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Dear Steve Jobs: The Mac mini Is Crap

By Jeff Somogyi, dealnews Media Editor

This week, Apple updated its Mac mini desktop, and even the "low end" ($599!) model features the latest in Intel dual-core processor technology for snappy processing. It also measures 7.7" x 7.7" x 1.4", weighs 2.7 lbs., and includes an HDMI port for connecting to your TV with a single cable. The one, probably-necessary update they didn't give this 'lil computer? A reason to exist. Seriously, off the top of your head, tell us what this computer is for! Because Apple doesn't seem too concerned about making that clear.

I'm guessing you couldn't come up with anything, either. Well, here's a list of three things we think this computer was created to be, and why it actually falls short in every case.

A Desktop Replacement

With such a fast CPU, one might assume that the mini is mighty enough to tackle all but the most intensive tasks. And you're probably right — for now. The problem is, software will begin to bloat it. A Premier update here, an OS X update there and before you know it, your computer is starting to chug along. When you have a desktop, how do you handle this situation? You crack open the case and replace all or some of the following: CPU, RAM, video card, or hard drive. When you want to upgrade your Mac mini, you can conveniently crack open the case and ... replace just the RAM. If that wasn't your problem, well, then you're out of luck.

As an added bonus, this "desktop replacement" has dropped the optical drive completely. It uses a work-around that enables you to wirelessly sync your Mac mini to the DVD drive of another computer. So ... wait. What? In order to fully use this computer, you have to have another computer? Hilarious!

A Convenient Portable Computer

With the promo material proudly boasting its 2.7-lb. weight, you might think that Apple is positioning the mini as something portable. Maybe you're thinking this means you can throw it into your bag and head out the door, ready for at-a-moment's-notice computing.

But to us, it means having to lug around a useless tiny box until we can find a screen, keyboard, and mouse to connect it to. We say that portability is already covered sufficiently by a laptop, thanyouverymuch! OK, OK, a laptop is heavier, but being able to fire it up in a coffee shop outweighs the ... well, the weight. Want to use your less-than-three-pound "portable" desktop in Starbucks? You're going to have carry your way-more-than-three-pound LCD with you, too.

Oh, and since the cheapest mini is almost $600, we're pretty sure you can easily find a laptop for that price. Or, you know, 80 of them.

A Media Center

Apple's claim that it can "connect ... to your HDTV with a single HDMI cable" might lead you to believe that it's the best option for a home theater PC. Well, I do hate to keep banging the Price Drum, but it's a rather expensive way to get movies onto your television when there are $99 options available — including the highest-end Roku, and even Apple's own AppleTV!

Maybe what it comes down to is that even Apple doesn't seem to know who should be using this thing. By highlighting the features as they do, maybe they're hoping you'll be convinced it can successfully do everything. But when you think about it, it looks more like a jack of all trades, trying too hard to appeal to too many groups, without doing any one thing particularly well.

But I'm sure Apple could spin this to say that, since it can't be pigeon-holed, they've succeeded in creating a new category of computing!

Jeff Somogyi is the dealnews Media Editor. Please keep in mind that he is often asked to play Devil's Advocate ... but he still hates the Mac mini. Follow him on Twitter or read his blog.

DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Unless marked as a "Sponsored Deal," the opinions expressed here are those of the author and have not been reviewed or endorsed by the companies mentioned. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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I think by taking out the optical drive, they've done some damage to the viability of the Mac Mini to be a primary computer. I don't use discs much at all, but sometimes it's convenient to have for sure.

I already have multiple PCs, of course I already have keyboard/mouse/monitor. I wanted to write iPhone apps, but I'm a complete newb programmer -- non-Mac OS software isn't going to work well for me because there's less support and they've thrown all sorts of obstacles to this. I could (and did) put Mac OS on a spare PC, but it just became a pain to troubleshoot all the random problems caused by using VM or installing on generally incompatible hardware (sure it can work, but I wasted too much time trying to fix small problems). Is it stupid they won't make it simpler to write apps in Windows? Absolutely! But Hackint0sh solutions are more trouble than they're worth. Plus, Windows software for this isn't cheap while xcode is free.

