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iMac LC (OK, Mac mini)

Cool Tech

January 11, 2005 11:30 AM PST


Ok, at our first glance it has beat our negativity and lives up to expectations. Very, very interesting product from Apple.

Highlights: $499, Available Jan. 22nd Expandable memory DVI Silent PC Anodized Aluminum Case (Not Plastic!) Quicktime MPEG-4 Standard support No single button mouse

Remember, there are very popular firewire TV tuner/capture solutions for the Mac, so this makes a DVR type device possible.

I like how they don't even try to pretend they're the only game in town - "just set us on top of your PC and port your software." Very cool attitude.

Perfect for Programmers
Set a space-saving Mac mini atop your workstation PC and add a KVM switch to share keyboard, monitor and mouse. Mac OS X includes free developer tools for Mac, UNIX and Java. Test out a Mac version of your latest creation, instantly. Pretty soon you’ll be using the Mac full-time, with that PC relegated to the testbed.

Comments (33)
Paul, January 11, 2005 01:50 PM:

I'll getting (at least 2) Mac minis, plus the GarageBand update has many great recording features. For $79, I'll be getting iLife 05 and the new JamPack. iWork is also $79, so it's a "might as well" purchase. A native word processor is nice, and I certainly don't need excel or exchange compatibility.

I can't believe they did this... now all we need is a PocketPC / SmartPhone competitor and I'll be all Mac'd up.

J, January 11, 2005 02:52 PM:

I think iLife comes with these, so you don't need to buy it seperately. They're bundled with AppleWorks for some reason though, instead of iWork... Not sure why. George and my big issue is whether it will come with a free/cheap upgrade to Tiger later in the year. I can see them not wanting to delay this for the new OS, but I'd hate to have to pay 20% the cost of the computer to upgrade the OS in a few months.

Paul, January 11, 2005 03:07 PM:

20% == $100, and the features are pretty sweet: 64 bit OS, built in search, Xcode, Dashboard widgets, and more. I certainly don't have a problem paying for that.

iLife includes the GarageBand update, and is $79.
iWork is $79.
GarageBand JamPacks are $99.

All of them are very much worth it (IMHO).

J, January 11, 2005 03:30 PM:

I'm just saying I should get a discount now for the OS upgrade, since it will come free with machines that people buy down the line. This is still a toy for me, so another $100 is a lot. I don't pay that much for XP! I'm already peeved about still paying that for .mac membership - OS updates should just be included with that! Also, I'm not sure iWork is worth it for you since you have Office:mac, but it might be a fun toy. I'd like to hope Keynote is better than PowerPoint.

The G4 isn't 64 bit though, right? So I'd be interested to see how it runs. Maybe some of the code is optimized for the 64 bit altivec unit (that's not like a funnel).

I'm glad they have a dedicated graphics chip with 32 MB. Not great for 3D, but will definitely improve the performance of the graphics-heavy OS features. Based on Tom's Hardware reviews, the Radeon 9200 is about the same performance as a GeForce4 440 MX. So this should be great for 2D and be fine for most of the 2-3 year old 3D mac games (not trying to make fun of them here). At this low a cost, I'm actually surprised they did dedicated graphics ram and a slim format combo drive.

I was also reading that external USB bluetooth adaptors work, not sure about USB Wi-Fi cards.

I will have to wait until I read some reviews on these and get some word on Tiger updates. The main thing I'd like to see is whether standard Divx/Xvid files play in the latest quicktime. Actually, Paul - you can test that out, right?

So is it worth the extra $100 for the bigger HDD and 170mhz? Or do you just overclock that bad boy for the 170mhz (doubt there's any difference in the processor or mobo) and apply the $100 towards a 40GB iPod? Or do you just realize that "cheap bastard" and Apple don't go together? ;) Have to wait for the performance reviews I guess.

J, January 11, 2005 03:40 PM:

Apparently the iWork "Pages" application imports and exports to Word format (limited I'm sure) and has built in PDF writing. Nice...

Paul, January 11, 2005 03:44 PM:

I'm going to get the 80 GB drive and the 512 MB RAM option for both.

