Apple not only refreshed the MacBook Air and shipped Lion today, but also released a refreshed Mac Mini. You shouldn’t bother though because, when you add in all the extras needed to make this a fully functional machine, you might as well get a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro.
Mac Mini Specs
The Mac Mini is a tiny system with a Sandy Bridge processor and 500 GB of hard drive space. The drive spins at only 5400 rpm making it much slower than an SSD. At the low end you only get only 2GB of RAM, which is just not enough. Sure a Mac runs on less memory than a Windows machine, but most of the advanced software people use for entertainment and content creation cry out for 3-4GB of RAM these days. Unless you only surf the web and write reports in Word or Pages, 4GB is a must if you want to be satisfied.
What you don’t get with a $599 Mac Mini is a SuperDrive. Apple left it out of the new Mini, since Apple is killing off the optical disk. That’s not a problem for most people. The MacBook Air doesn’t have one either. If you think you will need one, then add $79 for the Apple SuperDrive.
The Mac comes sans the Magic Mouse that iMacs include, nor does it even have a keyboard. The combo of the two jacks up the price another $98, unless you get something cheaper elsewhere. The one thing you use most on a computer is the keyboard, mouse and display. You don’t want to go cheap for these peripherals. Trust me; I’ve tested mice and keyboards that cost less than $50 and they diminish your computing enjoyment exponentially. I recommend forgoing the Magic Mouse for a better mouse like my favorite Bluetooth mouse, the Razer Orochi, at $80.
If you plan to actually see what you are working on, then you need a monitor too. Apple hopes you will blow $999 on their beautiful new 27″ Thunderbolt Display. You can find a cheap display for less than a fifth of that price or a really great one for a third, so add at least another $150 to $300.
With a mouse, keyboard and an inexpensive display the Mac Mini will really cost $599+$49+$49+about $150 for the computer, mouse, keyboard and cheap LCD. That brings you to a total closer to $850. With a display as good as the those on the MacBooks, the cost will be higher. For another $150 you will get most of what you need in a beautiful new 11.6″ MacBook Air that you can take anywhere. Add $100 for 4GB of RAM and you will be happier with your MacBook Air than you would with the Mini because the Air will be faster. An SSD stomps all over the slow 5400 rpm hard drive Apple puts in the Mini.
Dealing with Storage Limitations
If the Air’s SSD fills up quickly, you can get an inexpensive external hard drive for under $100 later on when you run out of space. Apple’s new iCloud might make external storage unnecessary, though. If iCloud fails to measure up, other online options like SugarSync, DropBox and Box.net should provide enough for documents.
If these storage options seem too complicated or limited, get a MacBook Air with a bigger SSD or a MacBook Pro for just a few hundred dollars more. The price is now getting closer to double that of the base price on the Mini, but it is only a few hundred more than the Mini with all the extras needed.
Sure a Mac Mini is a good option for someone who wants to plug a computer into their HDTV. If you already have a display, mouse and keyboard and don’t mind the slower hard drive, it is not a bad deal. Our own editor Josh Smith says he’s likely going to get one.
I think most people prefer the portability of a notebook and this doesn’t have it. I suggest you steer clear of the Mac Mini and wait till you can save up for the MacBook Air or a low-end MacBook Pro.