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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  • KirinRiotCrash - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    #25, you can check Crucial's website for memory that will be compatible for the Mac mini: http://www.crucial.com/store/listparts.asp?Mfr%2BP... Reply
  • Burbot - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    I am interested in a machine for Java programming and some amateur photochopping and recording. This sounds like traditional Mac domain, but lack of connectivity and expansion of Mini makes it a lot less fitting. First of all, it takes one memory stick, and 1GB SODIMM prices are fairly costly. Then I would like to get an external hard drive (sounds pretty reasonable for my needs), external sound card, mouse, keyboard, printer, scanner, hub to connect all USB stuff to one port, patience to deal with USB problems after those hordes of devices begin talking on the same port... see where it is going? Mini might be a neat thing by itself, but as soon as you try to do something serious with it, you get a rat's nest of external boxes and wires.
    A regular PeeCee SFF box might not be that nice looking, but it will take a couple of disks, a sound card, two memory modules, and will have a quite sufficient number of USB ports (4 rear/2 front is a common combination). So guess which one I will be getting, after all.
    Reply
  • Stylex - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    I want to buy one of these, but I don't want to pay apple's ourrageous prices for RAM, what kind of memory should I buy besides apple's? I was unaware that the SPD of the modules would be an issue. Is there any 'safe' non-apple ram for this? Reply
  • lookmark - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    Nice article, very balanced.

    re hopejr. (#13) -- I imagine the mac mini would be pretty decent for intermediate audio editing, but you'd have to purchase a USB audio adapter like Griffin's iMic (around $40), as the mini has audio line-out only.
    Reply
  • Questar - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    #18,

    The reason why people rudely rant and rave against Macs, or Intel, MS, Etc. is due to their need for validation.

    Most people here are AMD PC users. There is a herd mentality, kind of "you're ok, I'm ok". People are looking for the assurances from others that their decisions/prejudices are the "right" ones.

    Just look at way people here gang up in Intel. I can just see it now, people will respond to this saying Intel makes crap..etc. But Intel makes fine products, just like Apple. Most people here feel elevated by tearing down someone/something that is not their personal preference, and feel pumped up that others support them.
    Reply
  • rivieracadman - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    #12 It would be important to remember that the Dell (or any other cheap PC for that matter) only come with a 30 Day warrenty. Don't get me wrong, I'm a PC guy through and through, but I have had to repair more of those pieces of junk then I can count. Not to mention that the mini is quieter, nicer to look at, and much smaller. I have even considered buying one. It would be great for a support unit. A RAM upgrade is only $70 more, and most people already have a keyboard, mouse monitor, and speakers. If I couldn't build my own systems I would perfer to select what I wanted as well. I hate LCD monitors BTW...

    On a side note, you have to consider the market as well. My mother in law is very happy with her 400mhz K62, and my mother is very happy with her 1Ghz Athlon. Both running Mandrake Linux. They play games, edit photos from their digital cameras, surf the web, and who knows. Both machines only have 256MB of RAM and 32MB/64MB MX Nvidia Cards. If they ever allow me to upgrade their machines I think I may go with the minis.
    Reply
  • ehanneken - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    Hm, make that a, b, c, and d (not a, b, b, and c).
    Reply
  • ehanneken - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    I bought a Mac Mini for two reasons. First, I was curious about OS X. Second, I was looking for a Unix file server that

    a) was small
    b) was inexpensive
    b) consumed little power
    c) looked reasonably attractive

    The Mac Mini fit those criteria reasonably well. My next best option was a mini-ITX PC, but I gathered from my research that they tend to be noisier and less powerful than the Mac Mini.
    Reply
  • brichpmr - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    Excellent article, Anand. My own 1.33 ghz G4 is quite snappy with sufficient ram, so the 512 mb suggestion is right on the money. Reply
  • tinydancer - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    Nice review Anand! Thanks for the objectivity, which is more than I can say for some of your readers. I usually don't respond in these posts, but this I can't avoid. Why people hate on Macs is beyond me. Mac haters were weened to early and have an inferiority complex, which translates into an inability to LET IT GO!. The fact is that Macs are about style and creativity seperate from function. Macs do what they do very well and with reliability. No...Macs are not the fastest, baddest computers on the planet, and who cares--only PC users that have no life except to worry about wether their GPU will handle Doom III. Hardware is hardware, where apple makes up the difference is in the OS and apps. The Mini will fill a void in the market for some wether they have a mouse, monitor or not. But you know what....keep hating. I like being part of the 2% market share, because I don't have to deal with the other 98% of you @$$#0!&$. It really doesn't matter to me if you ever get the point. Enjoy your grey box and your blue screen after it crashes! Reply

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