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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  • linuxOwnzIfUrLeet - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    better in the long run when you consider the big picture of computing"

    Buying and running a crap is better for computing?

    Can you pass the pipe? That must be good $hite.

    What has crapple given back to computing since they raped freebsd to magically come up with
    os suX?

    the mac cult act like they did something grand...

    aPple and really any Evil corporation ( iBM, miCro$oft, sUn, etc ) are trying to bring a spoonfeed computing to you. Do as I say you will my slave. Do you want to hear music? Just buy
    my black box and don't touch the music you already
    paid for. It's not yours you're justing renting
    it from me.

    This new imini is probably apple's attempt to bring back a divx format.

    TCP/IP is what you're running and that's open. We have the internet because TCP/IP is open.
    What do we have with appletalk?

    If you want to do what's best in the long run,
    you need to buy open market x86 hardware and run open oses like freebsd or linux.

    crap-ple : think stupid
  • Jorchi - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    You says that photoshop is a lot, have you try graphic converter? Is a very nice application that can fit yours neededs

  • bluebeetle - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    $903 is Way too high, why the Airport card?-$79
    sure $200 will buy you a good monitor, and i understand why the Apple needs 512 Ram.
    But hey the PC only comes with 256 Ram no wait- less 32mb for it's videocard so you could argue the PC would be sluggish with only 256 too!!! especially as it's shared.
    If we're gonna be fair
    $499 mac mini
    $180 15" monitor (BenQ)
    $30 keyboard & mouse from Apple
    Thats $709
    maybe $750 tops if you don't want the mac mouse and factor delivery in.
    Also remember the PC included $50 rebates, no CD-R, only 30 days warranty and FAR less software, no Firewire port etc
  • mino - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    You are too good on DELL. You should have added components of DELL level(DELL has NO WiFi!):

    Mini $499
    512M RAM Upgrade $75
    USB Keyboard + Mouse combo from WalMart or so $20
    DELL class 15" LCD $170

    that makes $765 for a complete DELL-like system

    To put performance into perspective G4 1.25 will put Athlon 1.25 into dust (maybe even A64 1.25). G4 IS more powerfull designg than any X86 (probably except A64) CPU could offer. I will put also G5 into shame at the same clockspeed. The only but very big issue with G4 is that it doesn't scale high enough since Motorola gave up on its development long ago.

    Thus 1.5 G4 should be approx. like P4 2.4C (except heavily optimized encoding apps).
  • mino - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    #105 " Viruses have never been an issue for me, I haven't had an AV program installed since maybe Windows 95..."

    I'd bet my daily income, that if you would install a good AV SW, many ,even tens of, viruses would be found. And don't say no, because just 10 minutes ago my AV warned about virus that was inside javascript on the site of one PC chassis manufacturer - not a small one (I was looking for server case).
    Sleep still;)
  • mino - Wednesday, January 26, 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

    from free avir F-Prot is OK, but from paid ones NOD32 has no competition (as far as avir part goes)
  • msva124 - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    I forgot shipping for the mouse, keyboard and monitor. If you can find them all at the same place (I refuse to order lcd's from newegg because of their dead pixel policy) it would bring the total up by about $20, to $923.
  • msva124 - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    Mac Mini $499
    512 MB Ram upgrade $75
    Airport Extreme upgrade $79
    Keyboard that has apple keys and usb ports $30??
    Logitech Wired USB Mouse $20
    Decent 15" LCD Monitor $200

    Total $903

    With all of the above add-ons (which I would consider bare minimum to make this thing usable) it is still well below the $1000 mark.
  • bluebeetle - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    "Well, let's the time you add for the keyboard, mouse, 15" lcd monitor and the 256-mbs of extra ram Anand states is needed to make the mini something useful, all of which is built in to the compared Wintel box...gosh, I guess we're talking at least $1,000"

    What are you smoking walt?
    A keyboard 15" LCD and KB&M for $500
    try here:
    they have LCDs for $175 keybord and mouse $20
    mmm where did you get $1k from?
    did you add the price of both together and chuck the Dell CPU?

    Also factor in the software (ilfe & Applworks worth$150) and the fact the Dell only has a CD rom (how do you get your files off)? and only 90 day warranty
    Still the mini is aimed at those PC users who already have monitors (KVM anyone)
    No wonder Walt feels so threatened, the mini is the fastest selling PC ever!
  • epiv - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

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