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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  • peachee - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    Coming from a one time Apple-owner, I can say that they WERE better than PCs. But that was quite some time ago in the early to mid 90s. I experienced pre-PPC Macs and it's various generations. I remember the Newton, AV DSP macs, clone Macs, the Apple ISP, and the promises of the NEXT OS for 68040 Macs--all died miserably leaving owners with outdated computers (forcing us to buy expensive new systems). I did my part to keep up with Apple's complete and ruthless abandoning of Macs and OS compatibility and product support, but in the end, I realized I was being stupid SUPPORTING A JUST ANOTHER CORPORATION!

    I started over with PCs and never looked back. I don't care how shiny OS X+ is, it's just BSD. If you hate Bill G and Steve B, go Linux or BSD. If you don't like Intel, get AMD. With Shuttle and everyone else going small but keeping with 3.5" HDs, and 5.25" DVDRWs and AGP/PCI slots, why suddenly switch to unupgradeable mini Mac at a premium price? Did we all win the lottery and have the time to and money to switch our softwares and all our waking ours to devote to mini Mac?

    I believe and many industry analysts concur that Apple has not innovated for years. Ipod is not an innovation, there was the Rio and many many others before. The mini Mac is not innovation, Shuttle came before ... long before and there were many others. What Apple has become is a hype machine. It makes average products and hypes the hell out of it, throws ads in your face, puts it in celebrities hands, and some of the richer MTV crowd will lap it up until they lose interest.

    Apple is all marketing hype ... an informercial. You jonny come lately Apple supporters need to realize that you are disposable tools (free marketing for the just another corporation of Apple) and Apple will abadon you high and dry (I know--been there done that). Why should we as thinking, hardworking, bargain hunting beings ... why should we lobotomize our brains and dump our money into Apple's laps for their average and expensive products when there are far better and cheaper choices out there?

    The "oh, I'm too dumb to use computers and therefore I must use Mac" excuse never made sense. Most people can learn fairly quickly to use any computer (we aren't using punch cards and I/O switches are we?). XP and even many versions of Linux are quite user friendly.

    Think, learn, grow and don't fall for corporate tricks.
    Reply
  • msva124 - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    Go ransath - you tell that Windows l00ser! Hooray for Apple!!!!! Reply
  • ransath - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    Concord - You have to be an engineer. With a mind that narrow, there can be no other excuse. :)

    Seriously folks, you have to remember WHO the Mac mini is targeted for, the demographic that Mac is shooting for.

    Hardcore PC geeks obsessed with tech specs - Apple could care LESS about you. They don't want your business - and the Apple community doesn't want to know you either. You don't shower enough, have greasy hair, and leave too much Cheetoes dust on your keyboards.

    The mini is targeted, for one, at people like Ananad. INTELLIGENT people that would like to explore OS X for a ridiculously low price. it is also targeted at people that just want a SECOND comp. Do you seriously think Apple ever intended this as an "entry-level" system? If you do, well, expand your mind! The Mini is going to be THE home media center. Once it has been out for a few months you are going to see a plethora of apps that are just going to put the sale of these boxes through the roof. It will also serve as a great internet terminal and still be powerful enough that your kids can do their book reports and homework (especially since Dad got a new virus on the PC last night while he was surfing hotbabes.com - note: should have surfed porn on the Mac - NO VIRUSES!!!)

    There are 2 sides when approaching an issue - the glass is half full or half empty. On the one hand, when priced pound for pound against a similarly configured PC the Mac is still more expensive. So what? On the other hand, the mini comes with a $79 retail suite of apps. Okay, that brings the price of the base model down to $429.00. You do realize that a 40 gig iPod is $399, right? So, basically, for an extra 30 bucks you get an entire frigging computer ?!!!?!!!?!!!

    I have had it with the "techies" out there that add the cost of a keyboard, video, and mouse and then say the Mini is overpriced. You mean to tell me as computer literate as your are you have never heard of a frigging KVM switch ?? - which makes all of your arguments not only completely moot but somewhat idiotic. My PC 's peripherals are awesome (logitech MX900, logitech keyboard, and Dell (Sony) P991 - and I will be able to use the same ones for my Mac. I AM LOVING IT!

    You PC folks should be really thankful that Apple has not "died" and shows NO SIGNS of EVER dying off. If it wasn't for Apple and those fruity little iMacs do you think Dell and all the other folks would have ever updated their cases? HELL NO!!!

    One last thing - just remember that when you buy Dells, Gateways, etc... all you are doing is paying someone to put a box together for you. Dell doesn't MAKE ANYTHING!! All they do is buy parts in massive quantities and put them together - B F D!!!! Anand made this very point - because Apple controls everything related to their computer, everything WORKS perfectly!!! No crazy BIOS update from Taiwan that may fark everything else in your computer. And I am willing to pay a little bit higher price for QUALITY over QUANTITY! Apple LEADS the home PC market in innovation. They always have - and probably always will.