So, as a cheap way to stable Mac OS ($650 with student discount) was the Mac Mini (previous gen), which saves me $300 vs any other Apple computer. Plus I wouldn't even want an iMac because I already have a nice monitor that I want to use with my other computer with a switch and it would just get in the way -- and resell value is crap. So I'd need either a Pro (expensive) or a laptop.

The machine is plenty strong to run anything I need it to even with the previous gen -- xcode, light Photoshop/GIMP, browser, media -- or all of these at one time. And it still works well for these tasks with an OS upgrade. Now what is a typical computer user even doing that this isn't strong enough? I'm not considering gaming it's certainly not ideal for that at the price point.
I have a Mac Mini (mid 2010) and used it for karaoke (just plug two usb microphones and use youtube to search for karaoke songs). This is also a great machine for surfing the web from the couch!
Wow, the kool-aid drinkers are out in force.  Apple fanboys just don't get the smug, elitist nature of what they are defending.  Apple has taken a hard line on who their clientele is, and it is certainly not working Americans. Why? No money to be made on the middle class.  So what do they do? They PRICE out 3/4 of the American populous with equipment that is on average 2 to 2.5x more expensive than average and SELL a false notion of universality and equanimity.  They market in a folksy "we're all in this together" manner, but the truth is that only the affluent need apply.  Case in point, the rather USELESS Mac Mini.  Somebody a few years ago must have really got up Jobs arse about not having any affordable equipment for the masses and this was his answer.  But its been a joke since day one.  Underpowered, barely upgradeable, and in the end, no bargain at all, since for the cost of one of these paperweights, you can have a fully featured PC or entry-level laptop.  Its table scraps for the peasants with no thought toward whether or not it makes any sense. The latest model finally has a competitive processor, but at the cost of an optical drive??  I mean who are the dirtbags who designs these things.  Contrary to the kool-aid crowds' comments, optical drives are still a mandatory feature of anyone's computer setup. say i can buy an external op drive for the Mini for just an extra $79??  Fuck you! Why am I paying extra for something that should be included in the base unit? Why, because at the end of the day, Jobs has stockholders that need to buy this years BMW 700, not last years.
This was a great article from a techie point of view. For
$599 I could buy a branded HTPC (Lenovo, Acer…), plus there will enough money
left to buy at least a cheaper 32” TV, which I could connect it with the HTPC
using a “single HDMI cable” too. :)

But what you are missing to address in your article is that
Apple has a perfectly covered its demographic niche of the mid-upper class and above. Apple’s
brand loyalty is amazing, which you can see from the comments on this article. “Cheap”
small footprint computer, which does not need to be upgraded (so a PC
needs to be upgraded, just because you have the option to do it?), et cetera.

To summarize, given the brand loyalty, Apple could have come
out with a $799 mark for the base model and it would not hurt their sales at all.
"With the Mac App Store, getting the apps you want on your Mac has never been easier. No more boxes, no more discs, no more time-consuming installation. Click once to download and install any app on your Mac. But if an app you need isn’t available from the Mac App Store, you can use DVD or CD Sharing. This convenient feature of OS X lets you wirelessly “borrow” the optical drive of a nearby Mac or PC. So you can install applications from a DVD or CD and have full access to an optical drive without having to carry one around."
-In other words... you better have a second MAC! haha
There are Blu-ray options if you really want to go that route.  Personally I will just stick with my dedicated Blue-ray player in my HT but if you insist on writing Blu-ray then this is the link for you: tp://]
I think you probably just have a limited imagination.

The Mac Mini has always been an entry level option aimed at those Windows (and old Mac) users that already have a keyboard, mouse, and monitor but want to go with the cheapest Mac possible.
 It came in handy for me when I was upgrading the computers at a business that had all old macs.  They didn't want to pay much, wanted to stay with the Mac, and get rid of there old G4 towers.  The keyboards, mice, and monitors could all be used off the old Macs.

