It's disappointing that the more expensive 2012 Apple Mac mini doesn't have a discrete graphics processor.
While most releases of Apple's small form factor Mac have relied on integrated chipsets, the previous generation gave us an AMD Radeon HD 6630M in the high-end model. Indeed, it was said that the optical drive was in part dropped to make room for the extra graphics chip.
Yet in the late 2012 Mac mini, neither model has discrete graphics and nor has the optical drive returned. If you want to watch DVDs, rip CDs or burn discs on your Mac mini, you'll have to buy an external drive such as Apple's own USB SuperDrive or use OS X's Remote Disc feature.
In fact, no Mac owner should get too attached to its optical drive. Since dropping it from the Mac mini, Apple has released the MacBook Pro with Retina display and the 2012 iMacs without optical drives, and no doubt its days are numbered in the rest of the Mac range too.
The lack of a discrete graphics chip doesn't mean the new Intel Core i7 Mac mini is underpowered. The Intel HD graphics integrated chipset has improved with every new generation of Core i processor.
The Intel HD Graphics 4000 chipset used in these Ivy Bridge processors is up to 65% faster than the Intel HD Graphics 3000 chipset it replaces.
The top-of-the-range late 2012 Mac mini boasts a quad-core Intel Core i7 processor running at 2.3GHz too, which far outpaces the 2.5GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 in mid-2011's high-end model.
Our benchmarks bear this out. Call of Duty 4 ran at almost exactly the same frame rate, despite being limited to integrated graphics.
Cinebench 10 Single core: 48.19
Cinebench 10 Multi-core: 18678
iTunes encoding: 449.5 seconds
Movie encoding (iMovie): 148.3 seconds
Call of Duty 4
In our Cinebench 10 rendering test, the new Mac mini was almost 9% quicker than its equivalent predecessor when using only one core, but with all cores in play, it almost doubled its performance.
The Mac mini runs incredibly quietly. In fact, it's almost silent. This is great news if you want to put it under your TV and use it as a media Mac.
It has an HDMI port, so it's the perfect companion for your HD TV. If you want to use it with a computer monitor, you can plug a Mini DisplayPort into the Thunderbolt port, and there's a DVI-to-HDMI adaptor in the box.
The Mac mini hasn't come bundled with media centre software since Apple stopped bundling its aging Front Row application with the operating system, but there are several third-party options such as Plex or XBMC.
With no optical drive or discrete graphics to get in the way, there's no excuse for the SD XC card reader slot to be on the back of the new Mac mini. There's plenty of room at the front now, where it would be far more accessible, especially if you're using it as a living room media center Mac.