Apple’s Mac mini: the Ultimate iPod Accessory?

Apple’s Mac mini: the Ultimate iPod Accessory? 1

Twenty years after launching its first Macintosh computer, Apple Computer has finally released the first guilt-free model: at a $499 starting price, the Mac mini is a boon to Windows-wary consumers and an almost unmitigated draw for fans of the company’s iPod portable music players.
If you’re inclined to believe industry insiders, Apple created the iPod to pique interest in the Macintosh platform, which for years was perceived as expensive and nichey. Ten million iPods and many long waiting lists later, Apple’s brand has become globally popular, and demand for an affordable Macintosh computer has grown.

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Like last year’s trailblazing iPod mini, the aptly-named Mac mini preserves the core experience of a larger Apple product in a smaller enclosure. And unlike this year’s iPod shuffle, the Mac mini doesn’t compromise on any of the features average people would expect from a product bearing its predecessors’ name: it is a superb low-end Macintosh with more than enough computing power for most users.

Since the day of the Mac mini’s release, iLounge has been testing both its $499 and $599 uncustomized versions, as well as a collection of different RAM configurations designed to find each Mac mini’s performance “sweet spot.” Though the results of our tests varied, we discovered that value-conscious users will see better practical performance for the dollar if they buy the $499 model and add RAM themselves for $60 than if they buy the $599 model and leave it unmodified. Below, we explain this conclusion, and share our views on both machines for the benefit of iPod fans who might be interested in a great new computer. We also have a full Mac mini unpacking photo gallery available for your perusal, as well as XBench benchmarks, which we discuss briefly below.

What is the Mac mini?

The Mac mini is the smallest and cheapest Macintosh computer Apple has ever released. It is internally similar to several other machines in Apple’s current product line, namely the educational market’s eMac ($749 and up), the low-end iBook notebook computer ($999 and up), and the high-end PowerBook G4 notebook computer ($1,599 and up). All four machines include PowerPC G4 processors, which are comparable but not identical to Intel’s lower-end Celeron and Pentium 4 chips. Any current G4 machine is more than sufficient to run virtually any type of software “average people” use, and many professional users still buy and love G4-equipped PowerBook laptops.

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Unlike the other three machines, however, the Mac mini does not include a built-in screen, which dramatically reduces its size and cost. Roughly the size of five CD cases stacked on top of each other, it is a stunningly elegant rounded box measuring 6.5 inches square and 2 inches tall. Its side casing is iPod mini-like anodized aluminum, at a thickness comparable to the casings of Apple’s top-of-line PowerMac G5 computers. The top and bottom are made from white and gray plastic and rubber, respectively, with a clear acrylic gloss on the top surface. Minimalism is a critical feature of its design. A single Apple icon appears on the top, while a single CD/DVD slot and single pinhole-sized white power light are the only features on the front. Ports, vents, and a power switch are all on the Mac mini’s rear.

Identical to each other in external appearance, there are two versions of the Mac mini. Apple’s lowest-end ($499) version includes a 1.25Ghz PowerPC G4 processor and 40-Gigabyte hard disk. The other is a higher-end ($599) model with a 1.42Ghz processor and 80-Gigabyte hard disk.

Besides those differences, the systems are generally identical in appearance and features. Each system ships with 256 Megabytes of RAM, a CD-burning, DVD-reading optical drive, a 56.6K modem, and ports for USB, FireWire, Ethernet, and video. Neither includes a keyboard, mouse, or monitor, as Apple rightly assumes that most people already own these items. A VGA-to-DVI adapter is included so that non-Apple monitors will work with the mini, as is a separate large white power supply, a spectacular array of free software, and manuals.

Apple also sells customized “built-to-order” Mac minis with more RAM (+$75-325), DVD burning drives (+$100), and wireless networking features ($50-99) inside. Each of these options can installed inside the machines at Apple’s factory, and is invisible from the outside. Buyers can add their own RAM to either Mac mini at a markedly lower cost, but Apple’s warranty policies require that internal hard drives, optical disc drives, and wireless add-ons be installed at Apple’s factory or retail stores. Notably, neither Mac mini is designed to hold a second drive, replacement graphics card, or upgraded processors; the machines are made to be used only with external add-ons.

Display, Mouse, and Keyboard Compatibility

We tested two PC monitors, two mice, and two keyboards with the Mac mini, and experienced predictable results. Our Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse combination worked perfectly without installing any special drivers or software, jointly occupying a single USB port. Logitech offered additional software that allowed the keyboard’s expanded capabilities to work on the Mac, and installation was even easier than on the PC. The two-button mouse and its scroll wheel worked perfectly with OS X, as well, permitting access to the same Right Click menus and scrolling we learned in Windows.

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Our second set of keyboard and mouse were mismatched PC accessories, a Microsoft USB optical mouse and an IBM legacy non-USB wired keyboard. Predictably, the keyboard wouldn’t connect to the Mac, but the mouse did, and worked perfectly. No driver was necessary; it just worked.

