PCs

Apple Mac Mini 2011 teardown: Goodbye optical drive, hello Thunderbolt port

Apple upgrades the 2011 Mac Mini with Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, more RAM, a larger hard drive, and a Thunderbolt port. But, they removed the optical drive.

In July 2011, Apple updated their Mac Mini product line. The new machines have the same model number (A1347) as the 2010 Mac Mini, but the 2011 versions have Intel Core i5 or i7 processors, more standard RAM, and larger hard drives. Apple also removed the optical drive, but added a Thunderbolt port.

The 2011 Mac Mini is available in three configurations and starts at $599 (US). Our $799 Mac MIni came with a 2.5GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB RAM, 500GB hard drive, and AMD Radeon HD 6630M graphics processor. The 2011 Mac Mini measures 1.4 inches (H) x 7.7 inches (W) x 7.7 inches (D). It weighs 2.7 pounds.

Full teardown gallery: Cracking Open the Apple Mac Mini (2011)

Cracking Open observations

  1. Case is easy to open: Unlike the MacBook Air, which has tamper-resistant pentalobe screws, you can remove the bottom cover on the Mac Mini's case without any tools. Simply, twist the cover into the unlock position and lift it off.
  2. Has standard Torx screws: Apple used standard Torx T6 and T8 screws throughout the Mac Mini. Unfortunately, the screws come in various lengths. You'll need to mark which screws go in which holes.
  3. Internal hardware layout very similar to the 2010 Mac Mini: Except for the missing optical drive, the 2011 Mac Mini has an internal hardware layout that's nearly identical to the 2010 Mini.
  4. Must remove motherboard to replace power supply: Although the Mac Mini is one of the easiest Macs to take apart, there are a few annoyances. For example, you must first remove the motherboard before removing the power supply.
  5. Assembled by Foxconn: Motherboard markings indicate that the 2011 Mac Mini was assembled by Foxconn.

Internal hardware

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

19 comments
isama001
isama001

Can it work up to 9hrs in a day

Hessel_NL
Hessel_NL

I have a question, i quote: ''Internal hardware layout very similar to the 2010 Mac Mini: Except for the missing optical drive, the 2011 Mac Mini has an internal hardware layout that???s nearly identical to the 2010 Mini.'' would it be technically possible to put the internals in a 2010 casing and stick an optical drive in it? if this is possible this could be an interesting home project. i'd probably put a blueray drive for laptops in it so i can still read optical media with my machine while being powered by a fast sandy bridge chip. :) then it would serve perfectly as my home studio PC :)

paul.ob.tech
paul.ob.tech

with the current 20Gbps available on the Thunderbolt, there may not be a USB4, so maybe this is the future. As for external drives, I use an external DVD writer for a netbook and the number of time I actually have to connect it are very few, I thought cloud based storage was supposed to solve this problem :)

Rndmacts
Rndmacts

How irresponsible a review, wow it has a thunderbolt port, as Apple is the only adoptee at this time third parties are not going to rush out to create equipment. You want a DVD/CD drive you will have to buy from Apple, of course you will pay 2X what the hardware is worth. The same applies to external hard disks and printers and scanners. Until Microsoft and even Linux buy into Thunderbolt not many 3rd party manufacturers are going to include the interface into their equipment. So what Apple is selling is a crippled computer, you have two choices. buy hardware at inflated prices from Apple or buy from iTunes also at inflated prices. I want to know, what freebie did Apple offer to write an article that doesn't state the cost of the obvious, what is his credit line for the iStore for such a dishonest article.

'techy'
'techy'

what is apple thinking? What if you rent a dvd and want to play it through your macmini? It's way easier to download drivers off a cd than to try and find it on the vendors website to download it. I thought apple was going for less wires. I know apple wants to make their stuff as small as possible, but to take out something that is widely used on a desktop based machine is stupid. Now you have to pay more money to buy a cd/dvd drive in addition to the macmini. What did cost you 500 now will be around 580.

jfdoylejr
jfdoylejr

when Apple dropped the floppy drive from the iMac in 1998. With download streaming of video content, will anyone miss the DVD drive in three to five years time? Apple hasn't always hit with their standards, but there is no denying that Firewire was a superior technology to USB for a long time. And I never seem to have a problem figuring out which way to plug in the Firewire cable from Sony video camera.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

Hmmm... the current industry standards are optical drives and USB. So Apple removes the optical drive, has only one external USB (2.0) port, and adds a Thunderbolt port to the Firewire port. Yes there are some peripherals for Firewire, but only a select few in specialty markets; unlike USB that has an immense variety of peripherals covering nearly every imaginable application and price range. How many Thunderbolt peripherals, other than those manufactured by Apple, are available now? Apple ignores USB 3.0, and moves off in yet another direction. It's reminiscent of Sony and BetaMax. Beta format actually had far superior technical specifications, compared to VHS, but the market had chosen VHS and BetaMax languished. Firewire has been around for many years, but hasn't done much outside of niche markets. Now we have Thunderbolt. I'll wait and see, but my expectations aren't too high.

pikeman666
pikeman666

This is absurd! Hasn't the world already made a path to USBv3? Leave it to Apple to pull something like this. It's not a bad little computer except for being overpriced and having to run the Apple OS.

dominoscr
dominoscr

I noticed there is a difference in the graphics department for the new Minis. My question is how big of a difference is there between the Intel and AMD chips in action. The specs on the AMD look like they crush the Intel, but I am wondering if it is all that noticeable while in use. I don't plan on doing high end video editing, but I would like to watch HD content. 8)

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

Removing the optical drive from the Mac Mini is just the next step in Apple's belief that most (if not all) applications will be delivered via the network--either through the company's own App Store, the buyer's corporate network, or the cloud.