You don't pay $100 for XP because you get it from the Microsoft Store! No offense to MS people, but OS X is nicer than XP. This is obvious since OS X is updated yearly, and Windows XP came out 4 years ago, even with SP2 (which breaks stuff). It'll take almost 2 more years before MS releases Longhorn and in that time there will be something like 2 significant OS X updates. I'm sure that Longhorn will rock, and I'll get it the day it comes out, but for now, OS X is teh l337.

If mini-Mac a toy, then you shouldn't be upgrading stuff on it. Treat it like an xbox... you just plug stuff into it without paying extra cash. I think of this machine as the "starter car" of Macs... spend a little cash to get a taste of OS X, and if you like it you can go to a more expensive and more capable machine. None of us is the target market for this.. these machines are for my mom and sister. I want to get an iPod for my mom (she wants the U2 one), but since she's running my old 450 MHz Win2k machine, I shudder to think how painful it will be getting the iPod detected. Oh yeah, and that machine doesn't have Firewire or USB 2 which the mini-Mac has.

The G4 isn't 64 bit, you're right but the other features in Tiger look good to me.

J, January 11, 2005 04:07 PM:

True, MS store (and friends) are nice. But XP's about the same price when you buy it with hardware or as a 2K upgrade, but I haven't paid for XP upgrades for 4 years! With Mac, I'm paying $129 a year, plus $100 for .mac! (Well, actually I'm not upgrading my mac at all, since they stopped supporting the beige G3 in 10.1) The Mac is definitely more expensive for OS purchases - and maybe you do get more eye candy with Mac, but XP is still a great, fast and stable OS that supports a massive range of hardware. I'm not so sure the rapid updates to an OS are good things, unless the OS isn't mature. That said - I agree that XP should just come out with UI and widget updates. Longhorn should simply be the updated UI with 64 bit support. That's it. Well maybe an updated browser too...

If you go to the OS X tab on apple's home page, the first thing they hype is Tiger. A lot of people will feel they're getting something that's already obsolete if there's no upgrade path.

Anyway, this looks interesting for me as a media player machine and a development box and as a supportable machine for the in-laws. You're exactly right about this being a great pair with the U2 iPod.

The apple education store has them for $479 and $579 respectively, free shipping. You're not getting a Dell, dude!

J, January 11, 2005 04:16 PM:

The upgrades are interesting. The lower end model you can boost to 80GB for another $50. 512MB ram is O.K at $75, but the 1GB ram is insane! It's nowhere near that expensive! I guess 512 is the sweet spot. I guess it doesn't have two memory slots?

George, January 11, 2005 06:04 PM:

The apple site indicates that the user can't add their own airport card later. ditto for memory. I think this is the first mac in a long time that has no Apple sanctioned end user hardware updates.

One configuration dilemma is the optional optical drive. I don't really need a dvd burner but aftermarket slot loading burners are much more than $100 so I'd probably want to spring for the burner. But, the current superdrive isn't dual layer. I may have to wait for the Rev B version to get dual layer bunrne and tiger.

George, January 11, 2005 06:34 PM:

Just a question for anyone that is into creating multimedia on a Window box. Is anyone spending money on DVD creator software or music studio software for the PC?

I wonder if the $649 (512Mb + superdrive upgrade) price point is low enough to encourage people who are creating DVDs from home movies or are doing music recording to experiment with a mac? My guess is no, unless someone is just getting started and doesn't have a pc that is well equiped (firewire capture, dvd burner, decent memory size, windows xp).

John, January 11, 2005 06:36 PM:

This would be a really nice form factor for a Media Center PC. It looks cool enough you wouldn't even try to hide it, but set it on top of your TV. I know they said they would never do it, but they are soooo close now. This thing would need the following items built in:
New media center style UI.
Dolby Digital Out
Bigger HD
Remote Control
Tuner
TV Output

You can do most of these things today, but with external components - some 3rd party.

While they are at it, they should create some universal Ipod dock and build it in to the top of the chassis - no wires needed. How cool would that be? I'm surprised they haven't done this already.

J, January 11, 2005 07:08 PM:

I wouldn't use this to burn CDs or DVDs so it's not a big deal to me. You can always get an external DL burner I guess. I got an internal dual layer for around $60, so adding a case to that isn't that much more. If I had a firewire video camera I might be more interested in DVD authoring using iDVD (which doesn't come with the bundle). Then again, I'd more likely use a badass AMD64 and 10K RPM drive if I was doing authoring.