For me, a Mac users from way back, I think the best use for it would be as part of my home theater.  Yes, there are less expensive options including the Apple TV but I personally find the Apple TV too limiting and having a full blown computer would be a much better option. Since it would be on my home network, I could easily burn to one of my other computers if I needed to.  I prefer an OSX machine over a Windows 7 machine any day.

As far as portability, I would not use it as a portable although if I needed to, it would be much easier to take around for presentations then a full blown desktop machine.  I have my laptop for that kind of thing though.
How dare you rattled the cages of all the Apple apologist, and fan-boys. You DO know that such articles stimulates the part of their brain that feels the need for justify spending to much, however specious that justification is.

Keep up the good work.
This "review" is a shining example of why should just stick to posting deals.
Jeff:  You've written a reasonable critique, but I think you've overbilled the requirements on your first use case.  You said that, "You crack open the case and replace all or some of the following: CPU, RAM, video card, or hard drive."  That's true for many PC users, but it doesn't characterize the thought process of most Mac users.  Sure, bumping up a Mac's RAM is common, and a smaller but significant segment of the market upgrades the HD too.  But the market for CPU and video card upgrades among Mac users ranges from small (Mac Pros) to virtually non-existent (iMacs).  Apple's argument to users with the Mac Mini is a simple one:  when you need more firepower, don't crack open the case.  Crack open your wallet and buy a new one.

You also dismissed an important use case as "hilarious":  households with multiple active computer users.  My parents, now around age 60, spend an increasing amount of time around the house.  If they were still competing for time at the same iMac, I think divorce papers might have been filed.  About a year ago, I passed down a 2008 MacBook Pro to my dad to keep the peace, and while it's borderline ridiculous to me that he's using a 15" laptop as a pure desktop replacement, it does serve the intended purpose.  I have many other friends who have a similar story.  The Mac Mini is a great second Mac for a household, and the only reason I hadn't pulled the trigger on one before now was that it seemed woefully underpowered given the price, even by Mac standards.  That's an argument I can't make anymore.  Is the hardware still weak for $700+, after you factor in a cheap 20" monitor?  Sure.  But that's been the story of the Mac for a long time, and the total cost premium is less with the Mini than it is with other products.
Dear Jeff Somogyi, Your Article Is Crap
1.  Casual, unobtrusive personal desktop computer (if you're a power user, invest in a Pro)
2.  Small server for personal websites/blogs
3.  Those who want Mac OSX without investing in the iMac screen
4.  Businesses looking for a Mac-based desktop

It's these kind of articles like on Yahoo, Byte, and sometimes even Engadget (post-AOL) that appeal to the extravagant and extreme to get more page views.  They're only meant to inflame and have no merit, analysis, or basis. A shame to see so many sites fall this way instead of real journalism.
Pardon the bad URL in my previous post:
"Crap" is not only inaccurate, it's unnecessarily inflammatory. The assertion that the new Mini is not upgradeable is also inaccurate: Ars Technica has a page linking to the iFixit site where the crew was impressed with both the relative ease of disassembling the new Mini and the fact that it has sufficient space inside to install a secondary hard drive. That would be a terrific RAID setup.

That being said, I will look elsewhere for a replacement for my 2006 Mini. I need an optical drive (as appealing as I find the $99 LaCie firewire external), and its omission forces users like me to either pay extra or go back to the days of SneakerNet. I should not have to wander from one computer to another just to read/write to media. Nor should a media read/write require a network connection. It may be quite acceptable for some folks but for me (at least until flash media is as ubiquitously inexpensive as optical disks) that's a ridiculously giant step backwards.
The Mac Mini was designed to be the gateway drug to the world of Mac. I have owned three of them. They are an inexpensive desktop system that performs well for most tasks - but yes - Aperture does push the limits of this little box. I buy them because I need a cheap computer that has current hardware, and can replace them every three years with minimal loss (Mac Minis hold their value surprisingly well). I can use my current display.

The problem computer is the mid-line one - it has dedicated graphics,more ram and a faster processor - but is it really worth the price difference?

The loss of optical drive makes sense due to Apple's App store. *EVERYTHING* Apple does now will be cloud based. This may be the last OS that Apple ships on any physical media.
There is a third party Blu-ray option:

For the hardware, any USB Blu-ray drive can be used.