We also tested two displays, one a Dell H1025 CRT monitor, and the other a Viewsonic VA800 LCD flat panel that had long been exhibiting sync problems with its host PC. The Dell monitor worked instantly with the Mac mini, offering our choice of resolutions and a good picture, again without any driver installation required. However, the troubled Viewsonic carried over its sync problems to the Mac, and would not establish a stable visual connection at any resolution we tried. Unlike the PC, which sometimes just led to a black screen, all of the Mac resolution modes displayed an image of some sort, but just not one that was practically usable.

For those without keyboards and mice, Apple offers wired and Bluetooth wireless options at newly discounted prices, each of which is stylistically a fair match with the Mac mini. Third-party keyboards of various colors, shapes, sizes, and features are available, as well.

Apple displays are considerably more expensive propositions. We’d venture to guess that at prices of $999 and up, Mac mini buyers won’t even consider them, and in fact, the most expensive 30” model isn’t even mini-compatible because it requires a special type of video card.

But these Apple monitors are unmistakeably beautiful. Sold only in a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio, the Cinema Displays feature thin aluminum bezels that match the mini, and can stand on a desk or hang on a wall. The cheapest 20” version is equally suitable for progressive-scan DVD movies and computing; the larger 23” model is HDTV-compatible for high-definition television viewing. Unfortunately, the 23” monitor has been plagued with quality-control complaints, but the 20” and 30” versions are enviably elegant technology.

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In sum, the Mac mini does as well as whatever you connect to it, often without even installing drivers. It works best when you use a single USB port mouse and keyboard solution, leaving your second port free for other purposes. And unless you’re using physically incompatible PC parts from many years ago, it will be a breeze to use the existing components you already own.

Why Should iPod Owners Care?

The Mac mini presents three current benefits to iPod fans: first, easier use of all iPod models, particularly including the iPod photo; second, the opportunity for substantially better iTunes integration with other applications; and third, an easier, more virus- and spyware-free personal computing experience. There are also additional benefits widely anticipated in the near future, including Mac mini-matching iPod accessories, and hacks to make the small Mac work in cars and other non-traditional applications. We’ll discuss each of these benefits in turn below.

1. Enhanced iPod Compatibility: A Double-Edged Sword

Ever since Apple added USB 2.0 support to iPod hardware in mid-2003, PC owners have been snapping up iPods in droves. But they still have to deal with occasional driver conflicts, iPod formatting issues, and other problems not attributable as much to Apple’s iPod/iTunes software as the prevalence of numerous conflicting Windows programs. Using the Mac mini eliminates these risks entirely.

There’s also a chance that any future improvements to the iPod platform – such as video or advanced audio encoding technologies – will initially be optimized for Macs rather than PCs. Apple’s consumer-focused iLife suite of video, photo and audio programs have recently gained significant traction, would be a natural launching point for future iPod technologies, and have no single-suite equivalent on the PC.

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The first signs of this are already apparent. Photo organization for the new iPod photo is easier and cheaper with the Mac mini’s included iPhoto software than it is with any of the options available on the PC platform – Adobe’s Photoshop Elements, Album, or use of Windows’ generic My Pictures folder. On a Mac, there’s no need to buy additional software or jump through hoops to organize your photos: iPhoto does it all for free.

Additionally, Microsoft has already threatened that it will limit iPod access to Windows PCs in the name of “heightened security” whenever it releases its Longhorn operating system, the sequel to Windows XP. Though the company is actually only interested in dampening competition for its own “Works for Sure” music players, using a Mac will avoid this trap, too.

Positive and negative reasons for Mac ownership aside, there’s only one practical problem for iPod owners. Except for the iPod shuffle, today’s iPods are formatted either for the Mac or PC, not for both. Format your hard disk-based iPod for use on a Mac and you won’t be able to see its contents on someone else’s PC unless you’re using a special piece of software. This may well change in the future, but for now, it’s a limitation.

2. iTunes: It’s Great on PC, but Better on the Mac

When Apple first launched PC-compatible iPods, there was no Windows version of iTunes: PC users had Musicmatch Jukebox, a fair but not great music library organization tool. By late 2003, Apple developed a PC version of iTunes that is for all intents and purposes identical to the Mac original, and quickly began to globally popularize the iPod/iTunes combination. In July, 2004, Apple expanded its PC offerings with the AirPort Express wireless peripheral and AirTunes, which together permit iTunes music to stream from PC to stereo and more.

For PC users, the iTunes story stops there. But on the Mac, iTunes integrates with a number of other Apple products (in the “iLife ‘05” suite, discussed below) that are included for free with the Mac mini. Songs from your iTunes music library can become background music for photo slideshows, movies, and DVDs created with iLife. And you can easily create iTunes songs – as well as edit them – with another program. While there are ways to do some of the same things with various PC applications, only Apple’s suite guarantees full compatibility for all of your iTunes songs regardless of the format in which they’re encoded.

3. Apple’s Packed-in Software: The Mac mini’s Greatest Temptation

Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and other Windows-compatible PCs are all marketed in the same way: abstract hardware specifications combined with vague promises that everything will work once you receive it. Unfortunately, Windows users know all too well that these promises are often unfulfilled: old pieces of hardware don’t work with new ones, buggy and incompatible third-party software frequently requires paid upgrades, and even the Windows operating system frequently exposes users to critical security threats and endless hassles.

