Ah, being a Mac user today was a sweet day… Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, announced a New Mac in a Keynote presentation at Macworld Expo in San Fran. This was a totally new creation for Apple, as it is a low end system that people have been begging for several years now. Previously, the low end consisted of the eMac, a system with a built in CRT monitor. The eMac was meant for the education markethence the “e” in the name, but as Apple’s next lowest costing system was $999 for an iBook (and if you didn’t want a laptop, it was the $1299 iMac), they made the eMac available to the general public.
The major complaint about the eMac was that it had a monitor attached which left users with no options, particularly if they had a monitor already (which most PC users do). Secondly, it was not low enough in cost to compete with PCs. Arguably the eMac was worth the extra money, but that means nothing to a person who has a $600 budget. And while they might stretch it to $700…, $799 for a bargain user is just too much. Especially, if you end up upgrading something or need to buy an additional piece of software, it just blows the budget for these users.
Enter the new Mac… the Mac Mini, Apple basically took the eMac and ripped the Monitor off, shrunk the motherboard even more, and put it in a simple/stylish aluminum case. Or alternatively, they took the iBook, pulled the LCD off and folded it in half. It is a tiny, err, mini (2″ x 6.5″ x 6.5″) brushed aluminum block, weighing 2.9lbs. Starting price is $499, which for what you get (just the box), is typical Apple expensive… as they could probably sell it for $399 and still make a profit or break even. But it is definitely well within the price range of the bargain buyer, the curious, and the iPod/PC user who likes the iPod enough that they are planning to switch but didn’t want to blow $1000 on a system just yet. Because they still have a top line PC (even if it is spyspammed infected).
Judging from message boards everywhere (slashdot, appleinsider) there are a lot of interested windows users… and from trying to access the Apple store, it was evident that it was under heavy traffic. Probably, there will be a large number of Mac users who buy the thing as well… if not for themselves, for a parent or spouse who has been using a PC. I am thinking of my dad and/or mom, but money is really tight right now so, even at $500, it will have to wait. Now that I have really praised this thing, what besides the price could be improved. As a long time mac user, I just can’t be satisfied…
Well for starters, I hope people will upgrade the ram to 512mb at least… I really think Apple misses the mark here as 256mb is just barely adequate. Many first time users may complain that it is slow… I have used an eMac with 256mb ram and it is definitely pokey. And then there is the graphics card, 32mb of ram is just pathetic. Mind you it is better than the integrated video found on most value/bargain PCs, but then the value PCs include a monitor for the same $499 that the base Mac Mini costs. Basically, I feel that there are not enough options, or apparent alternatives for upgrading. Apple even threatens voiding the warrantee if you install ram yourself… which is a relatively simple procedure. So they lock you into their more costly ram upgrades. And the video has no upgrade what so ever. Again, the value PC will allow you to install a graphic card upgrade when you get tired of the integrated video. Of course the value PC weighs much more than 2.9 lbs. And while the design of the Mac Mini is stylish, it is not as refined as the iPod or the iBooks, PowerBooks, iMacs or G5 towers. It seems like it is intended to be hidden… except that you will want to access the slot for the DVD/CD player/writer.
All in all, those are minor complaints for what is ground breaking effort by Apple. They have ignored the PC user/bargain buyer, as I said, for several years or more (there was the time when they allowed clones, when it seemed that Macs became somewhat competive). The only exception is the ram… they really should make 512mb the base configuration, or lower the price another $75-$100 bucks. If you are planning on getting one of these, I recommend getting the extra ram. If you are knowledgeable about working on PCs, I would go ahead and get the ram from a thrid party and install it yourself. If it voids the warrantee, it is only $500… much less than that nearly useless, top of line PC that is infected with spam/spyware, which you’re going to dump.
For the real bargain hunter, this won’t meet your need at all. Move on and don’t bother the rest of us. If you are looking for a small form factor system, then this may be a great deal, as it would probably cost as much or more to build a PC this small with the same features. It is a sweet day indeed… I already have one coworker who switched when they got a great deal on an iBook… I hope to see several more switchers in the coming months.