“I Will Call Him… Mini-Mac.”

Martini Boy emailed me asking what I thought about the mini-Mac that was announced yesterday. Full disclosure: I’ve been a Mac owner since 1989, and I worked in Apple support for a few months in 1993 (in the Apple food chain, I was somewhere below plankton, but I enjoyed my time there). I use Windows and UNIX variants at work (and at home; I have a cheap PC, too), but I definitely prefer the Mac OS over both.

Anyway, as a public service, here’s what I told Steve:

Personally, I wouldn’t buy a “mini,” but that’s because I’m an engineer and a gadget freak. I’m always wanting to rip the cover off and tinker. Jobs hates that; if he could get away with it, every Mac would be a sealed box.

There are basically three reasons to not buy a mini-Mac: 1. If you think you’ll ever want to add a PCI card (it doesn’t have any slots), 2. If you want to run two monitors (I do, but if you aren’t used to that, you probably won’t miss it), or 3. It’s underpowered by current standards.

The G4 chip in there is perfectly zippy for most tasks (I’m currently using a G4 tower with about half its clock speed, for instance). It’ll do fairly advanced video editing and compression, not as quick as a G5, but it’ll probably do everything you’ll want, with the exception of very advanced games (not an issue for me; get beyond Galaga and I lose interest).

It’s very hard to upgrade RAM–you have to take it in to an authorized repair shop–and for a bigger hard drive (a necessity–40 to 80GB? Who are you kidding, Jobs?), forget upgrading the internal, just buy an external Firewire case. Less arse-pain and money.

So, IMO, it’s not really a $500 box, it’s more like a $650-700 box once you get the bigger hard drive and at least 512MB RAM. I’d bite the bullet and buy the RAM installed ($75) up front. It’s overpriced, but the hassle factor is low. Get the smaller hard drive model (an extra 40GB is not worth $100) and plan on getting a large-capacity (200GB minimum) Firewire external from Day One. Just use the internal drive for applications and the OS, and store everything else on the external drive.

If you can handle all that…

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34 Responses to ““I Will Call Him… Mini-Mac.””

  1. Nathan T. Freeman Says:

    When you poo-poo the drive size, Will, you’re missing the point of this little guy. For serious PC users, this is a SECOND machine choice. For non-serious users, this is something that they’re serious-user relatives give them as a gift. It’s the “I’m tired of being your home tech-support line” device.

  2. triticale Says:

    Which reminds me. I have to rebuild the hosed partitions which held my image files and mp3s. With eight gigs functioning I do have to give a little thought to what I keep.

    Of course (he mumbles into his grey beard) it was cool having a 20meg drive instead of the more common 10mex on my first AT clone. The 5meg drive I like to post about was already a museum piece when I added it to my collection.

  3. Robert Says:

    Upgrade to 512K RAM? K? What is this, 1994?

  4. Michael Says:

    What Robert said. Mr. Gates can’t envision anybody using more than 640K anyhow.

  5. Will Collier Says:

    Heh. Sorry about that, Robert. I was reliving my past life as a TRS-80 owner.

    [oldfart] You kids today think you have it tough. Why, my first computer had 4K of RAM. That’s right–4K! I bet you can’t even write your own name in 4K any more (I’m damn sure Pejman can’t).[/oldfart]

  6. Sandy P Says:

    Galaga – Colecovision.

    ahhhhhh.

  7. Anachronda Says:

    Will, let me guess: Level I BASIC. The one with only three error messages: “WHAT?” “HOW?” and “SORRY!”.

  8. dorkafork Says:

    Nathan has it. This a gift for Grandma. For someone who doesn’t know computers, or doesn’t have a computer, or is still running a Pentium II. Someone who doesn’t know how to remove spyware and now won’t need to. And who will now be using iTunes, iPhoto, and iMovie, and watching DVDs on it.

    Pretty much every sub-$1,200 Mac has only 256Mb RAM, so I don’t think that’s going to be a big deal for Grandma. And she won’t need a 40G hard drive anytime soon, you can cross that bridge when you get to it.

  9. Scott Janssens Says:

    My guess is that this is Apple’s Xbox; a precursor to set top computing.

  10. amy Says:

    I was thinking the same as Nathan and dorkafork – Grandma box.

  11. Mr. Lion Says:

    I wouldn’t call upgrading the memory “very hard”. Open case, pull out standard DDR DIMM, insert new, larger DDR DIMM purchased from your favorite budget memory web site. Done.

    Granted, it’s hard to upgrade anything else, but that’s beyond the scope of the machine. The USB and FireWire bus allow for a virtually limitless amount of expansion, about the only thing you couldn’t do, as was said, is use a PCI card of some sort. However, these days the only things that are PCI in the mac world are extremely high end video and I/O cards, the like of which anyone spending that kind of money on will be looking at a G5 anyway.

