Apple Computer's Mac mini is not only a great little machine, it
could well be the next "cult" computer, and not just among the Mac
fanatics among us.
It was journalist Leander Kahney, I believe, who coined the phrase "The
Cult of Mac" and has turned it into one book, a blog and now a sequel
volume, "The Cult of iPod." All this is devoted to, well, people who are
devoted to their Macs and iPods. The lengths to which some owners will go
is quite amazing.
For a good while, the Mac Cube was the leading "cult" model among Mac
users; cute, uniquely styled (or pretty close to unique) and fund to
modify and play with, the Cube is a great item. But its day is over,
officially of course, and Apple isn't selling Cubes any more; finding one
at eBay isn't difficult, though.
The Mac mini is today's Cube, and then some: its Intel Core Duo
processors run at frequencies of 1.5 and 1.66 Ghz, versus the 450 MHz
PowerPC chips found in the Cube. There's no comparison in performance: the
new Mac minis are roughly four times faster than the old Mac mini,
introduced a year or so ago. For $600, you can get the "low end" mini with
a 60 Gbyte hard disk drive; $800 will get you the 1.66 GHz model and an 80
Gbyte hard drive, and is the model I tested recently. The higher priced
model will read and write both CD and DVD discs; the "base" Mac mini will
read and write CDs but only read DVD discs.
In operation, the new Mac mini is a speedy performer. It boots quickly,
runs smoothly and offers the kind of performance just about anyone would
want on a desktop machine. A recent update to the computer's firmware, or
embedded software, unlocks the full potential of the Intel Core Duo
processor found inside. The performance should be as good, if not better,
than a similarly equipped Windows PC.
The new Mac mini also contains Front Row, Apple's multimedia-viewing
software, and a remote control. Slide this in near your flat-screen TV,
use the right cables and, presto - or so Apple would have you believe -
multimedia is yours, not to mention a computer monitor that'll make the
neighbors green with envy.
Also included are four USB ports, one Gigabit (high-speed) Ethernet port,
and a FireWire 400 port, all of which should supply plenty of
connectivity, along with the built-in WiFi and Bluetooth radios. The audio
out connector can handle regular and digital audio cables, making it a
good source for the optical-capable iPod Hi-Fi.
In short, there's a lot of power in this tiny package. I saw a great
responsiveness from the unit, and it was great at running Microsoft
Windows, either via Apple's Boot Camp feature or Parallel's Workstation
package, which allows for virtual machines side-by-side with the Mac OS.
While I wouldn't want to use the Mac mini to edit a feature film - there
are more powerful Macs for that task - I would happily use the Mac mini to
edit a feature film's screenplay, my Web page, a scrapbook and more than
one podcast. It's a nice little computer that could well be the next cult
"hit," especially if what I've seen at http://www.123Macmini.com and other
"fan sites" for this tiny wonder.
Aside from the "modders" who get their kicks transforming boxes such as
the Mac mini into small works of art (or, as ColorWorks, Inc., does,
Ferrari-red colored works of art, see http://www.colorwarepc.com/), I like
the Mac mini for what it can do, as much as for what it can become.