The Mac Mini^h^h^h^h Maybe

January 15, 2005

Apple came out with the Mac Mini on Tuesday.  I’ve been busier than hell this week, so I haven’t had time to do much more than go out to, read the features, and oooh and aaah about the packaging.  It’s another brilliantly packaged piece of Apple techno-pr0n, of course.  I completely missed the stupidity angle, at first blush.

An old friend of mine has been e-mailing me for a day or two about it.  He’s kind of caught the bug, and since I’m the kind of person who thinks that everybody’s life would be enriched to a substantial degree by spending more time on OS X and less on XP, I’ve been offering some advice.

His first e-mail was about the price—he ran it through the configurator, and blanched a bit when he found out what the cost was with a reasonable amount of RAM.  I told him that that was no real surprise, since Apple has been charging insane+10% for RAM for awhile now; just buy it with the base amount, and get decent RAM from a vendor later (I’ve had great luck with Crucial for PowerBook RAM, at typically less than half Apple’s price). 

I also told him he might as well buy it with the airport card and the bluetooth, since airport cards are basically never discounted and Apple typically doesn’t sell internal bluetooth unless you order a custom configured unit (which is stupid, but there you have it.)

Tonight I finally came up for air for a few minutes, and caught up on just a wee bit of commentary on the keynote and the mini, and now I’ve got to tell him to put on the brakes.  This is starting to smell like another example of a great Apple product crapped up by a little excess Apple greed.

Problem number one, with a bullet.  This thing is supposedly designed with “no user serviceable parts inside.” In other words, you can’t even add your own memory or airport card—it has to go to a service center to have it done, no doubt with “genuine Apple parts”. 

You can’t tell me it was harder to package this so a user can install RAM and an airport card than it is to package a PowerBook or iBook so that they can do so, and Apple notebook users have been doing both for a long time.  This certainly reads like “we’ll get them in cheap, but we’ll stick it to them on the RAM.” (Never mind the Airport, we’re used to getting stuck there)

This kind of horseshit is a major problem with Apple products all around.  I know someone who would have bought a 12” G4 iBook two damn months ago if it wasn’t for the fact that the base configuration comes with an absurdly small drive, and if you want a larger one, you have to buy a “custom” one from Apple direct—and pay sales tax, and not get the $100 rebate that you can get from Amazon on the same unit—which amounts to about a $185 penalty if you want a machine that can actually do some work. 

Changing drives yourself in the current models of iBook or PowerBook isn’t an option for most users (or any who want to retain their warranty).  So, instead of making a bit of extra profit, that’s an iBook they just haven’t sold.  And there’s no reason except for a bit of greed on their part.

This looks like more of the same.  There are people who I’d be fine recommending that 256 meg base unit to (my eldest’s buddy, who basically needs a machine to run iTunes on to load his iPod, for instance.) My buddy who e-mailed me isn’t one of them.  Sure, it’ll run, but if you want to do more than one thing at a time, the experience is far better with 512meg – 1gig or more, just like any other modern computer.  If you have to have genuine Apple people add specially blessed and marked up genuine Apple RAM, you might as well not buy the damn thing. 

Either spring for an iMac G5 (which defeats the purpose of a headless unit—he wanted to stick it on a KVM, as I do mine, and my kid does his, etc.), or better yet, go buy a used 1GHz or so G4 PowerMac.  You can probably buy one cheaper than you could buy this thing fully loaded with Apple-installed options, and you can stuff drives and RAM in it to your heart’s content.  It won’t be small and cute and cuddly and quiet, but you won’t wince as bad when you sit down on your overly thin billfold, either. 

My guess is that when all’s said and done, he just won’t be buying a Mac at all.

Why is it that Apple can’t introduce something like this without shooting it in the foot on the way out the door?  Sheesh.


Update—Apparently “once you get the case open” it’s easy to replace the RAM.  This picture would seem to bear that out.

Also this, from Macintouch:

“Apple “does not recommend” that users upgrade the memory themselves — you’re supposed to have a service provider do it if you want to add more after purchase — but doing it yourself does not void the warranty unless you damage something. A booth person told me the memory slot is easily accessible once you get the case open.”

If this is official Apple policy (that it does not void the warranty), then that removes most of my concerns. 

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8 Responses to “The Mac Mini^h^h^h^h Maybe”

  1. Robert Boylin on January 15th, 2005 11:27 am

    Unfortunately, a lack of information has caused many, like you, to come to mistaken conclusions.  The Mac Mini can be user serviced without voiding the warrantee!  The methods required will likely appear on the web shortly after the unit ships.  A German website has photos of the insides after dissassembly.  Remember the iPod battery replacement issue?  It went away shortly after the complaints and work-arounds appeared on the web.

  2. Chuck Lawson on January 16th, 2005 1:00 pm

    Hi Robert;

    I hope you’re correct—in fact, that’s the main reason why I consider it the “Mac Maybe” at the moment—I’ve been waiting to see what we find out when people start taking the thing apart.

    Unfortunately, it also needs some sort of official statement from Apple.  If they take the tack of letting people think that adding RAM is going to void a warranty (or worse, AppleCare), then it’s still going to be a problem.

    Awhile back, I was talking to AppleCare about something unrelated, and happened to ask them about the 5400 and 7200 RPM drive PowerBook upgrades that some vendors are offering—whether having that done would void my AppleCare on the rest of the PowerBook.  I was told no, but I was also told I wouldn’t find that in writing anywhere. Which makes me nervous that if I had a problem somewhere else in the machine, I’d stand a chance of getting it booted back from AppleCare telling me that the problem was caused by excessive heat or current draw from the drive, and they wouldn’t cover it.