    The minis are a swiss army mac. Not exceptionally good at high end tasks, but very good at many smaller ones, and cheap as all hell. I’ve personally found uses for three of the damn things already. A/V media box for my home theater, cheap-o QTSS server, and cheap-o render node.

  12. Dishman Says:

    It could well be a set top for a big plasma monitor. With a USB vidcap or mpeg capture unit (like a WIS Matrix II derivative) it could be hooked up to analog cable. Load the right software, and it would be a nice DVR without subscription fees.

  13. Will Collier Says:

    Mr. Lion, I was under the impression the RAM wasn’t user-replaceable. Happy to be wrong on that one if that’s not the case.

    Dishman, I’d be all over it as an HDTV box if ElGato’s HD EyeTV would work with a G4 (it won’t, unfortunately)…

  14. Greg Hill Says:

    Will,

    You are correct: the end-user cannot crack open the miniMac, or the warranty is void. You can, however, purchase your own RAM, and take it in to the Apple store to have it installed. Much cheaper than buying memory straight from Apple.

    Rumor has it that the Apple stores will match any price you can show them on memory, as well, which definitely makes the whole experience much more … fulfilling. This is unconfirmed, though. YMMV.

    The biggest hurdle with the miniMac will be convincing the technically literate person that it is a viable machine to recommend to his less-savy family members or friends. I don’t know if enough foot traffic is generated at the Apple stores to overcome the obvious bias against Apple products held by this demographic. A huge amount of PC sales fall in this category.

    It’ll be interesting to watch the marketing campaign around the mini.

  15. The Other JD Says:

    Will,

    The EveTV 500 WILL work with a G4 Mac. See EFF’s review of it. (You just have to download an earlier version of the software from Elgato.) The Mac Mini won’t handle playing the files in real time back very well, but if you already have a set-top box with Firewire I/O, (I do.) I believe that you can send the files to it and let it do all the hard work.

  16. Sigivald Says:

    Seeing as how my fastest Mac is a 600MHz iBook, and my desktop Mac (not my main desktop machine, fortunately), is a 350MHz G4, I’m practically already in line to buy one.

    (You know, I’ve got three PCI macs, including a clone. Not one of them have I ever had to put a PCI card in; the G4 came with a SCSI card from Apple, but that was only useful because I had a pile of legacy SCSI hardware.)

  17. mainelife Says:

    One for Me, Please

    I’ve connived, plotted, planned and come to the conclusion that the only way that

  18. C'est Moi Says:

    So, if say…our boyfriend destroyed our home computer and we were sick of not having internet access…would y’all reccomend this one? I’m not trying to acheive World Domination here…just be able to check movie times and my e-mails etc.

  19. Will Collier Says:

    For a basic computer, sure, I have no qualms about recommending it. For surfing, email, word processing, even watching DVDs or music (iPod or no iPod), it’s a can’t-miss.

    Only caveat would be games, where the PC is a better bet (that said, if you really want games, you should probably buy a Playstation instead of a computer, anyway).

  20. Erick Erickson Says:

    C’est Moi, oui!

    I lust after this machine. I’ve got a G4 iMac, first edition 15″, 800 Mhz. I have Playstation for games and the Mac for work.

    No viruses, no blue screens of death. Hell, I might install Virtual PC and take it to the office to replace my Dell.

  21. Mantic Says:

    You’all miss the point. This is a companion device for the IPod. All it has to do is store 20 to 40 GB of music (hence 40 to 80 GB hard drives) and run iTunes. It is a great idea for Apple to upsell a customer from IPod into a full MAC environment.

    The strategy is very well thought out and it places a reasonable MAC price point out there in a small package. I’ve got a $799 eMac and it still dominates a desk the way this doesn’t.

  22. Robert Says:

    Will,
    no problem, I figured you meant 512 MB. And my first computer was a TRS-80 color. With 16K of RAM (I went for the upgrade even then.) Of course before that, I took a programming course which set down the code in punch tape, like God intended.

  23. Jules Says:

    C’est Moi,

    YES! This would be a great box for you. I’ve used Macs for years and years. I currently have a 17″ PB that I take to work so I don’t have to use the PC that sits on my desk (it’s useful for checking web code, tho). I think you’d really like using a Mac. The standard web browser is a nice piece of software.

    Erick, hear hear!!! on the no blue screen of death, no viruses, no crashes. This OS is a thing of beauty. I couldn’t LIVE without Expose. I have VPC (for the software that doesn’t have a Mac version–XMLSPY) and it works fine. A bit slow, tho.

  24. rosignol Says:

    You’all miss the point. This is a companion device for the IPod.

    Nonsense, sir.

    I intend to get one with an AirPort card in it, plug in some firewire drives I have laying around, and use it as a router, print server, and remote storage for my primary machine- a Powerbook.