I'm not troubled with the upgradability. 512 MB is a must (and 75 clams is a bit much), but the rest is fine. We'll see once they're released how upgradable the ram is. I don't see why you can't do Wifi or bluetooth through USB2, although I don't care about either because I'm "wired".

It might sound mean, but this mac is exactly where I see the target level of Mac being. It's lost most of the high end markets to wintel. This mac does exactly the basics that I'd be interested in having it run. I have all the other stuff covered. For any power user stuff, you'd be better off going wintel. (Although for laptops (non-upgradable, limited gaming, limited cpu, all about form factor), apple is still a great choice).

J, January 11, 2005 07:14 PM:

Yeah, you can definitely do mac media center today with external components. I don't know that you HAVE to have a bigger HDD - TiVo still ships with 40GB base so you could get away with the 80GB drive in two partitions, but it's not ideal.

These guys have a tuner that's about the same size as the mini mac: elgato. It looks pretty good, solving the tuner and remote problem, but still you have the SPDIF problem. Although shows you record won't have this. That AMD64 Shuttle box has SPDIF in and out!

If this takes off, I could see sage or someone else coming out with a breakout box that had all this stuff in it - tuner, IR, spdif, s-video/component in and out - and maybe even a hard drive. The iPod ecosystem is big, and I can see the Mac mini ecosystem being equivalent.

I think once Tiger comes out with it's Dashboard components, we'll see people creating sweet television format UIs for iTunes, QuickTime, etc. These components have an open dev kit and are all XML and Javascript (not sure how closely they are related to Firefox XUL). The OS comes with these dashboard player interfaces, so it would just take some tweaks to make them sized right and interact with an IR controller.

Apple doesn't want to give up control of the hardware or the OS (or the basic applications), but by having an open, unix core system and a dynamic ecosystem of add-on hardware they could bring a lot of other smart companies into the fold and we may see some cool hybrid products.

J, January 11, 2005 07:20 PM:

The iPod already has a dock - if the mac unit were in your TV cabinet, you'd want the doc wire to run up the back and have the doc sit on the top of the cabinet anyway - not sure you'd want it integrated.

I'd like to see a device that's the exact same size and shape as mac mini - that contains a standard IDE/SATA HDD, Tuner, IR with remote and high def A/V inputs and outputs. They could sell this for 300-350 with the proper dashboard plugins for mac and spank windows media center.

Paul, January 11, 2005 08:01 PM:

Anyone want to start a pool to see if Apple doubles or triples its current market share by 1 July 2005 because of the mini-Mac?

J, January 11, 2005 08:19 PM:

Well the market share probably includes really old macs. Maybe they'll set a sales record for number of macs, or even better - gross profit from macs.

The one thing that could sink them is if the machine isn't fast enough to run all the apps easily. I know the iMac G5 was panned for not having enough ram to really run in the base model. Have you guys worked on a 1.2 GHZ G4? Is it going to be OK?

John, January 11, 2005 09:01 PM:

Responding to multiple comments...

I don't think you want to author DVDs with this. Even on a moderately fast PC transcoding can take a long time, and a lot of disk space.

I don't think an add-on to get to media center is the way to go. You still need a nice 'remote control' UI etc. I think that Apple is close enough to it now, they should just take the next step and build these extra features in. It is a logical companion to the Ipod etc. Plus they can do a nice TV UI for the Apple music store. You could buy Tunes without leaving your couch.

I imagine they could double their sales with this, but I'm more interested in what kind of profit they will make. I doubt it is much because they don't have PC style volume. It will be interesting to see what the stock does on the next quarterly report.

I can see this winning back Apple defectors (hmm, J). Plus for this price gadget geeks will buy first and figure out what to do with it later. This thing costs less than my new PocketPC did.

It seems to me that the size of hard drive you get is determined by the size of Ipod you have. If you have a 40G Ipod then you need the larger drive, else you can't hold all your tunes + the OS etc.

John, January 11, 2005 09:23 PM:

Interesting that you don't see the large power brick in the publicity photos. Not that its a big deal, but that brick is pretty massive, at least when compared to the mini itself.

Hap, January 12, 2005 09:02 AM:

As for the OS 10.4 hasn't really excited me yet. but this machine sure does (like most apple hardware). I have talked about Digital Convergence for years. The Toaster mac (cube) came close but suffered from a few fatal flaws and it looks like Apple has learned it's lesson.