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Though most reviews of the Mac mini focus on the hardware, it is first and foremost a purchase made for the included software. Unlike any competing computer at its price point, it runs Apple’s Mac OS X operating system, which is not only more stable than Microsoft’s most recently patched and re-patched versions of Windows XP, but more useful out of the box for average users. Because the various components of OS X are well-designed and easy to use, you’ll turn on the machine, customize it, and connect to the Internet in 10 minutes time – all without a “helpful friend,” a call to technical support, or frustration.

OS X includes powerful but easy to use e-mail, web browsing, scanner and printing software that are generally better than their Windows equivalents. It is comparatively virus-free and immune to both pop-up ads and spyware, plagues upon all of Microsoft’s software. And last but certainly not least, it uses modern graphic design and visual effects that are beautiful to look at, leaving the Windows operating system looking antiquated by comparison.

If you feel committed to Microsoft’s word processing, graphic presentation, spreadsheet, or e-mail programs, the newest versions of those programs are available on the Mac. But Apple has quietly worked to obsolete these programs with its own offerings – the recently released Pages for word processing and page layout, the amazing presentation program Keynote, an upcoming spreadsheet program reportedly titled Cells, and of course the aforementioned OS X-bundled mail application called Mail. Each of Apple’s programs offers a simpler user interface than its Microsoft equivalent, with easier access to powerful tools and fewer “no one uses that” features.

Beyond productivity software, however, Apple’s decision to give away another software package is critical to the value of any Mac mini. In its previous 2004 incarnation, the iLife suite was a positive selling point for Apple’s $1000 computers. Its dramatically improved 2005 version iLife ‘05 is a best-of-breed killer app for $499 Mac minis.

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iLife combines one application you know – the music library program iTunes – with four applications that are more than equally impressive. iPhoto is a super-simple digital photo library and editing tool that now creates incredible slideshows and printed photo albums in only a few button clicks. iMovie HD lets you create and edit digital movies, now including HDTV-resolution films. GarageBand creates and edits music, now including simultaneous recording of live multi-track performances. And iDVD simplifies the DVD making process to the point where any person can make a highly professional looking disc featuring music from iTunes and/or GarageBand, photos from iPhoto, and movies from iMovie.

Even as fans of iLife ‘04, we cannot begin to tell you how impressive iLife ‘05 is by comparison. The individual programs are fantastic and shockingly easy for a complete novice to learn, but the ability to seamlessly move content from one program to another truly separates them from any comparable offering. Better yet, though they scale in performance to take advantage of higher-end Macs, they all run perfectly well on the Mac mini. Seeing is believing; take a peek at the applications here to get your first taste of these great new programs.

Apple also includes some other software with every Mac mini: Quicken 2005 financial software, the word processing and jack-of-all-trades Office suite called AppleWorks, and two surprisingly enjoyable games – the slower-paced 3-D marble maze game Marble Blast Gold, and the game console-quality 3-D flying and shooting game Nanosaur 2. (Marble Blast resembles Sega’s popular GameCube and arcade game Super Monkey Ball, while Nanosaur 2 crosses Jurassic Park-style visuals with the classic Sega arcade game Afterburner.) Both games demonstrate that the Mac mini is no slouch in the visual department, comparing favorably to a PlayStation 2 in overall visual quality, though there’s no question that you won’t want to use a Mac mini to run really high-end games such as Doom 3, either.

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In sum, when purchasing a $499 Mac mini, you’re not just buying an empty PC box with a security-compromised web browser and Solitaire – you’re getting a computer with software that you can immediately use and seriously enjoy.

4. Cool Mac mini Accessories Today, and More to Come

It didn’t take long for cool Mac mini-specific third-party accessories to emerge, and there are indications that plenty more are on the way. A Mac mini-specific iPod Dock has been discussed, and iPod shuffle-friendly parts are also under development. Several people have also formed teams to turn the Mac mini into an in-car or in-home media center device, complete with a special touch screen interface and simplified graphical access to iTunes and DVD movies. The future of Apple’s littlest Mac is looking very big indeed.

An Apple versus a Dell: The Hidden Costs of Mac Ownership

Not every aspect of PC to Mac conversion is positive, however. There are some hidden costs associated with the switch that can be summed up in two words: hardware and software.

If you have a scanner, printer, keyboard or mouse that you purchased on the cheap, there’s a fair likelihood that you will need to replace them. Non-USB versions of any of these devices just won’t work on the Mac mini, because it only includes 2 USB ports and 1 FireWire port – no antiquated PC-style keyboard, mouse, or parallel ports.

We already had USB keyboards and mice, and easily switched them over to the Mac mini. Combined keyboard and mouse solutions – ones that share a USB port – are preferable because of the mini’s paucity of ports. In order to switch to the Mac mini, however, we did need a new printer and a new scanner – ones that were guaranteed to be OS X compatible. It’s most likely that you’ll also need a USB hub ($5 and up) to plug both of them in at the same time.

