I’ve been running the Mac Mini for more than 6 months now. Its time to check in for a 6-month review of all the quirks and perks.
This is the Intel Core Duo 1.6Ghz Mac mini. This is the latest Mac Mini available as of today. The product line can be a little confusing — be careful about which reviews you read, as earlier Mac Mini’s were based on the PowerPC chip, and later on single-core Intel chips. The current line is significantly faster than those earlier models.
Some other improvements from earlier versions are that it now has 4 hi-speed usb 2.0 ports, in addition to a Firewire 400 port for connecting additional devices. Since you can’t really upgrade this computer, you’ll use these ports to connect any addon devices. While there are plenty of ports, I am a little disappointed that the Mini does not yet include a Firewire 800 port, or an external SATA II port. Since the first thing people will add is an external disk, the faster interfaces would have been a nice addition. Still, for the Mini’s target audience, the supplied firewire and USB ports are completely sufficient.
While I would consider myself a “power user,” I’m using 3 external hard drives, a wireless keyboard and mouse, and an Elgato EyeTV Hybrid to watch HD TV. I use the external drives mostly for DVR video storage and music. I have a single 500GB drive (on Firewire), and 2 250 GB drives on USB set up as a RAID Stripe using OS X’s built-in software RAID. I was a little bit skeptical about using software RAID over USB, but it works flawlessly. Moving the drives to different USB sockets doesn’t affect the RAID. Another interesting drive tidbit is that the Firewire port is much faster than USB for disks. If you have a choice, use that.
So, what has it been like using a Mac? One thing I found surprising coming from the PC world is that most of those apple ads are actually true – most things “just work.” Its something that you can hear, but not really appreciate until you try it. For example, menus and configuration choices for almost all programs are a lot simpler than they are on the PC. It isn’t that they are less capable, its just that things don’t need to be tweaked as much as they do in most PC applications. It’s definitely been a pleasure to use, and I’m looking forward to when I have to replace my next laptop – it’ll probably
be with a Mac.
While this was the main reason I bought it, I was happy to find that the Mac Mini makes a perfect Home-Theater PC. One reason is that it can attach to a lot of different outputs. With a small adapter, it can use VGA, DVI, svideo, or RCA, although it only supports one output at a time. No matter which inputs you have free on your TV, you’ll be able to connect your Mac Mini to it.
Another great aspect of the Mac Mini is that it’s extremely small. That’s probably why they call it “Mini” :). For example, it’s only marginally bigger than my external hard drives. It’s even smaller (although slightly taller) than just about any laptop, and easily fits into a component shelf in your TV stand. It can also be mounted behind your TV, and there are companies which sell brackets to do so. The Mini is also virtually silent, an important aspect of a device going into your entertainment cabinet. If you put your ear to it, you can just barely hear the fan. I’ve never been able to hear it from the couch, even with the TV off.
The final touch for the home theater PC case is the software: Apple Front Row. This application is driven by a remote which comes with your Mini. The remote is attractive, in classic Apple fashion, and quite useful. Using Front Row, you can browse everything in your iTunes collection right from your couch – including Music and Videos. If you have an Ipod, this’ll be very familiar to you, as they’re almost identical.
The Mini has lots of other software too. You can download a free office suite called “Neo Office,” which is a version of Open Office adapted to run on the Mac. If you haven’t tried Open Office or Neo Office yet, you absolutely should. It is basically a free clone of Microsoft Office. It provides almost the same exact functionality as Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint but is completely free.
For web browsing, there is Apple’s native browser called Safari, or of course, you can download Firefox. The Mini also comes with Apple’s creative suite called iLife, which has applications for making movies, DVD’s, cartoons, and music recordings. iLife is what I use, for example, to make my video reviews.
About the only thing that the Mini doesn’t do so well is play the latest PC games. First of all, most games will only run on Microsoft Windows anyway. However, one of the ways they got the Mini to be so small is by skimping on the graphics hardware. It’s plenty fast for HD video editing, but it’s terrible at any kind of 3d game.
Overall, I’ve found the Mac Mini to be an exciting introduction to Apple’s computer products. If you’re still not convinced you might be glad to know that you can install either Windows or Linux on the Mini. After using it for a few days, however, you’ll probably find that you have no reason to.