    This gizmo is cheap *and* useful. Apple’s gonna sell boatloads of the things.

    But I think Apple’s intention was to make a cheap Mac for people who already have a PC (and a monitor, and USB peripherals) as a kind of ‘stepping stone’ to the Mac world- look at the Apple store listing, they don’t even give you the option of buying an Apple monitor with it. That’s a big hint as to who the target market is…

  25. David Fleck Says:

    How does an OS X Mac appear to a LAN? In other words, how would other (non-Mac) machines be able to access files on the Mac? Does it support NFS or (shudder) SMB?

  26. Xixi Says:

    I like the size. I can hide it in a kitchen cabinet somewhere and use it for the kitchen computer: email, web browsing, maybe play some mp3 files I load up for a party. So, do I get the bigger one or the cheaper one? I’ve never had a Mac, only PCs.

  27. Dave Polaschek Says:

    I have it on good authority that there is a special tool to open the MiniMac case. That tool is a 2″ putty knife. Doing so will void your warranty, but upgrading RAM and HD is something anyone relatively savvy should be able to do, and the only Apple product I’ve ever used the warranty on was my first iPod.

    I would expect detailed instructions on how to crack the case to be posted sometime before the conference is done.

  28. John Anderson Says:

    Looks like a nice little box, perhaps positioned to be the hub of a home entertainment system.

    But no, I don’t want one any more than Microsoft’s Home Entertainment box.

    Heck, I don’t even want a laptop instead of my desktop. I’ve swapped and upgraded so much that when I tried to install XP (sorry ’bout that) it barfed with a blue-screen message that there was unrecognizable hardware – funny, it was running with Win98… Which is why I look at Linux every once in a while. Maybe when it grows up enough so that everything I want doesn’t come with the admonition that you need two to four pre-reqs, each of which rquires one to five pre-reqs, in some sort of process that ends only when you find that the pre-reqs either no longer exist or have been altered to an extent that they no longer interface?

    Oops, turned into a rant. Anti-everybody, at that. Oh for those days of yesteryear when I snickered at Jerry Pournelle’s boasts of a 21″ monitor, which I was reading on my 45″ TV via a super-VGA card. And handling stuff from the mainframe print spooler at work because the card had a 132×81 character display mode.

  29. rosignol Says:

    How does an OS X Mac appear to a LAN? In other words, how would other (non-Mac) machines be able to access files on the Mac? Does it support NFS or (shudder) SMB?

    Pretty much as whatever you tell it to pretend to be- including an Appletalk server (useful for connecting to older Macs), a unix box (HTTP/FTP/NFS/etc- these are the ‘native’ protocols), or even an SMB server. You can even tell it to pretend to be a Windows client*, and log into a Win2k Domain… (OSX doesn’t do WINS or NetBEUI, tho, which confuses some Windows types into thinking it can’t network with windows boxes. Silly, silly windows admins…).

    *Apple slightly obscured this, you have to use an app in the Utilities directory to turn this ability on.

  30. A Recovering Liberal Says:

    Galaga rules! (crawling back into my hole now)

  31. Anachronda Says:

    Any reason this thing isn’t just a short Cube? How well did the Cube sell? IIRC, everybody loved it but few bought it.

  32. rosignol Says:

    The Cube was a stunning piece of industrial design, and Apple charged a premium for it.

    The Mini-Mac is also an amazing piece of industrial design, but Apple’s pricing it at the entry-level price point- well below the previous entry-level price point.

    If you insist on thinking of it as a successor to the Cube, think of it as the Cube done *right*.

  33. Mr. Bingley Says:

    will, i still have my se (bought in 1988; i was playing thexder on it last night 🙂

    anyhow, you all are missing another key market for this machine: the millions (last estimate i saw was 5 million of ’em) of mac users who have not yet switched to osx because the new machines were just too dang expensive, and they are still chugging along using sys 8 or 9. all of these folks already have monitors, and usb keyboards and mice can be had for nothing. this machine is perfect for surfing, word processing, etc, all the stuff that 90% of people use their computers for 99% of the time. sure, they should have made the base system have 512mb of ram, but they will sell a gazillion of these babies.

  34. Jeff Harrell Says:

    I think Greg and some others are mistaken, I’m sorry to say. According to Henry Norr, who is at the Expo, Apple’s policy on that is the same as it is on all their other Macs: adding (or in this case, replacing) RAM does not void your warranty; however, if you screw something up while you’re jabbing around inside, your warranty will not cover the cost of repair. In fact, on Apple’s site there’s a picture of a Mac mini with the cover off showing you exactly where the RAM slot is.

    And Dishman, I think you might be overthinking the video possibilities here. The Mac mini has FireWire on it. Don’t all new cable set-top boxes have FireWire interfaces on them? Apple includes a program with their FireWire software development kit called “Virtual DVHS” that lets a Mac

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