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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  • Dualboy24 - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    #85 I am not saying come develope on the Mac. I am just saying that it comes with a great asortment of languages and even a full IDE. You can get these for free on a windows platform also but they are not included by default and thats understandaable that the majority of users would not use them. I assume apple includes Xcode to help promote software development on their platform.

    "I think that most developers are a bit more educated on this subject than you are, buddy. Save the marketing hype for those who are more easily persuaded. Some of us may decide to program for OS X (I have), some of us may not. But we will do it for our own reasons, not because you throw around the names of programming languages like they are the latest buzzword. "

    Gee somewhat hostile no? I never said anything negative in my post have I (please people read my post and tell me if you think I was rude in any-form).

    You may be right I am not an expert developer, nor have I worked on any large complex projects for companies etc. But I have programmed a lot in my life. And did get a degree in CS Software Engineering.

    As for the throwing around programming languages I listed I really just summarized what was on that link I added to that post. I assumed it was nice of me to do that as it saves people having to read the full link to get a composed list.

    And I do not wish to start any issues or flame wars or anything negative.

    Great article also Anand!

    Your site continues to be one of the top hardware sites in the world. It just continues to get better and better. Keep up the good work.
  • abakshi - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    I'll pick one up when they're under $150 just to play around with OS X. Otherwise, there's not much use for it -- I code in VS.NET (VB), do some gaming, and some image and video editing. The first is obviously not going to happen on Mac, the second is N/A (except UT, Halo, D3 -- running on a 9200 with 32MB...), and so basically I could only use it for some basic browsing and image/video editing - anything fancier would require getting a lot of Mac version software (e.g. Photoshop, Premiere, etc.).

    Alternatively, if you could get one of these with something like a 9600 onboard and a 7200RPM HDD in the range of $300 within a few months from now, that would be quite cool to play around with :)
  • msva124 - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    >Oh lets not forget about developers. You will love a mac if you do C, C++, Objective C, >Java (built deep into the system) oh and Apple XCode a fully featured IDE that is so >simple to use if you have used Visual Studio etc...

    You’re right, Xcode is totally intuitive for the Win32 programmer. The GUI target and action system is pretty much second nature, especially for the Visual Basic developer who is used to double clicking on a button to write an event handler. Heck, even the framework is the same as with Windows, to most people I’ve talked to there is no noticeable difference between MFC and Cocoa. Then there’s the compilation speed, it must be ten times was it was on Delphi on my Wintel machine. And I hear in Tiger there will be a project converter that lets you import Windows source directly from Visual C++ 6.0 without any recoding. Yes, I’m serious. You need to go to other sites and start spreading the word about these things. Many people will say you are lying or wrong, just ignore them.

    I think that most developers are a bit more educated on this subject than you are, buddy. Save the marketing hype for those who are more easily persuaded. Some of us may decide to program for OS X (I have), some of us may not. But we will do it for our own reasons, not because you throw around the names of programming languages like they are the latest buzzword.

    And from now on you might want to read links before posting them, to make sure that they align with your inexperienced viewpoint. On that kernelthread site one of the first things it says is:

    “Life is still much better for a developer on Windows than on Mac OS X - no matter what one might think of the usability, etc. of Windows.”
  • Dranzerk - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    Because many people will buy it for the Hype and find they really don't care for it, esp many PC users who might not be as thrilled like they thought they would about it for whatever reasons. :)
  • michael2k - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    #66 Dranzerk: Why would you expect there to be a flood of cheaper minis? If anything, I imagine you'd find a flood of old G4 PowerMacs, G3 PowerMacs, and any minis on eBay would be really expensive (though still less than retail) as all the old Mac users look to upgrade from 8 year old machines to a more modern one.

    That's exactly what's happened for the last 4 years I've been a Mac user and seeing how used Macs are priced.

