Editors' note: Apple recently updated the Mac Mini with Intel Core Solo and Core Duo chips. Apple no longer sells models with the older PowerPC G4 processors, but you can still find such units available at various online resellers. For our most recent coverage, read our review of the Mac Mini Core Duo. (6/19/06)
Does Steve Jobs read our reviews? When we reviewed the $499 Mac Mini earlier this year, we generally liked what we saw but recommended four upgrades to potential buyers lured in by the low, entry-level price. The Mac Mini configuration we suggested added a little more than $300 to the base price and doubled the memory and the hard drive size, traded the combo drive for a SuperDrive, and added the wireless Bluetooth and AirPort Extreme combo. Lo and behold, Apple has released a third model, the SuperDrive Mac Mini, which includes all of those features for $699. The SuperDrive Mac Mini's external appearance is no different than that of its $499 and $599 cousins; likewise, it doesn't include a monitor, speakers, a keyboard, or a mouse. It's based on the 1.42GHz PowerPC G4 processor and offers acceptable but certainly not blazing performance. Still, its small size, high style, and excellent software make it a great buy for basic home use. Apple has become synonymous with sleek, minimalist design, and the Mac Mini certainly embodies this ethos. A low, square box with rounded corners, the Mini is made of white plastic and anodized aluminum, and it measures 2 by 6.5 by 6.5 inches (HWD) and weighs 2.9 pounds. Smaller than any we've seen (and Shuttle pioneered the small-form-factor PC), the Mini looks great in any environment, equally at home on a desk or in the den. And when in use, the Mini is marvelously quiet, with its cooling fan making less than a whisper.
True to Apple's styling, the top of the Mac Mini displays the simple Apple logo, and on the front, there's only a slot-loading CD/DVD slot and a small white power light. In order to maintain the Mini's elegance, Apple has put even commonly used items, including the power button and the audio jack, on the rear. You may tire of feeling around back to turn on the thing or to sync your, but the Mini's small dimensions mean it will likely be sitting on top of your desk vs. under it, making its back-panel ports more convenient than they would be on a tower design.
Also on the back of the Mac Mini, you'll find two USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire 400 port, a 10/100BaseT Ethernet port, a modem port (for the included 56Kbps V.92 modem), and a DVI video-out port. We were happy to see that the Mini ships with a DVI-to-VGA video adapter so that users can connect both digital and analog monitors. We were less than happy to find only the pair of USB ports; unless your monitor or keyboard provides such ports, you'll need to get a USB hub. It's far from a big-ticket item, but it will somewhat diminish the Mini's small footprint and clean design.
The Mini's case isn't sealed, but opening it is a bit of a challenge and not for the nontechnical (it involves some elbow grease and confidence with a putty knife). If you want Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or extra RAM, we recommend ordering them as custom options when you buy the Mini or taking it to a local Apple repair shop. Adding an AirPort Extreme card is especially challenging, since besides installing the card, you'll also need to add an internal antenna. If you plan to shuttle the Mini from room to room, as Apple suggests, you'll want to tack on the wireless upgrade prior to purchase.
With the addition of the SuperDrive Mac Mini, Apple smartly rolls out 512MB of memory to all three Mac Mini models, which will save budget-minded consumers from bringing home an underpowered Mac with only 256MB. The $699 SuperDrive Mac Mini equips you with a 1.42GHz G4 processor, 512MB of 33MHz RAM, an 80GB hard drive, and a multiformat DVD burner, which Apple calls a SuperDrive.
In order to pack the Mini into such a small case, Apple uses a notebook hard drive. Whereas the iMac G5 uses a 3.5-inch, 7,200rpm drive, inside the Mini spins a 2.5-inch, 4,200rpm drive. Expansion, or lack thereof, is also another obvious drawback to the Mini; there are no free PCI slots, and opening the case is difficult.
One way Apple has kept the Mini's price down is by not including a monitor, a keyboard, or a mouse. If you're switching from a Windows computer, that won't be a problem, as Macs can use nearly any peripherals that Windows PCs can use--as long as your keyboard and mouse are USB and not PS/2. If you're a new user, however, you'll need to tack on the extra expense. Look for a Logitech or Microsoft mouse and keyboard (Apple's one-button mouse and rinky-dink plastic keyboard are so poor that it's probably a plus that the Mini doesn't come with them).