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
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • Dennis Travis - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    #136, I have never figured it out either, but in some ways it reminds me of the AMD haters who bash any CPU that AMD comes out with and say that Intel is always more stable and runs more apps and on and on.

    I have never hated the Mac but simply at one time, and even now can not afford the top end Macs. I have used both platforms for years but always loved the way the Mac worked, but after 2k and XP came out, Apple really needed to come up with a new OS as OS8-9 just was not as good as Win 2k or XP with Shared Multitasking and memory. OSX came along and gave Apple just what they needed, A STABLE OS with Great Multitasking and Memory managment with a solid BSD Darwin core.

    If Macs still were running OS9 I would not be as excited about a new Mac today.
  • hopejr - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    I don't understand why there is so much open opposition to apple. I used to be a mac hater, but I kept it to myself. Then I tried OS X 10.3, and now use it all the time. I rather it over anything else.
    To all those mac bashers: If apple hasn't done anything bad to you, why make so many bad comments about it?
  • Dennis Travis - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    So 134, It BLOWS down McAfee eh? Check this. Check which found the most viri and what found the least.

    You might be suprised. Even AntiVir blows AVG out of the water and it's free also.
  • DigitalDivine - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    "#96 Just to make things clear:
    1.) AVG is just a piece of crap(I have my reasons)
    2.) AVG is NOT free. It costs around $50 per 2 years"

    why you think avg is crap is beyond me, it smokes the likes of norton and mcaffee in load times and such just as fast in searches. but hey, if you think it's crap, don't use it, because you know what... it's free!!!

    and that is really all that you really need, a hard drive scanner, a real time scanner, and an e-mail scanner. and free updates... but hey, if you don't like that, o well...
  • win32asmguy - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    For apple its not good enough to just throw together a low cost machine -- it has to be stylish. Expandibility isn't that much of an issue for these machines. I have the 1.42ghz model and it runs OSX Panther fast with 512mb ram.
    I had a Shuttle cube (SN45G) also and it wasn't designed nearly as well as the Mac mini. The internal power supply would raise the system temp as much as 10-15C, the fans were loud even while at idle speeds, and stability seemed to be compromised when running higher end components in the system (which I assume was because the 250W supply couldn't handle it) The Mac mini doesn't have any of these problems so far, and performance can only go up from this model in the future...
  • Concord - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    OK. Now I realize what's wrong with it. It's size.
    Can anybody at least try to explain why it should be so small? Well PC desktops were big and people tried to find solution to that for example like barebones. They are small but at the same time they have enough space for many expantion. Actually in good barebone you have almost the same exppandability like in minitowers and some very pleasant extras. But this! I am wondering it is not notebook, you will not run with it and cut space to lose every posibility to change anything!
    The same time this very small size makes no sense at all for home PC!
  • bob661 - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    The hard drive would need to be a lot larger than 40GB for HTPC use. Movies take up a lot of space.
  • krazykat - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    Thanks Concord!

    I think the mini will find a base with people who bought the first sub $500 machines and are now sick of Windows 98 and the hideous box it came in. I'll be curious to see if there's not a population of people who will simply hook it up to a TV (especially fancy Plasma/Flat Screen), like a WebTV that's got a real computer behind it. Just like with the first iMac, the second version of the mini will be better.

    I wish the PC users above wouldn't stoop to abuse. Using a Mac is sipmly a different experience. Yeah, I drank the Cool-Aid, and it still hasn't killed me. I think I have enough experience to say I've tried it all, and Mac just suits me.
  • Concord - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    Great post! I really appreciate your passion! keep it this way and Mac will survive and will not
    disapear like many other great things. Anyway I think that something wrong with miniMac. But maybe
    passion and devotion are enough? Or I am not right?
  • krazykat - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    I am a former systems administrator and currently a first grade teacher. I have been a lifelong Mac Admirer, but couldn't afford them until more recently. I just spent the last two days reading all three of the Mac articles. Great work!

    Here's all the stuff I want to say:
    Remote desktop works great from my 800MHz, 12" Powerbook. Crashes less than it did on my Win2K Dell at work.

    I've used the whole Office suite for years and only switched over to Appleworks 6 because that's what they use at my new work and I actually really like it. Not perfect, but a lot less buggy and frustrating than Word in terms of pagination and formatting. It also has a built in Database program which Office lacks on the Mac side. (No Access.)

    My wife hates computers and loves her Special Edition Clamshell. We bought it on eBay two years ago and had to pay nearly full price even though a totally re-vamped, faster iBook two generations newer was available. Worth every penny. My parents are still using their Rev. B iMac (in Bondi) and they have the ability to kill anything with a microchip.

    The price point is something Mac users need to take more issue with. You will keep a Mac longer. Period. I've also built systems from scratch, but I love my Powerbook and would never dream of going back to a FrankenBox.

    To use OSX is to love it. I've used Windows from 3.0, Mac from 7.6 and many flavors of Unix, and I just love OSX. The only word is elegant.

    My 2 cents.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now