Jeremy's almost but not quite entirely moribund blog

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Another Mac Mini article

I'm a longtime PC user, and every last one of my computers (with the exception of my laptop) have been custom-built machines--right back to the 286 my grandfather who worked for IBM helped me build when I was 12. Or rather, told me exactly what to do. Things have changed a bit since then--I recall plugging in 16 or so individual DIP packages to install the 1MB of 8MHz memory. A far cry from the pair of 512MB 400MHz DIMMs my current computer uses.

A week or so ago, my wife told me she thought it might be fun to get a Mac Mini. I think her main motivation is that they're supposed to be better at video editing. But I'm open to the idea of having a different computer in the house. And the $500 price looks mighty tempting... until you try and upgrade it.

We'd definitely need a DVD burner (+$100) and at least 512MB of RAM (+$75). And we might as well get the 80GB hard drive as well (+$50). That brings the total to $724. As I don my asbestos-lined jumpsuit (Hi all you Apple fans out there!), let's look at what a similarly-configured custom built PC might cost. (All these prices came from as of this morning.)

PricePartPart NameComments
48.00CaseCHENBRO Black/White MicroATX Case with 270W Power SupplyIncludes front audio, USB, and Firewire ports. Small, but not nearly as small as the Mini.
86.00MotherboardECS "RS480-M V1.0" ATI Radeon XPRESS 200 Chipset Motherboard For AMD Socket 939 CPU -RETAILIncludes integrated X300-level video; a step up from the 9200 in the Mini, but it uses shared memory, which may not be a disadvantage since the Mini only has 32MB anyway
146.00CPUAMD Athlon 64 3000+, 512KB L2 Cache, Socket 939 64-bit Processor - RetailI'm not all that familiar with the Power line of processors, but I'll bet this is more than a match for a 1.25GHz G4
48.67RAMCorsair Value Select Dual Kits 184 Pin 512MB(256MBx2) DDR PC-3200 - RetailYou could go to a full gigabyte for $50 more, compared with the $250 Apple would charge you to double 512MB
56.00Hard DriveWestern Digital 80GB 7200RPM SATA Hard Drive, Model WD800JD, OEM Drive OnlyFaster than the laptop drive in the Mini
53.00DVD BurnerBenQ Black 16X DVD+/-R DVD Burner support Dual Layer with Software, Model DW1620 PRO BLK, OEMIt's nominally four times faster than the 4x drive that comes with the Mini, but NeroVision Express isn't nearly as cool as iLife '05
91.95Operating SystemMicrosoft Windows XP HOME Edition With Service Pack 2 -OEMAgain, not as cool as OS X, but it does the job

That comes to a total of $529.62. Granted, it doesn't have the "cool factor" of the Mac Mini, and it would certainly take up more space on your desk. But it's almost $200 cheaper than a comparably equipped Mini. I suppose when you factor in the software (MacOS X and iLife '05 instead of Windows XP Home and Nero Express), the Mac's increased usability could be worth the difference.

As for me, I think the Mini is a great concept, but a little underpowered even with the upgrades. If there were a model with 128MB video RAM, an 8x DVD burner, and possibly gigabit Ethernet, I'd be sorely tempted to get one... but the only way to get those features from Apple right now is to spend over $1600 on a PowerMac G5.

But to tell you the truth, what I'd really like to see is a Mac barebone system along the same lines as a Shuttle XPC, to which you could add the standard desktop form factor optical drive, hard drive, DDR memory, and optional AGP and/or PCI card of your choice to form a complete system. They could be sold as complete systems too, of course; these would still have the advantage of much-improved upgradeability over Apple's existing low-to-medium-range computers. But this kind of machine would take away from Apple's 100% control over the hardware and software, which could arguably detract from the "it just works" Mac experience. At least, that's what I'd expect Apple to say about it. I'm sure the fat margins on build-to-order upgrades have nothing to do with it at all. ;)


Post a Comment

<< Home