November 19, 2009, 12:13 PM — Ever since the Mac mini was first released, people have been using Apple's diminutive Mac desktop as a server. At 6.5 inches square and 2 inches high, it bears just the sort of compact computing power you want to stick in a closet or under a desk and use as an all-purpose receptacle for all your stuff.
Well, wouldn't you know it--someone at Apple was paying attention to those of us who have been praising the Mac mini as a good server. Because in October Apple announced a new configuration of Mac mini designed specifically to be a server. The new $999 Mac mini with Snow Leopard Server is a fantastic product for workgroups, small businesses, and even schools to use. But for some other common uses, you might be better off buying a regular old Mac mini instead.
What's in the box
The Mac mini server is largely the same Mac that Apple sells in a $799 non-server configuration ( Macworld rated 4 out of 5 mice ). The two models both have a dual-core 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB of RAM, a gigabit ethernet port, FireWire 800, and five USB 2.0 ports.
Besides the $200 price difference, what separates the two models comes down to storage and software. The Mac mini server lacks the built-in SuperDrive of the standard model--even the familiar slot in the front of the case is gone, making the front of this Mac mini notably different from all the Mac minis that have come before. Apple has replaced the optical drive with a second internal Serial ATA hard drive. The result is a system with 1 terabyte of internal storage (on two 500GB 5400-rpm laptop drives) compared to a single 320GB hard drive in the non-server model.
The other big difference is the operating system that the Mac mini server runs: it's Snow Leopard Server ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ), which Apple sells separately for $499. The inclusion of Mac OS X Server 10.6 makes the Mac mini server a fantastic deal for anyone who's planning to deploy a Mac running Mac OS X Server; unless you're in the market for Xserves, the Mac mini server is just too good a deal to pass up.
Without getting into the details of Snow Leopard Server (see our review for that), let's just say that it's got an impressive array of features, including an iCal server, address book server for workgroups, file sharing (including a Time Machine server), a podcast-production automation system, a complete Web server including built-in wiki and blog software, and a whole lot more.