Given the low cost of standalone Blu-ray players, however, I don't really see this as a big issue, however. I suspect most of those that would be playing back DVDs on a Mac Mini would be ripping them to a NAS, and thus only need an optical drive for the process, not for playback.
I own an older mini that is attached to my HT. It just works, plain and simple. I will upgrade soon.
Just because the updated Mac mini doesn't appeal to Jeff Somogyi does not mean it is a piece of crap. 

First of all, the machine's RAM can be replaced easily and its hard drive with only slightly more difficulty -- nothing outside the capabilities of the average user. (Check out the recent iFixit teardown for details). In fact, with an extra cable that you will undoubtedly be able to find from OWC and other Mac-centric retailers soon, you should be able to install a second hard drive where the optical drive used to sit. Also, if I'm not mistaken, the i5 chip is not soldered in. The only thing the machine lacks in expandability is PCI-E, but in many cases a USB peripheral will serve the same purpose, and for those cases when speed is paramount, Apple has introduced Thunderbolt (which may someday actually be useful).

Secondly, the mini is not really designed to be portable (although its size is a godsend if you actually do need to take it with you). Why the small size then? What's the advantage? ENERGY EFFICIENCY. Much of the expense of owning a computer comes from the cost of operating it, and the mini, with its laptop-inspired design, sips power compared to some of the power hungry, hot, and wasteful desktop computers on the market. Think of the cost over years of running the computer, especially if you use it in a place where you end up cooling the room -- it makes a huge difference in the total cost of ownership. Anandtech ran an article a few years back pegging the cost between an efficient system and non-efficient one between $75 and $250 a year, and that's on idle! The mini could easily bridge the cost gap with a PC tower if you keep it for 5 years or so.

As far as the optical drive, buy a $20-$30 external USB drive advertised on Dealnews. It's really not a big deal. The bottleneck on these things is the Disc read speed, so it's not like the fact its USB will be slowing you down. Maybe it was a little easy to drop the drive, but so many things are being distributed digitally these days that an optical drive won't be necessary for the average consumer in a few years.
I don't remember the last time I used my optical drive. With 20 mbps broadband speeds who uses optical drive these days. Also optical drive formats keep changing from CD, DVD, to Blu-ray. So it's better to have it as an external drive that could be connected as needed in case one needs it. As for upgrading PC components I have not replaced one in the last 6 yrs but for adding more memory and a new video card that too only because the previous one failed. So I think with core i5 and i7 options Mac mini would be an ideal compact choice. Also given that with these I could run both Mac OS and Windows now that they are on Intel. Comparing it to a laptop is not apples to apples. Should compare it to a PC desktop.
You totally missed the point of this.   This appeals on many levels.  I personally have not used a DVD player in over 3 years.  The excuse that things will slow down as you load more software on to it is more what PC users (myself included) are used to.  I love the fact that you put this anywhere.  On a desk for serious work, in front the TV when you want movie night, or even take it to the office with you when needed to plug into a second monitor.   The comparison to a laptop does not hold water because it is much more powerful and much cheaper and much smaller.  If you want a laptop buy a laptop.  If you want/need a full featured desktop get one.  If you want an ultra portable desktop and are willing to accept the sacrifices that go along with it, with the horsepower it comes with, this a fantastic alternative at a great price.  Much prefer this than the ion equivalents on the market.
Dan de Grandpre (DealNews)
Then the Mac mini costs $678, Just sayin'. That's a LOT of money for a desktop PC without monitor. 

Something the author didn't say: since there isn't any Blu-ray option, Apple or third-party, a Mac mini can't be used as a HTPC (unless you think it's OK for an HTPC to be incompatible with all new release movies in 1080p).
This is exactly what we've been looking to get and our next computer is going to be the mac mini. Optical hard drive.... I haven't used mine in years. I honestly can't remember the last time I used one. HD size. We have TB's worth of networked external storage in our house, so we don't want/need a large hard drive. BluRay is worthless. Apple realizes that digital downloads are the way to go.
It does make a nice desktop replacement, although since you need a monitor why not buy the Imac.  I also don't understand the loss of the optical drive.  Without that feature it does kind of suck.  It's plenty beefy for the average users needs, so I have to disagree with you on that part.  I also love that it's small and portable.

