Mac mini: It's Alive! (For Now, At Least)

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Mac mini: It's Alive! (For Now, At Least)

Last month, the word on the street was that the Mac mini was on its last legs. Silver Mac, for example, said that - at best - it was to be replaced by a new low-end model, and AppleInsider believed "in all sincerity" that the Mac mini was dead. The smart money was on its demise, and that it would be replaced largely by the Apple TV.

 

Didn't happen. But that doesn't mean that it won't.

 

The two make for an interesting comparison. The lowest-cost Mac mini sure looks a lot like the Apple TV, has similar storage capacity, and is often used as the Apple TV is intended: as the "hub to your digital life", per Mr. Jobs. How many Mac minis, I wonder, are hooked up to TVs, as opposed to displays? If it's a majority, that's a compelling argument for the end of the Mac mini line: While $599 is a great deal on a computer, it's kind of pricey for a video player.

 

The biggest difference between the Mac mini and the Apple TV, of course, is that the Mac mini is also a general-purpose computer running Mac OS X. A look at Apple's online store underlines the difference - notice how the Apple TV is considered part of the iPod family? (I can't wait to see someone toting one down the street on their shoulder, boombox-like.)

 

As a computer, the Mac mini is a fine, basic unit - a great buy for someone who can't or doesn't want to spend much. Of course if you buy a new display, keyboard, and mouse, the price starts approaching the cheapest ($999) iMac, which in turn has a faster processor and a much bigger hard drive.

 

I personally would be sorry to see the Mac mini go: For cheapskates like me, access to a low-cost Mac means a lot. On the other hand, Apple isn't focused on being a computer manufacturer anymore - see the recent iPhone media frenzy for proof. The products of Apple, the digital-media company, serve functions formerly served by Apple, the computer maker - and at even more affordable prices.

 

I can live with that. How about you? Let the world know in the Comments section, below.

 

Check out more from Tom Geller on his website, TomGeller.com.

 

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Brian

I set up my Macbook with a DVI to HDMI going into my TV and the optical audio out going to my surround sound. Maybe I should of had a straight DVI connection to the TV, but none the less it was really cool. I have the wireless Mighty Mouse, and some Logitech wireless keyboard (hoping to get the wireless Apple keyboard soon) so siting on the couch using it is really cool. Being able to play just about any online video, look at Yahoo or Google pictures, then not worrying about my dvd player not having the right codex when i save a video file and burn it. Watching a bunch of stupid videos with a bunch of friends or looking up some gross site and not having every one huddled around a laptop.

A Mac Mini would be such a good gift for any HDTV. i was thinking of building a cheap PC setup for my TV but then realized what I wanted wouldn't be cheap and would be in a big black box not fitting on top of my Xbox 360. Then i noticed sony is coming out with something like that, but with an HDMI out and the same size of a mac mini but for $2500. yeah i vould get a Blu-Ray player but with $2500 i would buy a new TV. Then i was thinking why a PC for my TV? Do i really want the mess of a PC in my living room, so when something goes wrong, I download the wrong codex or driver I get a computer that doesn't work? No i don't want that. Then i thought about a Mac Mini and realized it would be perfect for what i want.

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Mark

I would be very sorry to see them go as I love mine, am going to buy another AND suspect they have done much to get people started into Mac computers not mostly Mac entertainment like the iPod, et al. Thanks for the warning, Mark

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Anonymous

Fine, get rid of the Mac Mini. Send in the clones.

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Darn Penguin

Ah, the Mac mini. It was the final excuse I needed to get a new Mac. My li'l PPC R2-D2 handles all my web surfing and tune listening needs.

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SPONGEZILLA

I'm a current owner of a 1.25 Ghz. G4 Mac mini w/Superdrive. When I purchased mine I was on a 9600/300 with a 700 Mhz. G4 upgrade from Sonnet. My family was also on an older 7600 series Mac with a 375 Mhz. G3. Obviously, we love our Macs but the performance of OS 9 was a non-starter in comparison to how much better OS X is in terms of stability.