We replaced our old, cheap Minolta 1250W laser printer with a new, cheap ($80 after rebate) Brother HL-1440, and though other models were available, we replaced our Visioneer scanner with a Canon Lide 80 for $80. The Brother printer quickly worked perfectly, but the Canon required far too much effort to install. Much to the consternation of Mac users, and despite the claims made on their boxes and in advertisements, the Lide 80 and numerous other Canon scanners are not properly supported with OS X drivers by the company. A great third-party application called VueScan is all but necessary to make them work, and may even save you the trouble of replacing your existing scanner if VueScan supports it.

You may or may not want to buy additional software. Apple’s free Mac mini software gets you off to such a great start that you may not need anything else: in addition to iLife, the AppleWorks suite includes simple word processing, page layout, painting, spreadsheet, database and presentation tools, reads and writes Microsoft Word and Excel files, and can create PDF documents, too.

But serious PC converts won’t be able to do without Microsoft’s Office applications – for now. A Student and Teacher edition of Office 2004 is $149.99 (or less if you shop around), including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Entourage for mail. Alternately consider buying just the Word 2004 upgrade ($109.99, available for $89.99), unless you really have a need for the other applications.

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Finally, almost every Mac mini owner will want to upgrade at least one component in the base machine: RAM. In our tests of both versions of the Mac mini, it was readily apparent that spending an extra $100 to buy the 1.42Ghz/80GB mini wasn’t as useful from a performance standpoint as spending $60 to buy extra RAM and putting the additional $40 towards either additional storage or whatever you prefer. A couple of our tests with Adobe’s Photoshop illustrate this point:

In other words, spend $100 on the faster Mac mini and you’ll see a 3 second difference over the 1.25Ghz version on a time-consuming Photoshop test. But spend $60 on 512MB of RAM and you’ll see a comparatively huge gain in Photoshop – 6 to 28 times the improvement. And if you’re willing to upgrade the RAM to 1 Gigabyte, you’ll see even more of a jump. You may also want to take a look at our XBench benchmarks link at this point, as well, to compare the two machines under various RAM configurations against current-model PowerBook 15” notebooks. You’ll be surprised to see that the Mac minis actually outperform one of the far more expensive PowerBook configurations on most tests.

An Apple versus a Dell: the Hidden Costs of PC Ownership

Putting aside the strength of the Mac OS X operating system and the included software, how does the Mac mini compare with a comparably priced computer from Dell? We looked at Dell’s Dimension 3000 ($457 after discount), which we customized at that price to omit a monitor but include a DVD/CD combo drive like the one in the Mac mini.

On paper, the Dimension 3000 has two numerical advantages over the Mac mini: its Intel Celeron D processor runs at 2.4Ghz, versus the $499 Mac mini’s 1.25Ghz PowerPC G4, and it has a 533Mhz front side bus, versus the Mac mini’s 333Mhz front side bus. However, Apple has taken pains in the past to point out that these numbers aren’t directly comparable because its processors perform better at lower clock speeds than Intel’s, and even Intel has recently admitted that raw Gigahertz-to-Gigahertz comparisons are no longer meaningful.

In 2003, Apple claimed that its then-flagship 1.42Ghz PowerMac computer was “32 percent faster than the fastest PC on the market with a 3GHz Pentium 4 processor using nine commonly used actions and filters that stress overall system performance – including processor, memory, system bus, and hard drive – in Photoshop.” Ironically, Apple’s best low-end Mac mini in 2005 runs at the same clock speed as its best high-end Mac in 2003. Though the comparison between contemporary Mac and PC performance isn’t as simple as any of these statements suggest, we simply note that the raw numbers aren’t as informative as they look, and should not be a primary factor in a PC versus Mac buying decision.

There are also other factors to consider. Besides the size difference (the Dell is 14.5” x 7.25” by 16.75” – monsterously large by comparison with the Mac mini) and Dell’s omission of a FireWire port ($27) for video editing and high-speed external devices, the Dimension lacks a built-in general purpose speaker, and includes Dell’s third-tier versions of certain iLife applications.

On the other hand, PC fans might argue that the larger Dell is more internally expandable than the Mac mini, justifying its extra size. But they won’t tell you what many PC owners know: the parts in these computers fail far more often and seriously than in Macs, and when they do, you’ll have to deal with atrocious post-purchase customer support. Dell’s “home and home business” customer support, as only one example, combines the worst practices of 20th Century British bureaucracy (read: make 10 calls to get your problem resolved) with 18th Century British colonialism (read: Indian tech support) and 16th Century British quality control (read: none). Apple’s customer support has led the industry for more than a year and a half, as measured by independent, not-for-profit organizations such as Consumer Reports.

Finally, we hardly need to mention the PC’s software problems, of which there are many. The Dimension doesn’t include free virus protection, and you’ll likely need to run Windows Update three or four times before it’s “safe” to browse random web sites for the first time. Within a week or two, you’ll be patching Windows and updating your virus definitions again – one month’s “secure” Windows system has been exploited in four new ways weeks later. You’ll likely pay once or twice a year for the privilege of security and virus updates, and then pay even more for Norton system tools to clean up the mess that all your programs (and Windows) leave on your hard drive and in your registry.

