Likely to appeal most to Apple shops, the Mac mini with Snow Leopard Server is a complete server solution that meets most small business needs. It can also be used with Windows and, with no client access licences needed, beats Windows Small Business Server alternatives in terms of cost. A good looker, the Mac mini is easy to deploy. However, expansion is limited and the ease of use claims don't always pan out, especially when things go wrong, when technical skills are quite definitely needed.
Small, efficient and quiet; unlimited user licence; user upgradeable RAM; cross-platform file sharing; bundled email, address book, calendaring and web servers; wiki/blogging tools
Limited expansion options; no eSATA interface for external storage; old-fashioned webmail client
Machined aluminium 'unibody' casing with integrated power supply; 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM (user upgradeable to 8GB); two 500GB 7,200rpm Hitachi SATA hard disks (2.5in); Nvidia GeForce 320M video controller; mini display port and HDMI connector (HDMI-to-DVI adapter included); single Gigabit Ethernet port; integrated Airport Extreme wireless adapter (802.11n); four USB 2.0 ports; FireWire 800 port; SD card slot; integrated speaker; combined optical digital audio input/output; pre-installed Apple Mac OSX 10.6 Server (Snow Leopard).
Apple's tiny Mac mini may not be the first product that springs to mind when it comes to network servers. However, a server implementation of the popular Mac desktop is available, and it's not just for Apple aficionados.
Mac mini with Snow Leopard Server has support for Windows as well as Mac clients, plus built-in web-based applications that anyone can use to collaborate and share information.
First impressions are that the Mac mini can't possibly be a server. Smaller than most notebooks, it's almost identical to the latest Mac mini desktop launched in June. That's because the same sleek 'unibody' casing is used to house both, machined out of a single block of aluminium and now with an integrated power supply rather than bulky AC 'brick'.
One obvious difference, however, is the lack of a DVD slot. Apple has ditched the optical drive to enable a second hard disk to be fitted inside.
There are other differences on the inside too, starting with the Intel Core 2 Duo processor which gets tweaked from 2.4GHz to 2.66GHz. Similarly, instead of just 2GB of memory, the server comes with 4GB, while both minis can now be upgraded to 8GB in total using standard SODIM modules.
Moreover, a new circular hatch in the bottom of the unit makes this relatively easy, and there's no need to prise the casing open with a knife as on the previous model.
The disks are also accessible through this hatch, and Apple has opted for 2.5in drives to fit the format. But don't get too excited, as notebook quality SATA disks are used here, rather than real server grade SAS drives, to keep the price down.
On the plus side, you do get two, with a capacity of 500GB each compared to a single 320GB disk on the desktop model. Spin speed is also upped from 5,400rpm to 7,200rpm.
The end result is a storage capacity of 1TB. Not a huge amount, but enough for a lot of small business networks. More than that, nearly all the space can be used for file sharing and email inboxes as well as to support the built-in web server and other applications.
Additional external storage can be added, the only disappointment being the lack of an eSata interface. Instead you have to use USB which is slower, or FireWire which isn't always implemented by drive vendors.