Tools Of The Trade: The Apple Mac Mini

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The Independent Online

Apple's Macintosh computers have just a small percentage of the total market for PCs: analysts put their share at under 5 per cent. But the company dominates the market for portable music players, with its iPod.

Apple's Macintosh computers have just a small percentage of the total market for PCs: analysts put their share at under 5 per cent. But the company dominates the market for portable music players, with its iPod.

The Mac Mini, newly launched, is Apple's attempt to capture some of the interest generated by the iPod and use that to drive computer sales. The com- pany also hopes to recapture some of the excitement that followed the launch of the original iMac. Subsequent iMacs have been excellent, but their relatively high price limits their appeal.

The Mac Mini tackles the price issue head-on. For £339 (including VAT), Apple offers buyers a neat, two-inch-tall box, not much larger than a CD. This comes equipped with a 40GB hard drive, a 1.25Ghz G4 processor and 256MB memory on the basic model.

This is not a specification to set the pulse racing, but Apple is sticking to tried and tested technology with the aim of making a reliable, low-cost computer. Costs are pared back further by selling the Mini without a keyboard, mouse or monitor. Buyers simply add their own, with Apple expecting ex-Windows users, who already own a PC monitor, to account for a sizeable percentage of sales.

The appeal of the Mini, though, lies in Apple's design and engineering know-how as well as its software. It has a slot-loading rather than tray-loading CD rewriter, for example, making for a very tidy facade. And putting the power supply in a laptop-style brick reduces the need for cooling in the Mini. Apple appears to have designed the unit with the living room in mind as much as the office.

The included software, though, is what really counts. The machine comes with Mac OS 10.3 and the iLife 05 suite of multimedia applications. For Mac users, buying a Mini might well be better value than upgrading their current machines; the software, on its own, would cost £160. And for the home user, the iLife software is quite special, with the Garageband music package standing out for its features and ease of use.

For work purposes, the Mini runs the Mac version of the Microsoft Office suite perfectly well, although the basic version will struggle with more demanding applications such as digital video. Businesses, though, might want to look at the Mac Mini because Apple's operating system is based on Unix, with all the security advantages that entails. Macs are also easy to use and less vulnerable to viruses than Windows PCs.

For some applications, such as accessing corporate information over the internet, the Mac Mini is cheap and effective. Home users picking it as their main machine will want to spend more. Apple's review units all came with 512MB memory, which really helps, and Bluetooth keyboards and mice, which are a delight to use. But to use them, you have to order the Mac Mini from Apple's own store, as there is no way to add an internal Bluetooth module later.

Buyers seeking a complete system, rather than buying a Mini to replace an existing computer, should shop around; several Mac dealers are bund- ling the Mini with a flat screen, mouse and keyboard at an attractive price.

THE VERDICT

Pros: design, price.

Cons: the basic model is quite basic; a full system will cost more.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Price: from £339.

Contact: www.apple.com/uk

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