Intel Mac Mini’s GPU (Video Chipset)

Update (Post-Ars): Arstechnica has done a thorough review of the Intel Mac Mini with the Core Solo processor; the entry level machine.. As usual, their analysis includes lots and lots and benchmarks (starting on page 4 of the review).

Update #3: I’m sticking this up at the top. A cup of has cinebench benchmarks comparing the G4 Mac Mini with an Intel Core Solo based mini. Significantly faster across the boards, save for the Hard GL metric, which is about 20% slower. However, the Soft GL metric is slightly more than twice as fast (and faster than the G4’s Hard GL).

For the obvious impaired: This update does not claim that the Mini is a smokin’ fast graphics engine. Not at all. It is a significant upgrade over the prior G4 based model. That combined with the interesting graphics capabilities of the GMA950 make for a lot of interesting potential.

And, before anyone asks, I have no idea as to how Mac OS X leverages the GMA950, nor the details of how the chipset is wired into the system.

After this morning’s announcement of a new Mac Mini sporting an Intel CPU, I had a look at the machine’s specifications.

I was a bit surprised to see the video chip listed as Intel GMA950 graphics processor with 64MB of DDR2 SDRAM shared with main memory with a footnote indicating that the GPU will potentially consume more main memory as graphics demands are increased.

Wait. On-board video? That seems kind of lame.

So, I had a look at Intel’s GMA950 chipset overview.

OK. Not so lame. Clearly, the Mac Mini is not intended to deliver 3D gaming performance comparable to the iMac or MacBook Pro.

It is, however, designed to deliver absolutely smokin’ video playback to displays more traditionally found in the home; TVs, home theaters, etc…

The marketing materials have a relatively lengthy session devoted to connecting the Mac Mini to various kinds of TVs. It also implies that the whole thing can take a bit of futzing to get right.

The chipset includes support for regular and HD playback, with the ability to up/down scale video content, as necessary. And it isn’t limited to a single stream of HD as it can simultaneously decode and display two streams. It can also handle pretty much any standard HD resolution in both interlaced and progressive scan mode (including 1080p) and it also natively supports both 16:9 and 16:10 aspect ratio displays.

Neat. I really hope the DVD player on my entertainment center finally stops playing discs soon as the mac mini would now make a perfect replacement.

Minor update: Let me restate a couple of obvious points. (1) I know that the chipset is not well suited for rippin’ 3D gaming action. (2) The features I describe are in the chipset that the mac mini uses. The potential is there, I have no idea to exactly what degree Tiger and/or the Mini leverages said features. (3) Yes, it is on-board video. It uses system resources. It is all about the cost proposition!

Update: KCD was kind enough to chime in with some very specific details about the system’s GPU capabilities in the comments. Read it — I learned quite a bit from it!

67 Responses to “Intel Mac Mini’s GPU (Video Chipset)”

  1. Jonathan Wight says:

    From,1697,1821808,00.asp – they compared the chipset to a GF6200 – which was a budget video card from a year ago. The intel chipset got absolutely killed.

    The GMA950 looks like a very unimpressive chipset (typical intel integrated video). The hardware mpeg decoding seems to the only redeeming feature.

  2. bbum says:

    Which was exactly the point… the 3D performance is lackluster — it is a total price point emphasis in the design of the chipset.

    What caught my eye is that it is explicitly optimized for video playback, which is exactly what I want to use the Mini for.

  3. foobaz says:

    I, for one, am glad that the mini was designed economically. A cheap and tiny machine is useful for tons of things. Playing 3D games is not, and should not, be one of them.

  4. Joe Maller says:

    Didn’t the Intel Developer machines have this chipset? I remember the graphics were definitely Intel inegrated onboard something-or-other, but those machines were handling Quartz Composer just fine at WWDC last year. That’s not to say these’ll handle World of Warcraft or Doom3, but the video performance on the developer machines seemed fine for the brief time I used one.

    My biggest concern here, as with the Video iPod, is that Apple is missing the HD boat. The bleeding edge doesn’t want SDTV anymore, and Apple’s own authoring tools have been doing HD for a couple years already. I’m sure they’ll sell plenty of minis for hooking up to TVs, I kind of want one just for the hell of it, but I’m afraid Apple is missing an opportunity to define the way people use HDTV. 320×240 looks like crap compared to 720p. Unless some HD content is offered soon, these will have no place next to the wave of new HDTVs. Apple should get HD content out before whatever BlueRayHD DVD standard hits stores, if they don’t, someone else will.

  5. jd says:

    Sounds like it would make a perfect replacement for your DVD player, but when I read the specs I didn’t even think of that. I was thinking Developers! Developers! Developers!

    It’s got Gigabit Ethernet. That makes it a lot more attractive as a distributed compile server, Netboot server, Xgrid agent, …. Not to mention it’s faster, quieter and you can order it with 2GB of RAM.

    What a deal — a small, quiet, energy-efficient, fast server with gigabit ethernet for $539. Who cares about the graphics. I’ll take five please :-)

  6. Lamb Alexander says:

    You say (or read) it supports 1080p. Does this mean it will handle correctly with no frame drop the new screens which are “real HD” (e.g. 1920×1080). I was said that those screens, although they have gorgeous resolutions look terrible when used with traditionnal DVD players (or even regular TV). So, if I understand correctly, the MacMini will scale correctly the 720p of the DVD to 1080p to make it look good?

    If so, I have two questions:

    1) What about those new HD DVD’s which are supposed to come out this year. I imagine the MacMini can’t read them with the current DVD player?
    2) How does a MacMini decoding system (for DVD or CD) compare to good players out there (Cambbridge audio, Camelot tech, etc…)

    Alex (waiting for a good distributed database framework based on CoreData… I know, no relation to the post:-)

  7. bbum says:

    I have no idea how the Mac Mini or Tiger leverages the Intel Chipset I only know that the chipset supports 1080p and video scaling, including both interlacing and de-interlacing of the video stream.

