Saturday, January 22, 2005

The New iMac G5 and the Mac Mini



Walter Mossberg, who covers personal technology for the WSJ is probably the most influential tech journalist in America today. On Wed, he wrote that he has been receiving emails from his readers asking if they should switch from Windows to the Mac and he feels that this is now an attractive and affordable option. He claims this is the best personal computer he has every worked on, the price point is right, and the security is excellent. No viruses or adware. See one of his articles below. He has been saying this for a while and prompted my switch.


http://ptech.wsj.com/ptech.html

Jan 20, 2005

With New Mac Mini, Apple Makes Switching Attractive, Affordable
By WALTER S. MOSSBERG


If my e-mail from readers is any indication, more Windows users are thinking of switching to Apple Computer's Macintosh models than at any time in a decade. A significant minority of Windows users are so fed up with battling viruses and spyware, or so impressed with Apple's iPod music players, that they are seriously tempted to jump to the Mac.
But some are put off by Apple's prices. The widely praised iMac G5 starts at $1,299. And the lowest-priced Mac, the eMac model, is $799. When you compare them with truly comparable Windows machines, their prices are competitive. But they look very high compared with the cheapest Windows machines, which are under $500.

So, this weekend, Apple will start selling its lowest-priced Mac ever, a tiny but full-featured desktop computer called the Mac mini, priced at just $499. But there is a catch. The mini doesn't include a monitor, keyboard or mouse. Apple says it was designed to work with the monitors, keyboards and mice from Windows PCs that it assumes switchers already own.
I've been testing the Mac mini under just that scenario for several days, and it does indeed work, quite well. I connected a mini to a Dell flat-panel screen and a Hewlett-Packard keyboard and mouse, all about three years old. The little Mac fired up and worked perfectly at every task I threw at it.

The mini comes with Apple's older G4 processor, which in some ways beats the Celeron processors used in low-end Windows PCs. It has 256 megabytes of memory; a 40-gigabyte hard disk; a video card with 32 megabytes of video memory; an Ethernet networking port; and a DVD drive that can also burn CDs. It also comes with Apple's superb suite of multimedia programs, called iLife.
In addition, the mini comes with Apple's latest operating system, called Panther, which has so far never been attacked by a successful virus and has been plagued with little or no known spyware.

All of this is packed into one of the tiniest cases I've ever seen on a desktop computer. The Mac mini is just 6.5 inches square and 2 inches high.
Before going into the details of my mini tests, let's talk about price. Even at $499, the mini isn't as cheap as the cheapest Windows PC. Dell is selling a model for $399, including a 17-inch monitor, keyboard and mouse.

The Dell has less usable memory than the mini, and it can't burn CDs. It also has only a 90-day warranty, instead of the mini's one-year warranty. But you can add CD burning, a one-year warranty and extra memory for $115, or a total of $514.
Second, for many switchers, the mini will cost more than its $499 base price. I recommend doubling the memory to 512 megabytes, which adds $75 (I suggest doing the same thing with a Windows PC). And because the mini has only two USB ports, which will be filled by a Windows keyboard and mouse, I recommend buying something called a USB hub, which adds extra ports so you can plug in a printer or other USB gear. Such a hub costs about $20, so that brings the minimum cost for a mini to $594.
I also suggest adding stereo speakers to the mini, in place of its small internal speaker. You can use the speakers from your existing Windows PC, but if you need to buy them, they cost about $30. That would bring the price to $624.

For some switchers, the costs won't end there. If your old Windows PC is a laptop, or if you want to keep it intact, or if its keyboard and mouse are an older type that doesn't use USB connectors, you may need to buy a monitor, keyboard and mouse for your mini.
A low-end TV-type 17-inch monitor runs about $160, and a USB keyboard and mouse can be found for about $29. These three items add about $189 to the cost, bringing our notional mini setup to $813.

In my tests, the mini did very well. I plugged it into my cable modem, and within minutes I was on the Web and sending and receiving e-mail.
I copied hundreds of songs, hundreds of pictures and dozens of Microsoft Word and Adobe PDF documents to the mini from my Windows PC. The mini's built-in programs played the music and displayed the photos and PDF files swiftly and perfectly. I burned CDs and played DVDs with no problems.

The Word documents also opened perfectly in the mini's rudimentary built-in word processor. However, if you are going to use a lot of Microsoft Office documents on the mini, or any Mac, I recommend getting Microsoft Office for the Mac, which can be bought for as little as $150. I tried Office on the mini, and it ran fine.

There were a few downsides. The mini is generally quiet, but its combination DVD player/CD burner makes a lot of noise. You can't place anything on top of the mini or the DVD drive could jam. And, with a Windows keyboard, some Apple keyboard features aren't available, such as volume and brightness controls.


Overall, the Mac mini is a good choice for Windows users on a budget who are tempted to switch. It's not a technological breakthrough, but it may just be one of Apple's smartest business moves.
Write to Walter S. Mossberg at mossberg@wsj.com



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