Mac Mini

Mac Mini Workstation

Mac Mini Server

The Mac Mini has finally found its identity. Originally released as a very cute, underpowered desktop computer with insufficient RAM and hard disk space, today’s Mac Mini uses the same 2.4GHz and 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processors used in the MacBook and 13″ MacBook Pros. Being budget computers, Mac Minis don’t come with a keyboard, mouse, or screen. 

There are two stock models of Mac Mini: a desktop computer, and a small business server.

All Mac Minis include:

  • 8x double-layer SuperDrive, which reads and writes CDs and DVDS, including double-layer DVDs that can hold up to 8GB each
  • Airport Extreme Wi-Fi that supports 802.11n, g, and b
  • 10/100/1000BASE-T gigabit ethernet
  • BlueTooth 2.1 + EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) for connecting to wireless keyboards and mice, syncing mobile phones, etc.
  • FireWire 800
  • Four USB 2.0 ports
  • SD card slot for copying data to and from the SD cards commonly used in digital cameras and mobile phones
  • Audio line in minijack (digital/analog)
  • Audio line out/headphone minijack (digital/analog)
  • HDMI port supports multichannel audio output
  • Support for Apple iPhone headset with microphone
  • NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics processor with 256MB of DDR3 SDRAM shared with main memory
  • Mini DisplayPort with support for up to 2560 by 1600 resolution
  • HDMI port with support for up to 1920 by 1200 resolution
  • DVI output using HDMI to DVI Adapter (included)

All Macs are built around Intel Core 2 Duo, Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7 microprocessors. All of these Intel microprocessor designs have multiple processors built into a single chip. We refer to each processor on a multi-processor chip as a core. Intel Core 2 Duo, Core i3, and some Core i5 and Core i7 microprocessors contain two processors each. Some Core i5 and Core i7 microprocessors contain four. That makes every Mac at least a dual-processor (dual-core) computer.

The quoted speed for any computer model is the speed of one core. So, for example, the base model Mac Mini, with a quoted speed of 2.4GHz, actually contains two 2.4GHz cores for a total actual speed of 4.8GHz.

Our observations

At $699.00, the 2.4GHz Mac Mini can only be described as a MacBook without the built-in screen, keyboard, or trackpad. There are three differences between the Mac Mini and the MacBook:

  1. The Mini has a 320GB hard drive, the MacBook has a 250GB drive.
  2. The Mini has an SD slot (like the MacBook Pro) for copying data to and from the SD cards commonly used in digital cameras and mobile phones. The MacBook doesn’t.
  3. The Mini has a FireWire 800 port, the MacBook doesn’t.

Like the MacBook, we think the Mini is a fine home and business computer, but if you think it will cost less than a MacBook you’re likely to be surprised.

Unless you happen to have a screen, keyboard, and mouse to use with your Mini, you’ll have to buy them. They’ll cost of between $200 and $300. Like for the MacBook, we also recommend upgrading your Mini from the included 2GB of RAM to 4GB, at a cost of $100. That means you’ll spend between $300.00 and $400.00 in addition to the $699.00 cost of the Mini itself, for a total of up to $1099.00. What do you know! That’s the same price as a MacBook upgraded to 4GB of RAM!

For that price, we think the MacBook is much more useful. It works perfectly when you’re at your desk, but it’s also portable enough to take with you. If you find the MacBook’s 13″ screen confining, you can always connnect a larger external screen when you’re working at your desk.

On the other hand, at $999, the Mac Mini Server literally defines bang for the buck. It has a faster 2.66GHz processor, already comes with 4GB of RAM and two 500GB drives (for a total of 1TB internal storage), and Mac OS X Server 10.6 (the software that makes a computer into a server). If your small business needs a server, this one’s a steal!

If you purchase Mac OS X Server software separately (to install on an existing or new Mac in order to use it as a server), the price for the software is $499.00. Since it already comes bundled with the 2.66GHz Mac Mini Server, the Mini itself accounts for only $500.00 of the total price.

Like any Mini, a keyboard, mouse, and screen are not included. But even if you spend $200-300 to purchase them it’s still a great deal. If you happen have a screen, keyboard, and mouse you can use with your server it’s an even better deal.

You might be surprised to find out that the small size of the Mac Mini and the fact that there are two internal 500GB internal hard drives makes it impossible for Apple to squeeze in an internal CD/DVD drive. You can load software on the server from another Mac through a network connection, or from an external hard drive connected via USB or FireWire, and from an SD card. If you need a CD/DVD drive connected directly to this server you’d have to purchase an external model and connect by USB or FireWire.

Bottom Line

We think that this Mac Mini is cost effective only if you already have a screen, keyboard, and mouse you can use with the Mini. Otherwise the MacBook delivers much better bang for the buck.

On the other hand we think that the 2.66GHz Mac Mini Server packs a lot of bang for the buck, and is an ideal server solution for any small business.

Darryl Lewis