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A mini upgrade

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The Latest Mac Mini Has 2011-grade Specs But The Lack Of An Optical CD/DVD Drive Is A Big Miss, Says Tushar Kanwar   |   Published 04.09.11, 12:00 AM

Here’s a bit of trivia. The Mac mini was the first product we featured way back when we launched this column in 2005? Over the past six years, the diminutively sized (and named!) product has come a mega long way. It’s the cheapest entry point into the Mac ecosystem and yet it’s now seeing increasing use in home theatres and servers as well. With a jolt of added muscle to go with its sleek looks, how does the 2011 Mac mini fare? Let’s find out.

More showpiece, less computer — that about describes the mini over the past few years, and the classic Apple minimalist, industrial design remains, with the seamless aluminium unibody enclosure. The rear has the standard complement of ports, right from the HDMI ports to the 4 USB 2 (the usual kind) ports, and more. There’s the uber-fast Thunderbolt port, but with literally next to no Thunderbolt accessories (none that are reasonably priced, at least) out there, the lack of the more popular USB 3.0 ports just feels…wrong.

The internals are 2011-spec and the mini, much like the 2011 range of Mac laptops, features the latest Core i5 and i7 processors, with options that allow you to choose integrated graphics or a dedicated graphics card. Mac OS X Lion is pre-installed, and things move along snappily. Push this system with a number of apps open, and things do slow down — so if creative work is what you’re thinking, pick up the models with 4 gigs of memory.

But this is the kind of computer…nay, device that you’d love to be front-and-centre in your home entertainment set-up. I mean, small footprint, instant LCD TV connections (courtesy HDMI) and enough ports to add in external storage — what’s not to love, right?

There is the one rather controversial exclusion — the mini has no optical CD/DVD drive! On a desktop computer, for crying out loud! Granted, Apple firmly believes that like Mac OS X Lion, software is going download only, and the future of movies is in digital distribution, but this is stretching reality a tad too far. All of a sudden, you lose the ability to play back DVDs you’ve bought, install applications on physical discs, play back audio CDs, or even burn an MP3 CD for the car. You could get Apple’s external Superdrive, but it’s not an elegant solution, not for a computer at least and certainly not for a desktop Mac which can as well occupy pride of place in your living room.

On its own, the mini is a mighty fine computer, with a stunning form factor and worthy internals. Buy one but bear in mind that this little beast isn’t the most upgradeable system around, and the little matter of optical CD/DVD media could make or break the purchase decision.

Rating: 7/10
Price: Rs 33,900 onwards

Power boost

Part cable management solution, part smart charging solution — the Belkin Conserve Valet is a USB charging station that can charge up to four devices at once (through USB slots) while keeping cords neatly tucked in under its top panel. With most devices charging readily off USB these days, not including a power socket is fairly acceptable though I’d honestly have preferred at least one plug point for laptops and the like. What makes this unique though is that it turns itself off after a four-hour period to conserve power (when your devices are most likely be fully charged).

Price: Rs 2,399 l

Fair play

Taking a successful game from the console onto the iPhone isn’t an easy task, and Jump Games take on Codemaster’s F1 2010 game proves just that. First off, it’s a 2010-spec game that’s released halfway into the next season. Once you begin playing it, the tilt controls are iffy at best, letting the already difficult-to-control beasts out of your hands the moment you slip up even the slightest. Although it does feature all of the 19 official tracks and 12 teams, this game needs more gameplay by way of adding a championship mode (at the very least) before one can recommend it.

Price: $2.99

App alert

If you own a netbook, but didn’t know where to find apps that would suit the screen size and modest internals, look no further than the Intel AppUp Center. It is a centralised catalogue of applications for purchase or download, where apps are divided into categories like Business, Education and Games. What’s interesting is that it lets one “try before you buy”, allowing consumers to test out apps they otherwise might not have before they pony up the cash for the paid version of the app.

Price: Free to use, apps may be paid/free

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