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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  • ehanneken - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    I got my Mac Mini yesterday. It came with iLife on a DVD *and* preinstalled.

    gibhunter, the upgrade to 512 MB is a $75 option when ordering the Mini; the owner is not required to do it himself. The only other expenses I had were taxes and a $13 USB adapter for my old PS/2 keyboard and mouse. I already had a spare 17" monitor. Altogether, I spent about $630.

    I may buy a cheap new keyboard, though. My old keyboard doesn't have a Windows key, and I think OS X maps the Apple key to it.
    Reply
  • deathwalker - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    #12..I'm in your corner. If you can see through the fog of the $499 price tag then you are really looking at a $900-$1000 "Pig"...no thanks!~! Reply
  • ianwhthse - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    #4, downtowncb

    They might not know the speed of the hard drive, true, but they're definitely going to notice it's slow.

    I think you underestimate the average user's ability to notice that their computer is running like a pig. Why deal with a spyware infested Windows machine when you can switch to a Mac and get a system that's barely faster than said infested machine because Apple decided you needed a slow HDD, and pathetic amounts of ram?

    Anand commented about how the 256 MB of ram was insufficient, but do you think most people are going to magically know that they need to double the ram to get a good experience? (Assuming "most people" aren't Anandtech readers).

    Anyway, I'm done with that rant.

    Anand, are you going to look more closely at the iMovie, Garageband, iDVD trifecta? I currently use the Adobe Video Collection Professional (Premier, After Effects, Encore DVD, Audition, and Photoshop). I’m just looking for something that can make something nice for the smaller projects I end up working on. So those applications are interesting (plus the fact that you can buy the Adobe collection on Mac would allow me to make a complete move off the PC). Well except for gaming. But all I play on my PC now is KOTOR, so I won’t cry too hard.

    (I can also get a Mac version of Seti@home, how ‘bout that?)
    Reply
  • Avalon - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    #13, most people do NOT have $300 flat screens and USB keyboards/mice just simply laying around. Take this for what it is: the cheapest way to use OS X. Reply
  • hopejr - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    #11, I have a 1GHz iBook G4 and it's good for audio editing with Garageband. I'm sure the Mac Mini will be better

    #12, many ppl already have those things laying around (apart from the RAM).

    Good article!!
    Reply
  • gibhunter - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    You're all forgetting the fine print.
    First, a Mac mini is crap with 256MB of RAM. Gotta buy the more powerful Mac. Do they offer them with 512? If not, suddenly the average Joe needs to learn how to upgrade. Suddenly it's $600.
    Gotta get a keyboard and a mouse. Only USB ports are available though so they will be pricey. $700.
    Gotta get a monitor. A stylish PC absolutely requires a stylish flat panel. $300.

    Suddenly you have a very weak personal computer for a thousand bucks. What a bargain! (sarcasm)
    Reply
  • ksherman - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    hey Anand, do you think this little box would be any good at Audio Editing? My lil bro is starting to get pretty heavy into it and REALLY wants a Mac, and this mini seems like it may be in his price range. Reply
  • downtowncb - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    #7
    I know a few techie friends who have always been PC users that are purchasing Mac minis because they are a cheap way to get familiar with OSX while getting to work with BSD. Also the built-in Apache server is good for them (and can be activated by a single click). I'd say there are at least 2 crowds buying minis, the techie "I just want to try it out and it's 25% the cost of my last system" crowd and the $499 "I always buy the cheapest thing" crowd. You're right, the normal arguments don't apply because in the first case the arguments are overlooked in favor of software and OS and in the second they've never even heard our arguments (to them RPM is how fast your engine is going).
    Reply
  • bob661 - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    #5
    Itunes isn't preinstalled. It's part of the iLife package.
    Reply
  • jfpilon - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    About the office compability: why not just use openoffice.org?

    check it out: http://developer.apple.com/darwin/runningx11.html
    Reply

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