The late 2012 Mac mini refresh brings welcome improvements, but no real surprises. The step up to the new Ivy Bridge processors was inevitable, but the benefits they give us aren't to be taken lightly.

The Mac mini now uses faster 1600MHz DDR3 memory, too. Both versions have 4GB of RAM where the entry-level model had only 2GB before, and the more expensive mini has a 1TB hard drive, where the previous generation used 500GB drives in each.

But there's no radical overhaul. The form factor remains the same, and apart from upgrading to USB 3.0, the connectivity options are unchanged.

We liked

The 2012 Mac mini retains the qualities that endeared us to previous generations of Apple's small form factor Mac. It's very convenient; if you want to use the same computer at home and in the office, you can set up a monitor, keyboard and controller on each desk and carry the small, lightweight mini between the two.

Since the transformer is built into the unit, the power supply is a cheap figure-of-eight cable. You don't even need to carry around a power brick.

The new processors are awesome, giving a significant increase in power, and the USB ports have been upgraded to high-speed USB 3.0. And for those on a budget, the Mac mini is still the cheapest way to buy a Mac, priced at £679/AU$899/US$799 for this more expensive model.

We disliked

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Apple appears to be phasing out the optical drive. It was dropped from the Mac mini in the previous generation, and unsurprisingly, it doesn't make a return here.

We miss the discrete graphics processor we got with the more expensive of the two mid-2011 Mac minis, though improvements to the Intel Core i-series chips' integrated graphics chipset means this isn't as big a loss as you might expect.

We wish Apple had put the SD card reader at the front of the machine. It would be far more accessible there, especially if the Mac mini is used as an under-the-TV media machine.

Final verdict

The hackneyed old phrase, 'an evolution not a revolution' could (to use another hackneyed phrase) be written for the late 2012 Mac mini.

With the Ivy Bridge processors and faster memory already having debuted on other Macs, it was inevitable they'd come to the small form factor Mac with this year's refresh.

Dropping the discrete graphics processor was an unwelcome surprise, though the unexpected but much appreciated Fusion Drive, a hybrid solution combining a hard drive and solid state storage, is a great configuration option.