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


View All Comments

  • elvisizer - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    stylex, the mini uses regular pc2700 ddr ram. nothing special about it. Reply
  • egilDOTnet - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    And one more thing - regarding Office compability - I thought that the Appleworks package still was included with the Mac mini?? Is this not so anymore, Anand, or did you just forget about that? Reply
  • elvisizer - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    #16 and #12- yes, it's true that if you don't have those items already you'll have to spend money to buy them. So what? if you don't have them sitting around, then the mini isn't as good a deal for you. The point is, for the vast majority of people buying one, a mini will not end up costing $1000. it'll end up costing $499+ 1 memory upgrade.

    also, there's one error in the article- anand says that TextEdit can't open Word documents. that's not true. TextEdit has been able to open and edit Word documents since 10.3 came out.
  • egilDOTnet - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    Just wanted to chime in on one thing - exporting images from iPhoto - you know that you can just select images, and then drag them out on the desktop or wherever you want them to be copied??

    Good article!
  • bupkus - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    I'd like one just to take it for a ride. I wholely support the idea of SFF and this certainly takes the "S" seriously. As to using less energy, 85W is probably as good as it gets.
    This is the first I've heard of AMD's mini-itx which uses Windows CE. I wonder if that means it's much more vulnerable to malware than the "mini". Sure it costs more than something like the Biostar IDEQ 210V, but if the "mini" means less free tech support to relatives who just web surf, I'd recommend it.
  • miketheidiot - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    #30 most people are still very computer illiterate. They also don't buy them because of their compatability or upgradability. They buy on cost alone and name. Apple has a name (whether a good or bad name is a matter of opinion) and now they have the price. I see no reason why these won't sell. Reply
  • bigpow - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    >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.

    Oh yeah... riiiight!
    Better graphics because you're imagining the picture! Dell comes with 15" LCD, Mac comes with your imagination.

    Nice comparison, duh!
  • Jeff7181 - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    I still think these titles that suggest the MiniMac will steal marketshare from the PC is rediculous. People don't use PC's because they're they come in the smallest form factors. They use them because of their compatability, upgradability, and cost. Apple has only scratched the cost issue with the MiniMac... but most PC users will avoid a Mac simply so they don't want to learn to use a computer all over again... for some people that's not an easy thing to do. Reply
  • ehanneken - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    Stylex, Crucial's Mac page is

    You would actually pay more to buy a 512 MB DIMM from Crucial than you would to upgrade the Mac Mini to 512 MB when you purchase it. On the other hand, you would end up with two DIMMs instead of one.

  • jasonsRX7 - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    #23 - Nail on the head :)

    #25 - Apples prices to add ram to the mini are reasonable. $75 to upgrade to 512mb, less if you're a student.

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