First it's (relativly) Inexpensive. nuff said

Second it has a front loaded drive. this means you can put it in your entertianment center cabinet and still be able to use it.

Third it's tiny and looks good. who wants to put a tower by there TV.

Fourth it has the options avalable to make it truely usefull in this reguard. Radioshark, Eye TV etc.

Fifth simple to use and maintain. A win If they can give me uptime like my Tivo (the first digital convergence device... though they won't say it).

Finaly it has the software it needs to work. Ilife etc.

Sixth Still a computer. Unlike my Tivo or Xbox this machine admits it's a computer so I can use it like one.

I can see this thing selling well. Because of the things I said and more. If J is thinking about it it must be cool because he hasn't seriously considered a Mac in years. Got that KVM switch yet?

Things we stil need to see to be sure.

one how loud is it? I can't have a 747 in my living room.

Two it doesn't take much to make graphics look good on a TV But it must integrate well with my TV and home stereo system. Will my Radio Shark sound good over the Stereo Speakers for example. If they can do this they have a winner.

Three real world performance. I will be watching the reaction of the early adopters very closely.

Fourth ??? there are many small issues that when taken together are critical and it will be interesting to see howthey play out.

I can see these all over the house with a high end game station er I mean server managing them. My kids don't need super machines but it would be nice to administer them from a central location. This may not be cheap but it's inexpensive and modular enough that I can peacemeal it together.

Well my planes about to board and I'm getting long winded.

Your thoughts?

J, January 12, 2005 02:22 PM:

To introduce Hap - he's a friend of mine from the good old days. Owns a Mac. We talked about a small set-top mac EXACTLY like this back in 1997/1998. I still remember discussing how quicktime should be used to record/distribute content to it. I'm kind of peeved at myself for still being so happy about Mac mini 7 years later, but maybe now the market is ready.

Paul, January 12, 2005 03:20 PM:

AAPL stock is up $7.50 (~ 10%) after the earning anouncement today: the highest quarterly revenue and net income in Apple's history, apparently (and soon to get better I'd guess with mini-Mac).

Apple also gained market share last quarter (Mac sales grew by 26%, compared to the overall market growth of 10%)...

The story is here.

George, January 12, 2005 06:56 PM:

Apple's on a tear at the same time Google is creating a new generation of dot.com millionaires. Coincidence? I bet Larry and Sergy are on Steve's Christmas card list.

J, January 12, 2005 07:11 PM:

My friend Hap who posted earlier, noticed a long time ago that Apple nearly always has a huge stock jump after macworld SF. Almost a guaranteed way to make money. But who'd want to do that?

I just have to remind you that Apple being on a tear this year means they came out with a flash based mp3 player with no screen and a re-packaged G4 Cube. WTF is the rest of the market doing?

Apple and Google will fight over desktop search though. No biggie, but it's not all fun and games. My opinion is that this IS the stuff that should be built in, at an API level to the OS. It's just like how WinZIP was a seperate program for so many years, it was ridiculous.

Paul, January 12, 2005 09:35 PM:

The strangest thing about desktop search is the complete lack of it up until recently. It's one of the things that should be shipped with the OS with an API so that every app that gets installed just registers with the indexer so that any file format can be indexed.

The funniest thing is how Scoble on Channel9 is going on about the MSN desktop search team "cranking out code in 6 months". Good one! The hard drive indexing code has been shipping on Windows since Win2k! All they did was to turn it on, plugin to its interfaces and write a few toolbars... hardly 6 months of work.

J, January 12, 2005 10:19 PM:

Yeah, it's pretty ridiculous. BeOS had a "database filesystem", and you could search any file on the hard drive, including emails, contacts and notes! It was sweet. I actually lost a file on my computer the other day (created several months earlier) and the only way I could find where it was stored was by going to the "recent documents" menu in the application that created it.

I don't think we need WinFS for it, but I still want folders to just represent arbitrary, pre-indexed searches. So I can bring up every document, email and chat log where "nullstream" is mentioned, sort by date, etc. When I create the folder, the scan could be slower, but once it's there, it should be quick.

J, January 13, 2005 12:04 AM:

John, great point about synching the 40GB iPod. I think there's an option to not store the music on your PC (since the iPod is a firewire HDD), but I'm not sure how it all works. Maybe Paul has an answer?

