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Mac Mini A Month Later
Saturday February 26, 2005

We received our Mac mini back in January and what a month it's been with our new little computer. Our initial impressions of the Mac mini were....Wow this thing is really small! Now a month later some of the wow factor has worn off and it's back to reality. Is the Mac mini a worthy computer and will it succeed it in the marketplace?

Our first impressions of the Mac mini were that the build quality and finish of the computer are most impressive, so we'd have to agree with Apple's quote of "inexpensive, but never cheap". The 6.5-inch square silver anodized aluminum enclosure with white top and Apple logo are very aesthetically pleasing and modern looking. The Mac mini looks really nice sitting on your desk and won't take up much space doing so.

Click to EnlargeOn the front of the Mac mini there is a slot loading CD-R/DVD-ROM optical drive and one power LED indicator. The lack of a front power button and other indicator lights give the Mac mini a very clean looking design. The Mac mini comes standard with CD-R/DVD-ROM but you can also upgrade it to a 4x Superdrive as a BTO option. Our Mac miniís slot loading drive works relatively smoothly but is a tad noisy when spinning up. The power LED on the bottom right stays lit "white" when the Mac mini is powered on and "pulses white" when the Mac mini goes into energy saver mode.

Click to EnlargeOn the back of the Mac mini you'll find a headphone/audio line-out jack, one FireWire 400 port, two USB (Universal Serial Bus) 2.0 ports, DVI-I/VGA Display Port, 10/100 BASE-T Ethernet Port, 56K v.92 fax modem Port, AC power input, security slot and power button. Our two biggest disappointments here are that thereís no audio-in port and the power button is really small and can be hard to find and manipulate.

Our Mac mini came with a 1.42GHz G4 processor, 256MB DDR SDRAM, and 80GB Ultra ATA Hard Drive. The Mac mini's G4 processor is powerful enough to handle everyday tasks. On the other hand the 256MB DDR SDRAM of system memory that comes standard is not enough to run OS X efficiently. We highly recommend you upgrade your Mac mini to at least 512MB or higher, it really makes a huge difference in performance. One of the biggest questions we hear is "Is the Mac mini really quiet?". The answer is Yes. However while running processor heavy applications fan noise does become slightly louder, but it's nothing to fuss over.

Click to EnlargeOur biggest concern with the Mac mini is with the 32MB ATI Radeon 9200 video card. Sure most entry level PC's come with Intel Integrated Graphics but we still feel like Apple short changed the Mac mini with its 32MB video card and worry about its ability to handle Core Image in the upcoming release of OS X Tiger. Anandtech reports, "The problem with the Mac mini is that the Radeon 9200 it has in it is based on the RV280 core, which is not a fully floating point GPU. The question then becomes, will Core Image require Shader Model 2.0 or will the 9200's Shader Model 1.4 suffice?". Anandtech has two really good entries in his blog dealing with the Mac mini's 32MB ATI Radeon 9200 video card and Core Image. Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2 of his blog entries. Hopefully the next generation Mac mini will offer a better video card with more RAM and will fully support Tiger's Core Image.

Apple offers an internal AirPort Extreme Card and Bluetooth cards as BTO options for the Mac mini. Our model has the AirPort Extreme Card and we're a little disappointment with its reception. We feel the small internal antenna is probably to blame for the weak reception.

We feel like the Mac mini is a worthy computer and will succeed in the marketplace. In an ever-crowded marketplace of beige boxes it's refreshing to see someone take a risk. With the lack of imagination and security issues coming out of the PC front these days it appears that the Mac mini has hit a nerve with the public. Apple's given switchers an affordable way to switch and longtime Mac users a way to add another Mac to their home without breaking the bank. We look forward to future updates of the Mac mini with some minor improvements along the way.

  Attractive styling.
  Small form factor.
  Quiet operation.
  Video outputs (DVI and VGA).
  Bundled Software.

  256MB System Memory.
  32MB Video Card.
  Power button location and size.
  Weak Airport reception.
  No Audio-in port.

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