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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  • aliasfox - Friday, January 28, 2005 - link

    mlittl3- that's hilarious. Reply
  • mlittl3 - Friday, January 28, 2005 - link

    Wow,

    Everyone just went through the eight stages of dealing with grief from the first post to the last. Cool!

    1)Shock - Apple reviews on Anandtech
    2)Emotional Release - just those crazy Mac fans, it will all pass
    3)Panic - maybe Apple might just have something here. Oh no, what about my shuttle box!?
    4)Guilt - maybe I should have been nicer to Apple all along. I'm now out of the loop.
    5)Hostility - those f*cking Mac fans. They don't know how cheap PCs can be.
    6)Inability to Resume Business-as-Usual activities - must read forum every second to ensure a Mac fan doesn't get in a good point without rebuttal
    7)Reconiliation of Grief - see description of emotional release
    8)Hope - we can stop reading anandtech.com and go to another hardware review site where there aren't any Mac articles. If we ignore Apple, they will go away.

    You guys crack me up. Let me know when the funeral is.
    Reply
  • ElFenix - Friday, January 28, 2005 - link

    heat sink is two words. thanks. Reply
  • ransath - Friday, January 28, 2005 - link

    Cocnord..."By the way, it is the same 'narrow minded' engineers as you call them who make miniMac. No?"

    Nope - they are OPEN minded "revolutionizers" caught in the Steve Jobs "reality distortion" field :)

    Concord - my apologies to you for being a smart ass. My comments weren't meant to be malicious, I was just poking fun at you. As I said to cygni, I will refrain from them in the future.

    BTW - I drink 2 or 3 Mountain Dews (Code Red) everyday! w00t!
    Reply
  • WorkingHardMan - Friday, January 28, 2005 - link

    #157 "I guess Mac folks are used to paying for everything and don't mind it" - I guess this is a perspective thing. I've always thought of the Wintel crowd as being the ones that like to pay for things that can be had for free on other platforms, since just about all the software I've ever needed either came with the Mac or was easily available as freeware or low cost shareware. In fact, I long ago concluded that one of the reasons you only found 12,000- 15,000 Mac software packages for the Mac vs. the 80,000+ (well, way less if you don't count the games) on the Wintel side is that (1) You don't need a lot of the utility programs like those used by the Wintel crowd to keep a Mac going, (2) free programs on the Mac drive out commercial products, and (3) Mac people are more into value than cost, and are less likely to pay for a program than a Wintel user unless it really makes their life easier. And, or course, most of the major Open Source projects are Unix/Linux stuff and run on Macs (you do know that Mac is a Unix system?), that are ported to Windows.

    I also find it curious that Wintel people are always concerned about the availability of software on the Mac, but when you find out what programs they use it is usually MS-Word, MS-Excel, MS-Powerpoint, Adobe's Photoshop, and Quark DP, all Mac programs that have been ported to Windows, usually years after their depute on the Mac. And what is the Windows user interface but an imitation (and some would argue, not a particularly good one) of the Mac OS? [I have to admit here, that I haven't spent a lot of time with XP, but both Windows 95 and Windows 98, at least from the UI standpoint, were pretty half-baked imitations of Mac 85, and even MS would like to forget that Windows 1.x through 3.x ever happened).

    Similarly, to me it is the Wintel users that seem to include among their ranks the shrill who regard computer operating system selection as more of a religion than as choosing the best tool for the job ( in this thread, people like Concord come to mind).

    As I said, it's a perspective thing, what the "Wintel" crowd looks like vs what the "Mac" crowd looks like seems to change with where you are sitting. The good thing about the 3 articles to which this whole thread is supposedly relating, is that one member of one camp made a concerted effort to put away his prejudices and see what life was like on the other side. It was undoubtedly a difficult job, and I think he did a good job with it.

    Reply
  • mzlin - Friday, January 28, 2005 - link

    I meant after anandtech, of course :) Reply
  • mzlin - Friday, January 28, 2005 - link

    Arstechnica is the single best technology site on the internet. Their software and hardware reviews are done by programmers and engineers and is full of all the technical details you would ever want to know while at the same time assessing the more consumer-oriented questions such as value, productivity, practicality. Then they are very up-to-date on general science, technology, and internet news. I have learned of many an upcoming trend or internet phenomenon from them. Reply
  • Entropyq3 - Friday, January 28, 2005 - link

    arstechnica is head and shoulders over the others in terms of general level, even though it has deteriorated (IMHO). Go to the technical forums, and you will find knowledgeable people.
    If you just want to blubber about technical stuff and voice opinions, please choose one of the others. ;-)
    Seriously, there are knowledgeable people in all three of these fora, but the signal-to-noise ratio is way better at arstechnica.
    Reply
  • msva124 - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    Speaking of which what are some other hardware sites to go to? I know of three, hardocp.com, arstechnica.com, and tomshardware.com. Are these any good? They all look very similar, just wondering if there is a certain one that is better than these three that I should take a look at. Reply
  • linuxOwnzIfUrLeet - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    Anand,

    you used to be my hero below john carmack and martha steward.

    After seeing you get married and now this mac loving I can only believe that you've lost your engineering edge.

    Your poster on my wall will now be taken down.

    Reply

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