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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  • JeffDM - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    "and remember that the shuttle has an Internal PSU. Without that unit, it would likely be fairly close to the mini's size."

    That depends on what "fairly close" means. A desktop internal DVD drive is about as big in volume as the mini. The Shuttle cases are about twice as deep, four times taller and a third wider (12" x 8" x 8"). They aren't really in the same order of magnitude in volume, even when you include the power supply. That, and the three Shuttles I've had the pleasure of being around were obnoxiously loud. Otherwise, Shuttles don't seem to be too bad.
  • tinydancer - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link


    1st read #18
    2nd read #23
    then read this:

    Maybe you'll have some perspective after that!
  • msva124 - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    We must not be visiting the same websites. Viruses have never been an issue for me, I haven't had an AV program installed since maybe Windows 95. As for spyware, running Ad-aware once every week or two will usually find nothing. I am using XP SP1.

    I agree that macs are free of spyware and viruses, and that is a huge convenience for most users. But for someone who has been using pc's and macs for over 10 years? Please.
  • cryodude - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    I just love reading the rants, the nice responses and the clueless ridicules. Unfortunately, most people have never used a mac, will never understand that most people really do not want to have to mess with their computers, they simply want them to work. I'm a dual user, pc's and mac's both for over 10 years beginning with windows 3.1 and mac system 7. Both have come a long ways, but having windows at work, and a high end AMD machine at home, (strictly for playing games) and then having my macs, I can from many years on both platforms tell you that there truly is no comparison between the systems when it comes to downtime, system maintenance, ease of use, and the big one, "Peace of Mind". Until you understand that you really have an alternative, although it will cost you more in $$'s up front, never ever having to deal with spyware/malware/addware/virus protection, blah blah blah, is worth 4 or 5 times the cost in a machine. Now I'm not advocating that you go spend that much, or even close to that, but honestly, if you could get something that just did the things u want to do with ease, without heartache, headache and frustration, is that such a bad thing? If your answer is yes, ( or you are stuck on the money issue) then there is no hope for you to ever understand what macs have always been about. Simply a choice, to do things easier and in many ways, better in the long run when you consider the big picture of computing. Reply
  • JeffDM - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    Anand didn't compare the warranty lengths (the cheapest Dells have only 90 days, vs. mini's 1 year) or support when comparing with a Dell. According to a big PC Magazine survey, Apple rates noticibly better than Dell in support quality and how often people need to call support. Reply
  • Burbot - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    #71: I am recording and mixing a community radio program. Thus, I need at least one input and one output with decent sound quality. Mac Mini has only one output, so an external sound card is needed.

    On programming: I am mostly interested in SWT/JFace for GUI, and various stuff (Perl, Python, Java, AspectJ) for anything else. I am not interested in win32-specific stuff, so pretty much any machine and OS will work fine for me in this area.
  • WaltC - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    I am constantly amazed at the bias Anand obviously feels compelled to demonstrate when comparing Wintel to Apptel....this particular comparison could have been penned by the RDF gang at Apple PR--no doubt about it...;) (I'm sure it rates their stamp of approval for being so masterful in failing to actually reveal any pertinent facts while wandering heavily into crass product promotion and PR. Good for Apple, no doubt--but I think not so good for the consumers who read Anand's site.)

    First, does the $499 Apptel actually cost the same as the contrasted $499 Wintel?

    Well, let's 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 for the actual MiniMac Anand likes--which makes it--oh, 2x the cost of the contrasted Dell consumer box. This is leaving all other considerations as to processing power, graphics horsepower, 3.5" desktop IDE hard drive perfomance, expansion capacity, and the rest of it, aside, give or take the $40 more you might have to spend to put a DVD/CD-RW *of your choice* into the Wintel box.

    I was delighted to see how petite and quiet the $1,000 mini appears to Anand--no doubt courtesy of the *external power brick* it requires--whereas the contrasted Dell box athalf the price, I'll bet, not only includes a lot more expansion room but also something as exotic as an *integrated power supply* so that sans monitor, keyboard, and mouse the Dell comes in one piece as opposed to the two pieces required for the mini. (My HP Deskjet 722C has an external power brick, too, so I hardly feel left out...;))

    And of course, only Anand would pair a "$500" minicomputer with a ~$2,000 monitor, and then declare how great the graphics on the "$500" computer looked, as if the far more expensive monitor had nothing to do with anything...;) Nothing like testing a $3000 + system while telling your readers--over and over again--that it costs "$499"...;) And then there's the whole prospect of "taking the miniMac apart to see what's inside" that I find very amusing--as if this is exactly what the "computer illiterates" Anand recommends consider a miniMac are ever apt to do...;)

    I'll never understand why Anand is so shy and timid about publishing a "price as tested" sticker along with the MSRP for the base package! Seems like nothing except common sense and good ethics, to me. There's much more I could say but I think this covers the basics pretty well. You know, I'd have much more respect for this kind of superficial "comparison" if Anand would say something like: "Well--compared to the Dell box the mini is literally 2x it's price, so it's certainly no bargain. Even so, I liked it a lot, and if novelty gadgets or conversation pieces trip your trigger you can't go wrong with the MiniMac." That would certainly be much closer to the mark.
  • semo - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    post 100!

    uuhh what was the topic again?
  • pringlis - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    eek.. I should note that it wasn't on a Mac mini but on a PowerBook with specs a little lower than the mini (except the RAM which was 512megs). Reply
  • pringlis - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    #75 - I used Microsoft Remote Desktop to work from home for several months and I've never had any problems with it. Fairly speedy and no crashes. Reply

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