We were given the opportunity by Apple to have a first hand look at the new Mac Mini following the keynote speech by Steve Jobs. But is the new BYODKM (Bring Your Own Display, Keyboard and Mouse) desktop computer any good and will it make people remember that Apple has always been a desktop computer maker?
The Mac Mini as the name suggests is small. So small in fact that the footprint of the new device is only slightly larger than the CD/DVD drive it contains. The height, a mere 5cm still means that this box makes all those previous PC cube designs look big and at 1.3kg its weighty enough to feel as though you are buying a decent piece of kit rather than something that’s a flash in the pan.
The design, which is square with rounded edges, is sparse of buttons, so sparse that there is just one, the on/off switch at the back of the unit. The front offers a slit for a CD drive similar to the PowerBook range of laptops. The top is coated in a shiny plastic made from the same material as the front of the iPod casing with the Apple logo taking centre stage.
The back offers all the usual ports that you would expect: one FireWire® 400 and two USB 2.0, a DVI interface that also supports VGA so customers can easily connect to a variety of LCD or CRT displays as well as a television with the right connection cables. The new Mac mini includes built-in 10/100BASE-T Ethernet and a 56K V.92 modem for easy Internet access, and offers optional support for an AirPort® Extreme Card for 54 Mbps 802.11g fast wireless networking along with an internal Bluetooth module.
Inside, when Apple said this is a stripped down Mac they weren’t kidding. Yes the basics are here but none of the fancy stuff is. No Airport Express and only 256Mb of memory mean that you might want to upgrade as soon as you’ve picked it off the shelf.
If however you are, as Apple is hoping you to be, a switcher (ie PC to Mac), then the machine is good enough to get you started. And the software bundle included with the Mac Mini is very good.
iLife 05 will answer all your photo, movie, and music needs, while the inclusion of iWorks 05 means you’ll have a basic word processor and presentation package included in the box. Likewise OS X, the current operating system is very good, but if you’re not in a rush our suggestion would be to wait a couple of months to ensure you get the latest OS (OS X Tiger due before 1 July) included in the box rather than having to spend even more money only a couple of months down the line.
Of course, on the surface the price point is very attractive. If you are a PC user switching because you want a bit more security or you want a system that doesn't crash any more you can probably sell your tower and still use the monitor, keyboard and mouse (providing they are USB) here straight away.
For those not fussed with that option, and to perhaps even save more space, an optional extra is a VGA to S-Video cable that would allow you to use your television as the screen. Then all you would need to do is buy a wireless keyboard set for around £20 and you've got a cheap option for a computer in the living room.
The exercise here is obvious; to get people switching over to the Mac brand in more ways than just iTunes and the iPod.
In that aim we think the Mac Mini will do its job and do its job well. Our only complaint is that to upgrade you'll need to take it to an Apple Centre, but then you can't have everything can you?