J, January 19, 2005 05:52 AM:

Looks like the ram and laptop HDD are user-upgradable. Of course, you're throwing away the existing ram and HDD unless you have another use for it. I'm still waiting till Tiger comes with the machine. I can hold out till June :-).

I ran across this too: Pictures of all Apple products in history.

John, January 26, 2005 10:39 PM:

It looks like Apple has quietly dropped the prices on most of the built to order add-on's for the mini. You can check it out at MacMinute.

John, January 28, 2005 04:48 PM:

J pointed us offline to a good Anandtech article on the Mac mini. One thing to note, 512M is required for any reasonable performance. Also 32M of video memory is not enough for a good experience as resolutions above 1280 x 960 max.

They also have a couple of blog posts regarding the Mac mini's support for Tiger, here, and here. The bottom line here is that the graphics chip in the mini will not support Core Image or Quartz Extreme 2D. So you won't get the cool GPU offloaded UI in Tiger. You should be able to have an experience similar to that of Panther however.

J, January 29, 2005 11:13 PM:

Interesting that Anand is into Macs now. I have to respect him for being a fan of all cool tech. Things don't sound too bad about Tiger. The OS isn't finished - I'm sure they have someone working on optimizations that will let it run fine on the Mini. That said - a rev b. mobo with slightly more powerful graphics and 64mb vram, and 512MB ram would be worth $100 more.

Hap, February 1, 2005 10:50 PM:

I agree with what your saying here about the memory but we need to keep in mind that this is the mini we are talking about here and I think it passes the "good enough" test for most of the things people will use it for. What are the Tech Specs for the Xbox or my Tivo? I don't know off hand but I can play movies listen to music etc so I think it's clear that the mini will as well do just fine as well.

It is expandable. I can do a lot with this machines ports (both wired and unwired. Can it run HD? I don't know but for me thats a ways off anyway so it's really not an issue for me nor is anything else really hi end and I suspect for most people as well.

As I said. If I where to get one I would put in my TV cabinet and let my kids go crazy with it while I managed it from my high end work station.

As for the Mini's shortcommings, these are the same complants I have heard about the current Imac. Not quite good enough (video and main) memory (too true). However with all the good press the Imac mini is gettting it may be a while before we see these things "fixed". I just looked on Apples web site and the shipping time is up to 3-4 weeks meanwhile the new PowerBooks that were just announced have a shipping time of 1-3 days. Anyone remember what the Imac Mini's shipping time was a few weeks ago when it was anounced? I would like to see the hardware updated every six months or when Tiger is shipped but I wouldn't count on it. Well see what they do with the Imac here in a few months. I think that should give us a good idea where the Mini is going.

Bottom line. the Mini is "good enough" for most of what I and my family do. I suspect the same holds true for most people and I wouldn't expect it to do much more. Could it be better
@#$%$# YEAH (excuse my language) but don't hold your breath and I wouldn't let that stop you from buying one now.

J, February 2, 2005 12:07 AM:

I just used a 400mhz G3 with 256 mb ram running 10.3. It was fine. Expose' ran, as did firebird, etc. So you may be right about the memory being OK for basic users. I definitely agree that they need to keep some reason for you to buy their premium machines, so this one is never going to be as those.

BTW, I hadn't used a mac in a while, and 10.3 is pretty nice. There was some key you could press that sort of slid all the windows out of the way, like show desktop, but slicker. That and expose' would make working on a smaller screen feasible. The one thing that really bugs me about macs now is that the menus aren't in the windows. I hate the dumb menubar always on top (I know, I know, it wastes space to have it in every window...). The ability to close windows and still have the app running is disconcerting. I don't want to start an argument here with mac fanboys, but I think I'm entitled to be critical because I used macs exclusively until recently.

Here's another thing I was thinking about - I heard of a friend's parent being completely confused by double click (not getting that it doesn't mean the same as clicking twice). For all the talk about how a 1 button mouse is simpler, how the heck did double click get invented? There used to be this whole tutorial on the mac when you installed the OS about how to double click and stuff. Why didn't the original mouse designers just use left and right buttons instead of double click? :-)

J, February 3, 2005 09:18 AM:

Mac Mini overclock - save a few bucks, but deal with surface mount soldering. http://www.lbodnar.dsl.pipex.com/macmini/






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