I was saving for a G5 when I decided, through frustration, that I wanted my family off of the old Classic Mac hardware and into something more modern as badly as I wanted to be. When Apple committed to the mini despite all of the naysayers... I was absolutely elated. I instead sprung for 2 mini's instead of one G5, which would've taken me substantially longer to save up for and purchase and would've left my family stuck on older hardware.

I couldn't have been happier with the choice. I still <3 my mini's.

The mini while not "perfection" is still my favorite computer in Apple's lineup despite not being quite as awesome on paper as it was when it was a G4 IMHO. While I loved it when they moved the mini to Intel and loved the additional features they put on it which make it better (i.e. the audio features, the additional USB ports, etc.), I still feel the mini should have Superdrives across the board in this day and age and there *NEEDS* to be a better graphics option available for those that want to casually game, esp. now with the commitments from EA on top of the abilities to run Windows via Boot Camp. Considering the overall gaming performance of a mini is still about where it was with a G4, it's hard to quantify upgrading if it's not really much of an upgrade... not in drive capacity, not in terms of pricetag for getting a Superdrive model, and not overall in terms of even the various additions. They did a little bit to improve it... but far from enough to make G4 mini buyers upgrade to being Intel mini owners.

I for one hope that Apple... while perhaps not keeping the mini as-is (it's gone through 2 iterations with minor changes... I'd like to see an inventive redesign), will seek to keep machines in these pricing points that make sense and are compelling to old mini owners... keeping the same things that matter (desktop form factor and low-price) and making it a quantum jump in terms of performance and desirability.

I could forego the diminutive size (still would love to see a Cube-sized mini as a replacement for the similar pricetag) if it meant getting one with a desktop-sized drive (cheaper and larger capacity as well as better performance per $) and a decent low-end GPU as an option (at least for the high-end mini). Throw in a Superdrive for all models (perhaps a look to BTO to a Blu-Ray reader/DVD-R combination for the high-end) and the ability to upgrade the RAM in an easier fashion and to larger capacities (i.e. how about 4 gig max Apple?) and I think the machine would be perfect.

Does it need to be an upgradable mini tower? No. Modular computing is as such that if Apple can retain computers in this pricepoint they can basically be use and abuse models, pass it on to a family member when done, and replace with the next big thing. That's what the mini ultimately should've been. Even with the massive jump in processor performance that the mini received and some of the bells and whistles... it's still not quite enough in the end IMHO.

What it does need, however, is to make it so that the low end model and upper end model have compelling purchase rationales for each. Right now, the low-end mini is far more compelling (despite being absolutely neutered on optical drive) vs. the high-end as the featuresets are too similar. DVD-burners are beyond cheap (even for dual-layer units) and as a back-up tool with today's larger capacity drives... they're no brainer add-ons that should be in all models by now. CD-R drives aren't much cheaper so it's pretty ridiculous that Apple is using it as a cost-cutting option and a rationale for the high-end purchase when there's nothing really there to substantiate the ludicrous bump in costs.

For basic computing, Intel GMA = good for the low end mini. For those needing a little bit more oomph... having a low-end ATI or NVidia GPU would be an asset and would be the primary reason to bump up from a low-end GMA mini to a higher end 'gaming capable' mini. I would easily look at dropping $800-900 for my next mini if it had a decent GPU along with Core 2 Duo processors, 4 gig of RAM, and a regular sized desktop drive stashed inside (i.e. 250-500 gig please!).

While I BTO'ed my old 1.25 with a Superdrive, there is no such BTO option for the low-end Intel mini. That's clearly a step backwards from the more compelling first run of minis and while it probably doesn't impact the sales for a portion of the desired market, it will hamper the overall adoption of the units as people reassess whether or not the mini is all things to them. It curbs it's appeal, even if only slightly. I'd still rather, without a Mac in hand, buy the current mini vs. anything else in Apple's lineup with what cashflow I have at the present, but with owning my current G4 mini... I'm not feeling the urgency yet. That's something for Apple to remedy, and axeing the mini won't help them in that goal anytime soon.

