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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  • linuxOwnzIfUrLeet - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    #104
    "
    better in the long run when you consider the big picture of computing"

    Buying and running a crap is better for computing?

    Can you pass the pipe? That must be good $hite.


    What has crapple given back to computing since they raped freebsd to magically come up with
    os suX?

    the mac cult act like they did something grand...


    aPple and really any Evil corporation ( iBM, miCro$oft, sUn, etc ) are trying to bring a spoonfeed computing to you. Do as I say you will my slave. Do you want to hear music? Just buy
    my black box and don't touch the music you already
    paid for. It's not yours you're justing renting
    it from me.

    This new imini is probably apple's attempt to bring back a divx format.

    TCP/IP is what you're running and that's open. We have the internet because TCP/IP is open.
    What do we have with appletalk?

    If you want to do what's best in the long run,
    you need to buy open market x86 hardware and run open oses like freebsd or linux.


    crap-ple : think stupid
    Reply
  • Jorchi - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    You says that photoshop is a lot, have you try graphic converter? Is a very nice application that can fit yours neededs

    Reply
  • bluebeetle - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    msva
    $903 is Way too high, why the Airport card?-$79
    sure $200 will buy you a good monitor, and i understand why the Apple needs 512 Ram.
    But hey the PC only comes with 256 Ram no wait- less 32mb for it's videocard so you could argue the PC would be sluggish with only 256 too!!! especially as it's shared.
    If we're gonna be fair
    $499 mac mini
    $180 15" monitor (BenQ)
    $30 keyboard & mouse from Apple
    Thats $709
    maybe $750 tops if you don't want the mac mouse and factor delivery in.
    Also remember the PC included $50 rebates, no CD-R, only 30 days warranty and FAR less software, no Firewire port etc
    Reply
  • mino - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    #110
    You are too good on DELL. You should have added components of DELL level(DELL has NO WiFi!):

    Mini $499
    512M RAM Upgrade $75
    USB Keyboard + Mouse combo from WalMart or so $20
    DELL class 15" LCD $170

    that makes $765 for a complete DELL-like system

    To put performance into perspective G4 1.25 will put Athlon 1.25 into dust (maybe even A64 1.25). G4 IS more powerfull designg than any X86 (probably except A64) CPU could offer. I will put also G5 into shame at the same clockspeed. The only but very big issue with G4 is that it doesn't scale high enough since Motorola gave up on its development long ago.

    Thus 1.5 G4 should be approx. like P4 2.4C (except heavily optimized encoding apps).
    Reply
  • mino - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    #105 " Viruses have never been an issue for me, I haven't had an AV program installed since maybe Windows 95..."

    I'd bet my daily income, that if you would install a good AV SW, many ,even tens of, viruses would be found. And don't say no, because just 10 minutes ago my AV warned about virus that was inside javascript on the site of one PC chassis manufacturer - not a small one (I was looking for server case).
    Sleep still;)
    Reply
  • mino - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    #96 Just to make things clear:
    1.) AVG is just a piece of crap(I have my reasons)
    2.) AVG is NOT free. It costs around $50 per 2 years

    from free avir F-Prot is OK, but from paid ones NOD32 has no competition (as far as avir part goes)
    Reply
  • msva124 - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    I forgot shipping for the mouse, keyboard and monitor. If you can find them all at the same place (I refuse to order lcd's from newegg because of their dead pixel policy) it would bring the total up by about $20, to $923. Reply
  • msva124 - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    Mac Mini $499
    512 MB Ram upgrade $75
    Airport Extreme upgrade $79
    Keyboard that has apple keys and usb ports $30??
    Logitech Wired USB Mouse $20
    Decent 15" LCD Monitor $200

    Total $903

    With all of the above add-ons (which I would consider bare minimum to make this thing usable) it is still well below the $1000 mark.
    Reply
  • bluebeetle - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    Walt
    "Well, let's see...by the time you add for the keyboard, mouse, 15" lcd monitor and the 256-mbs of extra ram Anand states is needed to make the mini something useful, all of which is built in to the compared Wintel box...gosh, I guess we're talking at least $1,000"

    What are you smoking walt?
    A keyboard 15" LCD and KB&M for $500
    try here:
    www.newegg.com
    they have LCDs for $175 keybord and mouse $20
    mmm where did you get $1k from?
    did you add the price of both together and chuck the Dell CPU?

    Also factor in the software (ilfe & Applworks worth$150) and the fact the Dell only has a CD rom (how do you get your files off)? and only 90 day warranty
    Still the mini is aimed at those PC users who already have monitors (KVM anyone)
    No wonder Walt feels so threatened, the mini is the fastest selling PC ever!
    Reply
  • epiv - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    Reply

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