Performance Impressions

The performance of the Mac mini in its standard form is unacceptable, even for a $499 machine.  At first, I was afraid that the poor performance was due to the 1.25GHz G4. However, upon further investigation, the root of the cause revealed itself - 256MB of memory is simply not enough for OS X.  When running one application, such as Safari or Mail, the 256MB of memory is enough, but as soon as you open more than one application, the memory quickly disappears.  The problem with disk swapping on the mini is that it is using a 2.5" hard drive, which is significantly slower than a desktop hard drive. So, overall performance is reduced significantly.  There's a ton of stuttering when multitasking (not even heavy multitasking) and it's completely caused by disk swapping. 

Upgrading the system to 512MB of memory fixes all of the problems. You'd be hard pressed to get close to 100% CPU utilization on even the low end 1.25GHz G4 without resorting to video encoding, and most importantly, the system is as smooth as can be with 512MB.  As I mentioned in the first Mac article, OS X's caching algorithms work wonders for perceived system performance, since there's very little disk swapping, but in order for the OS to do its thing, you need a certain minimum level of memory and that seems to be 512MB.  Apple offers a 512MB upgrade for the mini for $70, which is slightly cheaper than what a DDR333/400 stick would cost you aftermarket, and it is an absolute must-have for this system.  Working on a simple file, ftp or web server with no end user interaction in the OS, you can get by with a 256MB configuration, and the same goes for a single user, single application usage environment, but as soon as there's any element of multitasking at play, you need 512MB - any less doesn't do the system justice. 

Honestly, the first time that I used the mini, I was quite frustrated with it, simply because there was just too much disk swapping going on.  But after the 512MB upgrade, I was more than happy from a performance perspective.  The 5400RPM drive in the system is actually fairly snappy (when not being swapped to) and application start times are pretty reasonable as well.  There's a clear difference between the mini and Apple's PowerMac G5s, but despite the difference, the mini offers a pretty good level of performance, if it is configured with 512MB of memory. 

Apple should not be allowed to sell any system with OS X with less than 512MB of memory; and you shouldn't buy the mini with less than 512MB of memory. It's as simple as that.

The performance of the 1.25GHz G4 is surprisingly good. I was expecting to notice a big difference between it and the 1.5GHz G4 in the 15" PowerBook reviewed yesterday, but the difference isn't that big in most applications.  The one area where the G4 definitely lags behind, though, is in video encoding.  Importing any video into iMovie HD frankly takes too long for the mini to be used often as a video editing box. Granted, the 2.5" hard drive should be an indication of that alone, but even with an external FireWire drive, the CPU does hold you back significantly.  Performance throughout the remaining iLife '05 applications is pretty solid, and even iMovie HD, as an application runs wonderfully on the 1.25GHz G4. It's just importing movies that can take a pretty long time, especially for longer clips.  Low video encoding performance may burst the mini HTPC bubble, which has been brewing in many minds since Apple's announcement, but it will work just fine as a media server - just not as a PVR (not without hardware accelerated encoding). 

Despite what I had originally expected, the on-board Radeon 9200 is a bit of a performance limitation.  I had the Mac mini hooked up to a 23" Cinema Display running its native resolution of 1920 x 1200 and was wondering why Exposé and a handful of other animations were choppy. After tinkering with resolutions, I found out why.  At resolutions above 1280 x 960, the Radeon 9200's 32MB of local frame buffer isn't enough to handle Exposé of even just four windows - swapping to main memory, and thus reducing the smoothness of the Exposé effects.  At 1024 x 768, it's great and it's even fine at 1280 x 960, but once you start going above and beyond that, you start running out of video memory real quickly.  I am concerned about performance under OS X Tiger, simply because with more being stored in video memory (e.g. font caches), you'll run out of video memory even quicker.  Granted, what I'm discussing right now isn't a reduction in actual performance, but rather a reduction in the smoothness of animations - which to a first-time OS X user can be a huge turn off.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the Radeon 9200 interfaces to the North Bridge using AGP 4X, not AGP 8X.  All windows in OS X 10.3.x are treated as AGP textures, and thus, AGP texturing performance is also important to UI performance.

As I mentioned earlier, the Mac mini features a single DVI output, but ships with a VGA adapter as well.  The analog VGA output quality of the mini is actually pretty impressive, with no issues at 1600 x 1200 over the VGA adapter.  It looks like Apple paid attention to all aspects of performance with the mini, including those that are sometimes overlooked, such as analog video output quality. 

In normal application launches and application usage (with 512MB of memory), the hard drive is surprisingly fast. However, when it comes to application installs, especially larger applications like iLife '05, install times are extremely long.  On a desktop PowerMac G5 iLife '05, a 4GB application suite takes a decent amount of time, but on the mini, iLife '05 takes forever to install.  Even the smaller 800MB iWork '05 installation takes forever (but less than the previous forever) to install.  Luckily, these are the types of things that you only have to do once, but doing any sort of intensive file copying to the mini's 2.5" hard drive can be frustrating (e.g. installing all 4GB of iLife '05). 

Sound Impressions and Hardware Surprises Stability and Out-of-Box Software Completeness
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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.

    www.macsupportpro.com/~eric

    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..

    Eric
    Reply
  • bob661 - Saturday, January 29, 2005 - link

    #175
    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.
    Reply
  • 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).
    Reply
  • 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
    Reply
  • mlittl3 - Saturday, January 29, 2005 - link

    #168, Lol! Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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. Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • Eug - Saturday, January 29, 2005 - link

    Dammit. I knew I should have invested in AAPL back when it was at twenty-five bux. :( Reply
  • 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.
    Reply

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