Refreshed Mac mini and iBook models impress me (if no one else :-)

by Todd Ogasawara

A quick check of the blogsphere indicates that not many Mac fans are impressed by Apple's update of the Mac mini and iBook lines. As a mainly Windows & Linux guy, I am though. Here's why...

When I wrote about becoming a Mac try-er (vs. switcher) in --
Mac Mini Eye for the Linux-Windows Guy
-- a number of people commented how I should have bought a higher end iMac or iBook/Powerbook.
Well, here it is months later and I continue to be pleased with the little first generation Mac mini.
The refreshed Mac mini $599 version now includes the once optional Bluetooth and Airport Extreme card.
Its RAM was also bumped from 256MB to 512MB and the upgrade to 1GB could almost (but not quite) be considered affordable as a factory install.
This is great since it means that a person new to the Mac line doesn't have to consider any additions to the model to have a full featured wireless desktop Mac.
It makes it easy for a mostly Windows or Linux person to take the plunge and test the Mac OS X waters.

The iBook refresh impressed me even more.
Most people noted the RAM bump to 512MB.
But, take a look at the 14 inch LCD model.
The $1299 price tag now includes:

  • 512MB RAM
  • Superdrive
  • Bluetooth 2.0
  • Sudden Motion Sensor

This mix of features gives it a leg up on the Windows based notebooks now available for under $1000.
The Sudden Motion Sensor is a great addition since this line is often sold to K-12 type schools.
I've been holding off waiting to see if the PowerBook line would drop just a little to make it a bit more affordable to me.
Now, the 14 inch iBook is a leading candidate as my next notebook.

What do you think of the refreshed Mac mini and iBook models?


2005-07-26 11:31:47
Why the 14"?
Todd, why the 14" over the 12" iBook? The screen resolution is the same (1024 x 768) on both models, though the size obviously differs. So, adding up the differences (as it were), the 14" gives you 90MHz, 20GB of hard drive, and a DVD burner for an extra $300. Plus, it gives you an extra 1lb. of weight.

From my experience, you'll never notice the extra few megahertz. A 60GB drive is a BTO option for the 12" that adds $50 to the price. I can see the 12" screen without issues, so no need for the 14" screen. Is the SuperDrive worth $250 and an extra pound?

To my mind, the 14" has always been a waste of money compared to its smaller sibling. The real competition is with the 12" PowerBook. Not for its additional performance, which again will be nigh-unnoticeable, but for the extra features: monitor spanning, the differences in software packages included (OmniGraffle and OmniOutliner, QuickBooks, etc.).

I find the narrowed performance and feature gap between the new 12" iBook and the 12" PowerBook very interesting. Simply put, Apple would be foolish to allow such a small gap to remain for very long, as iBook sales will likely cannibalize PowerBook sales.

Apple is currently making one attempt to ameliorate this situation, which is the new Logic Pro deal, where one must buy a PowerBook (or PMac, or xServe) and Logic Pro, whereupon the purchaser will receive a $500 mail-in rebate. GarageBand may be free, and Logic Express cheap at $300, but Pro for $500 is quite the bargain -- assuming, of course, the purchaser is interested in digital audio production.

The interesting part about the Logic Pro deal is that it expires on October 25. While Oct. 25 is late for back-to-school, it might be about right for the Christmas season, and it falls on a Tuesday. Historically, Apple often picks Tuesdays for their product refreshes.

Admittedly based on speculation, Oct. 25th may well be the day the PowerBook line gets its next revision.

Anyway, to answer your question, I am pleased by the RAM bumps on the Mac minis, and quite happy with the revamped iBooks. I'm not particularly impressed, though, as the bumps are incremental additions, rather than dramatic new introductions. But that's fine for the consumer line.

2005-07-26 12:34:05
Why the 14"?
Good points. I bought a 12" iBook for the office shortly after buying the Mac mini for my home. The 12" iBook has worked out well for me. I tend to carry it around the office area all the time now. So, I agree the size and weight factor is a great plus for the 12" LCD devices. One of the side-effects of using the iBook more than I though I would (I usually tote around a Windows XP notebook) is that I am looking at and writing more and more code using the iBook as my remote "window" to Linux boxes on the network. So, the larger LCD with the same 1024x768 res as the 12" screen is actually appealing to me. I think that people over 35 who have reached the point of needing a new prescription may sympathize with this plight :-)
I must also admit that I would really like to have a DVD+-R optical spindle on board. I tend to use DVD+RW discs as in-progress "floppies" these days. Photos, little video files, documents, etc. all go on a DVD+RW disc as part of my daily workflow. At the end of the month, I burn stuff to a DVD+R disc for archiving. It is also nice to be able to burn photos to a DVD instead of CD while traveling to cut down the number of discs I need to carry and shuffle during a trip.
2005-07-26 22:22:27
RE: Why the 14-inch?
Because it's easier for one's eyes. While I love the size and the weight of my iBook G4, I still use my second-hand PowerBook G3, aka Pismo, as my primary portable computer because of its 14-inch screen size.

Not to mention, depending on your batteries, it can last 8 to 10 hours between charge.

2005-07-27 00:12:01
So when you buy the entry level machine marketed by Apple as a machine for Windows/Linux users wanting to try out a Mac without paying for a full blown one Mac addicts tell you you should have ignored that machine targetted at you?

Interesting observation...

So either Apple targetted the Mac Mini at the wrong market (possible) or Mac addicts feel that their machines except the highend ones can't compete and therefore want you to skip directly to those to avoid a possible bad experience.

In either case it shows a problem on the side of Apple and their userbase in that they still aren't competitive (either because they lack the price/performance point to compete or because they lack the confidence to compete).

If Apple have indeed upped the specs on the Mini it might start to attract me towards possibly trying one. I was interested in the previous one but found the specs to be lacking for the asking price, the improved specs might pull me over the line (though it'll likely have to wait for the end of year bonus to get in).

I've always been a RAM junk :) and the old Mini just couldn't satisfy that hunger.
2005-07-27 04:33:27
Why the 14"?
Makes sense. I do sympathize with the eye-sight issue -- being more than a little near-sighted, I run my 22" office monitor at 1280 x 1024.

I haven't used a DVD+RW as a scratch drive, but that's an interesting application. I'll have to consider that use case in my next purchase.

2005-07-27 05:35:10
Although a lot of the reaction to the Apple changes has focused on the changes to RAM, I think that Bluetooth as a standard is a pleasant step forward. I bought a 12" iBook just before Christmas, which didn't include Bluetooth as standard. It isn't a big deal, as I'm able to use a USB device to add Bluetooth connectivity so Mac talks to Nokia and vice versa. However, I'm now considering getting a Mac Mini for home and keeping my iBook for trips out - and having Bluetooth available without special order or a USB stick will be a really nice bonus.