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Buying a Windows PC for a low price is one thing. Keeping a Windows PC running requires numerous pieces of extra paid software, aggressive enforcement of your warranty and repair rights, and most likely someone smarter and/or more blessed with free time than you to keep fixing everything that goes wrong. Some of these hidden costs are so common to PC owners that they don’t even notice them any more; but with the Macintosh, they just disappear.

How Do I Transfer my PC Files? What About Mac Files?

Though the simplest way to transfer your PC files to your Macintosh is to burn those files onto standard blank CDs or use a rewriteable memory card, more sophisticated users have another option. The Mac mini is capable of viewing the contents of a PC hard disk connected to its FireWire or USB port, a process you can achieve with a $30 FireWire or USB external hard disk enclosure and a FireWire-to-FireWire or USB-to-USB cable. You carefully remove your PC hard disk from your old computer, install it in the enclosure, and connect the enclosure to the Mac mini. Transferring files is in most cases as easy as dragging and dropping; setting up Internet bookmarks, e-mail, and other programs takes only a few minutes and the Mac mini’s easy-to-use help systems or instructions.

Transferring files from one Macintosh to another is ironically more of a challenge – but not for lack of trying. The Mac mini’s version of OS X includes a new feature that supposedly allows you use a FireWire cable to transfer files from another Macintosh, but in six tests of the feature with a PowerBook computer, the FireWire transfer failed every time, in most cases requiring a full re-install of the OS X operating system. One partial transfer introduced an odd glitch where every right mouse click restarted the Finder. These were the only – and we repeat, only – disappointing components of the Mac mini installation experience, and won’t affect anyone other than certain existing Mac users. PC switchers have nothing to worry about.

Mac mini Conclusions

As an entry-level Macintosh computer, the Mac mini uses almost every ounce of its potential: its only omission (RAM) is easily and inexpensively remedied, and its broad compatibility with existing PC monitors, USB keyboards and USB mice is welcome. Regardless of whether you purchase the 1.25Ghz or the 1.42Ghz version, you cannot go wrong for the price.

iPod fans have even more reason to enjoy the newest Macintosh. Increased iTunes functionaity, fewer driver-related hassles, and easier iPod photo compatibility are already bonuses. Even better things are surely yet to come.

When both its hardware and bundled software are considered together, the Mac mini is a spectacular value. No other computer maker offers a luxury-class case design, as robust a software package as iLife ‘05, and a virus- and spyware-free operating system comparable to OS X in a single box for under $500. Congratulations to Apple for accomplishing the feat that most Mac fans thought impossible only months ago – the remaining 97% of the world is now yours to conquer.

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Update: Cool Mac mini Accessories

In response to readers who have asked about the accessories depicted above, the speakers photographed are Celestion brand surround satellite speakers; the mouse is a Macmice Bluetooth mouse, and the dial is a Griffin Technology PowerMate. We have also started to see new, Mac mini-exclusive accessories emerge, and have looked at one of the best of them, the Mini Tower, on iLounge Backstage. A photo of the acrylic case ($39.95), which turns your Mac mini into a floating computer like Apple’s G4 Cube, is included above.

Ram Processor Resize to 300MB Gaussian Blur – 3 pixel
256MB1.25Ghz1:521:37
512MB 1.25Ghz 0:28 (-1:24)1:19 (-0:18)
1024M1.25Ghz 0:08 (-0:20)0:45 (-0:34)
256MB 1.42Ghz1:491:34
512MB 1.42Ghz 0:28 (-1:21)1:12 (-0:22)
1024M1.42Ghz 0:07 (-0:21) 0:45 (-0:27)
Total
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85 comments
  1. I’m really interested in purchasing a mac mini, especially since I hopefully wouldn’t have to buy any accessories(my Spectre 19″ monitor would work with this right?) But my real question is how easy is windows to use through the mac system. I’ve used other mac computers, and I just hate the system. Does anyone have any advice on whether it makes it a lot slower, or no difference, etc.? Thanks so much
    -Jenna

  2. I have a Dell Inspiron 5000 now, and received a 40 GB iPod for Christmas. I would like to switch to a Mac, and the Mac mini seems like an inexpensive way to start. One question I do have though, could I use my Dell laptop display for a monitor for the Mac mini? This would at least get me started and hope to move to a Powerbook.

    Thanks!

  3. I’m intrigued, to say the least. The MM definitely has several very attractive features about it (namely the price) and I’m very tempted to go out and buy one.

    However, having never owned a Mac in my life; it leaves me wondering if they can read the standard windows document formats without buying Microsoft Office for mac. (By that I mean files ending in .wps .doc and the like.)

    Anyone have the answer?

  4. I can’t wait to get one for myself, and that little acrylic pedestal sold by [url=http://www.plasticsmith.com]www.plasticsmith.com[/url] is a great addition. An upgrade of at least 512 megs is essential. All I’d need is a small LCD flat panel and I could take it anywhere!

