Of course, there's more to the Mac Mini, or any Apple system, than simply the hardware. The Mac OS X operating system and Apple's iLife '08 digital media productivity suite go a long way toward making up any price differences with Windows PCs. We remain operating-system agnostic, and in a way so does the Mac, given the various means by which you can load Windows on it as well. As we mention in our iMac review, though, we're still annoyed that Apple has a new version of its operating system coming out and hasn't told current and potential Mac owners whether they'll have to pay to upgrade to the new OS. History suggests that you will, and for $129. That makes us wary of purchasing a new Mac right now, especially if we're recommending a lower-priced system to a cost-conscious shopper.
As for iLife '08, we like some elements of it--iPhoto and iMovie's editing capabilities, and GarageBand overall--but we don't like the integration with .Mac that requires you to spend more money on an account for various features. It's also hard to criticize, since it's free with all new Macs. iLife '08 in particular arguably closes the gap in price compared to the HP and Dell systems, assuming you don't already own more fully featured Windows software and that you're interested in the various applications it has to offer.
And as always, one of the gotchas with Apple systems is its support. Yup, it has Genius Bars, which are convenient if you happen to live near one. And the year of parts and labor coverage is what we expect for a mainstream computer. We also find Apple's online support useful, although there's no chat option available. All that is great, but our bigger hang-up remains the limited telephone support availability. Ninety days of coverage is too short, especially for a mainstream system such as this one.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Apple OS X; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo; 1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 64MB (shared) Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics chip; 120GB 5,400rpm Hitachi hard drive
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.6GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8600 GT graphics card; 250GB 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drive
Dell Inspiron 531S
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.3GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 64MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 6150SE integrated graphics chip; 250GB 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drive
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.3GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400; 1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 6150SE graphics chip; 250GB 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drive
Windows Vista Home Premium; Intel Core 2 Duo 6320 overclocked to 3.0GHz; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8600 GT graphics card; 320GB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive.