Steve Ballmer, erstwhile CEO of Microsoft, dropped a little rain on Apple Inc.'s
parade a few days ago. Speaking at McGraw-Hill's Media Summit in New York City,
Mr. Ballmer opined that Apple was charging an excessive premium for its notebooks:
"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment same piece of hardware
paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging
proposition for the average person than it used to be," is how Computerworld's
Seth Weintraub quoted Mr. Ballmer.
Comes now the latest revision of Apple's Mac mini, starting at $599, to partly
challenge that notion. The Mini is a barebones desktop computer, a small box,
half-a-cube in appearance, which encourages users to "bring your own" keyboard,
monitor and mouse. Apple will sell each of those items, if you desire, but the idea
is to get "switchers" to shuffle the PC off to recycling and replace it with
Apple's hardware and the Mac operating system, or OS.
And it's the OS where both Microsoft and Apple are focused, make no mistake. If
the Jesuit's claim is true: "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give
you the man," then there's probably a tech corollary. Give someone enough time
with an operating system and they're a customer for life. Or at least that's the
The Mini is an Intel-based hardware box that runs the Mac OS X, and does so quite
nicely. It's compact, as noted; it's compatible with all sorts of displays, and
it plays well with assorted printers and peripherals. It's a good, basic computer,
and I can recommend it highly in this regard, both for home users and even in some
Setup is a breeze: take the unit out of the box, plug in the external power pack,
connect the monitor using a supplied adapter, connect the keyboard and mouse, press
the power switch and go.
The operating system setup is very quick and easy, and I found it a breeze to
transfer data and settings from another Mac to use here. Within a very short period
of time, I was ready to go and worked as seamlessly on the Mac mini as I did on my
The computer now ships with 2 Gigabytes of RAM as standard, and that's a very good
thing. Also standard is a "SuperDrive" optical drive capable of reading
and writing DVD discs as well as CDs, and that's another plus. The DVD media lets
you store more data on a single disc, making it good for backing up, say, a digital
music library or a small photo gallery.
My test unit came with a 320 Gbyte hard disc drive, more than double the 120 Gbytes
of the base model. That ups the price to $799, and might be worth it for those who
do a lot of work in design or photos or even (short) film editing and want the extra
storage. For some users, the 120 Gbyte model should be fine. I do wish the
"premium" for the larger-storage version were a bit less, however.
In operation, the Mini is exceptionally quiet, since keeping the power pack separate
eliminates the need for a noisy fan. Its performance is fast, both from the
dual-core Intel processor and NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics, the latter
having been amped up for this version. Cut down is power consumption: Apple claims
the Mini uses 45-percent less electricity than the previous model, making is a very
My only performance hiccup was in terms of networking: the Mini didn't like my
office's Ethernet network cable. It would "talk," via Ethernet, from its port
to my MacBook Pro, but not over the wired local-area network. Fortunately, we also
have a Wi-Fi network here, and the Mini had no problems communicating that way. I
could even access network storage drives and files wirelessly.
If you don't have to tote your computer around, and want to save a fair amount of
cash, the Mac mini is a good way to start. Mr. Ballmer might not like it, but
you'll get an OS, and a computer, that won't give you some of the pains Windows
has presented over the years.