    A note about the Firewire instant transfer: My boss recently got a new G5 Dual 2.5GHz with 2 Gigs of RAM, and tried the transfer several times, but to no avail. There must be something wrong with the process, as this many failed attempts by more than a few people suggest an inherent problem.

    As far as iPods are concerned, I have a third Generation 40Gig iPod that I formatted for my PC. I have always been able to read it on my G4 Mac at work and have NEVER encountered any problems at all with formatting, reading, etc. I guess I am lucky, but it has never given me any problems. I can add or delete songs on both Mac and PC, I can also use it as a Firewire/USB 2.0 drive and it always works perfectly. Of course, I can’t speak for other Generation iPods, but as long as you format it for PC, the Mac should have absolutely no problem reading and mounting it. I simply formatted it for PC when I bought it, though I don’t know if the newest versions of iTunes would not allow the PC formatted iPod to work. Apple may have changed the new generation iPod and iTunes to take away compatibility with PC formatted iPods. I don’t know. That is to say, I hope not!

  5. Thank you for a detailed and useful review. iPodlounge is a great site and your reviews are greatly appreciated. The Mini seems like a winner to me, likewise the iPod Shuffle. Long live Steve Jobs (hope what they say about his cancer being cured is true!).

  6. The easiest way I found to transfer files to the Mac mini either from an old Mac or a pc with firewire is to put the Mac mini into disk transfer mode and then plug it into the other machine. It then just mounts on the desktop and you can drag and drop whatever you want onto it.

  7. i confess to being a closet mac fan, but i did take exception to some of your comments regarding PCs. i have a year old compaq that i paid $600 for. it has a front mounted firewire port, as well as three USB 2.0 ports. additionally it has a built in reader for every conceivable memory card (including xD), and came with a DVD burner, 160MB HD and 512MB Ram. it performs flawlessly, and i wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone. i use firefox as a browser, Zone Labs as a firewall, and NAV (which is usually ALWAYS free after rebates for prior users), mitigating most of the security concerns you outlined. to wit, those are all third party apps that weren’t preinstalled, but they are freely available, and any seasoned user would have no trouble downloading and installing them.

    all that said, i’m not here to evangelize for PC use. quite the contrary. had mac mini been available at that time i bought the PC, i would have unquestionably purchased the mini. this isn’t becaues of safety or reliability concerns, rather the aesthetics are far beyond PC both physically and from an OS standpoint.

    so to bring all this to a point, i wouldn’t necessarily point everyone to a PC, nor would i exclusively recommend the mini. PC use should be based on needs assessment, and for some the PC would be a more rational choice–database users, gamers, et al. as for me and my ilk, next time i’m going with a MAC.

    just a bit of rational devil’s advocating from a lurker.

  8. I have officially switched from the world of Winblows to a beautiful Mac mini. I could not be more pleased to have a computer that simple does what it is supposed to do without always crashing. Words cannot express how awesome the Mac mini is. Any worries I had abot switching were wiped away within an hour of using my Mac mini.

  9. There were two things I thought the article could have covered more:

    1) Using the Mini as a a audio recording machine, perhaps for things like Podcasts (I heard the headphone jack doubles as a microphone jack — is this true?)

    2) More of an addendum, but another reason the Mini’s “slower” G4 processor often exceeds the “faster” Celeron is because the graphics system on cheap Celeron’s is often tied to the CPU, thus using added CPU cycles to draw the screens and clogging the data pipeline. In contrast, the Mini’s G4 architecture runs the graphics card as it’s own system, thus leaving the CPU free to process more information, and the pipes remain clear for the CPU’s data flow. More or less.

    Eric

  10. “But my real question is how easy is windows to use through the mac system. I’ve used other mac computers, and I just hate the system.”- by Amethyst Anne Aurelia

    Hmmm… What you say is kind of intriguing. I don’t know a single person that “hates” Mac OS X, most people find it “weird”, “exotic”, whatever. And it seems very strange that someone interested in a Mac doesn’t like the look, feel and stability of OS X. Just out of curiosity, have you actually *tried* using Mac OS 10.3 Panther? By the way you put it, it seems you only know Mac OS 9 or something…

    I’ve been using PCs since 1991, and Windows, since version 3.0, all the way through Windows 2000 at home and XP at school, and all I can tell you is that it took 15 minutes to get used to Jaguar, which came in my Mac’s system DVD. It also came with the Panther upgrade disks, and it only took 5 minutes to learn how to take advantage of its great features…

    Anyway, who am I to tell which OS people should use… All I can say is, from what I’ve heard, Windows XP running on top of VPC is very sluggish, *even* on a Dual Processor PM G5! You shouldn’t try running VPC on a Mini withoud maxing out its ram at 1GB at least… And even if you did so, it wouldn’t be very usable. Anyway, even if that was possible, I’m positive you would start using VPC increasingly less often, as you would get used to OS X.

