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

  • 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.

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