Mac’s new Mini a power to behold

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Apple Computer’s Mac Mini is not only a great little machine, it could well be the next big thing, and not just for Mac fanatics.

Journalist Leander Kahney wrote a book and a blog on Mac and now has a sequel volume on the IPod. All this is devoted to people who are devoted to their Macs and IPods. The length to which some owners will go is amazing.

For a good while, the Mac Cube was the leading model among Mac users; cute, originally styled and fun to modify and play with, the Cube is a great item. But Apple isn’t selling Cubes anymore, although finding one on EBay isn’t difficult.

The Mac Mini is today’s Cube, and then some: Its Intel Core Duo processors run at frequencies of 1.5 and 1.66 GHz, versus the 450 MHz PowerPC chips found in the Cube.

There’s no comparison in performance: The new Mac Minis are roughly four times faster than the old Mac Mini, introduced a year or so ago.

For $600, you can get the “low end” Mini with a 60-gigabyte hard disk drive; $800 will get you the 1.66 GHz model and an 80-gigabyte hard drive, and is the model I tested recently. The higher priced model will read and write both compact discs and digital video discs; the “base” Mac Mini will read and write CDs but only read DVDs.

In operation, the new Mac Mini is a speedy performer. It boots quickly, runs smoothly and offers the kind of performance just about anyone would want on a desktop machine. A recent update to the computer’s firmware, or embedded software, unlocks the full potential of the Intel Core Duo processor found inside. The performance should be as good, if not better, than a similarly equipped Windows PC.

The new Mac Mini also contains Front Row, Apple’s multimedia-viewing software, and a remote control. Slide this in near your flat-screen television, use the right cables and presto — or so Apple would have you believe — multimedia is yours, not to mention a computer monitor that’ll make the neighbors green with envy.

Also included are four USB ports, one Gigabit (high-speed) Ethernet port, and a FireWire 400 port, all of which should supply plenty of connectivity, along with the built-in WiFi and Bluetooth radios. The audio-out connector can handle regular and digital audio cables, making it a good source for the IPod Hi-Fi.

In short, there’s a lot of power in this tiny package. I saw a great responsiveness from the unit, and it was great at running Microsoft Windows, either via Apple’s Boot Camp feature or Parallel’s Workstation package, which allows for virtual machines side by side with the Mac OS.

Although I wouldn’t want to use the Mac Mini to edit a feature film — there are more powerful Macs for that task — I would happily use the Mac Mini to edit a feature film’s screenplay, my Web page, a scrapbook and more than one podcast. It’s a nice little computer that could well be the next “hit,” especially with what I’ve seen at http://www.123Macmini.com and other “fan sites” for this tiny wonder.

Aside from the “modders” who get their kicks transforming boxes such as the Mac Mini into small works of art (or, as ColorWorks Inc., does, Ferrari-red colored works of art, see http://www.colorwarepc.com/), I like the Mac Mini for what it can do, as much as for what it can become.

• Read Mark Kellner’s Technology blog, updated daily on The Washington Times’ Web site, at www.washingtontimes.com/blogs.

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