∞ Mac mini gets Thunderbolt, Lion

Apple on Wednesday refreshed its Mac mini desktop computer with new processors, Thunderbolt high-speed I/O technology and Mac OS X Lion. The new systems will be available beginning Thursday, starting at $599.

[ad#Google Adsense 300×250 in story]Apple claims the new Mac mini is up to twice as fast in processor and graphics performance than its predecessor. The higher-end Mac mini now features discrete graphics, thanks to the addition of AMD Radeon HD 6630M hardware. Previous Intel-based models have eschewed discrete graphics for integrated graphics that share memory with the system (that architecture remains in the two standard lower-priced Mac mini configurations). The Mac mini retains its small size, though – it measures 7.7 x 7.7 by 1.4 inches, and weighs 2.7 pounds.

On the back of the Mac mini users will find the new Thunderbolt interface along with HDMI (an HDMI-to-DVI interface is included); audio line-in; audio out; Gigabit Ethernet; four USB 2.0 ports; FireWire 800; and an SDXC media card slot. The device has built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi technology and Bluetooth 4.0 support.

One obvious change from previous-generation models – the new Mac mini no longer sports a built-in optical drive. Previous models have featured “SuperDrives” capable of burning DVDs, but this new model eschews an optical drive altogether. Users who need the capability can buy an external USB 2.0-equipped SuperDrive from Apple for $79; alternately, the Mac mini also supports DVD and CD sharing, which lets the Mac mini “borrow” the optical drive on a networked Mac or PC.

The base model Mac mini now sports a 2.3GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 2GB RAM and 500GB hard disk drive, and is priced at $599. A 2.5GHz model gains 4GB RAM and 500GB hard drive for $799, and options are available to upgrade to 2.7GHz i7, up to 8GB RAM, a 750GB hard drive or a 256GB solid state drive (SSD).

Apple has also retained the Mac mini in server form – a Mac mini with Lion server is available for $999; it features a 2.0GHz quad-core i7 processor, 4GB RAM, and dual 500GB hard drives.