- The Washington Times - Monday, February 7, 2005

My wife, a graduate of Northeast High in Philadelphia, was watching the first hour or so of Super Bowl XXXIX, and I, a die-hard Washington fan, had less interest. So, I decided to plug in Apple Computer’s $499 Mac Mini for a test drive at her desk in our apartment’s loft.

It was a good location, maybe even great, for such a project: a small computer desk is there, along with a smallish Hewlett Packard ink-jet printer. Also present are a 15-inch LCD display monitor and a Microsoft keyboard. A mouse was at hand, but more on that in a moment.

Why a great location? Well, the Mac Mini’s size (think of a slightly overgrown CD-ROM burner) makes it great for small spaces. And, it’s built to work with your existing keyboard, mouse and monitor; there’s even an adapter for LCDs that have a VGA connector, more common among PC users than Mac ones. As has been widely reported, Apple has aimed the Mac Mini at Windows users who are tired of system crashes.

My test system arrived with a 40 GB hard disk drive, a “combo drive” that plays DVD and CD discs and writes to blank CDs, and 512 megabytes of RAM. That extra 256 megabytes of RAM will push the $499 price up by $75. Adding, as Apple did, wireless connectors for Bluetooth devices such as a wireless keyboard and mouse, as well as wireless networking, or WiFi, tacks on another $129. All told, we are just a hair beyond $700 for a machine equipped as tested, sales tax not included.

For the price, however, even this slightly upgraded Mac Mini is still a bargain compared with other Macs in years gone by. And don’t forget that Apple’s Mac OS X is a far, far more stable operating system than Windows XP, or that Apple includes a free copy of I Life ‘05, a suite of multimedia applications including ITunes, IPhoto, IMovie, IDVD and Garage Band with each model. That’s a $79 value (if not more) right there.

I wish, however, that Apple had included its Keynote 2 presentation graphics software and word processor/publisher Pages in the bundle. Not only would that make this an even better value, but it might save millions the utter disappointment of Apple Works 6, a program that might once have had a purpose but now is a reminder of how software can sour faster than an open container of buttermilk at high noon.

All that is to say that buyers of the Mac Mini likely will have to shell out some bucks for a word processor, if they are at all serious about writing. Microsoft offers an “educational market” version of Office 2004 for Mac (the latest version) for $149; I Work, which combines Pages and Keynote 2, is $79. Either way, you will probably need one of these.

You will also need a speaker system of some stripe: Except for startup sounds, there’s no sound to be heard from the Mac Mini without speakers or headphones. If you don’t opt for Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard and mouse ($129), you may need a USB hub to connect a mouse, keyboard and printer, since there are only two USB ports available. Ethernet networking is built in, as is a dial-up modem.

Not everyone has my tastes or computer sensitivities, of course, and some may be able to get away with less in the way of equipment. The Mac Mini raises the bar for what a good, low-price computer can and should do.

• E-mail Mark Kel @aol.com or visit www.kellner.us.

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