    (1) It looks like a standard DVD burner to me. So, yeah, I’m betting that adding HD-DVD or BLU-RAY playback is going to require an external reader.

    (2) No idea. It will be a very interesting comparison. I know several people who have one on order, one of which has a very nice plasma TV.

  8. Pius says:

    This thing certainly doesn’t have Pixel Shader 3.0. Wasn’t that a requirement for QE?
    Also, all the acceleration features in the world won’t help a thing if Apple doesn’t give anybody a way to access them. For a few years, every card out there has been able to do large parts of MPEG decompression in hardware. But as long as the only way to access these functions is via hacking the DVD player framework (cf. Accelent), this doesn’t help anybody. Did you know that the original Mac mini can easily play the highest HD resolution?

  9. Rolphus says:

    QE requires, as far as I can remember, Pixel Shader 2.0. Certainly, the Mobility Radeon 9700 in my 15″ PowerBook supports QE and it’s only a PS2.0 card.

  10. DazedAndConfuzed says:

    So Apple SAVES on the graphic card and probably also on the CPU. One would assume that the PPC is more costly than the Intel chip. But why are we supposed to pay MORE ?

  11. bbum says:

    DazedAndConfused seems like an accurate moniker. No one has said anything about Apple saving money on the actual cost of manufacturing of the new minis; until there is an accurate parts/cost analysis, there is no way to know. The only statement is that onboard graphics is a “cost optimization”.

    In any case, the GPU and CPU are both more powerful than previous generation units — the Mini Intel is a significant upgrade, more-so in the CPU than the GPU. It also includes gigabit ethernet and S-ATA based drive connects– both upgrades over the previous generation.

    In other words, the higher price is definitely going for a more capable machine. Whether any individual finds that palatable is for them to decide.

  12. Darth Sidious says:

    Current Intel Chips in the iMac, Mac Mini or MacBook are more expensive than their PowerPC counterparts.

    The problem with the Mac Mini is that the sales pitch was that it was a sub 500$ machine. Now it’s a $599 machine.

    So basically, it’s a PC which is more expensive than a Mac.

  13. kcd says:

    Quartz Extreme does not require pixel shaders at all. It’ll run fine all the way back to a GeForce2MX or the original Radeon, either of which had far less fill rate and graphical abilities than the GMA950. Some of the newer CoreImage based UI effects (such as the Dashboard ripple effect) require support for the ARB_fragment_program extension, which the GMA950 fully supports.

    For day to day usage, the GMA950 is a great chipset considering it is essentially “free” in comparison to a discrete GPU. Having been essentially living one of the new minis for a couple of months during the machine’s development cycle, I can find very little to complain about. The Mac OSX GUI runs smooth as glass on it. I wouldn’t try to compare it agains the GeForce 7800GT in my Quad G5, but that card costs almost as much as the Mac Mini does.

    I strongly suggest that people take one of the new machines for a spin at an Apple store before judging the integrated graphics too harshly.

  14. Chas says:

    So what you’re saying is that this machine with this video is really only good for plating back video. And worse, that we should be happy and shut up about it.

    Apple cheaped out and got lazy with this offering. And we’re supposed to accept that simply because it’s not an iMac and is “only” $600. What an arrogant, condescending attitude!

    The fact is that compared to today’s offerings, this GPU is lame. Even by today’s ATI/nVidia lower end offerings. Comparing it to years-old cards is a crock.

    And shared memory is just evil. Evil.

    And here’s why I rail: the rest the Mini’s specs are good. This is a good machine hobbled. I had actually planned to purchase several. Had.

    I’m sure the OS X GUI does run smooth as glass. How ’bout if you actually DO something. Let’s fire up PhotoShop AND iMovie and do a little work. Turn that iMac off for 9 weeks, just use the Mini, and then tell us about it. Not everyone can afford two machines. I know many people who’d like to be able to use OS X (especially iLife) but can’t afford an iMac, and I will not recommend this Mini to them with this graphics.

  15. Mat says:

    Chas, go take one for a spin.

    Sure it’s not a real graphics card but I am sure that machine is not designed to play games. It’s meant to sit under your TV and play videos streamed from your real work computer. If you want to use it for something else then you are going to have to deal with it.

  16. mattbr says:

    assuming this is a video playback machine, two questions : it can play 1080p, fine. But what 1080p ? does it decompress h.264 1080p ? does it do hardware h.264 at all ?

    phoey, sayeth thou, all is still mpeg 2.

    good, so let’s look at a much more urgent problem.

    Assuming you have both an hd-capable display and hd material, chances are a nontrivial part of your material will be in a so-called “interlaced” format, and that your display will be in a so-called “progressive” format. the de-interlacing process that makes your interlaced material into progressive for your display to show you without flickering is extremely ressource intensive. Actually, you could contend that if you want quality de-interlacing, you’d want to either go with very expensive hardware (5k+) or with a… powerful video card, such as ATI’s x1000 series and the nvidia’s equivalent. The problem is that hardware-accelerated motion-compensated algorithms don’t exist on OSX yet, but the day they do, your crappy intel-based video card simply won’t be able to run them. and you’ll be stuck with either discarding half the fields of your hd signal, halving your horizontal resolution, or dealing with fugly lines each time an object moves too fast.

    Thank you Apple.

  17. bbum says:

    It is a Mac Mini. The most entry level of all Macintoshes! It isn’t designed to be the be-all, end-all, of graphics processing beasts. Nor is it intended to sit under a TV somewhere and do nothing but video.

    Half of the comments here feel like people are buying a Forrester to haul pinball machines and then being disappointed when the damned thing doesn’t handle like a Ferrari at 180MPH on I-280 North. Sheesh.

    It is the easy and affordable Macintosh. Not the supercomputer on your desktop Macintosh.

    If you want video playback comparable to a piece of $5k dedicated hardware, then go spend the bucks on a piece of hardware that can do that, general computer or otherwise. A quad G5 with all the fixin’s would likely fit the bill. A bit different footprint than a mini, though.

