Apple Mac Mini
At a Glance
Cute isn't a word we use very often in connection with PCs, but it certainly applies to the Apple Mac Mini--arguably the most visually striking personal computer ever built. The world's most petite PC could serve double duty as a bookend, as long as the books weren't too big. The elegant, cleanly designed white case is only 6.5 inches square and just over 2 inches tall. It runs almost silently: The cooling fan produces the barest whisper of sound. On the front are a touch-sensitive power switch and the opening for a slot-loaded DVD drive. Our review model came with an 8X DVD-ROM/24X CD-RW combo drive; a more expensive option is a DVD-rewritable drive. On the back are various ports: a DVI monitor connection (a VGA adapter is included), 10/100 ethernet, a FireWire port, a headphone jack, and two USB 2.0 ports. The last element does limit your expansion options: Apple's own keyboard and mouse occupy one of the USB ports (the mouse plugs into the keyboard); on the other hand, on a typical PC, a USB keyboard and mouse would take up two ports. You could add a USB hub to get extra ports, but this would take away somewhat from the Mac Mini's aesthetic appeal. The power supply is located in a separate brick.
Apple designed the Mini to compete against cheap PCs (the most basic Mini configuration starts at $500) while still basking in the full glow of the Mac mystique. We had no trouble imagining the Mini going places where a typical desktop PC wouldn't: into kitchens, family rooms, and the countless improvised home offices that pop up on dining room tables every evening. You lose some of the stylish look when you add all of the required cables, but it's still the nicest looking of the small systems we tested.
Apple describes the Mac Mini as a BYODKM (bring your own display, keyboard, and mouse) system; none of these are included. Apple offers a USB keyboard and mouse set for $58, but the system works with any USB keyboard and mouse designed for a PC: You just have to get over the slightly weird feeling of pressing the <Windows> key instead of Apple's <Command> key. We tried the Mac Mini with a selection of keyboards and mice, and they all worked without problems. If you're planning to keep an existing PC on your desktop you could add a KVM switch, which allows one keyboard, monitor, and mouse combination to control two or more systems.
The Mac Mini is built around a 1.25-GHz PowerPC CPU, and seems to be well suited to supporting such everyday activities as watching DVDs, working on text documents, and playing games; an ATI Radeon 9200 GPU handles the graphics. Our $574 review model came with 512MB of DDR333 RAM in the single memory slot (the entry-level unit ships with a paltry 256MB). You can upgrade the Mac Mini to 1GB, but opening the case is a challenge: You have to pry the plastic top off, and there is a possibility that it could crack. The technique evolved by Mac users is to use a couple of putty knives to gently remove the top, a nerve-wracking process. Click here to see MacWorld editor Dan Frakes demonstrate this technique. Apple says that opening the case won't void the warranty, as long as you don't break anything.
The Mac Mini provides an elegant way to enter the Mac universe without having to spend too much.