Mac Mini switches to Intel

It wasn’t more than a year ago when I wrote in my OSCON bio:

Terry Chay is the only Mac user at Plaxo, where he develops the web-based version of their product (they tolerate him because he stinks at CounterStrike).

A few weeks ago, IT purchased a couple of Mac Minis to ramp up Mac support now that Plaxo Mac Beta has been leaked. QA has decided to make support for Safari on peer with Firefox and Microsoft Internet Explorer 6+ for Windows in all future bug listings. Plaxo has gotten serious about the Mac and it looks like that part of the bio is now very, very false—well, at least the part about sucking at CounterStrike is still true.

Well when I heard they ordered it, I said, “Why not just wait until March, April at the latest, and get Intel Mac Minis? They’ll come out just after the MacBook (iBook replacement) gets announced at the end of February.”

Looks like I was wrong. Apple introduced the Mac mini replacement using the Core Solo and Core Duo.

Ports on the back of the Mac Mini

Whither MacBook?

My first question is “Why not a Intel iBook?”—one would think the margins on a notebook would be bigger than on a Mac Mini which has nearly very similar parts. I guess the answer lies in that Apple must be deliberately waiting until sales of the MacBook Pro taper off. I would have thought that if they put only Core Solos in the iBooks, it would have been enough, but it would seem Apple must have figured that the Core Solo/Core Duo is not enough of a gap for the MacBook sales not eat into sales of the pro model.

Interesting.

Why have a duo?

I really like this thought. First, Apple has a welcome first by shipping the MacBook Pro on time and with faster than expected speeds. Now by including the Core Duo in the Mac mini (albeit at a more expensive price). I know many Mac users hate going to Intel, but I would have to say this is a fringe benefit of switching to Intel. Apple’s demand for CPUs is a drop in the bucket for Intel’s production. For the first time, we are no longer waiting for the processor to trickle down the line.

What about the pro desktop and servers?

I already covered this in an earlier article: Until dual-core/dual-cpu Pentiums are out (this means lower power dual-core Xeons) and all the pro apps are migrated to Universal apps (which is a big problem for legacy Carbon apps written in CodeWarrior like Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop), there will not be enough of a performance gain to justify the switching costs on this model.

Factor in some delay to stagnate the PowerPC line enough that the gap in quality is enough to impress and you are looking at a Q3 release for the “Mac Pro.”

A feature to hate

Mark pointed out that Mac mini graphics card is crap. I didn’t understand because the Mac mini has always had crappy graphics. But as Mark explained to me, integrated graphics in the new Mac mini hijacks some of your existing RAM and even though it is DDR2, it is still slower than dedicated DDR VRAM.

Shuttle X100

I guess that is why the Mac mini Graphics page dropped off the website.

If 3D games is a deal-killer, then you can always go with a Shuttle X100. But what about as an HDTV controller?

Some features to like

The first is Front Row and the remote is now bundled with the Mac mini. I wrote about hacking my Powerbook to support FrontRow here.

Next, according to this article the new integrated video does allow twice as much VRAM which means you can finally drive an HDTV with it. Also Apple has upgraded the audio ports to S/PDIF which means that you can now get digital sound in and out of it.

One thing not mentioned in the article is that they now build in Bluetooth (upgraded to v.2) and 802.11. The former is going to be important for peripherals like remotes and the latter for streaming audio—and soon, video (if you have ever tried to wirelessly stream audio and cable stream video to a remote TV/stereo, you know that sync issues make this unusable).

With DDR2 we have two RAM slots. Finally!

They upgraded the ethernet to gigabit and doubled the number of USB 2.0 ports.

I keep thinking back to my neverending quest to build ideal request processors I used to build. I guess I found a new porn star in the Core Duo Mac Mini (with some more RAM put in).

11 thoughts on “Mac Mini switches to Intel

  1. T.C.

    Are you saying that its not worth it to get the INTEL mini only right now? Or are you saying that its not worth it get the any INTEL based mac right now, due to the lack of software support.

    thanks
    matt

  2. For professional users who use apps that having been universalized yet, the G5 Powermac handedly beats the performance of anything but a Dual-core Xeon (or AMD Opteron, which Apple won’t use).

    Apple would see parity between a dual core-Xeon desktop + universal apps vs. Quad G5. But parity won’t sell and universal pro apps don’t exist yet (Adobe Photoshop, Office, Final Cut Studio, Aperture…). Therefore, don’t expect to see Apple introduce a Intel Mac pro desktop right now.

    I think the Intel mini is worth it. It is a lot more powerful than the G4 Mac mini for most applications the user is likely to do—compiling, iLife, browsing, mail, etc.

    Software support is only an issue if you use one of the above products as your primary product. Apple will be universalizing their pro apps this month (Aperture’s update will be free, the others will have a nominal cross grade price). Microsoft will probably release a universal Office later this year and Adobe will follow early next year. Note that other than Office, all those products aren’t made for a Mac mini, and it’s been years since Office’s performance is a factor.

    I hope this helps,

    terry

  3. Here is an Ars Technica review of the Mac Mini Core Solo saying pretty much the same things I guessed: integrated graphics is faster, $100 price hike, bundling of BT 2.0, WiFi and Front Row, the new positioning it as a media center.

    It mentions one thing I missed which is you lose the modem port.

    Another thing mentioned in passing in the article is that since the CPU is socketed the whole thing is CPU upgradeable. What a great catch because if you want to use this thing as request processor, you’ll want to overpower the CPU, don’t need a DVD burner and you’re going to buy your RAM and drive separately. Too bad Core Duo’s currently cost a small fortune to make this too expensive to be practical.

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