I hope to eventually upgrade to a newer Intel replacement version for the mini at somepoint. I won't do it until Apple fixes the mini's featureset and in turn, makes it a more compelling buy again. The current models do not offer enough over my current mini to make me want to jump. Just for the record though, for me... it's still more compelling than an iMac where you're locked into a monitor with little choice and whose machine lifespan will likely far be surpassed by the LCD... which is tethered to future paper weight status once the CPU's performance falls laggard. AIO's are wasteful computers to those of us that have no interest in them. If I wanted an AIO, I'd buy a laptop. I loathe laptops as much or more than I do AIO's so that's not happening either.

Beyond that, outside of the mini... my next favorite model would take a couple of years for me to be able to afford beyond that of a mini. That being a Mac Pro. It's a great machine, no doubt... very upgradable, well conceived... but cha-ching! Way too pricey for me and most lower-end users.

If Apple wants massive adoption, the iMac is only a portion of the answer as it appeals to a particular subset of buyer, but it has limited appeal amongst those that don't like consolidation of monitor selection with their CPU purchase and adore the flexibility of being able to upgrade bits and pieces around their computer at different intervals.

The mini needs to remain in some fashion or form... at least in pricing alone if not in exact form factor and vision (I could deal with something the size of an AppleTV or the new Airport Extreme personally, if it meant much larger drive capacity). Features be damned, it definitely needs more for the $-value assigned to increase it's desirability. That's coming from a current mini owner who isn't itching to upgrade simply because the current mini is too close to the one I own overall. The CPU and RAM boosts are great, as are the added USB ports, the audio in/outs, the inclusion of Front Row and all... but they're simply not nearly enough to make me bite.

Give me a reason again Apple... please! I'd gladly love to get a machine equipped with Intel processors (Core Duo is fine for me, Core 2 Duo? Even better!) Give me a Dual-layer Superdrive, 250-500 Gig 7200RPM desktop drive, a decent soldered-in GPU, 4 Gig max of RAM, Firewire 400 (or 800), Front Row, 802.11n, Bluetooth, Leopard, and a new copy of iLife. That could be the high-end mini replacement and I'd start saving now. I promise!

Just throw us a bone, please!!!

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rich

Another use the Mac Mini is perfect for is hosting software RIPs for large format printers. I have two - each driving an Epson printer. They take up next to no room - in a pinch, you could mount one right to the side of a 7800. I'm surprised Colorburst - or Epson, for that matter - haven't worked out a co-marketing deal to deliver their solutions preloaded.

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seth

I agree, do not take the mini away ! i am running a g4 tower and have only been waiting for the current mac minis to get the core 2 duo processor and i'm there! its just taken soooooo long. i have every thing else, just give us the new processor, thats all...!!

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Anonymous

I sure hope these rumors are ALL WRONG! We have been waiting and waiting for months now for the new mac mini revs - our company is switching to Macs and these are ideal for us (as we do not want to have to buy all new monitors!!, but we feel the the current Core Duo mac minis will soon be upgraded and we are waiting for that to happen. Please APPLE, do not kill the mini!!!

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Tom

The mini fills a need for Apple. Many people are not the richest to go out and drop a grand for a new computer. They already have displays and devices on an old computer they want to just get a decent speed mac. The mini fills that void to keep people coming and getting their first mac until they can afford one like a macbook or an imac. I am sitting here on a Quicksilver 2002 and have been waiting patiently to get the money together for a mac mini. I don't want to spend money on anything bigger. I bought this cheap, and I want to keep in the mac world with another lowend budget level mac. I already own monitor I enjoy, keyboard, and mouse. I don't need or want an iMac. The added power would be nice but I can be happy with a 1.8 intel cpu. Don't squeeze out the little guys apple.

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Anonymous

I love the Mac mini, it's fast enought for me, and the size is great, i hope all Apple will do is "update" it, make something really special about it, but thats just me....

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