Mac mini - the just enough computer

by Giles Turnbull

When I first sat down to consider the merits or otherwise of the new Mac mini, I was disappointed with the amount of included RAM. "A mere 256MB just ain't enough," I thought; "Steve's shooting himself in the foot. Surely there will be lots of people trying out Mac OS X, just as he predicts, and finding it slow and unresponsive? That won't convert them to Mac users."

But then I read the comment by Glenn Fleishman in the post-Macworld issue of TidBITS:

Both configurations ship with just 256 MB of RAM, which is a bit of a joke to run Mac OS X effectively, though that amount is enough to play iTunes, CDs, DVDs, and handle other common home duties such as exploring the Web and checking email.

And I think, with that statement, Glenn has hit the nail on the head.

Of course 256MB is not enough -- not enough for the likes of you and I, who use Mac OS X all the time and push it as hard as we can.

But it is enough for people wanting to experiment. Sure, it won't be very snappy, but even with 256MB, people will be able to listen to some music, plug in an iPod, send some email ("Hi! I don't have anything interesting to say! I'm just playing with my new Mac mini. This Mail program is kinda neat.") and surf some web pages.

Nothing fancy. Just enough.

Which is the Mac mini ethos through-and-through. This is a "just enough" computer, but it is flexible enough to appeal to a lot of people. The "just enough" approach will be sufficient to let the target audience (well, the people Steve said were the target audience; perhaps Apple has other targets in mind?) experiment with OS X and see what they think. And it has the flexibility to be upgraded into something whizzy, but still very tiny, for those of us who know enough about OS X to know exactly what we want.

The one thing I think Apple should do is communicate more clearly with those people who are buying the Mac mini as a test-run.

There should be something, be it a piece of paper in the box or a clearly marked section of, that makes obvious to people that what they have purchased is a taster.

I know, and you know, that this should be blindingly obvious. But I'm afraid experience shows the general public to be blindingly stupid. Apple needs to make the Mac mini "just enough" message crystal clear, so that the people who do buy, do try, and are impressed, know that they can so something constructive to improve their Mac using experience even more. Like buy a G5, or just upgrade their Mac mini.

I can think of some people I'd buy a Mac mini for


2005-01-19 06:38:09
Perfect is the enemy of good, and market share
I've been a mac user for eons, use a PC only with a gun at my head. As an engineer and quality professional, I deeply appreciate the mac difference and am more than willing to pay the "apple tax". I don't give a damn about market share. But then I spend a lot of time on my computer managing databases and web sites. That mac difference means a lot to me.

On the other hand, even though I was born and raised in Detroit and made cars like everyone else, cars to me are four wheels and a motor. I drive a 10 year old Geo Metro. Why? Gets 40+ mpg, starts when I turn the key, and hauls the groceries and the soccer stuff. Goes better in a New England winter than the Hondas, Toyotas, and VWs my wife has gone through over the last 10 years.

I don't drive for a living, nor do I have a long commute.

Same for people and computers. Most people don't spend a lot ot fime on the computer. They just want to email, surf the web, write something now and then. The mac difference to them was not worth the extra money.

Now Apple has a computer that is:

a. just good enough
b. priced in the cheap enough neighborhood

The mac difference - which gets better with every spam, spyware, virus, and windows crash - now more than offsets the additional cost.

For those of us who want more than a "just good enough" computer, we can hack this box into a home iLife server. We know what's lurking under the hood.

Somebody has to pay for all these great Apple innovations, and to keep them coming. If that means shilling to the masses and bumping the market share up a bit to generate more cash flow, I am all for it.

2005-01-19 06:44:11
Perfect is the enemy of good, and market share
I know what you mean with the regards to the "Apple tax," and I'm also happy to pay it. I wish I could persuade friends and familty to see it as a worthwhile investment too...

You make a good point about the stuff "under the hood". You're right. Those of us who know what's there, and actually care about having something like an iLife server, can do the necessary upgrading.

2005-01-19 07:29:02
I disagree
I don't think it is a "test" box. I'm replacing my 2 Ghz Athlon box (1G RAM, 100G HD, DVD burner, 64M Radeon) with a Mac Mini. Granted I threw some upgrades at it (got the 1.42 Ghz, 512M RAM, superdrive), but not a lot.

It's slightly more powerful than my current Mac, a 14" 133 Ghz iBook, and I had no trouble making a DVD of my daughter's first year on that. Aside from web surfing, graphic design, and java and python coding, my primary use of computers is for music. I expect this will handle GarageBand just fine. I may have to shell out down the road for a 1Ghz stick of memory, but that's not bad at all.

I see this as a primary machine for anyone who isn't a serious FPS gamer or video producer.

