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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  • Ecgtheow - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    #56: Probably not. Reply
  • sluramod - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    Probably stupid question, but I'll ask anyway...

    Is Tiger upgrade going to be free for Panther users?

    Alex
    Reply
  • HardwareD00d - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    the Mac Mini sounds like it would be a fun toy to play around with, but it's a bit too expensive for what you get. If you don't mind paying close to $600 for a screenless laptop, go for it. I personally hate laptops cause they have such crappy performance. They're only useful if your always on the go. Reply
  • msva124 - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    Exactly #53. I can't see the word of mouth from all of the 256MB mini owners being too great, which is a shame because at 512MB it would have had a much better reputation. Reply
  • bob661 - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    #35
    Unless the buyer is an AT reader or the salesman is an AT reader or the Best Buy ad says buy the extra 256MB of ram, they'll buy the unit at $499 without upgrades. Unless they specify the extras or a salesman suggests getting some extras, they'll get the unit as is. If it gets too much over $499, they'll choke and go get a Dell with the "free" flat panel. Like #32 said, cost and name. I guess it really is hard for some of you to imagine yourselves as a typical computer buyer.
    Reply
  • downtowncb - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    Anand concedes:
    "Working as a simple file, ftp or web server with no end user interaction in the OS, you can get by with a 256MB configuration, and the same goes for a single user, single application usage environment..."

    I know that most of the people here would never dream of using a machine with only 256 MB of RAM, but for a few people 256 MB is enough, especially those who just need a cheap, reliable web server that they can stick in the basement and administer with VNC or even ssh.
    Reply
  • MIDIman - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    I'm not sure if this has been mentioned above, but I think a smaller system, along the lines of something at mini-itx.com's store front would be a more useful comparison than the stock Dell. It would allow a better representation when you take size into the comparison.

    IMHO - when these two are put side-by-side, you'll find similar performance issues as well - i.e. needs for 512mb, a faster HD, etc.
    Reply
  • elvisizer - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    48, that might be it- i always keep my pictures huge, since I don't have a webpage of my own like anand :) Reply
  • sprockkets - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    Perhaps the applications alone are worth me trying a Mac Mini. BUT, more ram, and use Hitachi's 7200RPM hdd and that will make it MUCH better.

    Then again, I rather just use apps on a completely GPL system rather than a proprietary system. If only it was easier to find more PM itx systems, a PM system in a cubit case would appeeal more to me.
    Reply
  • jasonsRX7 - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    I get the feeling that he's using export to resize the pictures for the web. Just dragging them out of iPhoto will retain their original size. Reply

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