mac mini review

October 15th, 2006

mac_mini.jpg Superfluous background story: My PC gave up the ghost about a month ago; the power supply fails at high load, so the pc boots for a while and then when too much juice gets required, the whole thing resets. Obviously, this isn’t so great, so I went to the internet and got a cheap power supply replacement from Newegg for $20… which didn’t fit in my non-standard case. In fact, no PC ATX power supply I’ve found for under $100 fits in the damned case, which means to fix my crap PC it’s going to cost me a chunk of change just to get back the 1.6 GHz Pentium 4 machine that stunk in 2002 when I bought it.

That, my friends, is the Point of Decreasing Return. It’s time to cut and run.

While I still ♥ my trusty aluminum PowerBook, I do need a PC kicking around; I work with PCs at school, and occasionally there’s Windows-only software I need to check out. So I need a PC, but here’s the thing: I don’t really like PCs. Unless you lay out several thousand dollars for top drawer hardware, on average, they’re loud, clunky and overall boorishly engineered pieces of junk. So when I got the opportunity to test drive a new Mac Mini (Superdrive model w/1 GB RAM), I decided I was going to check it out; not as a Mac, but as a PC.

As a Mac, it works just as you’d hope. It’s fast; nothing I did managed to spike the CPU for any appreciable amount of time. It’s tiny. It’s incredibly quiet. It’s got wireless built-in standard, it’s got an adorable little remote for Front Row, and it recognized my PC keyboard and mouse without complaint. In short; it’s pretty amazing for a $850 machine. It wasn’t more than a couple years ago when getting this kind of hardware from Apple would set you back three grand, no exaggeration. And it stacks up against even the cheapest Dell, cost-wise; when I went to configure even the lowest-end Dell to compare, once I added the Core Duo CPU, the cost for the Dell went up to $899; $50 more than the high-end Mac Mini with a gig of RAM.

parallels02.pngIf you want the Mini to run as a PC, you’ve got to load the OS yourself. I’ve played with BootCamp before with decent results, so this time I downloaded Parallels, a virtualization environment for Intel chip Mac OS X machines. In about a hour, I had a machine that would run Mac OS X, Windows XP and Ubuntu 6.06 all at the same time if so desired. While the Parallels user interface initially reminded me of prior bad experiences with Virtual PC, this time around, everything works very smoothly and the primary difference is speed. The Core Duo chip in the Mac Mini is incredibly fast and my experience in Windows was fully native — and probably the fastest I’ve ever seen Windows run on any machine.

Same with Ubuntu — full-screen window resizing didn’t work in Ubuntu as smoothly as it did in Windows, but that’s primarily because setting screen resolution in X11 is still a bitch. Mac Mini users have mainly complained about the lack of powerful video hardware, but I didn’t see a huge problem; I play my video games on a console these days, so the Intel video was plenty ok for my needs.

There’s no doubt my next Windows PC will be a Mac Mini. It’s cheaper at the outset, less problematic to own, and a simply better piece of hardware than what PC manufacturers are putting out these days.

~jeff

6 Responses to “mac mini review”

  1. shaneblyth says:

    same setup as me and am very pleased.. the only downside i see with parrallels is the lack of directX 3D support tbut they are suppose to be working on this. Cant wait so we get native 3D games .. still u can get it on bootcamp if you really need it

  2. The CyberSlug says:

    The Mac Minis do look like pretty good hardware, but a $850 Mac + $299 for a retail copy of XP Pro is a good bit more than the $899 Dell if all you really want is a PC. I can’t see this being much of a deal for someone who isn’t going to dual-boot into OS X as well.

    Also, while the exact meaning of some of the more onerous Vista license terms are still being argued, it looks like many of the features will be restricted / prohibited under virts like Parallels (playing DRM’d content, for example – and probably anything else that requires a “trusted” computer that can’t be controlled by its untrusted owner).

  3. shaneblyth says:

    Love that Wii !

  4. Aaron Lewis says:

    I’m glad to hear that you had a good experience with virtualization in real life – it’s not just marketing that is slow and a pain in practice (Virtual PC was that for me).

    But I’m very concerned it will be shot to hell b/c M$ will prevent Vista from working on it. I know someone may hack a workaround, but we need off the shelf, licensed products like Parallels to support Vista on MacIntel, or it’s no longer a selling point.

  5. Software Development Guide…

    I couldn’t understand some parts of this article, but it sounds interesting…