January 12, 2005 1:58 PM PST
Mac Mini a maxi deal? Depends what you want
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or stereo speakers. An upgraded version with an 80GB drive and a 1.42GHz processor sells for $599.
This puts the two Mac Minis' price tags at about $100 to $150 more than those of similar PCs. Right now, an HP Compaq Presario with an Intel Celeron or AMD Sempron--configured to match the Mini's 256MB of RAM, 40GB hard drive and combination CD-burner-DVD-ROM drive--sells for $399 or $389, after a $50 rebate, via the company's HPshopping Web site.
Gateway, meanwhile, offers a $499 (after rebate) desktop with a competitive configuration to the $599 Mac Mini, but it also comes with a 17-inch monitor, a keyboard and mouse.
When upgrading the Mini, its price gap with the PC widens.
The $499, 1.25GHz Mini, when given 512MB of RAM, an 80GB hard drive and a DVD-burning SuperDrive, as well as a keyboard and mouse, comes to $782. The $599 Mini, when receiving the same RAM, SuperDrive and peripheral upgrades (it already comes with an 80GB drive), lists for $832.
In one example of a similarly outfitted Windows PC, an HP Compaq Presario SR1000Z with an AMD Sempron 3000+, 512MB of RAM, an 80GB drive and a DVD burner comes to $519, before a $50 rebate, according to HPShopping.com. Upgrading the Presario to an Athlon XP 3200+ processor adds $30, bringing the price to $549 before the discount, while adding an Nvidia GeForce FX 5100 graphics card bumps it up another $70 to $619, before the rebate. Similar Intel processor systems from HP and other brand names such as Dell and Gateway were within about $50 of the Presario, before rebates.
When upgraded, the Mac Mini also begins to brush up against budget wireless notebooks.
Apple will likely argue that many Mini buyers already have keyboards and extra monitors on hand. But for those customers looking for a complete package, PCs from companies such as HP also have the advantage of being available in bundles with monitors.
Both Baker and Kay believe that leaving out the input devices could work in the company's favor, or at least not hurt it, because many buyers will be picking up the unit as a second, third or fourth PC. It also comes with Apple software, which often receives raves from people who use it. Apple software and machines have also been far less susceptible to viruses, noted Glaskowsky.
"A lot of PC users who are tired of giving tech support to friends and family members will simply have them go out and get an Apple Mini. At the same time, those who have never used OS X but are intrigued by it are finding that the barrier to entry--cost--has been lifted," wrote Anand Shimpi, editor-in-chief of AnandTech, an online review and benchmarking site.
Apple advocates will also probably argue that the Power processor at the heart of the unit is better than the chips from Intel and AMD. This is a tough argument. First, few benchmarks allow for comparing Power chips to x86 chips, said Kevin Krewell, editor-in-chief of the Microprocessor Report. Second, bargain consumers won't care.
"If I were to ballpark a comparison between the G4 1.25 and an x86 chip, I'd say that it would be slower than any of the midrange x86 CPUs used today (Athlon 64 3000+, Pentium 4 2.8GHz), but it would be competitive with the low-end Celerons," Shimpi wrote. "It's quite tough to draw a direct comparison between the G4 and the current generation x86 architectures. That being said, I'd say it would be competitive with anything found in similarly priced Dell systems."
In the end, the success or failure of the product may not be judged by actual sales. The Mac Mini's main appeal for Apple may turn out to be its use as bait to lure people into Apple stores. Sales reps will then try to upsell them to other models, speculated Kay.
"Overall, retail purchasers should respond to the Mac Mini, flaws and all," Tom King, a technology analyst, wrote in an e-mail. "This should allow fine-tuning of this new product line. It could also open the door to nice 'iPod Mini + Mac Mini' marketing and sales opportunities, especially with the large discounters like Target, Kmart, Wal-Mart and others."
At least one analyst said it may encourage switching.
"We believe the Mac Mini will increase the percentage of iPod-toting Windows users who purchase a Mac by almost threefold," said Charles Wolf, an analyst at Needham and Co.
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