Mac Mini: Hardware

As I had mentioned in my previous posts, the biggest barrier to purchasing a Mac had been price.  For the hardware that you get it seems awfully expensive when you match that up to a comparably equipped PC.  One of the benefits of a Mini, however, are its ultra-compact size, energy efficiencies, and more importantly how quiet it is.  I have a 9800GTX+ in my PC and the box sounds like a wind tunnel with all the fans that are in it to keep it cool.

But does it have any guts?  I got the lower end model at $599, and I have to say that it leaves a little to be desired.  I notice quite the slow down when I fire up Parallels, a virtual machine software.  My system slows to a crawl and I pretty much guarantee that the cause can be traced to the paltry 1GB of memory that comes standard in the tiny box.  I find this a bit troublesome simply because my PC with 1GB of RAM can handle a VM taking half the RAM just fine.

I also find the 120GB 5400 RPM drive a little on the slow side if opening multiple apps up at the same time.  Parallels also chokes here because of the intense disk IO nature of keeping two operating systems functioning at once.  Upgrading the hard drive to a 500GB 7200 RPM drive would likely yield favorable performance gains.

I imagine that if I were to throw in the 4GB maximum of RAM, the OS would likely run a bit smoother, I guess it's just disappointing that 1GB doesn't seem enough.  I also find it a little hypocritical with Apple's consternation over Vista being on the piggy side of resource intensiveness, when their own OS experiences similar issues.

While picking up the Mini, I got a mini-DVI to DVI adapter without realizing that the Mini actually comes with one.  I took it back, but then realized that I wanted to use multi monitor mode, so I ended up purchasing a mini-DisplayPort to VGA adapter.  Multi-monitor modes work flawlessly and it even surprised me that I didn't have to restart the machine in order to take advantage of the second display--very impressive.

In the end, the Mini makes a great computer for doing standard things that you would on the PC.  Playing serious video games either in Parallels or native Windows just doesn't work well with the nVidia 9400 graphics chip, but if you're wanting to own a Mac without being taken in by a full priced iMac or PowerBook, the Mini presents itself as a suitable introductory model and is certainly competent for my purposes including learning the OS and doing iPhone development.

Posted on Mar 12
Written by Wayne Hartman