    All I can say is that Anand has probably written the definitive take on Apple from a PC users perspective. Thankfully, he has an open mind and is willing to accept changes and a small learning curve. And I have a feeling that there are A LOT more people that read this site that are in Anand's category than Concord's.
    Reply
  • abakshi - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    As for the pricing and specs, it only really matters for computer-literate users, who know at least _something_ about what they have running.

    And in that case, they can go to a company like Dell and get decent deals. Even if it's not the type that power users (e.g. experienced deal catchers at deals forums) can get, they can get some decent deals -- and that's where Apple gets knocked out of the competition.

    For example, this is what you can currently get at Dell with no special codes, nothing - just a deal on their site for $479.

    Dell Dimension 3000
    Intel Pentium 4 Processor w/ HT Technology (3.0GHz, 800 FSB)
    Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition
    256MB DDR SDRAM at 400MHz
    15 in (15.0 in viewable) E153FP Flat Panel LCD Display
    40GB Ultra ATA/100 7200RPM Hard Drive
    48X CD-ROM Drive
    Integrated 10/100 Ethernet
    2 Year Basic Warranty Plan

    That's for $479 AR. For a few extra dollars, you can toss in a CD-RW/DVD drive, 512MB Dual-Channel DDR, or other similar options.

    Yes, the Integrated Intel Extreme Graphics 2 is not at all powerful, even compared to a Radeon 9200, but if you pay just a bit more (just over $500), you can get the Dimension 4700, which has the 915G chipset, newer CPU's, DDR-2 RAM, PCI-Express, etc. If graphics are of concern, then you add in a Radeon X300SE for almost nothing - that blows away the 9200.

    So all in all, unless the Mac Mini can be had for under $400 at most, it's completely blown out of the water value-wise by PC options.
    Reply
  • stmok - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    I don't see what the "thing" is with the Mac mini.

    If you have a use for it, then buy it.
    If not, then spend your money on something else.

    Heck, I'm getting a Mini-ITX EPIA since I just want a small x86 based setup to learn Linux and BSD off. I wanna get my hands dirty of Tux (Linux) and Daemon (FreeBSD) in my unproductive spare time. :)

    If I had a use for a PowerPC-based setup under the Apple name, then I most likely would get something a bit more beefier that is powered by the G5 chip.

    But I don't. And I don't think I ever will as the x86 platform is cheap, abundant and widely available. (And I like to build systems myself.)

    Apple (or anyone else) aren't holding a gun to your head to make you buy. No point arguing over it.

    On a side note : You have choices, if you really want to get away from Windows while keeping your existing x86 setup (or AMD64/EMT64) and have time to burn, why not download Linux or FreeBSD? (Yes, its really FREE).

    Some of the technologies found in there are in Mac OSX. You essentially get the same stability benefits but with a lot of reading and tweaking! (SO make sure you have time to burn!) :)

    What I'm saying is, Apple products aren't the only alternative.
    Reply
  • RMSistight - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    For most PC users, they won't care about trying out the Mac because it's relatively cheap. I want to get a Mac Mini because I have heard and SEEN great things about Mac OS X Tiger. I want something reliable for everyday use. Windows XP Pro has tested my patience enough. Don't give that "90% of errors on Windows are user errors." Is turning your computer a user error then? Because that's exactly what happened. I couldn't go into windows because all I did was TURN IT ON. In all truth, it doesn't matter if you can build a better winbox for cheap and more powerful. Some PC users can finally rejoice that the price of a Mac now is now reasonable enough for us to purchase. People need to also take note about the kick ass software Apple has. Most of the Mac bashers haven't even seen or tried out Mac OS X...I HAVE. Unless you have owned and used both platforms, you cannot make a valid argument. Also, let's not associate Mac being bad on their earlier models. Those are long past and gone. Let's talk about the newer models of Macs. Reply
  • magst - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    Lots of people here make comparisons between the cost of the apple and a winbox.
    Apart that most forget the cost of the included software, there is another very big factor called

    Depreciation

    The winbox will be worth next to nothing in 2 years, while you will still be able to sell the mini mac for at least 300 in 2 years..

    So in the end the apple is lots cheaper.
    (btw, dont have one (yet))
    Reply
  • msva124 - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    CD jewel case? Please. At most it is the size of a pack of cigarettes, and that is including the power supply. Reply
  • RMSistight - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    #14

    All you need to purchase is a USB to PS/2 adapter. I have one that has both mouse/keyboard with one USB connector. It was only $7.
    Reply
  • Serpico74 - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    I test drove a 1.42ghz Mac Mini with 512MB RAM today. The first thing I did was fire up Final Cut Express.

    I am super impressed. Projects loaded fast and renders were much quicker than I thought they would be. For a sub-$700 box the size of a CD jewel case this thing is smooth as hell.
    Reply

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