suncatTR
suncatTR

Losing a floppy drive was no big deal. Removing an optical drive is a BIG DEAL. The "cloud" is not reliably available in most of the US at all times, and is significantly less secure than our local solutions. We have DVD archives; we create DVD videos. Unless I pay an extra $150 a month, I don't have remote access fast enough to move the DVD data, and neither do most people I know. Besides, when my clients receive that volume of data, they'll need to buy new hardware to store it. The reality distortion field around Cupertino has run amock. Last night we were talking about what to do when we're stuck with these new crippled Macs. One person said he had a firewire external drive that he attached to his MacBook Air with Velcro. Really?! I considered a new Mini, until the details about its lack of optical and how I'd have to spend nearly $2000 to replace my software, more to add missing hardware, or replace hardware that's now incompatible with the new OS. Crippled hardware and software are big steps backwards, mainly to cater to the new users who don't really need computers in the first place, ignoring those of us who have been using Macs in our studios for years. Don't get me started about how broken Final Cut Pro X is.... After 25 years, I've almost completely lost patience with Apple.

WUGeeks
WUGeeks

"Memories of BetaMax" Apple has always been an early adopter, and Microsoft made a business out of following them. 3.5" Floppy, CD-ROM, USB, none of it was on the PC first. Intel is actually the creator of Thunderbolt, and it will be coming to the PC this fall. The video hardware industry is falling over themselves working on new products for Thunderbolt. What used to require a MacPro will now be done on an iMac or Macbook Pro. "So Apple removes the optical drive, has only one external USB (2.0) port," *The Mini has 4 USB ports. "and adds a Thunderbolt port to the Firewire port." *The Thunderbold port is where the Display Port was, and can still function as a Display Port. All USB-3 chips have been third party chips, Intel has been slow in shipping a USB-3 chip, may not till 2012. It's ironic that they created the spec, but haven't shipped any hardware yet to use it. One of the most interesting Thunderbolt devices is the PCIe 2.0 Expansion Chassis from Sonnet. It lets you plug in a PCIe card into an external box. Not too surprising as Thunderbolt is essentially the PCI bus on a wire. It always seems a little weird and expensive when companies bring out new hardware, but in a year or two we wonder how we got along without it.

nwallette
nwallette

Not a single sentence in your post is factually accurate. The world has not already made a path to USB 3. Motherboard support is still abysmal, hardware support is somewhat lackluster. USB's raison d'etre was for low-speed devices, to replace serial and parallel and game ports. Firewire was supposed to be the high-bandwidth alternative. But with USB 2.0, it was "fast enough" for most needs, and so FW took a back seat. Nonetheless, USB actually tread into the high-bandwidth territory, so if you want to blame something, blame USB for stepping out of line. Leave it to Apple, huh? You do realize that Thunderbolt is not an Apple innovation, right? (Hint -- Google Intel + Thunderbolt.) Not a bad little computer except for being overpriced and having to run OS X. Wrong and wrong. $600 is fairly reasonable. Go ahead. Design your own mini PC, with quality parts, for less. I'm considering this for a mobile recording rig because I don't think I could make my own any cheaper. Especially rack-mounted. With the possibility of having external PCI slots, the advantages of a "real" computer are dwindling. If you go with cheap parts and build a traditional tower, you can get by with a little less cash. But don't forget to include the OS license too. Oh, and on the OS... you can install Linux or Windows on there if you wanted to. The leaves the first sentence about this being absurd. If you were speaking about your following rant, I guess that sentence was correct after all. :-)

bboyd
bboyd

But I don't believe it will happen. The USB Connector shell is horrible, it mates up poorly and people are forever flipping it over. It has no tactile feedback that you have it aligned or even right side up. The specs USB3 give are not really world shaking and we will still have to external power full size external drive boxes. If Apple gets enough market penetration maybe the "standard" can change. As a PC user I'll applaud it.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

I haven't personally tested both the Intel and AMD Mac Minis, but my experiences with integrated GPUs (such as the Intel HD Graphics 3000) have been less than impressive. Integrated GPUs are fine for people who primarily browse the Web, run productivity software, play a few non-graphics-intensive games, and don't work with or watch a lot of HD video. I don't fall into this category of user. If you want to use the Mini as a small media PC (streaming HD video to a TV), do a lot of photo or video processing, or even play 3D games with an acceptable frame rate, I suggest going with the AMD version of the Mini.

Slayer_
Slayer_

with a special CD/DVD drive attachment.

Slayer_
Slayer_

USB has the massive advantage of backwards compatibility. Thunderbolt has a lot of potential for as you stated, hardware expansion. I can see it being useful on low powered budget machines, to sell video cards in a box essentailly, that you plug in, then plug into the TV and get HD abilities or proper gaming abilities. Its also a big step towards what my ultimate want is, the modular PC. Pieces that you attached and detach as you need them, need more CPU, hook up an extra one, more video, and an extra one.

dnox1978
dnox1978

This problem you describe is no big deal i use double-sided USB connectors, But yes I know they are not so common and hard to ge. - I do like that Thunderbolt can replace dvi/dp, usb, firewire and SATA. - But is it signal Compatibility with HDMI/DVI so its easy to connect to existing display and Plasma/ LCD/ LED LCD TV screen. it's a huge expense to change standard for everyone and more so in production eviroments. But for a standard this versatile i think i has to low band with 2 x 10 Gbps Intel should at least cramed in 4 x 10Gpps

Slayer_
Slayer_

It's enough to run PS2 era games at full quality, and PS3 era games at low quality, so not bad.