    So, my advice is: giving OS X a spin won’t do you any harm, but I can assure you, you can take the plunge and buy a Mac mini without thinking twice, you WON’T regret it. Hey, I’m still using Windows on a regular basis, and all I can say is, it sucks big-time when compared with OS X. Even if nothing goes wrong and your PC never gets clogged with malware, the user experience will still be miles way from OS X…

  11. Oh, by the way… I forgot to mention Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger… If that won’t be a killer OS, you tell me what it will be…

    [url=http://www.apple.com/macosx]www.apple.com/macosx[/url]

  12. Great view. I am now 100% converted. I hated macs a year ago, and am an owner of 4 dells, all of which I hate, well along with the indians on the phones that pretend to know more than i do when something breaks. I will be switching in march.
    One question…

    I have 3000 songs on my ipod..how do i transfer them to the minimac? They are stored on a windows system, and my ipod is windows formatted. Any help?

    Also, for a real kick ass slide show with music and some video, which apple program should i use?
    thanks

  13. Where’s the power supply?? That’s the only question I have…. Seems like a great product…. the iPod combined with the Mini and the new Apple stores will definitely increase Apple market share…. they are now accessible, affordable and a much better product that any PC

  14. “I have 3000 songs on my ipod..how do i transfer them to the minimac? They are stored on a windows system, and my ipod is windows formatted. Any help?

    Also, for a real kick a** slide show with music and some video, which apple program should i use?
    thanks” – by Andrew Layton

    Your first question is answered in iPodlounge’s iPod FAQ:
    [url=http://www.ipodlounge.com/faqs_more.php?id=81_0_10_0_C]http://www.ipodlounge.com/faqs_more.php?id=81_0_10_0_C[/url]

    And… Your second question is even easier to answer… You have two options: you can make a movie with iMovie, by combining movie clips, photos from iPhoto, and songs from iTunes (which you can burn to a DVD with iDVD if your Mac mini is equipped with a Superdrive); that’s the iLife philosophy. Luckily for you, Apple bundles the latest version of iLife (which costs, standalone, $75) with every new Mac, and iLife ’05 was just released. Check [url=http://www.apple.com/ilife]www.apple.com/ilife[/url] for details. 😉

    Alternatively, you can buy iWork for $75, and you’ll get Keynote 2 (it’s like PowerPoint on steroids, and easier to use. I’m not sure but I think this new version lets you add music and movies to presentations besides just photos, in other words, it integrates seamlessly with iLife) and Pages (according to Apple, “Word processing with style”. Again, check [url=http://www.apple.com/iwork]www.apple.com/iwork[/url]

    Gee, Apple should just give me a job at an Apple Store 😀

  15. “its a massive white block that from the picture looks taller than the computer. look at the unloading the macmini picture he has linked at the beginning of the article. i can just hide that behind my desk though. no bid deal.”

    Actually, I think it’s shorter. There were some pictures from MWSF where the Mac mini appeared side by side with the PSU, and it seemed to be 3/4 the height of the Mini. And you’re right, it should be easy to hide 😉

    Btw, that was a good idea, removing the PSU from the case. It helps keeping the system from overheating, and making it compact.

  16. “I have 3000 songs on my ipod..how do i transfer them to the minimac? They are stored on a windows system, and my ipod is windows formatted. Any help?”

    Oh, I forgot to mention, you’re in luck, actually!

    Windows formatted iPods (FAT32) are recognized both by Windows and Mac OS X, while Mac formatted iPods (HFS+) are ONLY recognized by Macs. I have my iPod Mac formatted, and I can’t transfer files from my Mac to Windows PCs. I’m actually considering reformatting it in Windows, and reupdating it on my Mac.

  17. I work at an apple reseller as a PC service technition. (they fix both mac’s and pc’s) Talk about making you want to switch to a mac. I already bought an ipod. I have tryed to get away from windows by using linux but I always have driver issues. Modem video card etc. It’s a pain and it doesn’t work with my ipod.. 🙁

    We have a dell dimension 3000 as a service machine so I decided to benchmark it against a mini. The results are at [url=http://www.macsupportpro.com/~eric]www.macsupportpro.com/~eric[/url] Sorta interesting. I think I am getting a mini.

    Eric

  18. its a massive white block that from the picture looks taller than the computer. look at the unloading the macmini picture he has linked at the beginning of the article. i can just hide that behind my desk though. no bid deal.

  19. Two questions:
    1) what are those beautiful speakers in the pic at the front of the review?
    2) I’m confoosed — I have Altec Lansing 5100s on my PC that require like 3 sockets to connect to my sound card — are these unusable on a MacMini? On the pix I couldn’t see anything that would allow speaker connection.

  20. Upon seeing the Mac Mini the first thing that popped in my head was, man this thing would be sweet in my car. Low and behold, in the article it mentions possible plans for a touch screen. Well if an Apple emplyees read these threads then let me be the first to tell you… where do I sign up? You make a touch screen and I giving you my credit card for such a purchase. 40 gigs of iTunes music mounted in my car playing through some pc speakers is what I’m talking about.

    P.S. regarding the question about fan noise. While at the Apple store last night, I can attest that now abnormal heard noise was heard coming from the fan. This sucker is quiet.

