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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  • matteh99 - Saturday, January 29, 2005 - link

    I was currious to see which was faster a Dell dimension 3000 or a mac mini. I ran a few tests I found the results interesting so i made a web page of them.

    The results were kind of supprising the mac was faster than the PC in many area's. I am not saying that the mini is a great computer but it is comparable in price and performance to the Dell. Also it doesn't get viruses or spy ware. If I was buying a cheap computer I wouldn't get a Dell..

  • bob661 - Saturday, January 29, 2005 - link

    Nothing is secure. People that believe this are idiots. I can make Windows stable, virus and spyware free with little effort. And you know what? I don't even have all my patches installed. And I really don't need to install them. My sis-in-law has continuous problems with her Windows machines. People at work have continuous problems with their Windows machines. Why is my box so stable and secure? I'm on the same internet. I use the same OS and software. Mac people always say how stable and secure OSX is and how Windows isn't. There are multiple vulnerabilities in OSX also. Since most Mac users don't have any utilities installed to monitor your boxes you wouldn't know if someone was backdooring your computers. I guess I'm getting tired of these arguments. Mac users buy your Macs and PC users buy your PC's and if anyone wants to try the other OS just f$%king go do it. Quit justifying it and just go do it.
  • hopejr - Saturday, January 29, 2005 - link

    #147, You can say that Apple bombards people with ads in the US, but here in Australia, the only Apple add I've ever seen is an iPod ad, and that's on what, once a week, on only 1 of our 5 fta channels? I haven't even seen their ads in other countries I've been to (apart from in North America - but I haven't been to Europe, so I don't know about there).

    #149, I don't think the Mac Mini will blow the Shuttle out of the water, simply because of the type of people that by Shuttles. They're the type that want complete control over their hardware. I don't know any non-techy PC user that has a shuttle. If there are, it would because their techy relative or friend got it for them. That said, I would love to see any mac whip a PC in sales (not forgetting I'm an OEM myself, but I have gotten sick of Windows and can't be bothered wasting time configuring linux how I want it. Been down that road and hate it).

    #157, OS X sits on top of Darwin which is OSS. The only part you pay for in OS X is the GUI, which makes OS X cheaper than Windows by far. And don't forget that most, if not all, of the OSS software for linux is easily ported to OS X (running in X11), and there is a huge OSS community on OS X AFAIK.

    #174, I hate ppl like you. I have to put up with their crap all the time at Uni. "Linux is the best OS, it beats the others, etc,etc" Yes, Linux is a great OS, but it isn't intuitive like some others. I know the ins and outs of linux, because I use it a lot, but I don't like it as much as OS X or even Windows. It's a damn pain. Yes, it's much more configurable, you can add extra kernel modules to do a certain thing, etc, etc. But not every one gets horny over doing things like that. The average computer user just wants to use the computer. Unfortunately, that can even be hard with Windows, which many people spend about the same amount time trying to fix it as linux geeks spend configuring linux (making Linux more attractive, I rather configure than put up with virii and maintenance :P). On OS X, none of this is necessary (ok, Linux is extremely usable straight after an install, provided the driver modules are actually complete!). I think if you want power of *n?x and want to be able to use the computer, get a Mac. That's what I did.

    On another note, a friend of mine had to reinstall XPSP2 three times last night, because as soon as he went on the net to download windows updates, spyware was loaded on his machine (I mean, we timed it, and it took 20 seconds before a popup would appear with a shortcut on his desktop to a porn site). He hadn't even started MSIE yet. Luckily I know how the new Windows firewall works, and turned off exceptions before he connected, which worked. I had to turn them on again after the updates were d/led, so his bro could use the internet and filesharing through the network they have (ICS on dial up too - yuck). By then the updates were blocking the spyware and so there was no more problems. Sad thing is, I recommended he install linux for his internet use, before we got the issue sorted out. This sort of thing shouldn't happen, especially with MS saying how secure SP2 is supposed to be. Crap if you ask me. I've never seen spyware load that fast onto a Windows box before. I think that because the source code of Linux and Darwin are open, it helps with vulnerabilities, because crackers know what they are and don't find it a challenge, but that's my opinion (now, where was I going with all this? - oh yeah, macs aren't crap).
  • linuxOwnzIfUrLeet - Saturday, January 29, 2005 - link

    My 160 year old great great great great grandpa prefers a pc because he's in a wheel chair. Also,
    he figures he doesn't have much time left so he
    needs a really fast system not some slow crap.
    He's running 6800ultras in an sli rig.

    He runs linux boot os cds and reboots every 1 hour so there's no way he can get /viruses/worms/etc unlike some pretty-looking-girly os.

    He told me the story about how remembers when jobless aka "the grand leader of the cult" saw what xerox was doing with guis and decide he should steal the idea and pretend like he came up with it so the cult will believe they made something grand.

    He also told me back in the days before lsd
    people wanted cheap no-frills machines that had
    the freedom to be upgradable.

    My dog skip also prefers linux because when I told
    him to the apple store he pissed on every computer
    he got near.

    You can lead a dog to crapple but you can't
    make him piss.

    free Martha Steward
  • mlittl3 - Saturday, January 29, 2005 - link

    #168, Lol!
  • Olafva - Saturday, January 29, 2005 - link

    My 90-year-old father and his older brother adapted well to Macs I got them after becoming disgusted with several PCs. I'm comforted to know Dad will never have to worrry about getting viruses and worms.

    OSX is inuitive (it does what you expect), so there's really not much to learn - you can be productive all at once. The mystery of connecting external disks, printers, scanners, slots, drivers etc. is gone, as it should be.
  • Olafva - Saturday, January 29, 2005 - link

    Not a Problem! Our Mac USB keyboard is ALSO a hub as it has two more USB ports, one I use for a mouse and the other for a USB memory stick or whatever. These 3 devices share one Mac Mini USB Port leaving yet another for whatever.
  • Olafva - Saturday, January 29, 2005 - link

    I have 2 Mac Minis (cost $469 each as Gov't employees and educators pay less). Unless I missed it, the review failed to mention in the price comparison that the Mac Mini comes with a FREE $100 Epson Color Printer (I got 2) or $100 off any Epson printer. That tilts the comparison $100 more in favor of Mac Minis. (The $70 to double memory to 512MB is well worth it).
    We got bluetooth on one which allows such things as controlling iTunes playlists remotely from cell phones (Sony Erikson 68is).
    $19 DVI video adapter allows watching Norwegian or other TV programs on big screen TV. The Mac Mini is much more than a
    computer 5% the size of other computers. OSX and Unix is worth the $469 itself. Think different.
  • Eug - Saturday, January 29, 2005 - link

    Dammit. I knew I should have invested in AAPL back when it was at twenty-five bux. :(
  • msva124 - Friday, January 28, 2005 - link

    >4)Guilt - maybe I should have been nicer to Apple all along. I'm now out of the loop.

    I know, I am hitting myself on the head right now for this very reason. If I had only been nicer to them when they were down and out, before they became big, they might now bestow the same favor upon me that they do to their supporters. Who right now are all getting huge discounts on iPods and Mac Minis, the latest information on future products before anyone else knows it, and first priority to receive the coveted job of shift manager at their local Apple store.

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