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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  • pitdog - Wednesday, February 02, 2005 - link

    I am a computer guy and PC user for the past 20 years. I have worked in the industry for a little while (20 years). When I heard that MicroRedmond was going to sell anti-virus software it got my blood hopped up. Then I saw on Slashdot that Apple was going to sell stripped down versions of their Mac. Interesting, I said.

    Welp I went ahead and bought one. WOW...definately interesting. I was a mechanic doing data acquisition for CART teams. All Windows based. I have also worked on motorcycles for years.

    I boil it down to one thing. I have worked on Harley's for years. They hold their value and most people want them. There are more aftermarket parts for them than any other brand. But, I wanted a bike that worked. So I bought a Yamaha R1.

    The Mac Mini is the same darn thing.....it just works. I will be using Linux or my new Mac Mini from now on. Good stuff...

    p.s. of course when I want to hack a file or test a new game....the windows pc is still around...
    Reply
  • pitdog - Wednesday, February 02, 2005 - link

    I am a computer guy and PC user for the past 20 years. I have worked in the industry for a little while (20 years). When I heard that MicroRedmond was going to sell anti-virus software it got my blood hopped up. Then I saw on Slashdot that Apple was going to sell stripped down versions of their Mac. Interesting, I said.

    Welp I went ahead and bought one. WOW...definately interesting. I was a mechanic doing data acquisition for CART teams. All Windows based. I have also worked on motorcycles for years.

    I boil it down to one thing. I have worked on Harley's for years. They hold their value and most people want them. There are more aftermarket parts for them than any other brand. But, I wanted a bike that worked. So I bought a Yamaha R1.

    The Mac Mini is the same darn thing.....it just works. I will be using Linux or my new Mac Mini from now on. Good stuff...

    p.s. of course when I want to hack a file or test a new game....the windows pc is still around...

    pitters
    Reply
  • janmorren - Tuesday, February 01, 2005 - link

    Very good article Anand. It's objective, and I think (although I haven't touched a Mac mini yet) you hit the sweet spot with your article. I do think that not only the Mac mini is badly equipped with memory, it applies for every Mac running Mac OS X. Once you have the minimum of 512 MB RAM, you're in for a very credible platform. I'm working on an older (4 years) dual PM G4 500MHz, and 1GB RAM, and I'm not complaining (yet). Everything goes smoothly enough (I'm the IT guy here, and have to run everything).
    Also the comments on Pages, KeyNote and iLife '05 seem fair. Thanks for not being prejudiced.
    Reply
  • bjakuc - Monday, January 31, 2005 - link

    Two quick comments:

    1) Thanks for the straight forward, even keeled, unbiased look minus any religous overtones.

    2) As for iPhoto 5 not having built in ftp support, you could always create a folder hierarchy that matches your web site structure and attach a 'Folder Actions' script to each subdirectory (written in Applescript, perl , python, shell etc...) that will ftp anything dropped into it up to the corresponding subdirectory on your site. just type 'Folder Actions' into Apple help for a discussion on how to set them up.

    Cheers!
    Bob Jakuc
    Reply
  • bjakuc - Monday, January 31, 2005 - link

    Reply
  • hopejr - Sunday, January 30, 2005 - link

    #176, I never said that it was secure, just that MS has made such a fuss about how much work they put into SP2 to make it "secure" and the stuff they put on the packaging, that would make the novice user think it was true.
    I also have a Windows box that has none of that stuff, and it's fine too, but, it sits behind a hardware firewall. If I put it in the DMZ, it would get hit like hell. I am a responsible user, and don't go downloading anything malicious (trust me, I know what to look for - I've been using PC's for long enough to know) and that is effortless. The only problem is that many people are noobs and don't know what to look for. BTW, that guy I was talking about is no noob, it was just that someone/bot had cracked into his computer through the "enhanced" firewall that MS built into SP2.
    I agree that OS X would have vulnerabilities, but at this time, who really cares? I'd only start to consider getting any AV software for my mac if I didn't have it behind the firewall and the percentage of users increased to 50% instead of the 3% it is at. Will that happen? I don't think so with the general mentality of much of the public these days toward anything "mac".
    I also agree that arguments such as these are absolutely pointless. So many people have their minds set a certain way, and are very difficult to change.
    Reply
  • matteh99 - Sunday, January 30, 2005 - link

    #178

    The Celeron isn't one of "featured" dimension 3000 desktops. Instead of clicking on the featured 3000 desktops you have to click on the link above it that says "start shopping desktops". (great set up for the site eh?)

    http://www1.us.dell.com/content/products/compare.a...

    I would like to test a 3000 with a P4 but I don't have one. :-P. I might try to find a few other pc's to put it up against.. Also maybe test the 1.25 ghz mini.
    Reply
  • mino - Sunday, January 30, 2005 - link

    #134 Actually I searched their home site www.grisoft.cz before posting.
    So, I'm happy You corrected me since I had no idea there is running such a project from Your link.
    Reply
  • RMSistight - Sunday, January 30, 2005 - link

    #158

    SUPER LMAO
    Reply
  • msva124 - Sunday, January 30, 2005 - link

    Impressive results for the mini, but you might want to test it against a dell with a 2.8Ghz pentium 4. Looking at the dell website it doesn't seem like it is possible to buy a Dimension 3000 with a celeron processor anymore. Although, I could have sworn I went there a few days ago and I was able to. Reply

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