    Also you don’t realise how darn small the mac mini is until you see it up close. The pics just don’t do it justice. It’s simply unbelieveable.

    My next pc purchase will most likely be the mac mini (hopefully in the near future) as coming from the windows crowd, I was amazed at how simple OS X operates and how nice the interface is to use.

    To the person who wrote about the lack of a ps2 port, I’m surprised you didn’t ask about a serial port too!

  21. An answer for those looking to transfer files from one Mac to another. If both systems have Airport cards installed, then this is a simple task. No wires, no hubs, no routers, no third party software, nada!
    1.If you have your Airport status on view on your Menu bar, then click on that and then “Create Network”.
    If not go to System Preferences / Network / Airport and click on the “Let this computer create networks” and “Show Airport status on Menu bar”. and then create a network (see previous paragraph).
    If you are doing this in a heavily populated area (Apartment building, etc), you may want to set a user name and password to encrypt this network, otherwise you will invite a hacker to break into your system.
    Then go to your other Mac and from the Airport Menu bar, you will see this newly created network as one of the drop down options. Select that network and login (if needed).
    Then in the drives area in your Finder Window, select Network, then Servers, and you will see your other computer on the list. Select the drive you want to connect to, log in using the other computers info, and *bam* you have connectivity.
    Apple loves to make it easy for us.

  22. My friend literally purchased three of these for his residence; two for his children (ages 5 and 7) and the remaining one for his MP3/iPod burning and residential network. He couldn’t be happier. Oh, he does have several other high-end Mac’s, but these were a natural for home networking.

  23. I’m thinking of buying my first Mac, the 1.42Ghz version of the Mac mini.

    Where is the best place to order from, Apple directly or MacMall or somewhere else?

    I have an Aple store 5 minutes from me, if I go there can I still get more RAM and a DVD Burner added to it?

    thanks

  24. 1. ” am using the latest Apple keyboard, and there is no power button or switch. The much older versions did have one, but not anymore. The only keys besides the Windows ones are Volume Up/Down, Mute, and eject. The Windows Keys are replaced with Apple keys, obviously.
    The Apple keyboards don’t have power buttons …[].”

    “Apple no longer makes keyboards with power switches and hasn’t for years. At the same time, there’s really no reason to turn your Mac Mini off”

    You can try with combination CONTROL and EJECT KEY pressed simultaneously.But it isn’t able to switch Your machine on.

    2. I would like to buy this wonder Mac mini, but I’m worried with reviewed Ethernet connection misadventures.
    I have PowerMac G4 and Powerbook, and I link both Macs with Ethernet wire. It happens that connection misbehaves (every 2 of 10 connections I need to set it up again, because it losts settings), but generally it’s very good and fast way to transfer files. Especially when Powerbook has no cd writer.

  25. I don’t know if anyone has commented on this yet, but if you are transfering files from mac to mac, just run a firewire to both units, restart the older comp(files coming from) and hold down the “t” key, this will reboot the computer as a “extrenal firewire hardrive” or the newer comp will recognize it as one. Then it is just drag and drop, very simple. Everyone seems to make such a big deal about that, but it’s so I easy, I’ve had to do that numerous times transfering between 3 or 4 different macs in my house

  26. I have 3 canon LIDE scanners. My 80 is a year old and it was a little tricky installing the software until I read the directions and realized that there was an order you had to follow when installing the canon software and photoshop elements. Once done correctly, no problem. I have never had a problem using the 50 and 35, which I keep in my office, with either an imac, an ibook, or a powerbook and using OSX. I’m curious about the problems you had with canon LIDE scanners and the mini.

  27. AZtommy- Apple may not make a keyboard that turns on the computer, but my Apple Studio LCD Monitor does that just fine. I keep a G4 Powerbook hooked to it, and press the “button” on my monitor (lower right corner) and the computer turns on.

    So it’s about 1 inch away from the keyboard… Not a big deal at all.

    I expect to see a lot of switchers. I’m using both WinXP and the Mac. I’d switch to Mac only if game publishers would WISE UP and start publishing for Mac as religiously as they do for PC. It makes no sense that they don’t; If they’re worried about the market not being there, they need to realize that many of the people who buy PCs buy them to play games. If the games were on Mac instead, people would buy Macs without batting an eyelid.

  28. Does anyone know if a mac mini purchased in the US will work in the UK (with the addition of a plug adapter)?

    The tech specs on the Apple website would seem to confirm that it will as the US model operates on a voltage of 100 -2 240V.

    I just wondered if anyone had tried this?

  29. What exactly is wrong with buying Office (or a standalone Word or Excel if you want it or Keynote instead of PowerPoint?) The latter costs less and the former ones the same. I haven’t left Appleworks installed on a Mac in years. It is, however, very popular in K12 and undergraduate education markets.

  30. I’m also amazed that FW Target Disk Mode doesn’t work on a mini. Heck it even works on Power Macs circa the 1999 and 2000 models. My daughter has a 2000 (gigabyte) model Power Mac and I use FireWire Target disk mode with current model PowerBooks all the time (primarily to transfer photo files).

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