    The previous generation Mac Mini is already a pleasant machine to use. No powerhouse, not by any means, but damned pleasant and reasonably priced. Of course, I didn’t expect to pay $750 and receive a machine that can do 100 FPS in IronForge on a friday night!

    The new Mac Minis are faster in every way — at least, as near as I can tell… does anyone actually keep a list of all graphics benchmarks tested with the same software anywhere??? — and the video chipset is specifically optimized for playback on consumer televisions. Nice. Perfect. Serious bang for my buck, as far as I’m concerned.

    Of course, I can only be happy because my expectations are actually inline with the product’s goals.

  18. John C. Randolph says:


    A statement like “shared memory is just evil. Evil.” shows little if any technical depth on your part. There are situations where one wants to read back from the display memory, and that’s definitely not a good thing on a PCI-Express bus, for example. If Ken Dyke found this machine liveable, that tells me that it’s pretty snappy.


  19. Medialoper » The Daily Loper - February 24, 2006 says:

    […] Intel Mac Mini’s Video Card […]

  20. Medialoper » The Daily Loper — March 1, 2006 says:

    […] Intel Mac Mini’s Video CardThe new Mac Mini’s on-bard video card is optimized for HD video playback. Need any more clues about Job’s intentions? […]

  21. A Cup Of » Blog Archive » Initial Mac Mini Intel GMA950 Benchmark Tests says:

    […] […]

  22. mattbr says:


    a $700 or $800 pc can hold its own, within reasonable limits, to the standalone boxes – not quite as good, but close enough not to make it embarrassing. The only reason a mini won’t be able to pull it off if and when the software is ported will be because the GPU in it is crap, either because Apple nickel and dimed on it, or because it was impossible to fit something less crappy in there, which i doubt.

  23. kcd says:

    I know some people are simply not going to change their mind, but here are some (very) raw numbers:

    I have access to an original PowerPC Mac Mini (acting as my file server), a Core Duo Mini, a PowerBook G4 15″ (Radeon 9600 Mobility), an iMac G5 (GeForce 5200), an iMac Core Duo 20″, and a PowerMac G5 Quad w/7800GT. I wrote a really simple GL fill rate test app just to get a very rough idea of the performance across the different GPUs. It’s just a simple rectangle-textured polygon blend benchmark, designed to measure very simplistic compositing performance (as might be used by the WindowServer). It’s not the end-all-be-all GPU benchmark by any means, but it may help put things in perspective.

    GeForce 7800GT: 3325 megapixels/sec
    CoreDuo iMac 20″: 1137 megapixels/sec
    Cure Duo Mini: 802 megapixels/second
    iMac G5: 778 megapixels/second
    PowerBook G4: 662 megapixels/second
    G4 Mac Mini: 288 megapixels/second

    In terms of raw bandwidth for simple fill rate stuff, the new Mac Mini is great, and fill rate is still the most important thing for day to day app usage. A more interesting test would probably be to write some kind of interesting pixel shader and see how the different GPUs stack up. The picture would change quite a bit, but mostly to the advantage of the higher end parts like the 7800GT (which probably has more gates on the die than the Intel Core Duo and the i945G put together).

  24. David Brake says:

    I don’t really want state of the art 3D performance but I am finding that most PC games these days – even ones that don’t really push graphics like RTSes – seem to require Radeon or GEforce chipsets to run. I notice this because my wife’s PC laptop (which I had hoped to use as my gaming machine) doesn’t run quite a few games. So it’s not just that the Mac Mini may have trouble running many games well – it may not run them at all!

  25. Ralph says:

    kcd: are you saying the new Mac mini supports CoreImage, and is it CoreImage as in “it supports the Dashboard ripple effect” or e.g. as in “will (or might) support Aperture and similar software making use of that feature”?

    Thanks for your insight.

  26. Tech Tok » TT-2006-03-01 - Mac Mini says:

    […] I am somehwat underwhelmed by the quality, but it’s intelligible at least. We mostly talk about the new Mac Mini (with Intel CPU) and how its graphics are sub-par. Obviously some people are quite happy with the on-board Intel GPU because its 2D performance is very good. […]

  27. Phildo’s Blog » So what’s the news? says:

    […] ==Update 2== Daniel sent me the following link on the Intel GMA950 […]

  28. stingerman says:

    Ralph, it has 4 hardware pixel shaders that support Arb Frag. So applications that use Core Image leverage the 4 pixel shaders. The ripple effect is the easy way to see if Core Image acceleration is on. The more pixel haders available to Core Image the better it will function, as it dynamically leverage every pixel shader availabe. Obviously a dedicated GPU with 48 Pixel shaders is going to blow away one with 4. But such a GPU alone costs almost as much as a Core Duo Mini.

  29. kcd says:

    Yes, the GMA 950 fully supports the CoreImage API (System Profiler also reports it as supported). One might be a *little* nuts to try running Aperture on it (given that application’s minimum requirements), but I’ve never tried it myself.

  30. Ralph says:

    kcd et al: thanks for your answers. Well, it might sound a *little* nuts to try and run Aperture, but I was only using it as an example and, on the other hand, Aperture *does* run on a PowerBook G4 which *I* would consider less powerful, at least CPU-wise. Time will tell how nuts this idea really is 😉 The first-gen. iMac G5 couldn’t run Aperture because of the Graphics Card, so I was a little surprised when I heard that the Mini provides full CoreImage Support.

    What really attracts me is the small package and the possibility to use my trusty 22-inch Cinema Display with it. I didn’t want a full-size tower and I want one of the new Intel machines. And while I’m really a WO guy, I tend to experiment quite a bit with Cocoa & friends – so what I want as a developer is a machine that supports all the features the operating system offers. I won’t buy a machine that wouldn’t run all the new Universal Binaries that are going to come out, and I’m not really somebody who _needs_ Aperture, but being able to run it just proves that the Mini will run every CoreImage-based solution you throw at it.