    That kind of thing (and the fact that those kind of responses don’t seem to be unheard of from AppleCare) tends to have a bit of a chilling effect.

    But in any event, if you can open the cover and put in RAM without violating the warranty, that’d cure most of my reservations about recommending it, at least to certain types of users.

    In fact, it might be interesting to get one to take apart and just see how far one can go with it… I assume the stock drive is probably a 2.5” notebook drive? 

    Hmmmm—do you have the url for that German website by any chance?

  3. Xain'd Sleena on January 16th, 2005 7:47 pm

    Boo Hooo, you can’t find and put in your own wifi card…

    …have you seen how big(small) that thing is, get real!

  4. Chuck Lawson on January 17th, 2005 9:47 pm

    Did you read the article, or just look at the pictures?

  5. JazzCrazed on January 22nd, 2005 2:03 am

    Count me in as one of those XP users considering adding the Mac Mini into a KVM-switched arrangement with my XP/Linux box. I’m not too discouraged by overpriced under-the-hood options such as bluetooth and Airport. Cannot USB peripherals fill their expensive shoes? And yes, getting an upgrade to 1GB of Apple’s RAM (which I doubt uses chips made by Apple) at $425 is just plumb stupid… But you can use any standard DDR SDRAM stick that meets Apple’s specifications (which aren’t as discriminate as you might think).

    My enthusiasm for the Mini has dwindled somewhat – not since seeing the cost of Apple’s RAM or other upgrades, but since I discovered just how expensive KVM switches are. I use an LCD flat panel with DVI input, and DVI switches are upwards of $200 or more. Not as ridiculously priced as the $425 1GB Mac Mini RAM upgrade, but enough for me to consider simply buying a separate 17” panel, instead.

    And yes, the Mini uses a 2.5″ 4200 RPM notebook hard drive. I’d also be interested how far the Mini can be taken, considering how alive and well the Cube community is.

  6. Chuck Lawson on January 22nd, 2005 12:11 pm

    Now that it appears that Apple isn’t going to make warranty noises about adding your own RAM, I’ve got a lot less problem with the mini—in fact, I expect that a number of friends who have been “on the fence” about trying a Mac will end up getting one in the next month or two.

    As far as the rest of the options go, really you’re better off getting the Airport Extreme card (and if they install it for free, let ‘em)—it’s tightly integrated in OS X, and other wi-fi solutions will just give you grief.  If you have any use (or expect to have any use) for bluetooth, you’d probably best do that also—so far, the only way to get internal bluetooth in any Mac has been to buy the machine built with it; they don’t make it a user installable option, and dealing with dongles is just a pain in the butt…

    DVI KVMs are a hot topic around here—before you spend a nickle, I’d suggest looking at all of the comments on

    — the upshot is that a number of us have the Belkin USB/DVI KVM, and I’m one of the few that doesn’t have a ton of problems (I just have about a quarter-ton).  I use mine to do essentially just what you’re suggesting, switching between an XP box and a Powerbook with DVI.

    There are a couple of alternatives to the Belkin product that have been mentioned in that thread recently, but you’re still looking at close to $200 for even the least expensive.

    On the other hand, my youngest just started switching betwen an iBook and his XP box, and he’s using a $20 USB/VGA KVM that works fine.  I like DVI, but given the problems with the current DVI KVMs, if I were to do it over I’d seriously consider saving $160+ and a lot of grief and just going VGA.

    All of that aside, you may want to consider the option of just dropping both boxes on the network, and using your XP box through Microsoft’s remote console utility.  They have a functional Mac client, and I use it to manage a number of Win2K boxes (and increasingly, my XP desktop).

    Good luck with trying a mini!  I’ll give you the same advice I’ve given my friends who have switched, and that’s force yourself to use it for 30 days—resist the urge to go back to the XP box for this or that, and take the time to figure out how to do what you want to do on the Mac instead (including acquiring any software you need).

    If you do this determinedly for 30 days, then you at least insure that you’ve given OS X a fair chance, and have not just gone down the path of least resistance.  After 30 days, use whatever machine you’d prefer for a given task—I think you’ll be surprised just how often it’s the Mac…

    – Chuck

  7. JazzCrazed on January 22nd, 2005 1:34 pm

    I’ve had tons of favorable experience with Panther at work, and love it. But I haven’t been willing to shell out much cash just to use OSX – until, that is, the Mini was announced at a price that undercuts Apple’s other machines.

    I don’t think I’ll switch completely over, but the Mac will make a fine complement to the other OS’s hanging around my desk.

    As for the KVM… Your review and the subsequent comments on the Omniview was one of the first texts I read on the subject, and it developed my reluctance on the matter. However, I’m even more reluctant to go the RGB route. I’m using an Nvidia 6600 GT which is DVI, only (two of them, in fact, to take advantage of Nview), and something about running from two sources with DVI into a monitor with DVI input using analog cables – through a switch, at that – doesn’t rub me the right way. Though you are right… they are extremely affordable, considering. OK – I guess I’ll get an RGB KVM for now and if I’m still unsatisfied in a week or two I’ll scrounge up and splurge on a DVI one. Maybe they have one that has a DVI input, but outputs RGB? Nah…probably too hopeful there.

    Also, what’s the success of using PS/2 input devices with USB adapters into Macs – through a switch, at that?

  8. JazzCrazed on January 22nd, 2005 2:16 pm

    Well, I just bit the bullet at bought one. Plus Applecare and taxes, came out to just over $600 for the 1.25GHz stock system. Not bad… but I was a little disappointed to hear I couldn’t pick it up at the store in Manhattan. Ah well, I should have known it would be sold out there

    Anyway, after all that, I’m definitely getting the RGB switch instead of DVI! Thanks for your comments and articles!

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