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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  • wildgift - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    I bought one, and it's nice. It's very quiet (meaning it doesn't add to the noise in the office), reasonably quick, and very easy on the eyes. It is a decent development machine, at least for smaller database driven websites, and is portable enough to tote to the office. There's definitely something to be said for carrying your entire development environment around, but without spending all the $$ for a laptop. The price/performance ratios suck, but the overall fit and finish, and very nice software, more than compensate for the approximaely $150 premium you pay for going with a Mac. A SFF PC / OS combo to match the Mini simply cannot be purchased. A fairly comparable SFF PC (like the AOpen that's quiet) with the same RAM and larger hard drive, and slightly faster CPU, costs almost the same, and lacks the software. (Yes, I'm getting one of those too.)

    Also, going with any Mac at all gets you the better aesthetics that Windows lacks, and Linux totally lacks. You get better typefaces. You get better color calibration. Printing is smoother (and the addition of gimp-print is a big plus). You can type in any language you know. Even the screensaver photos are nicer. With iWork, you get nicer templates. Even the old AppleWorks clip art is pretty good (not really good, but, ok for "free" clipart). These things matter a lot if you work with documents.

    If you're in the Unix niche, a Mac is nice because it has Unix under the hood. It's not quite the standard Solaris, BSD, or Linux environment, but it's close enough for most things.

    The Mini is a pretty good computer, and a very good *product*. It's not the monster of spec benchmarks, but, most people, including technical people who you might think would care, simply don't care about those numbers.
    Reply
  • steveo561 - Friday, April 01, 2005 - link

    Interested in a FREE MAC MINI???

    I just got mine FOR FREE...EVEN SHIPPING...NO JOKE

    Just copy and paste the link EXACTLY as you see it below:

    www.FreeMiniMacs.com/?r=16680884

    All you have to do is go to the link, sign up for one FREE offer, and have some of your friends do the same and it's all yours for FREE.

    www.FreeMiniMacs.com/?r=16680884
    Reply
  • steveo561 - Monday, March 28, 2005 - link

    Interested in a FREE MAC MINI???

    I just got mine FOR FREE...EVEN SHIPPING...NO JOKE

    Just copy and paste the link EXACTLY as you see it below:

    www.FreeMiniMacs.com/?r=16680884

    All you have to do is go to the link, sign up for one FREE offer, and have some of your friends do the same and it's all yours for FREE.

    www.FreeMiniMacs.com/?r=16680884
    Reply
  • MarshallG - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    I love Anand's Mac articles. It's great to see an obviously pro-Windows guy like Anand look at the platform with such an open mind.

    Our home PC just died and this looks like a great replacement. I like the fact that I won't worry about viruses or spyware. I might get my 70 year-old mother one for the same reason.

    But I'm surprised that Anand makes little if any mention of the Unix core of these machines. This is Linux for people who don't want to deal with driver problems. You can open a shell window, and run Perl or a zilllion other UNIX languages and apps. I'm really impressed by that! Now I can *really* teach my children how to use computers.
    Reply
  • WorkingHardMan - Friday, February 11, 2005 - link

    The way Tiger has been described by Apple is that Tiger will still handle the pixles if the GPU can not. Having said all that, the mini isn't really being marketed to the kind of people who want or need high quality 20" and 23" displays. One of the Apple desktop computers would make more sense for that crowd. Reply
  • Xmate - Thursday, February 10, 2005 - link

    I'm sorry if this issue has already been addressed, I'd apreciate if you could restate the solution if it has been:

    OS X Tiger is supposed to use to GPU instead of the CPU to render all the pixels on the display correct? Well, while the Mac mini seems to be a very good solution for a PC user wanting to try out OS X, but from what I can see, the mini simply doesn't have nearly enough power in the GPU to power any of Apple's Cinema Displays. I have currently heard that most people are happy with the mini 20" CD combination, and I might (not certain) have heard people being happy with it even with the 23". With Tiger this is almost definetly not going to be the case.

    I was wondering if anyone has any input on that, and if they know of some possible solution that could be implemented to solve the problem.

    Thank you for your help,

    Stefan
    Reply
  • Wightout - Tuesday, February 08, 2005 - link

    http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/pulpit20050120.... Reply
  • PhoenixPyre - Sunday, February 06, 2005 - link

    Yeah, that Dell configuration isn't normal. To get those specs normally, you would have to pay well over $499. Not to mention it would be under the Small Business section of Dell.com and you would probably have to pay a good amount for shipping (as noted in #189). Reply
  • jaxcs2002 - Thursday, February 03, 2005 - link

    Hey good aricle but you tried to discuss too many things with this article. Two notes:

    1)The comparison Dell and the mini is fair but Dell doesn't sell any standard configuration computers. Every week (really, not kidding here), they run some kind of a promotion. You were able to snag a free LCD when you browsed the Dell page that day, but did you get free shipping? I guarantee the next week, you won't be able to get an LCD but maybe extra memory and a larger hard disk. They do this obviously to make each week a sale and to induce you to buy immediately.

    2) You make note that the comp is not for Apple power users and then promptly seem to forget that fact. What user would buy a mini mac and hook it to a 23" Cinema Display? It is interesting to note that it would not do well, but the Dell standard vidcard (integrated probably) wouldn't either. Judgeing from your article, it would probably be fine on a 15 or 17 inch screen.

    I think it would have been helpful, especially since you hint at it anyway to talk about its utility in performing more "average joe" type taks such as usng it in conjunction with the apple air port as a music file server or as video server. You know, those tasks that a buyer of an ipod might do with a mac mini. In every way, you seem to perfer its bigger cousins but this a mini, what tasks does the mini do well?
    Reply
  • pitdog - Wednesday, February 02, 2005 - link

    sorry for the double post....new to the forums Reply

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