    So I would expect you'd find them on eBay for $400 :)

    #82: The Apple Mac mini accessories page also mentions that same DVI to video adapter.
  • Dualboy24 - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    #81 there is a "Apple DVI to Video Adapter" for $19 USD"

    "DVI port to S-video or Composite video devices such as TVs, VCRs, or overhead projectors with S-Video or RCA (Composite) connectors"

    Its stated as being designed for the Powermac G5 but it will work with the mini.
  • AtaStrumf - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    Too bad cMAC doesn't have a TV out. It would make for a nice HTPC even for those less fortunate of us, who don't own HDTVs with DVI inputs -- that would be the so called majority :-) Reply
  • dingbat - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    I think the Mac Mini has the potential to be the jukebox for the living room, except the designer forgot one thing... good audio input/output. Either that or you have to dangle a USB based audio device and I am not sure how well those will perform. Reply
  • Dualboy24 - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    I forgot to mention a lot of additional things... but I will hold back.
    If your into programming (Java, PHP, MySQL, C/C++, Fortran, Applescript, Perl, Ruby, Lisp, Scheme, Python, OpenGL, Qt, Tcl/Tk ,X11R6) then you should read << a great read
  • Dualboy24 - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link


    I dont have a Mini yet.. but I got a powerbook 17" (First mac ever. Its a beautiful machine). I would never have gotten a mac if it wasn't for one of my old friends that I was in CS with got an ibook. I got to use it and did a lot of reading and research before trying the Mac world. BTW I do computer sales/repairs/system quotes/web-design and system admin for an ISP/Computer company. Used Windows 95-2003, Linux from redhat 5.2-SUSE 9.2 and now Mac OSX 10.3.X. I must say that the OS on Apple is by far the best OS for desktop users. The only thing it falls behind on is video gaming.

    For #75: I have been able to connect to my PC with the Remote Desktop with no issues. However I find myself using a program called VNCDimension and running RealVNC (or any VNC software) on my PCs so I can connect to Windows/Linux systems in my house and from my office. I can also use my PCs in Win/Linux to control the mac. Plus SSH/Telnet access thats so easy to setup.

    Also for the Linux fans you would love the terminal and a program called Fink. Which allows you to install a huge selection of linux apps including KDE/Gnome that can run rootless or full-screen

    For those people that like to download you can get a host of different P2P apps for every P2P network and torrents for music/movies/apps

    Sherlock is another great application that you get with OSX that lets you do so many things. Search the net look for pictures, search ebay, check for flight data, Dictionary, Translate languages, AppleCare database, RSS feed reader, and Version Tracker the best tool ever!

    The default calculator also has built in converters including a currency converter that updates via the internet the daily currency values.

    Oh also going over installation and removal of apps would be a great read. Its drag the app to a folder and its installed. If you run terminal you can actually go into the app were it stores all of the data and settings for the app. Very smart method.

    Oh lets not forget about developers. You will love a mac if you do C, C++, Objective C, Java (built deep into the system) oh and Apple XCode a fully featured IDE that is so simple to use if you have used Visual Studio etc...

    Well all in all its really impossible to cover all of the default apps that come with OSX but lets just say Windows is a joke compared to OSX

    Oh one problem is if you buy a Mac you become a Mac fanatic... It made me one. And I was very anti mac before I got my powerbook.

    I will probably get the Mac mini with the wireless and apple keyboard with the USB ports. Add a stick of 1GB OCZ for under $200 and all good for a system for silent operation in my bedroom. You can turn this thing into anything you really want. Silent download system and transfer the files via network or usb/firewire, http, ftp, ssh, great for photoshop work, email with Mac mail (instant searches almost), safari/firefox web-browser. Plug it into your TV for a great media experience with VLC... you name it and it will do it. I have yet to find a limitation to my G4 CPU. Of course I do not do any heavy video work. My daily use is best summed up in a screenshot

    BTW I still keep 4 PCs at home one gammer, one storage and download, one linux for dev/testing/fun, and one win2k3 server for testing/dev/fun and I love windows... just love mac more lol.

    [/STOP RANT]

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