I would love to have one to use as a media center.  It has everything I need and it gives you the easiest way to stream internet video directly to the television ala hulu instead of hulu plus or //[/url.  The big problem, which you hit on, is the actual price.  I haven't been able to justify the price based on that need.
I will purchase a new mac mini as soon as I get some time, along with a MBA for the wife. Config would be the 2.7GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i7 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM - 2x2GB 750GB Serial ATA Drive @ 7200 rpm + 256GB Solid State Drive Apple MacBook Air SuperDrive Mac mini - AppleCare Protection Plan along with the OWC 8GB memory. About $1900 with tax (educ). This will take the place of my 2.26GHz 2009 Mini which is used as a media center. I would prefer the 2GHz quad core from the server, but you can't get the Radeon Video with it. This one should be fast enough for 1080p
The Mac mini is a fantastic low-cost, small-footprint computer for many applications. I use one at my business (I'm an independent Apple consultant & technician) as a general admin machine/server. Many people enjoy having a full-featured Mac integrated into their home entertainment setup (or even in their automobiles), and the mini is tailor-made for those folks. Think about having a Mac in the kitchen: you could mount a mini under a cabinet and have a fold-down display mounted underneath wherever you want. The applications are only limited by one's imagination.

As for the upgrade concerns, the only Mac that is user-upgradeable beyond RAM is the Mac Pro (although in portable Macs, the hard drive is also fairly easy to upgrade for the end user), so the mini isn't unique in that aspect.

I don't recommend the mini as the sole computer for one's needs, but as a extra/convenience Mac, or an inexpensive Mac to fill moderate needs, it really can't be beat.
Apple sells an external optical drive specifically for the Mac Mini and MacBook Air for $79. No need to access a second computer.  [/ur (The description only mentions the mac mini server, but the option to purchase this item comes up when configuring a new non-server mac mini through the apple store)
I agree about the modern concept that you should always use an expensive item to substitute for a cheaper one. Now you have to use your expensive large screen TV to replace a small inexpensive monitor. Great idea! Not only does it use more energy but means it will probably break sooner. Almost as dumb as those people that used the expensive PC to replace an inexpensive boom box to play CDs.

And don't forget you have to buy it from the company that has replaced IBM in those old ads about corporate big brother. You know, the one that makes its Chinese junk by the same sad suicide-seeking employees as Dell and HP.
I totally agree with xmitman.  The thing people don't understand is that macs last longer and have a longer usage life then any PC I've ever owned.  I had PC's for years and had to replace them and their components constantly.  The Mac that I currently own has lasted me years over what any pc would and I haven't upgraded anything.  If you want a machine that just works buy a mac.  If you want to pay less money and own a machine that will need constant fiddling and a pc.
Actually, I was planning on using it as a desktop, with my wife's iMac to use for an optical drive. I would then grab it from the office, and take it to the living room when I want to watch sports on ESPN 3 (I've gone all internet for tv), or if I want to watch something on normal hulu.

I could also see this computer as an excellent choice for retired 'snowbirds' who can leave a keyboard, mouse, and monitor at each house, and just travel with the mac mini.
It's great that Apple has a more affordable option for people who want a mac, but don't want to spend a ton of cash, and don't need to do anything too complicated on their computer.
Unfortunately what you do not understand is that 95% of computer owners never open their computer, ever. They don't even upgrade ram. How it comes out of the box is how they use it. Since you work at a web site that promotes the sale of computer components I would say you don't understand who the average person who buys a computer is. Apple does and they sell millions of them.
Totally agree!  Like an idiot I actually was waiting for over a year for them to upgrade this thing to a better processor so I could use it as my desktop along with my 40-inch LED TV/Monitor.  Now that they've finally put a decent chip in, they take the optical drive out? WTF?!? Without an optical drive this thing is a $500 paperweight!  I guess I am going to have to go with a Dell again, since everything else by Apple is a like a grand.