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

  • bob661 - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    The Mac mini isn't just targeted at Mac users that's why there is a comparison with Dell. There WILL be PC users that buy this thing and at $499 people primarily at price. The $499 crowd IS NOT the techie, computer-savvy group. Most of our arguments for buying computers don't apply.
  • mickyb - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    I would wait for the turbo mini. It sounds like it needs a faster drive and better video. Reply
  • Aileur - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    A thought comes to mind.
    Could apple get sued by other online music stores because osx comes with itunes preinstalled? Isnt that kind of like microsoft ie/windows?

    Oh and, i want a mac mini. I bought an ibook g3 800 a couple of months ago, on an impulse to actually try out osx. Sold my toshiba 2410 1.8GHZ (p4 not pm) and let me tell you, ive been advocating macs ever since. I believe if you're everything but a gamer, a mac is a great buy.

    On this note, let the whining begin.
  • downtowncb - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    I'll never understand why people insist on comparing the Mac mini to Windows based systems from a hardware standpoint. Getting a "more powerful" CPU from a similarly priced Dell doesn't matter to the target demographic of the Mac mini. I can tell you that neither Grandma Claire nor Joe iPod-owning-college-student can tell you the speed of their hard drive and probably couldn't tell you three things about their graphics processor either. They both want a computer that works and won't break. The hardware is actually quite trivial to most of the users of this machine. Enthusiasts know they aren't buying a high-end machine, and the others don't know and/or don't care. Reply
  • bob661 - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    Good article. Why?
    3) To the user that this type of computer is targeted at, 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.
  • jtntwozz - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    no.1 what are u talking about?!?!?

    nice article.. i love all 3 of ur mac articles..
  • Dranzerk - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

    I'll wait till you can find half a million on Ebay for $200 fully upgraded in a few months..thats the sweet spot when people say "Why did I buy this!". Reply
  • JacobAppler - Thursday, September 2, 2010 - link

    You can also save some real money on the Mac Minis by shopping safely. Go to a comparison site like Apple and you won't need to worry about your Mac Mini costing too much.

    The Mac Mini can be the redheaded stepchild of Macintosh land, but it's worth looking at.

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