    Anyway, thank you for the information.

  31. segrov says:

    Kdc, thank you so far for all your answers.

    Tonights big question for me and all my mac-buddys, are wether the Intel Mac Mini will be able to run h.264 720p or even 1080p at an acceptable framerate.

    Could you plese enlighten us?

  32. John C. Randolph says:


    I just got my Mac Mini this afternoon, and it’s driving my TV through an HDMI connection at 1920×1080. Interlaced, because the TV apparently can’t take 1080p over the HDMI ports for some reason.

    Anyhow, the Mini is having no trouble playing the HD examples from the Quicktime HD gallery, whether full-screen or reduced. This machine only has 512M of RAM. I’ll be upping it to 2Gig in the next day or so, but for playing video it’s fine without any of the BTO options. This is the Core Duo model.


  33. Drewstre says:

    Hey kcd-
    Thanks for the info. I was wondering if you’d possibly post that fill rate app, or maybe email it to me? I have a few Macs hangin around, and I’d love to be able to compare their performance to your numbers. The video is the _only_ reason I’ve hesitated on a mini, and I’d be interested to see the performance compared to what I’m used to.

    Thanks heaps,

  34. Jerm says:

    I’m actually wondering how the mini would perform with iLife ’06. And then especially iMovie.
    I’m thinking of buying a Mac Mini primary for the iLife suite (I’ll be only doing some amateur image editing, audio editing and video editing). So how would the Mini perform for that (especially with the integrated graphics)?
    I don’t own a Mac at the moment, so this would be my first Mac.
    How much memory should I put in the new Mac Mini to make it perform ‘well enough’?

  35. Ruhayat says:

    Bill hit it right on the nose: this is a Mac Mini, for crying out loud. An *entry-level* Mac. What are people expecting – for Apple to shoot themselves in the foot by coming up with something that beats the current dual-core Powermacs at a quarter of the price? They’ve already done that with the new iMac, and *still* people are not happy!

    Compared to the 1.25GHz Mac Mini I have, the new Core Duo version kicks some serious arse and seems to approach even my dual 1.8GHz G5 tower. If Apple doesn’t come out with a new Powermac on April 1, I’ll be trading in my old Mini for the new one.

  36. Marty says:

    I think many of the Apple defenders are confused as to why people are a irritated about the onboard video.

    The old Mac Mini with the Radeon could do everything well… Not super fast, but well enough. It played games at acceptable frame rates, could be used for video playback / media center like activities and was generally a decent entry level Mac.

    The new Mac Mini sacrifices game-play for the Jobs’ vision of being a media center… and yet, it really didn’t add anything in the way of media center capabilities except for the H.264 encode/decoding (One could argue that even a low-end Radeon GPU could give you that as well).

    So basically, Apple took away one of the features of the old Mac Mini which was being utilized by its audience.

    People are pissed because Apple took away an important feature to its target audience *and* raised the price… That’s why people are irate.

  37. bbum says:

    That would be annoying if it were true.

    But it isn’t true.

    The new Mac Mini’s GPU is faster than the old Mac Mini’s GPU in every way except for hardware Open GL shading. However, the new Mac Mini’s Software GL Shading is faster than the old Mac Mini’s hardware GL shading.

    So, let’s see: considerably more CPU power (as in: tons and tons more), a much faster system bus, gigabit ethernet, faster video card, faster device I/O, more USB 2.0 ports….

    How, exactly, is that taking away features?

  38. Frank says:

    I’ll gladly admit I was less than thrilled about the GMA950 solution on the new Mac mini, but I’m pleased the early reports indicate the machine will be able to decode and playback 1080p HD-material (presumably due to the power of the Core Duo chip).

    But those of you who critizise those of us who are disappointed – try to understand this: The new Mac mini is 99.9% perfect in nearly every aspect! Apple adressed pretty much _every_ weakness about the previous Mac mini – so congrats for a marvelous design indeed! BUT, and this is a _huge_ but, the whole experience is really ruined by the GMA950s lack of 3D performance. It seems to me the machine is very unbalanced in its offerings. True, the Mac mini is no gaming rig – but that has never translated into not being able to play games at all.

    “Buy an iMac” or “By a PowerMac” is something people say to me. Well, first of I have a perfectly fine LCD and there is no way in hell I will be dragging a tower computer into my livingroom any time soon. I just want a decent headless unit with good performance across the board, and sadly the Intel Mac mini isn’t it. It came _very_ close indeed, but it just missed the target.

    Synthetic benchmarks like fillrate and shader performance can be misleading, thus we need to see how the Intel Mac mini handles real applications like UT2004 and WoW for example. The PPC Mac mini can play these titles just fine – is the same true for the Intel Mac mini? My reports indicate no, and this is the problem most people are complaining about. If a 1 year old Mac mini _can_ play UT2004 and Wow, is it too much to ask for that the new Intel Mac mini at least does it equally well?

  39. DazedAndConfuzed says:

    Here’s what Apple used to tell us about shared memory graphics (see link above):

    ... an “integrated Intel graphics” chip steals power from the CPU and siphons off memory from system-level RAM.

    And that’s exactly what it’s doing in the current Mac Mini also. That bandwidth is a goner. Just because the old architecture was crap, doesn’t mean that the newer one isn’t also. Who wins ? Apple of course, less production cost, more profit. Yay.

  40. bbum says:

    Marketing spin. So?

    Bottom line: Overall system performance — graphics subsystem included — on the Intel Mac Mini is significantly greater than the previous generation PPC Mac Mini. Way greater. Night and day.

    If you are buying a Mac Mini– or criticizing a Mac Mini for lack therein– for raw 3D performance, you are confused about the targeted market or the design goals of the product (or the prior generation of the product).

    The Mac Mini has always been optimized around the “value proposition”. What does that mean? It means that it is optimized around providing the best all around price/performance package — not the all around best performance, most features, or most cutting edge technologies.

