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New Sandy Bridge Mac minis with Thunderbolt, Major Performance Boost, and drop Optical Drive

Along with the release of Mac OS X 10.7 Lion and new MacBook Air models, Apple has also released new Mac mini models. Similar to the new MacBook Airs, the Mac minis are the same form factor as previous models except for all models lacking an optical drive.

The Mac minis still come in three different models but now the entry-level model comes in at $599 instead of the previous generation’s $699. The entry-level and server models both features Intel HD Graphics 3000 and all models features Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors. The $799 model comes standard with an AMD Radeon HD 6630M discrete graphics processor.

The port layout is still the same but the Mini DisplayPort has been replaced by the fantastic Thunderbolt port. The usual Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, four USB 2.0, FireWire 800, SDXC card slot, and audio in and out ports are all still there. Interestingly, Apple is now including an HDMI to DVI adapter rather than a Mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter. Like the new MacBook Air models, 802.11n is standard along with updated Bluetooth 4.0.

Both of the non-server models feature a dual-core Core i5 processor. The $599 model has a 2.3GHz dual-core Core i5 with 3MB of shared L3 cache while the higher-end $799 model features a 2.5GHz dual-core Core i5 with 3MB of shared L3 cache. The higher-end model also offers the built-to-order option of a 2.7GHz dual-core Core i7 processor for a $100 premium.

The server model, on the other hand, is priced at $999 and comes with a 2.0GHz quad-core Core i7 with 6MB of shared L3 cache. This is the first time we have ever seen a quad-core chip in a Mac mini and it is very exciting to see this level of potential performance. Virtualization and other compute-intensive tasks immediately come to mind.

The $599 Mac mini comes with 2GB of memory while the other two models come with 4GB. All models offer the option of upgrading to 8GB of memory for a $200 premium over the 4GB configuration.

For storage, all Mac mini models support dual hard drives or SSDs. The $599 Mac mini comes with a 500GB 5400RPM hard drive with the option for a 750GB 7200RPM hard drive for a $150 premium. The $799 Mac mini also comes with a 500GB 5400RPM hard drive but offers the option of a 750GB 7200RPM hard drive ($150) or 256GB SSD ($600). In addition, you can opt for both a 256GB SSD and a 750GB 7200RPM hard drive.

The server model comes with two 500GB 7200RPM drives but can be configured with two 750GB 7200RPM hard drives ($100), one 256GB SSD ($400), both a 256GB SSD and a 750GB 7200RPM hard drive ($550), or two 256GB SSDs ($1000).

All of these upgrades make for a much more capable Mac mini that offers extensive expandability through Thunderbolt along with greatly improved performance and even the option of discrete graphics on the $799 model. With the dual-core Core i7 upgrade, this makes an extremely capable system. The server model also shows great promise with its quad-core Core i7 processor.

All standard configurations are available to order from Amazon.com.

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