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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  • elvisizer - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    also, someone needs to tall anand that you can get pictures out of iphoto via drag and drop, not just going to Share->Export. Reply
  • Saist - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    Wanted to step in and comment that the Microsoft Office problem is also solved by a little application that you may or may not have heard of.

    It's called.

  • wilburpan - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link


    Not to mention the lack of a need to buy an antivirus subscription, which kicks in at $25/year for Norton's antivirus program. If you keep your Windows PC for 4 years, that's an extra $75 in software updates you'll need to buy.

  • shuttleboi - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    "The comparison above was very deliberately set up to focus on hardware alone, ignoring things like software differences and form factor differences. "

    Hello? The Mac Mini comes with over $100 worth of software. Where are you going to get a software suite on Wintel for $100? Kazaa?
  • edwardhchan - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    #25: I used a Kingston ValueRAM PC2700 1GB DIMM... Works like a charm. Just a note on using as a media server: Divx and MPEG4 playback is fine with VLC. DVD is good too, but the DVD player doesn't have a very good de-interlacing algorithm. My Mini is being watched on a 43" Samsung DLP at 1280x720. Beautiful display for the compy :)
  • Eug - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    Apple has just dropped pricing on some of the BTO options:

    BlueTooth/Airport Express combo now $99.
    1 GB RAM now $325.
    80 GB hard drive upgrade now $50.

    And now the SuperDrive option is 8X. Cool. :)
  • pbrice68 - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    Just a quick FYI:

    TextEdit does open MicroSoft Word documents. Obviously, it doesn't support all of Word's features, but it will open and display the text and try to maintain all of the formatting.

    Although you went over a great deal in iPhoto, you really didn't mention it's built in slideshow features, professionally printed books, and the ability to purchase prints directly from the application. The books really need to be seen to appreciate them.
  • Doormat - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    #26: the mini takes a regular DIMM, not an SO-DIMM. 1GB PC2700 DIMM is under $200. Plus the putty knife you'll need to open and install it.

    And I was planning on getting one until I read that they had problems at 19x12. As someone who is going to hook this to a HDTV at 1920x1080, this is disappointing news. Maybe next years refresh with a 9600+ with 64MB framebuffer will do the trick.
  • barnett25 - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    First I want to say that I loved the article. With that out of the way I have to ask, when you said that Pages exports well to html, what were you smoking? I just recieved iWork yesterday, I bought it becuase Pages seemed like an easy way to make good looking webpages. I saw the family newsletter template and knew my mom would love to have a webpage based around that. But try saving just the template, with no editing, to html. You get a big mess. Pages was not ready to be shipped. It's export to .doc format is messed up with the supplied templates too, but I can understand that being due to Word's lack of refinment and features. I do like pages, but it seems to only be good if you are either printing, exporting to pdf, or simply saving as a pages file. For any other kind of exporting it's next to worthless. (By the way, if you go to Apple discussions you will see dozens of people with similar compaints to mine.) Reply
  • jasonsRX7 - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    Apple today lowered some of the prices on the BTO Mac Minis at the Apple store.

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