrated" graphics processor that shares memory with the system. It is also worth mentioning that integrated graphics typically are slower than a graphics processor with its own dedicated memory.
General Objective Performance Overview
Although official information from the marketing department of any company may be useful, objective benchmarks and tests always are needed for an independent perspective.
For a solid general overview of the performance differences between the "Mid-2010" 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.
Geekbench benchmarks also show that the Mac mini "Core 2 Duo" 2.4 (Mid-2010) is roughly 3% faster than the Mac mini "Core 2 Duo" 2.26 replaced but 6% slower than the Mac mini "Core 2 Duo" 2.53, also replaced, as one would expect given the higher clockspeed.
Other Benchmarks & Real-World Test Results
Geekbench provides a convenient overview of overall performance, although real-world tests may differ and likewise can be useful for a full performance perspective.
The new 2.4 GHz Mac mini is about 13.5 percent faster overall than that older 2.26 GHz Mac mini model. . . The new NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics helped the 2.4 GHz Mac mini display about twice as many frames per second as the 2.26 GHz model. The 2.4 GHz mini was 18 percent faster than the 2.26 GHz mini in our Aperture tests and 14 percent faster in the iMovie export test.
On the straight benchmark front, the mini put up a Geekbench score of 3385, which is right in line with what we'd expect. Where the mini does struggle is gaming performance. Although the GeForce 320M can handle less taxing games and lower resolutions just fine, it can't hang once you crank things up -- we averaged between 17-20fps running Portal at 1920 x 1200 with the default settings, and about the same when we ran it at 1080p connected to our TV. If you're willing to step it down, though, you should be fine -- we got 30fps running Half-Life 2 Episode 2 at 1280 x 800.
In another in-depth review, RegHardware hit the "Mid-2010" Mac mini with the PCMark Vantage benchmark suite and it delivered an overall score of 3935. The publication put it through its paces in Far Cry 2 and found it to churn out 45 FPS at the 1280x800 resolution and the high quality setting.
Ultimately, the performance difference between the "Mid-2010" and "Late 2009" Mac mini models is unlikely to be enough to motivate one to upgrade, but for those with a much older Mac mini, or who would find the HDMI port and easy to upgrade case design worthwhile, the "Mid-2010" Mac mini can be quite appealing. No doubt for some users, the case design improvement alone is a reason to upgrade and the enhanced performance is simply an added bonus.
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.
Please refer to the Ultimate Mac Comparison feature to dynamically compare the Geekbench 2 performance of any Mac mini model to any other G3 or later Mac.