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 - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    Graphics card swap hardly agonizing but Joe $499 User won't know how or care to do that, I agree. I am still wondering how a PDA can be useful for me but since I can't think of a reason to get one I am obviously not the market for those.
  • Chuckles - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link


    1: Given that a 3.5" is about a third the size of the computer, what do you think?

    2: Do you think Joe Luser is willing to spend the time and agony upgrading his graphics card?

    3: If the past is any indication, no, its got about 4, maybe 5 years of "official" OS support.

    4: Does your PDA have the ability to serve as your HD backup, play music for 8 hours, and still fit in your pocket? Capability is a matter of perspective. The PDA I have does exactly what I need it to, my iPod does different things.

  • Concord - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    Oh, yes! Dying - strong word but its true and best
    describes situation. Macs represent now less than 1 percent of the market. Of course we do our best to keep them alive. We vote for personal computer's diversity :)). But frankly speaking this miniMac is so badly constructed (I have at least 10 reasons for this claim) so I see at this moment only one reason to buy. Your girlfrend would say - Oh, its so cute! Maybe this reason is strong enough to buy it. But I will give you strong consumer advice (it was in 1st post) - wait for a couple of month and you will buy it on eBay for 200 US, of course if you will not change your mind.
  • bob661 - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    People will still jump on these because the $499 buyer doesn't know about how much system or video memory they'll need. Like someone else said, the $499 market only cares about price and name.
  • Dualboy24 - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    #121 "A pitiful attempt of the dying platform."
    - People have been saying its a dying platform since the early to mid 90s. Perhaps even earlier. But that hasnt stopped tens of millions of people worldwide from buying their products.

    I am sure that everyone would agree that they would love standard 512MB RAM and 64MB or 128MB video memory. If apple were to offer this a large amount more people would jump on these Mac minis. Perhaps a good rule is to hold off a few months. Until the buying rush is done with and apple tries to start a new rush by offering more advanced features. I dont know if they could get in a 9600 or higher video card with heat reequirements though. But the 9200 should do fine for the OS and the higher res work with more video memory.
  • bob661 - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    Shuttle is making gaming machines. They need to be able to fit a 6800 or X800 in them. Also, they use full size hard drives and DVD/CD drives.
  • Concord - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    A pitiful attempt of the dying platform.
    There are no reasons to buy it. Stylish? This soap box? I am dying laughing! Try to have your own look on things. Apple is trying to make an impression that it does so much good for us poor users and for only 499 US we are among choosen.
    Ha-ha buy and enjoy - You are different! That's all you can get.
  • peachee - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    It uses 2.5" HD. Does that mean 3.5" HD upgrades won't fit?

    Is the graphics card upgradeable?

    Will it take 1 - 2 years before Apple completely abondons this computer when a new OS update comes out?

    When people realize that a PDA is cheaper and more capable than an IPOD, will MS have to bail out Apple again?
  • Cygni - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    "figure out the case and internal hardware components to use such as those you suggest be used for an alternate base Wintel"

    Thats true, the shuttle will take considerably more setup time and prior knowledge. That does not lessen the bang/buck of the hardware, in my eyes, and i think thats what Anand is speaking of.

    "when it comes to downtime, system maintenance,"

    I am typing this on my G4 Powerbook, and i think this is an unfair comment. I have K6-2 machines running WXP that havent rebooted in months. I also have friends and coworkers with Macs that consistantly freeze (especially when opening a 3rd party program). In all honesty, if you have any type of downtime problems with ANY modern system, something is wrong. There doesnt seem to be any measurable difference to me... they are both quite solid.

    "I'd bet my daily income, that if you would install a good AV SW, many ,even tens of, viruses would be found."

    I havent installed an AV program since Windows 3.1, and i have never had any problems with viruses. I run HouseCall every couple of months, and its never found anything. Honestly, how do people get these viruses? I use P2P programs all the time, i open and install community made programs all the time... never gotten a thing. And i have yet to recieve any type of virus from all these amazing holes in XP where viruses just fly through the internet at your computer. If you DONT click anything on the screen on a shady site, you will never have any problems... doesnt matter what browser you use. If you drop all the security levels and click yes to everything, whose fault is that?
  • msva124 - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    I don't care what the PC costs, I already have plenty of PCs. I want to buy a Mac. First of all, I will need 512MB RAM ($75 extra). Second, I want to get a keyboard with apple keys so that I can get used to the new shortcuts ($30). It should also have a USB hub, or I will need to get one seperate ($15). Third, I need wireless, unless I never want to use the internet($79). Fourth, I need a two button usb mouse with scroll wheel ($20). Finally, the cheapest 15" LCD with good reviews on Amazon is the AG Neovo F-415 ($215 with shipping). That comes to $933. A similarly configured Emac is $953. And the lowest cost Ibook upgraded to 512MB is $1074.

    Why would I not want to upgrade to the Ibook and get full portability?


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