The Mac mini has long been the lovably lost scamp of the the Mac family, produced and sold with as seemingly little fanfare as possible. (Quick: where are the minis located in your local Apple store?) No matter: we’ve seen minis used as everything from high-load-bearing servers to HTPCs to just plain old desktop machines. People love the damn thing — it’s one of the smallest and most power-efficient compact PCs available. The only problem was that the mini has traditionally offered fairly poor performance for the money: although it was given a strikingly beautiful case refresh last year, the internals were left to stagnate with a 2008-vintage Core 2 Duo processor, and the base price went up to $699.

Well, thank heavens for processor bumps, because that’s all gone away: the new base Mini features a 2.3GHz dual-core Core i5 and a newly-lowered $599 base price. There’s also a $799 model that bumps the processor up to a 2.5GHz Core i5 and adds in a discrete AMD Radeon HD 6630M GPU, and a new server configuration with dual 500GB drives and a 2GHz quad-core Core i7 for $999. And in a move that you probably saw coming a mile away, not one of these machines has an optical drive of any kind anymore — there’s just a plain slab of aluminum up front. In all, the mini’s finally been given some serious muscle to go with its sleek looks — but is it enough? Read on for the full review.