Before proceeding, be sure to read Parts I and II of our Month with a Mac series to get a good idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the Mac platform from a PC user's perspective.

Weeks before MacWorld San Francisco, there were rumors appearing about a "headless Mac", an ultra cheap Mac offered without a monitor.  The first thing that came to mind was an Apple version of an eMachines system.  Interestingly enough, however, the rumors also stated that it was an attempt from Apple to get iPod users to give Mac OS X a try.  It sounded odd at the time...

The actual unveiling of the machine, however, put everything into perspective.  In the PC world, ultra cheap computers usually offer nothing to make them stand out other than their price tag.  For the first time, Apple's low end offering, dubbed the Mac mini, brought something unique and interesting to the entry level marketplace - style.

Look at any of the successful PC manufacturers - Dell, HP, Gateway - and none of them have attempted to make the entry-level PC an enticing item for the intended market.  What draws users to these ultra cheap PCs is their price point and the idea that they need a computer.  With the Mac mini, Apple took a much different approach - attract users because of style (and size) and the idea that they need a computer, and remain competitive with price. 

Priced at $499, there's no question that the Mac mini is price competitive with entry-level PCs.  Barely larger than a DVD drive, the Mac mini is basically a repackaged Apple notebook - minus the display and input devices.  Let's have a look at the specs as well as the specs of a comparatively priced Dell system:

   Apple Mac mini  Dell
CPU: PowerPC G4 1.25GHz Intel Pentium 4 2.80GHz
Memory: 256MB DDR333 512MB DDR400
Graphics: ATI Radeon 9200 Intel Integrated Graphics
Hard Drive: 40GB 2.5" HDD 40GB 3.5" HDD
Optical Drive: DVD-ROM/CD-RW 48X CD-ROM
Monitor: None 15" LCD
Price: $499 $499 (after $50 rebate)

The comparison above was set up very deliberately to focus on hardware alone, ignoring things like software differences and form factor differences.  Before you get up in arms about the comparison, let's consider three very important points:

1) At the same price point, you can get a much more powerful CPU from Dell.

2) Sure, you get better graphics with the mini and a better optical drive, but you get more memory and a faster hard drive with the Dell.

3) To the user, to which this type of computer is targeted, do either numbers 1 or 2 matter?  The answer is no. All that matters is price and whether or not the thing works.  If that statement weren't true, then you would never hear the phrase, "I've had my computer for 5 years, I need a new one." Instead, everyone would be a performance fanatic like the rest of us and upgrade every year at worst.

The PC continues to be a better value from a hardware standpoint, there's no doubt about that - the above comparison alone proves that.  At the same price, you get a similarly configured Dell (from a hardware standpoint) and a free 15" LCD monitor.  What the Mac mini does provide, however, is an Apple desktop that is finally comparable in price to a PC desktop.  Remember the $3000 G5 from our first Mac article?  The Mac mini removes the biggest barrier to Mac OS X adoption - price.  It's not the cheapest computer that you can buy, it's not the best performance that you can get for the money, but it is the cheapest ticket to OS X out there, and we're here to see if it's worth it

Introducing the Mac mini
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  • karlreading - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    #23:

    You kick up against mac bashers and then u have a pop at AMD fans. HOW RUDE. It's quiet obvisouse your a intel fan. your no better than the people you try to show up, claiming they do things whilst you do exactly the same things yourself.
    Im a AMD fan, but i dont find that i have to have a pop at intel, mac, or anyone else. AMD make fine products. Intel make fines products. Apple make fine products. just each ones products match diffrent peoples expectations and needs.

    as for the mac mini, i think its a excellent little machine. As Anand says, more appliance than computer. i think they will do well.

    karlos
    Reply
  • Dranzerk - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    #2 in response to #1 Im talking about how lots of people will buy these because it's the "it" thing to do, and I will be looking on Ebay for when they are sold cheaper.

    How was that hard to understand?
    Reply
  • michael2k - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    Well, if it's within the return period, you can technically 'return it' and get another, with the Tiger CDs/DVDs, or just tell the Apple person, "It would be better for you to send me the Tiger CDs, wouldn't it, than to return this one to CompUSA and get a new one with the new OS right?"

    So within two weeks I would expect it free, basically (though it takes some social engineering). I don't know about the 'heavy discount' however.
    Reply
  • bupkus - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    Perhaps Apple should have offered the mini with 512MB as standard and then offered a downgrade option rather than their upgrade option. Reply
  • bob661 - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    If you want Tiger, just wait till it's released then by the Mac. Reply
  • msva124 - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    You say if tiger comes out right after you buy your machine, it is heavily discounted. Define "right after". Reply
  • Draco - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    Great article. Very refreshing to see so much Mac coverage. Look forward to more. Reply
  • Ecgtheow - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    #59: If Tiger comes out right after you get your machine, you can get it for $30 through the "Up-to-date" program. Reply
  • sluramod - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    #57: good news for apple then ... $499 now + $100 or so later Reply
  • Burbot - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    #40: Thanks for correction.
    #53: Very true. A lot of people do not understand the connection between memory amount and performance. I've seen that more then once - folks have a machine with 128 megs of RAM that is just dying under load, and when I suggest them a memory upgrade they say "But isn't Ghz the thing that makes it go faster?".
    Reply

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