    Given the vast performance increase combined with a slew of new features (or standard features that were previously optional), the $100 price difference seems extremely reasonable. I’m certainly going to be tossing a Mac Mini Intel into my home network as both my primary media playback system and an additional computation engine in the near future.

  41. Darth Sidious says:

    “[…] Given the vast performance increase combined with a slew of new features (or standard features that were previously optional), the $100 price difference seems extremely reasonable.[…]”

    This is not a valid argument in the computer world. You can’t make people “buy” that. The computer industry is all about providing faster and more complete solution over time for the same price or less than the previous price.

    That does not say it’s not a good machine. Just that Apple is not able to produce a better machine for the same price one year after version 1.0. Disappointing but this can happen.

  42. bbum says:

    Apple has often released a product — iPods and Computers — that have been slightly more expensive and much more capable/powerful than a previous model to great success. Once released, the pricing generally creeps downward until the next major redesign.

    The Intel Mac Mini is a major redesign that offers significantly greater bang for the buck. It is a huge upgrade. For example, the Intel Mac Mini can readily display 1080p HD streams without dropping frames (as is now being reported from many sources). The original Mac Mini could not. But one of many examples of how the Intel Mac Mini is a much better product.

  43. Darth Sidious says:

    “For example, the Intel Mac Mini can readily display 1080p HD streams without dropping frames…”

    Hum, but there are no HD streams available, aren’t they? Apple Trailers are just trailers. DVDs are still MPEG2 (and when you think DVDs in FullScreen format are still sold in the US, it gives an idea about the speed of Widescreen adoption).

    I understand this is an egg and chicken things as no HD broadcast can be available as long as adoption of HD TV screens has not become large enough and vice-versa.

    But the fact remains, the chip inside every new Mac Mini is able to do useless things for a higher price.

    Or to quote a more recent add: “What is an Intel chip doing inside a Mac?” “Driving the cost higher, sir!”.

  44. bbum says:

    Huh? I guess you weren’t paying attention when Steve said “HD HD HD HD” about fifty million times in the last year.

    And I guess you haven’t been paying attention to the growing pool of benchmarks indicating the Mac Mini is a vastly more capable machine in every way than its predecessor?

    And, apparently, your perception is that the increased value of the Intel Mac Mini is entirely measured by one particular feature. Never mind the previously optional features that are now standard and the upgrades across the boards in all subsystems…

    This forum is one pointless, misdirected, misinformed, troll bait of a comment away from being closed.

  45. Frank says:

    And I guess you haven’t been paying attention to the growing pool of benchmarks indicating the Mac Mini is a vastly more capable machine in every way than its predecessor?

    Well now, that is hardly true, is it? No doubt the Intel Mac mini is a better machine, but I’d like to restate my previously unanswered question: If a 1 year old Mac mini _can_ play UT2004 and Wow, is it too much to ask for that the new Intel Mac mini at least does it equally well?

    The benchmarks clearly states that the 3D-performance in games of the 1+ year newer Intel Mac mini is not on-pair with the PPC Mac mini. So it is obviously not “vastly more capable machine in every way”.

    My take on this whole deal: The big fuzz clearly shows there is a market for a small headless Mac capable of playing games.

  46. bbum says:

    Too much to ask? No — that seems pretty reasonable and it will be interesting to see how WoW performs on the new machine. I think UT2004 benchmarks are starting to trickle in and are not showing up as that stellar.

    For games, it will largely depend on how the gaming engine is implemented. In particular, how many different styles of GPU that the game has been optimized for. Part of the voodoo of GPUs is that there are several distinctly different architectures and technologies, each of which has their strengths and weaknesses. As a result, if a gaming engine was optimized for a particular architecture or card, it may not work at all well on another architecture or card without a different set of optimizations.

    I’m not sure what architectures UT2004 has been optimized for or how much effort was expended on ensuring that it either degrades gracefully or works well on the lower end of chipsets. It certainly didn’t look like it was a terribly enjoyable game on the original Mini, either.

    The Intel Mac Mini is definitely going to be an interesting optimization target. The benchmarks are showing that it is potentially quite fast if you optimize for the software based GL renderer. I suspect we will see more of a disparity between single and dual core models in framerates than is typical of other systems (say, single vs. dual G5 systems).

    In any case, if you are a gamer, the original Mac Mini was not for you and the new Mac Mini doesn’t appear to be any different in that regard.

  47. Otis Wildflower says:

    It all comes down to framerate.

    Where are the benchmarks for OS X games, such as World of Warcraft, UT2004, SimCity/The Sims, etc? How many fps do you get in Ironforge on the new mini? That’s all that matters.

    Also, any benches related to installed RAM vs. video performance?

    It’s all just uneducated whingeing (albeit encouraged by Apple and their ‘chipset video is evil’ campaign during the first mini launch) until the benchmarks come out…

  48. Marty says:

    In any case, if you are a gamer, the original Mac Mini was not for you and the new Mac Mini doesn’t appear to be any different in that regard.

    And no Mini-detractor has said any different, but apparently no one else is actually reading the posts. We’re not talking about the Mini being a MacBox360 here, but…

    The old Mini could play games at very acceptable framerates. It was a capabale (not top of the line, but capabale) 3D machine as well as decent media center potential. The new Mini, thus far, would appear to suffer greatly in the 3D department, and to get decent performance, you’ll have to get at least the Core Duo version…


    $500 = old Mini, decent computer; decent gaming experience; media features; can do everything acceptibly.

    $600 = Core Solo, decent computer; lousy-ass gaming; some extra HD media features that can’t even be used yet due to lack of HD content sources.

    $700 = Core Mini, more decent computer; sub-par gaming at best (one hopes); HD blah blah blah; does media real well, but sacrificies the all around utility of the previous Mini in order to get it (and HD sources *still* don’t exist).

