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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  • fitten - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    Actually... the Mac mini is hardly *the* home media machine except for playback tasks. It doesn't have the horsepower to do realtime encoding and no way to expand it to have such functionality.

    As far as both sides bringing up stuff from the early 90's about hardware, I haven't had a single x86 PC have any of the problems you've mentioned here.

    As far as the software, just as with any other software package that is actually useful, somewhere out there, some OSS folks are already off and running cloning the software. It's not like Macs are magic or anything, it's just software and a matter of just writing it. The thing about OSS is that any software package that gets popular, OSS can drop the bottom out of the market for that software by offering free (as in no-cost) alternatives for it. I guess Mac folks are used to paying for everything and don't mind it, but things will change I'm sure.
  • aliasfox - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    I think I agree with ransath. Each platform has its place, market, upsides and downsides. I personally use a Mac because I find it more enjoyable and generally easier to get around in. Yes, there are aspects of Windows that may seem somewhat more intuitive, and yes, there are aspects where OSX wins hands down.

    For the stuff I do, my two year old PowerBook is usually more than enough- and if that's true for me, than it's true for Joe Normal who doesn't care if your homebuilt is 15% or 150% faster than his machine in processor or disk intensive tasks. He wants to surf the web, write memos, and bore the rest of his family with slideshows. Anybody who needs that kind of power knows enough not to buy a $600 microsystem.

    One last thing: Mac is a product. Apple is the company. Saying that you're throwing money away at Mac (or worse, MAC) is just as bad as saying you're throwing money away at Windows (or Athlon or Pentium).
  • ransath - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link


    Sorry, not a fanboy. I make my living on a PC. I just built a new PC (ASUS P4R800E, P4 2.8, gig of ram). I LOVE PC's! I think Win XP Pro is one of the best operating systems I have ever used. I won't bash PC's in any way, shape, or form. (I'll bash Microsoft, but I am sure you would too ;)

    However, I also use Mac's for audio recording. I use Mac's for video editing.

    Both platforms are excellent for their purposes. What I take exception to is people like Concord and a few others on this board that belittle a perfectly good OS and company and dismiss it as an afterthought - as if it doesn't belong in a computer discussion.

    This has nothing to do with being a "religious" zealot - it has to do with giving respect where it has been earned and is due. And it pisses me off when people take an elitist attitude (and that goes for Mac snobs too).

    Yes, I agree that I am a smart ass (but not a tool). And I will refrain in the future from making sarcastic comments.

    One last thing - please explain "there are SO many problems littered in all of your posts" (only 3 posts). I would like to know what they are.
  • Deucer - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    I love Mountain Dew.
  • Concord - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    I clearly expressed my point of view on miniMac You expressed your point of view on ME in pejorative tone. We have no common points to discuss, sorry. By the way, it is the same 'narrow minded'
    engineers as you call them who make miniMac. No? Let me guess... Eh, it's a beautiful fairy who picks miniMacs from magic Apple tree in the morning twilight.
    P.S. I don't drink Mountain Dew and I am OK with shower, too
    Best regards,
  • Cygni - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    Ransath, you are a tool. You are more of a fanboy than the PC fanboys you are bashing. There are SO many problems littered in all of your posts thats its gotten to the point where i just have to call you a tool and be done with it. We had a pretty good rational pro/con debate about the mini going before you came in, and now its another name fest. Thanks alot. Concord, you too are a tool.
  • ransath - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link


    Please! YOU are the one with an attitude - a PC holier than though attitude that dismisses Mac's as a peice of junk and poo poo's the very thought of owning a Mac. Why the hell do you think I wrote the response to you that I did? To tell YOU to get off your high horse.

    And, dood, try to proof read your posts. Or did you have to turn off spell check in Word cause it had a macro virus?