2005-01-19 08:36:26
Apple tax
I've been an Apple user since a II+, and a Mac user since the original LC, so the Apple Tax collector has visiting my family and I for decades now. And I'm also happy to pay the tax. But hey, if expanding market share and increased sales volumes means a small tax bill, well, I'd also be happy with that!
2005-01-19 10:27:11
256 MB of memory
I switched to an eMac last spring after one too many Windows crashes. Most of the time, I have Mail, Safari, TextWrangler, iTunes, TeXShop, Stata, and Terminal running.
I work with the Public Use Microdata files from the US Census, which are fairly large (1.19 GB in ASCII format) and am editing some fairly large TeX documents (one of them being my dissertation). I use Perl and shell scripts to manipulate data and then do most of the heavy statistical lifting in Stata once I have my samples selected.
I recently upgraded from the default 256 MB of RAM to 768 MB, but I didn't find system performance to be slow before, and I am not noticing much difference with three times the memory I used to have.
I don't know if this is anomalous, but the eMac out of the box last spring with 256 MB seemed far faster and more functional than the Windows PC I bought in Fall 2000.
2005-01-19 10:58:28
Almost enough for me.
It would be faster than my aging 350 MHz G4 desktop. Or my 500 Mhz G3 iBook. I am a "prosumer"-- I do photo manipulation, basic web stuff, and video-- and , at my level, I think 256 Meg RAM is enough t get the job done. Not optimal, but not stingy, either. I would DEFINATELY consider the mini.

I think my next Mac is a G5 iMac, though, because I really want a G5, and DVD burning capability, and a bigger HD, for video files.

2005-01-19 13:15:25
Perfect is the enemy of good, and market share
I'd buy a mini if it were possible to pop open the case and add memory myself. While I don't mind paying a little extra for Apple hardware, their memory prices are outrageous. $425 to upgrade to 1GB of RAM!? You can get a 1GB stick of Crucial DDR333 for just over $200. If you don't mind going with a no-name brand, 1GB can be had for as little as $150. 100% Apple Tax? I think not.
2005-01-19 13:20:31
Perfect is the enemy of good, and market share
After looking around a bit it looks like people are saying that it *is* pretty easy to get them open and doesn't void the warranty. Ok, so now I'll need to get one ;)
2005-01-19 14:01:18
256 is enough for mini
I have a PowerBook with 1GB, and I have been watching the prices of RAM so that I can upgraded to 2GB. Lets take a look at what I am running at this moment: Finder, iCal, MoonDock, System Preferences, several Terminal sessions, LaunchBar, Mail, SpamSieve, Adium, NetNewsWire, OmniOutliner, BBEdit, Safari, Excel with several large spread sheets, FireFox, iTunes. I also have a bunch of stuff running in the background, Apache, PostgreSQL, MySQL, various utilities, etc.

1GB is actually enough for all of this to run comfortably, until I have a need to fire up Virtual PC or run a Mac OS Classic App.

For the typical home user running Mail, Safari and iTunes, I think 256MB is plenty.

2005-01-20 02:52:03
Perfect is the enemy of good, and market share
why do you think Apple doesn't want you to open the thing?

And beware, Apple has a tendency to use non-standard hardware so that stick from Crucial may not fit...

2005-01-20 02:55:23
Adding a larger harddisk and some RAM doubles the price of the unit.
Nice marketing trick as that's exactly what most people will do (those that aren't put off by the high price they'll end up with with those mods that is).

Another marketing trick is mentioning it has a DVD burner all over the product page, but then at the order page show you actually have to pay extra to get it...

Altogether, I will pass on on this unit because of those reasons.
A lost sale as I had seriously considered ordering one until seeing those final prices.

2005-01-20 09:46:14
>>Adding a larger harddisk and some RAM doubles the price of the unit.

I just configured one on Apple's store with 512 RAM and an 80GB processor (double the RAM, double the hard drive) and it pushed it up to $674.

(499 *2) - 324 = 674

Hardly double.

2005-01-21 03:25:18
configured one with 1024MB and an 80GB harddisk and it pushed the price to well over a thousand Euro.
2005-01-21 18:23:20
Oh, no - you can't do that. That's misleading.

1 x 1GB RAM module is not the same price as 2 x 512MB RAM modules. I made that mistake pricing out an iMac with 2GB of RAM and couldn't figure out where the extra £600 came from.

On the other hand, if I'm not mistaken, the Mini only has one RAM slot. As a result, RAM is more expensive: you don't add RAM, you *replace* RAM; and big modules are more expensive than small modules.

2005-09-27 01:36:41
My Mini experiences...
I am a bit of a power user with well over 50 tabs open in firefox on my pc as I attempt to complete well over a dozen projects in a given day.

I am a computer engineering student and my greatest resource is the Ineternet (mostly google). I was given an amazing option of buying an Athlon 64 3400+ system for $300 thanks to a technology roadshow in my area. I use that PC for everything heavy including compiling and educational research. Now I also spent $760 on a mac mini with a DVD burner and the 512mb ram the week it launched. I love it mostly because of the OS eyecandy but also because it allows me to experiment with ppc hardware and burn dvd's using IDVD.

Its far from a terribly fast machine and I can only do two or three things at once which is a far cry from my pc which cost me more than half as much. But its a different world having Apple support especially when you are new to the problems of mac hardware. My unit started beeping over the summer and after a quick inspection by an Apple store my RAM was found to be bad so they replaced it on the spot in less than 10 minutes with no more than my signature required. If I was computer illiterate I wouldn't even dream of finding a Dell repair center to even look at my pc before the day was out. Apple made the right move by finally upgrading the Mini to 512mb of RAM and I try to convince family's to go mac as its a crystal clear alternative to the problematic PC world.

2006-03-25 19:36:18
How easy is to replace the memory in it? I dont want to pay apple memory prices.