    So, $200 more gets you less unless you use your time-traveling DeLorean to find yourself some HiDef.

    I just want a decent headless unit with good performance across the board, and sadly the Intel Mac mini isn’t it. It came _very_ close indeed, but it just missed the target.

    Frank, you are so right. People just aren’t getting that. An iMac or PowerMac (or the coming Intel desktop) is not the solution because we’d like a headless unit that can do a little of everything. I don’t mind that the price point went up (if 3D hadn’t been sacrificed), but without decent 3D, this machine is *only* good for media center apps and loses the other entertainment appeal the previous Mini had.

  49. Darth Sidious says:

    I guess I must be too far away from Cupertino to be affected by the reality distorsion field.

    While Apple is providing tools both for the public and the pros to potentially produce some HD contents, this does not remove the following facts:

    – I doubt someone buying just a mini can afford a HD camera.

    – I doubt that a lot of people anyway have a HD camera at home yet.

    – Contents you can buy on a Disc or on-line are not HD ready (I seem to recall there might be a channel broadcasting in HD but hey, there is no tuner on the Mini). The Mini does not include a Blue Ray disc or an equivalent.

    – If I may dare: QuickTime is suffering from bugs when it comes to watching HD contents : Trailers leading to crashes. Incoherences when dealing with 2 HD movies during download, etc…

    When it comes to the price, I understand that the new Intel chip is not the _only_ reason for the higher price but I would have liked the price to stay the same (even if it would have meant not providing GigaBit Ethernet, Bluetooth, a 4th USB port because all of these are useless for 90% of customers). But as you say, the price will decrease in the future. I just would have liked not to have to wait.

  50. Frank says:

    From Ars Technica:

    Playing the Deep Sea trailer on the Mac mini Core Solo had interesting results. It played the 480p version flawlessly with a constant frame rate of 24 fps. The 720p formatted film was a slightly different story. The video played very well, but when the video had quick-moving segments (schools of fish moving and changing direction quickly) the frame rate would dip slightly into the 18-20 fps region. The 1080p version was simply unplayable.

    Interesting. Perhaps the Core Solo would perform better with more memory. Perhaps not. But it seems you need to go for the Core Duo in order to be sure 720p is perfectly displayed.

  51. bbum says:

    The reports from various Core Duo owners indicate the same, Frank.

    And –yes — I would agree. The Core Solo is truly an entry level machine. Given that the on board video will put a greater demand on the CPU, there is no doubt that a Core Duo based Mini has significantly better graphics performance potential.

    It is also clear that the Mini is going to require a bit of tuning on the part of 3D gaming engine makers.

  52. Marty says:

    It is also clear that the Mini is going to require a bit of tuning on the part of 3D gaming engine makers.

    Ick… I’m not holding my breath. On the PC side where the game market is huge, few of the higher-demand 3D games even bother to support non-ATI/nVideo chip sets. My friend, who has a relatively new PC with onboard video (one which does support 3D, by the way) says half of today’s “modern games” — shooters mostly — won’t even run correctly on his machine. PC game companies are treated users with lower end graphics as throw-aways.

    Now consider the Mac gaming market… It’s near impossible to even get many games ported to our side, and now the porting houses will have to do extra work to support decent frame rates on the Minis? Somehow, I doubt it will happen. The porting houses are on paper thin margins with short development timelines as it is. It doesn’t make much business sense to spend the extra development dollars to support a small subset of their already too small audience.

    I hope I’m wrong.

  53. Marty says:

    oh by the above comment: I’m not implying the games won’t run on the Mini… but they probably won’t have any optimization for it, so framerates will continue to suck in 3D games.

  54. Arsch Krapfen says:

    Intel Chipset-Graphics Core Image performance is about 1/2 to 1/3rd of a Radeon 9600, so far the BY FAR worst and slowest CI-capable GPU there was. So have fun with Imaginator, this thing just SUCKS hard, even Unreal Tournament runs slower than on the measly 9200 the G4 Mac mini had!…

    But hey, it does the water ripple effect in dashboard! \o/ That’s about it concerning its Core Image oomph, but who needs more, really?

    Have fun running aperture or Motion on this thing…

  55. Arsch Krapfen says:

    “In terms of raw bandwidth for simple fill rate stuff, the new Mac Mini is great, and fill rate is still the most important thing for day to day app usage.”

    No, it sucks. Alot. Core Image is almost completely fillrate- (and pipeline) dominated, and -again- a Radeon 9600, really really really old Entry-level-GPU, also with FOUR Pipelines, just like the GMA950, is TWICE to THREE TIMES faster in Core Image! Compare for yourself using iMaginator if you don’t believe me!

    If you’re really an Apple developer, you better do your homework. EVERYBODY (read Anandtech, Tomshardware etc) knows that integrated GPUs are ESPECIALLY bad with regards to fillrate! This can be easily proven when you scale the resolution up: Chipset-GPUs go bellyup faster than you can say “shared memory”, while dedicated GPUs, even really old ones, atleast scale to 800×600 or 1024×768 in most games!

    Dudes, look at what the GMA950 is: It doesn’t even have Vertexshaders, ALL Vertex-calculations are handed off to the CPU! Why? Easy: Intel makes CPUs and wants people to buy faster ones, they’ve ALWAYS hated that the focus for performance shifted away from CPUs to GPUs in the first place during recent years! So the GMA950 is nothing more than Intels try to get some of the functionality that has moved onto GPUs (e.g. geometry processing like Vertexshaders!) in recent years BACK onto the CPU!
    This is why they offer it so cheaply, so system builders rather opt for a faster CPU and tell customers they won’t need any more anyway than spending more dough on a dedicated GPU+VRAM!

    The really funny thing is that Nvidias and ATIs chipset GPUs whoop the GMA950s ass BIGTIME! This may be due to the fact that both ATI nor Nvidia have a need to force-feed people with faster CPUs. So Apple didn’t just opt for sucky chipset gfx, no, they also chose the WORST Chipset gfx there is! We’re talking over THREE TIMES slower than a Nvidia 6200 with Turbocache or ATI X300 Hypermemory!