    BTW - don;t you and peachee have a D&D event to attend tonite? You two, I am sure, would make great friends ;) Just take it easy on the Mountain Dew.
  • Concord - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    Oh, I am sorry! I did not know that it's religion.
    I am really sorry I thought that we were talking about computers. Sorry again I wasn't respectful to this box full of chips. Yes I am very narrow minded person You are right that's why I am talking about expandability, functionality, price etc. I didn't know that I should just knee and praise Mac-allmighty for letting us to be enlighted only for 499 US. There is lot job to do! You see few INTELLIGENT people left in the world and your personal attitude will not help Mac to gain popularity. Are you really think that if You can't respect other people's opinion You can be considered to be intelligent? Are You relly think that having Mac makes You intelligent?

    Best regards,
  • ransath - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    peachee..."Ipod is not an innovation, there was the Rio and many many others before. The mini Mac is not innovation, Shuttle came before ... long before and there were many others."

    The iPod is an innovation in design, styling (just like the Mini) and GUI. There is nothing on the market that even comes CLOSE to an iPod with regards to navigation. If there was, then Apple wouldn't dominate the hard disked based market - which they do IN SPADES! You think they sold so many iPods cause people are drones? PLEASE!!! They sell so many because they hands down BLOW the others out of the water. Quality and attention to detail.

    The Mini will crush the Shuttle. Why? Because just like the iPod, it is better designed, better styled, and it runs a rock solid OS that is NOT prone to viruses AND includes iLife. There is NOTHING in the Windows or Linux world that even comes close to iLfe. Hell, an app like Garageband or iMovie alone would set a typical PC user back well over a $100 - for each seperate app!!!!

    Anands comment when unpacking the Mini sums it up best..." Once again, I wasn't reminded of a computer; I was reminded of buying something from Bose or Mercedes."

    Enough said, Mr. Bargain Hunter.
  • peachee - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    Coming from a one time Apple-owner, I can say that they WERE better than PCs. But that was quite some time ago in the early to mid 90s. I experienced pre-PPC Macs and it's various generations. I remember the Newton, AV DSP macs, clone Macs, the Apple ISP, and the promises of the NEXT OS for 68040 Macs--all died miserably leaving owners with outdated computers (forcing us to buy expensive new systems). I did my part to keep up with Apple's complete and ruthless abandoning of Macs and OS compatibility and product support, but in the end, I realized I was being stupid SUPPORTING A JUST ANOTHER CORPORATION!

    I started over with PCs and never looked back. I don't care how shiny OS X+ is, it's just BSD. If you hate Bill G and Steve B, go Linux or BSD. If you don't like Intel, get AMD. With Shuttle and everyone else going small but keeping with 3.5" HDs, and 5.25" DVDRWs and AGP/PCI slots, why suddenly switch to unupgradeable mini Mac at a premium price? Did we all win the lottery and have the time to and money to switch our softwares and all our waking ours to devote to mini Mac?

    I believe and many industry analysts concur that Apple has not innovated for years. Ipod is not an innovation, there was the Rio and many many others before. The mini Mac is not innovation, Shuttle came before ... long before and there were many others. What Apple has become is a hype machine. It makes average products and hypes the hell out of it, throws ads in your face, puts it in celebrities hands, and some of the richer MTV crowd will lap it up until they lose interest.

    Apple is all marketing hype ... an informercial. You jonny come lately Apple supporters need to realize that you are disposable tools (free marketing for the just another corporation of Apple) and Apple will abadon you high and dry (I know--been there done that). Why should we as thinking, hardworking, bargain hunting beings ... why should we lobotomize our brains and dump our money into Apple's laps for their average and expensive products when there are far better and cheaper choices out there?

    The "oh, I'm too dumb to use computers and therefore I must use Mac" excuse never made sense. Most people can learn fairly quickly to use any computer (we aren't using punch cards and I/O switches are we?). XP and even many versions of Linux are quite user friendly.

    Think, learn, grow and don't fall for corporate tricks.

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