Mac Mini Review

Saturday was a day of disappointment and excitement, all wrapped into a mini package (you’ll get the pun in a bit). I got up super-earlywell, for a Saturdaystood in line for over an hour before the Apple store opened (an hour earlier than it’s normal 10am time), and was one of the first few into the store.

The line was a couple dozen long or so, but most were there for iWork ’05, iLife ’05 and the newly released Mac mini. Me? Since I haven’t quite got my free iPod yet, I was there for the iPod shuffle, two 512mb versions to be exact, one for me and one for the misses.

Unfortunately, despite confirmations to the contrary from an (obviously misinformed) Apple store clerk the night before, there were no shuffles to be had. A couple of the clerks had demo unitsthose bastardshanging from lanyards around their necks, but, as the clerk jokingly acknowledged, these were not for sale. I wasn’t really joking, but oh well, life is hard and then you die. I went home.

No more than two hours later, after a desperate call to the store to confirm stock, the whole family was back in the store, this time to pick up a Mac mini for my wife. I stood in line, holding our youngest, while my wife and three-year old played some Nemo game on an old iMac in the kiddie section. I could see three mini’s on the left and about a half-dozen on the right. A couple minutes and $599 later, we left the store with one of those last three minis.

UNPACKING AND SETUP

The box itself is surprisingly small. It’s hard to believe there’s a computer in there, let alone a smokin’ G4. A hard drive I bought recently came in a bigger box.





My heart raced as I cut the seal. Inside, everything is organized into it’s own place, clearly part of the presentation of the thing. There’s just enough packing to protect the precious cargo, without going overboard like some packaging I’ve seen.





First up is the softwarea couple of install discs and iLife ’05and the mini documentation, literally.





The first layer removed, the mini rests comfortably in it’s styrofoam bed, protected by a thin wrapping of plastic, again, up to Apple’s standards. It reminds me briefly of unpacking my G5 almost a year ago.





This is where the notice “Actual size” on the outside of the box really hits home: This thing is just plain small.





It’s impressive how much architecture fits into such a small package. I realize that the mini is essentially an iBook without the keyboard and LCD, but the form factor is still amazing.





I failed to take pictures of the power supply organization, but needless to say, it was organized just as neatly underneath the computer.

Setup couldn’t have been any easier. Power, ethernet, keyboard, external speakersstill leaves an USB port and a Firewire port. Since my wife’s flat panel has DVI input, I didn’t need to use the DVI-VGA connector, but it’s nice that one was included. I like it’s compact size better than the dongle that came with my G5.





IMPRESSIONS

Did I say how utterly amazed I am at just how small the mini is? The old Gateway mousepad (dug up from who-knows-where) takes up more precious acreage on the desk than the mini.





It’s the perfect size for my wife’s desk, as the real estate is tight.





The mini replaces an aged Windows XP tower that stood on the floor next to the desk. All that size for a Pentium II 350Mhz and a 20GB HDD. Even with just two fans, it was like a wind tunnel in the living room, but we eventually got used to it and just turned up the volume on the TV.

The mini is so quiet, it was actually distracting at first. There is barely a whir emanating from the underside, you wouldn’t know it was even on if it weren’t for the tiny power LED shining brightly from the front. The only time this thing makes any noticeable noise is when a CD/DVD is in the Combo drive.





PERFORMANCE

It’s a G4, ’nuff said. It’s noticeably slower than my dual 1.8 G5, but still much faster than that old G3 I used to play around with. I thought about running some benchmarks, to really test things out, but I think that’s been done enough times elsewhere, that it wouldn’t serve much purpose here.





I’m positive that the miniscule 256mb of memory is a serious bottleneck, so this thing will get a 512mb or 1GB upgrade very shortly. After seeing the difference between 512mb and 1.5GB on the G5, I know that will increase the snappiness of OS X dramatically. (I’m still biting my nails about trying to open the mini, but there are how-to pictures and even a video floating around, I should be okay if I’m careful).

The HDD is a 2.5″, so it’s only 5400rpm, but I’ve never really the noticed the difference between that and 7200rpm, so that doesn’t really matter much to me. I suppose if you were into serious multimedia or other disk-intensive tasks, it would matter, but then you would probably want a G5 anyway.

CONCLUSION

Despite my initial misgivings about the mini when it was first announced, now that I have one, I’m duly impressed. Apple has come out with a great entry-level machine.

It would be nice if there was a second DIMM slot for more memory, but given what my wife (and probably most users at this price point) uses her computer for, I think 1GB will do just fine. For $75, it makes sense to have the Apple store upgrade the memory, but $325 for 1GB is ridiculous. I can get Crucial or Kingston PC2700 DDR RAM for just under $200 locally, even cheaper online, so that will likely be the road I take.

If I didn’t already have a DVD-burner via the Superdrive in my G5, I would have seriously considered the $100 upgrade to the Superdrive for the mini. Much cheaper than trying to do it later.

The only other thing that can be upgraded is the hard drive, but that was partly the reason I chose the more expensive model. Given the cost of 2.5″ drives, it was worth the extra $100 for the twice-as-big HDD and I got a faster processor to boot. The faster processor probably isn’t really that noticeable and the 80GB drive upgrade is only $50 as an option, but I walked out of the store with this thing. There’s something to be said for not having to wait.

And my wife has a Mac mini on her desk to prove it.

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