    Look here if you don’t believe me:

    “An *entry-level* Mac. What are people expecting – for Apple to shoot themselves in the foot by coming up with something that beats the current dual-core Powermacs at a quarter of the price?”

    What I expect? Balanced system design, as i am used to from Apple! But now with Intel they seem to be hell-bent on throwing a Core Duo into everything and flogging SPEC-numbers, COMPLETELY neglecting system balance! What do i need Dualcore for when i have such a sucking GPU? Cinema4D rendering, but not modelling? Games, that don’t run ONLY on a fast CPU? Just forget it!
    A Core Solo for all Mac minis but an age-old ultra-cheap Radeon 9600 64MB instead of the GMA950 would have been MUCH MUCH faster in *anything* that uses 3D _and_ even stuff like Core Image! But then again ATI prolly couldn’t be arsed to port the drivers for such an old card, and Apple did have the GMA-drivers from the developer kit already…

    “They’ve already done that with the new iMac, and *still* people are not happy!”

    WTF are you talking about? G5 Dual 2GHz is $2000, Dual 2.3 GHz is $2500. iMac Dual 1.83 GHz is $1300 and Dual 2GHz is $1700. In how far is this “four times”???

    “Synthetic benchmarks like fillrate and shader performance can be misleading, thus we need to see how the Intel Mac mini handles real applications like UT2004 and WoW for example.”

    According to Macworld testing, the Intel mac mini is SLOWER than the old Mac mini in UT2004!
    UT 2004 Mac Mini Core Duo 1.66 GHz: 12.2 fps
    UT 2004 Mac Mini Core Solo 1.5 GHz: 10.4 fps
    UT 2004 Mac Mini G4 1.42 GHz: 14.5 fps
    UT 2004 Mac Mini G5 1.25 GHz: 13.9 fps

    So much for that…

    Dudes, Apple paid $50 for the G4 1.25 GHz according to iSuppli. They’re paying around $240 for the Core Duo, also according to iSuppli! And we’re talking about a machine with a $500 pricepoint here! Apple cheaped out on the GPU and VRAM to atleast save it’s already drowining margins a LITTLE bit at least, plain and simple! Just forget all your talk about “appealing to target groups” etc….

    “For example, the Intel Mac Mini can readily display 1080p HD streams without dropping frames (as is now being reported from many sources). The original Mac Mini could not.”

    Well, atleast the original mac mini could play UT2k4! What do you think more people do:

    [ ] watch Quicktime H.264 Trailers in 1920×1080 on their $2000 LCD they attached to their $600 computer all day long (because that’s about the only source for 1080p H.264-material currently and will be for some time!)
    [ ] play a game every now and then

    “Huh? I guess you weren’t paying attention when Steve said “HD HD HD HD” about fifty million times in the last year.”

    Well, contrary to you we’re aware what EFFORTS on Apple’s side this actually meant: iMovie can now do HD. In Apples MPEG2-based Intermediate Codec (which the old Mac mini could play just fine), not H.264. Grrreat! That’s it?

  56. Ralph says:

    @ A.K.: apart from your oh-so-funny nickname, you are kind of contradicting yourself here:

    “What do i need Dualcore for when i have such a sucking GPU?” and

    “So the GMA950 is nothing more than Intels try to get some of the functionality that has moved onto GPUs (…) BACK onto the CPU!”

    So what might be the point of having an really good, powerful CPU inside the mini? You were kind enough to provide the answer straight away, think about it…

    “So have fun with Imaginator, this thing just SUCKS hard…”

    Have you actually _tried_ it before posting this flame? I certainly will before starting to whine in the presence of people with more first-hand knowledge than those who post things like “this must be so, I’ve read the BENCHMARKS ON THE INTARWEB!”.

    I don’t really care about game performance, and I’ll wait and see if the Mini can do everything I want.

    If you want to play games, spend 150 EUR on a PlayStation, then you get more than enough games. Seriously, I’ve never heard of anybody who buys a Mac for gaming.

    But I assume you would be more than happy to play UT 2004 @ 14.5 fps on a G4 mini, wouldn’t you? Of course, that’s certainly much better for real gamers…

    Maybe kcd is kind enough to provide some more information about CoreImage performance on the CoreDuo mini? Could you check out iMaginator or whatever comes your way that does a bit more than the ripple effect?

  57. Luke says:

    I’ve read a whole bunch of intemperate stuff posted here. A Krapfen seems particularly worked up about 3d performance.

    I have bought several mac minis. None of them do *any* complex 3d stuff at all, some are headless tiny servers (scripts and command-line tools ahoy!) some are attached to TVs for home theater, some are workstations. For my purposes, the new minis are a HUGE WIN. The older ones were better for you? Buy them on ebay as people like me upgrade.

    You seem to have forgotten that there are a lot of us who are much better off. Not that it means that you shouldn’t be unhappy that you’re worse off. But Apple’s market research is might have led them to some trade-offs which suit a lot more people than you think.

    Or, to put it another way, why should I pay an extra $50 for something I’ll never use so that you can get an extra 4fps in a UT? Answers, questions, comments are more than welcome :)

  58. In-side » links for 2006-03-02 says:

    […] bbum’s weblog-o-mat » Blog Archive » Intel Mac Mini’s Video Card bbum’s take on the Mac Mini’s GMA950 chipset (tags: mac macmini mini gma950 bbum intel video front_row) […]

  59. Chris says:

    I have a theory why people get irate about the Mac Mini GPU. It’s because everyone is out looking for the best “deal”. They want maximum bang for their buck. What Apple has gone and done is snatched a the “perfect” deal right out of their hands. If they had just tossed in a middle of the road 128mb video card in there then their dreams would have been made reality. Instead, they took the perfect machine and castrated / spayed / neutered it. (pick your term) There is no hope even of buying a Mini and upgrading the graphics on it. They are forced (cruelly and maliciously) to choose a machine farther up the product line (by the evil Apple).

    Now, I have a Mac Mini Core Duo here serving up my text to you now. I love it. I love the fact that I get full operation of Core Image and I can run my 1600 x 1200 display without maxing out the video memory buffer like the old Mini would have done. The only thing I don’t like about it at the moment is that I am bumping into the 512MB ram limit constantly, and I’m used to opening up a mitfull of apps and work on them simultaneously. Other than that, this thing is waaay faster than my old powerbook G4 1.5ghz. It is jaw dropping. I’m thrilled.

    I can definitely sympathize with those that don’t like the GPU. I feel the pain, but I know that I don’t NEED anything more than this. It fits.

    Now, I think that those who are railing against the GPU might want to sit back and marvel at the marketing pefection that Apple is crafting. It’s like an upward slippery slope. There has to be limitations to make you want to go up to the next step:

    Not satisfied with the Core Solo.. gotta get the Core Duo…
    Not satisfied with the GPU… gota go with an iMac…
    C’mon 17 inches is so .. early 2000’s! I have to at least get 20.
    20 inches.. yeah.. Oh, but just a couple more bucks and I’ve got a 2.xGhz! …
    Oh.. but wait, I can’t lug that thing around…
    Hey. MACBOOK PRO!!
    Oh.. but not 1.8ghz…. … that’s not even 2!

    It’s a totally natural progression of desire. I suspect that most people who drool over Mac updates tend to settle their desires there on the MacBook. Brilliant. Across the line there are no competing products, each different level /category has only one product with the “low end” and the “high end” models. Focussed like a laser.

    Anyway, if you want total control to get a computer to fit your precise, unique, tastes and desires… don’t look to Apple. It’s impossible to be both focussed and diffuse.

    And don’t expect any business to come along and hand you the perfect deal. The economy doesn’t work that way. Why waste your time searching for it? It’s not on eBay, Amazon, PriceGrabber, the flea market, It’s not there because all of those people are looking to get the perfect deal from YOU.

    Now, if I can just find me 2GB of RAM for my Mini for under $200 THEN I’ll be happy!

  60. Frank says:

    Yet another person thinking the solution to the poor gfx problem in the mini, is to get an iMac :)

  61. No No says:

    JCR said “the TV apparently can’t take 1080p over the HDMI ports for some reason”. More details: My Sony KDL-40XBR2 (1080p LCD TV), when connected with a DVI->HDMI cable (bought at Radio Snack) will only show 1920×1080 *interlaced* in System Preferences/Displays. However, if you hook the Sony-supplied VGA (HD15) cable to the “PC” input on the Sony TV (and Apple’s supplied DVI->VGA converter wedge), it shows 1920×1080, without the “interlaced” notation! Seems backward to me, i.e. the HDMI connectioni should perform better. But the PC input is rock solid, and looks better than interlaced HDMI input, which chews on the fonts while deinterlacing.

    (Note to anybody who nevertheless chooses to use the HDMI input: Unless you want to turn off the “overscan” option on the Mac Mini (thus leaving a black border on-screen), you must tell the Sony TV to use “Full Pixel” mode on the HDMI input, else it will chop off the edges. And because 1920×1080(interlaced) looks so bad, you really have to choose 1600×900 to use the HDMI input. Looks great, but you get more screen real estate the other way. Also, though you can edit the HDMI source name label to “Mac Mini”, the VGA input is hardwired to be called “PC”. Cope…)

    I know this comment is way late, but the next person who Googles “mac mini won’t display 1080p” will at least get a little more help here!

  62. bbum says:

    Not late at all and this is exactly why I don’t shut off comments on older posts.

    If you happen to read this, THANK YOU for the additional info. Very much appreciated.

  63. JE says:

    i have a mac mini display problem, that maybe is worth mentioning….it’s a solo, and was my media center for 9 months and perfect. didn’t do a ton of hd, and ran it through my hdmi cabele. now in the last 3 months i have red pixelazation, and i can’t figure out why……it happens in gradations of things, in video and even in the front row menu….

    any ideas?


  64. bbum says:

    Sounds like [hopefully] a dirty connector or bad cable.

    Or, pessimistically, it sounds like the GPU is potentially overheating and misbehaving.

  65. Ed Harris says:


    2 Years on and they’re still using the crappy GMA 950.
    They used the money they saved to spend 400 million on advertising last year.

    Now that Macs are PC’s, how will they justify overprice inferior products? By spending 800 million this year.

    Sidenote: There are 2 major brands of mp3 player that are much better than ipod (in terms of sound quality and more) and yet a huge marketing spend seemed to cure that so it seems to be working.

    Sidenote 2: Apparently the 1st computer virus was written on a mac yet expensive marketing makes us think that macs are less prone to viruses.

    I LOVE MACS but I have now seen the light.

  66. bbum says:

    Hmm…. somebody started the year with a big Pill O’ Bitter.

    (1) Don’t like the GMA 950? Buy an iMac instead. Not that much more. Or, if driving an HDTV, get an Apple TV. Frankly, driving an HDTV from a Mini proved to be a disaster because of HDCP.

    (2) Better than the iPod? Name it. Name one player that has the seamless integration of music, movies, tv shows, and podcasts through a store with anywhere near the ease of use and accessibility of iTunes. Yes, movie selection is anemic right now — but it is better than any other service that allows playback on devices. Or how about another music device that can also browse the web or do email via WiFi (or, in the case of the iPhone, EDGE)?

    As per computer virus, yes — the first virus for consumer computers was written for the classic Mac. A completely and totally different architecture and operating system. And your point is what?

  67. Can’t Resist the Urge… « Simply Robert says:

    […] integrated graphics may have been the only option. Furthermore, it seems that this is still a significant upgrade to the G4 mini’s graphics system despite the fact it isn’t exactly geared toward […]

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