Mac Mini a maxi deal? Depends what you want

When it comes to Apple Computer's new Mac Mini, beauty is in the eye of the person holding the wallet. Photos: Mac Mini Complete Macworld coverage

When it comes to Apple Computer's new Mac Mini, beauty is in the eye of the person holding the wallet.

The Mac Mini, unfurled Tuesday during Apple CEO Steve Jobs' keynote at Macworld Expo in San Francisco, costs about $100 more than similarly configured PCs from Gateway, Hewlett-Packard and others, according to analysts and price checks. The price delta increases as one factors in the typical standard equipment on PCs--neither mouse, monitor nor keyboard comes with Apple's Spartan box.

Adding features such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth widens the spread even more. As an experiment, IDC analysts added "the stuff you'd want," and the final price came to $1,300, said IDC's Roger Kay, who nonetheless applauded Apple for putting out something that lets the company play in the bargain market.

Price considerations aside, the Mac Mini is unlike other PCs on the market. At 6.5 inches wide by 6.5 inches deep by 2 inches high, the unit, which weighs just less than 3 pounds, is far smaller and more stylish than "small" PCs. Dell's small desktop PC takes up about four times the volume. Small PC specialist Shuttle makes a unit that measures 7 inches by 8 inches by 11.4 inches and weighs 13 pounds.

"Intel and some of its industrial-design partners have done a lot of 'concept PCs', but mostly they've been trying to reverse-engineer Apple's sense of style--and without much success so far," said Peter Glaskowsky, a technology commentator and Newton user.

Sony and others now make handheld PCs complete with screens that beat the Mac Mini in size, but these cost $1,600 or more.

The question now is whether consumers will flock to the new box or watch their budget.


Analysts ponder future
of new Apple gadgets.

"A lot of whether (the Mini) is a good value or not depends on who it's targeted at and who is really going to buy it," said Steve Baker, an analyst with The NPD Group. "Is it a good value compared to the entry-level PC that you can find at Best Buy or Wal-Mart? The answer, I think, is clearly no."

Then again, "it fits the phenomenon of people adding PCs to their home--a PC in the kids' room or in the kitchen--and in those terms it stacks up pretty well, because when you've finished adding some of the basics to it, it still comes in at the sweet spot (in retail PC pricing)--the $700 to $1,100 range--and that's a good place to be," Baker added.

On Tuesday, Jobs told the Macworld crowd that "this is the most affordable Mac ever. People who are thinking of switching will have no more excuses."

So far, initial reactions from the public are strongly positive, but a number of people say the price and lack of a keyboard could hamper sales.

"Steve Jobs is the Albert Einstein of the computer industry--business smarts; consumer tastes, tendencies, and trends; and marketing," Russell Rothwell wrote in a post on CNET

Wrote CNET reader Stan Johnson: "Very cool design. I agree that it is not much of a bargain when you add all the needed gear. I think it is great for Mac lovers. However, one could purchase a more capable PC for the same amount of cash."

Under the hood
For $499, the pint-sized computer comes with a 1.25GHz G4 processor, 256MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive and a combination CD-burner, DVD-ROM drive. It uses ATI's Radeon 9200 graphics chip, with its own 32MB of graphics memory, and also includes connections such as a FireWire port, two universal serial bus ports, an Ethernet port, a modem and digital and analog ports for connecting a monitor. Apple adds a one-year warranty.

It does not include a keyboard, mouse, display

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