MAIN INDEX of latest speed tests

SHOOTOUT:
Intel Mac mini Core Duo
versus PPC Mac mini

Posted March 8th, 2006, by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist

We expected the new Intel Mac mini Core Duo to perform well enough in CPU crunch tests (iMovie HD, Cinebench), but we were really more curious about how well it performed in GPU crunch tests (iMaginator, Doom 3, etc.). We included the PPC Mac mini G4/1.42GHz we previously tested as well as an Intel iMac Core Duo 1.83GHz.

We also configured the Core Duo mini's memory in two ways (matched and unmatched pairs) to see if there was any great advantage to having matched pairs.

GRAPH LEGEND:
iMac CD/1.83 -- Apple Intel iMac with 1.83GHz Core Duo, 2GB of 667MHz memory and Radeon 1600 GPU with 128MB VRAM
Mac mini CD/1.66 "M" -- Apple Intel Mac mini with 1.66GHz Core Duo, matched pair of 1GB 667MHz memory modules and Intel GMA950 GPU that shares main memory
Mac mini CD/1.66 "U" -- Apple Intel Mac mini with 1.66GHz Core Duo, UNmatched pair of 667MHz memory modules (1GB + 256MB) and Intel GMA950 GPU that shares main memory
Mac mini G4/1.42 -- Apple PPC Mac mini with 1.42GHz G4, 1GB of 333MHz memory and Radeon 9200 GPU with 32MB of VRAM.

Note how the Intel mini does against the PPC mini in the 3D Game tests...

PERFORMANCE SUMMARY
The Mac mini performed better than the old PPC mini in the two CPU crunch tests. It would have matched the times of the iMac Core Duo if it was running at the same clock speed.

In the Core Image test, it bested the old mini but lost to the iMac Core Duo due to the general weakness of the GMA950 graphics processor. In two of the 3D Game tests, it actually lost to the PPC mini. Though there's no speed test for HD 1080p playback, it does handle that just fine.

The Intel mini seemed only slightly affected by unmatched memory pairs until we ran Quake 3. In that test, matching memory was 51% faster. We recommend matching memory of either two 512MB modules or two 1GB modules. Just booting up the mini and doing nothing else consumes 270MB, so two 256MB modules just doesn't cut it.

WHAT THE GMA950 GPU IS MISSING
There's a "must read" article on the MacWorld website that details the strengths and weaknesses of the Intel Mac mini's GMA950 graphics processor. Some missing pieces include:
1. Lack of dedicated video memory -- it borrows from the main memory.
2. No vertex shader support.
3. No transform and lighting effect support.
(When we tried to play World of Warcraft, all shader options were greyed out.)

Apple's web site says of the GMA950 "supports Tiger Core Graphics and the latest 3D games." It may support them but it does so poorly.

WHY IS GAME PERFORMANCE IMPORTANT?
Defenders of the mini have even emailed me saying, "Why would anyone want to play games on the Mac mini?" Why would you want to play games any Mac? Because you can!

Games are not just something people do for fun. We like them because they rigorously test the advanced graphics features like shading, reflectivity, dynamic shadowing, transparency, distortion -- features used by the Mac OS's Dashboard, Finder windows, and Video FX in iMovie HD. If OpenGL and Core Image features can't be rendered quickly and accurately, it detracts from the whole Mac experience.

POOR INVESTMENT
In my humble opinion, the Mac mini is a poor investment unless you have a display, keyboard, and mouse you can't part with. You may pay more for the iMac Core Duo 1.83, but you get a lot more -- an LCD screen, a faster CPU, a much faster and more capable GPU, a faster/bigger hard drive, easy to install memory, and an iSight camera. And it takes no more space on your desk than a mini when you include the mini's display and keyboard.

There's a lot of love for the mini concept floating around. If Apple would offer a "super mini" with Radeon X1600, that might win me over. Then you would be able to play 3D games and render Core Image effects with the same aplomb exhibited by the iMac Core Duo -- and still be able to play HD 1080p without dropping frames.

RELATED ARTICLES

MacWorld's FIRST LOOK at the Intel Mac mini

WHERE TO BUY THE INTEL MAC MINI CORE DUO (or Intel iMac Core Duo)

Small Dog Electronics -- New and refurbished minis, iMacs, MacBooks, PowerBooks, and Power Macs. They accept custom orders; Also have memory and drive upgrades.

The Apple Store has theÊnew IntelÊMacÊminiÊand Intel iMac. (Click on this text link or the Apple display ads to help us earn our commission.)

PowerMax -- New and refurbished minis, iMacs, MacBooks, PowerBooks, and Power Macs

OTHER MINI PRODUCT SOURCES

Other World Computing -- mini stack and mini PC2 5300 memory

TransIntl -- mini PC2 5300 66MHz memory

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© 2006 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"
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