I’ve been giving some thought toward the question that many people have been asking about the Mac mini in regards to being used with PixelCorps training. Those questions can be summed up as:

“It kinda doesn’t seem like a good deal once you add the RAM!?”
“and compared to a windows machine!!”
“Is it fast enough?”
“Isn’t the video card wimpy?”
“It can only hold a gig for RAM!”
“The 2.5 inch hard drive is too slow to work with video.”
“Can the Mac mini run insert_app_here?”

“It kinda doesn’t seem like a good deal once you add the RAM!?”
I guess I want to start off with a thought about that wants to compare this Mac to a G5 cheese grater. The mini compared to the G5 is a bad way to look at things. You’re asking to compare two different things, doing different missions, appealing to two different market segments. You can get 5 Mac minis for the cost of 1 G5. Add another for the X800 card you’ll want. And another for the 4 gig of RAM you’ll put into it. That’s, count them, 7 Mac minis for cost of a well stocked G5 2G Dual. Whoa… or 23 or 35 iPod shuffles… which is just silly.

So instead I want to compare the 1.4 mini to my old Powerbook which I purchased used last year for $1500. It has 512M of RAM and paltry 30 gig hard drive. The mini specs out at nearly 3x the speed of my 667. Even if I add a gig of RAM its half of what I paid for the Powerbook!

“and compared to a windows machine!!”
I’ve had the fortune of making a fortune during the last 3 weeks using a Dell running XP. After using OS X for so many years XP feels really old a clunky to me. Simple things like making a screen shot haven’t changed in Windows since 3.0. Actually it hasn’t change on a Mac since it’s 1984 debut. Command-shit-3 (or 4) and it writes a file to the disk. Compared to the 10 step process on Windows. If it’s any consolation XP does come with a basic paint program while a Mac does not. Why is that?? Actually, I looked. It does have a basic paint program which is part of AppleWorks.

“Is it fast enough?”
I look back on all the work that I’ve done on lessor machines so I cringe when I hear that question. I’ll spare you the list of 14 years of projects. And just tell you, yes it’s fast enough. Put more memory in and it’s faster. Look at it this way — 1.4 Gigahertz processor, we’re surf’n the web fast now. 90% of a processor is wasted waiting for you to type the next letter on your keyboard.

“Isn’t the video card wimpy?”
No. Yea, it’s not an X800 or a GT6800. It will work fine with all your every day apps. Photoshop, Illustrator and all the other artist tools work just fine. Bigger apps like Modo and Motion will still work with it. The issue will be with Motion not running in realtime with lotsa video running on it. Which all I have to say, whatever. We’ve been making motion graphics without REAL TIME since After Effects was 1.0 running on a Quadra 700 (25mhz) or Quadra 950 (33 mhz). Talk about slow. Besides. By the time you start to notice that the video card is slow, the Rev 2 mini will be out ready for you to upgrade or you’ll move into a G5 Dual.

Doom3 will likely not play nice. But who has time to play games?

“It can only hold a gig for RAM!”
Cry me a river. A gig of RAM is a lot of RAM. There’s some 3 year old videos showing Alex and myself doing demos on G3 Powerbooks. Alex had a Lombard and mine was a Wallstreet. I’m pretty sure we were doing those Mac’s had just 192m of RAM. Long after Alex got his TiBook I was using that Wallstreet.

“The 2.5 inch hard drive is too slow to work with video.”
If your planning on uncompressed film rez, it is. But for DV-NTSC it’s plenty fast. The idea that disk performance measured in RPMs and Head Seek and relating that back to video is a left over from 10 years ago. Ten years ago all that mattered because bus speeds could only handle 5 Meg a second (or 10 if you got SCSI2 or SCSI-wide). DV-NTSC is 3.7 meg a second. Which would flat out crush older systems. If you look at xBench stats you’ll see it zipping along at 15-20 meg a second. Fast enough for DV by a lot.

There have been three articles claiming that you can get better mini performance be swapping the 4500 RPM drive with an bigger faster drive. I’ve looked at all these benchmarks which show we’re talking about seconds of difference in copying a 20 meg file or booting a system. I don’t think anyone buying a Mac mini should be all that concerned about seconds of difference.

“Can the Mac mini run insert_app_here?”
I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Alex run just about every app there is to run on his Powerbook…. There the blames on him not me.

Conclusion
The Mac mini is just the beginning of this kind of Mac. Think of this as the “throw away” or “the rental transition” Mac. If you bought one, used it until you hit a wall, then sold it, you’d only be out of pocket about a hundred bucks. Or you could “hand me down” it to someone else who’s sick-n-tired of virus compatibility. Or use it as a media player. The list goes on. It’s likely to be Apples most versatile mac given it’s price.

If you have older Mac’s that you’ve been hanging onto because a G5 was just a little too much for you, consider the Mac mini as a replacement machine. Comparatively your old Mac chugs, wheezes and snores along in it’s tasks. I’m taking about any single processor 1 gigahertz or slower. Posdef retire anything 500 megahertz or slower. Sell it and replace it with a mini. For a DP Mac anything slower than 800mhz will get it’s ass kicked by the Mac mini. Even if you upgrade the RAM and the video card it’ll still be slow. It should be, it’s as many as 5 years newer.

I think it’s interesting how it’s help reset the way high prices of used Macs in the market. These Macs are generally sold for nearly what they cost. A 5 year old dual 500 should not cost $800.