The Low End Mac Mailbag

Is the Mac mini Dead?, the Formatted Capacity Myth, G3 iBook Quality, and More

Dan Knight - 2007.08.14

The Mac mini Is Not Dead

Donny Vershure says in response to The Mac mini Is Dead: Why It Missed the Target:

Dan,

I just read your article posted on July 26th about how you think the Mac mini is dead. Given the recent announcement of the mini being upgraded to C2D, I'd like to find out if your opinion has changed.

After getting fed up with the Windows world, I made the switch to Mac with my mini, and I absolutely love it. My biggest complaint, which was noted in your article, is the lack of expansion. Sure, the mini has a few upgradeable components, but it's nowhere near as upgradeable as even the most cheapest of Walmart PCs.

I don't think the mini is dead yet or will be for awhile, but I think Apple needs a sub-$1k priced Mac Pro. Something using a single C2D instead of dual Xeon's, a budget priced video card, decent HD and RAM. All of that should be easily had for around the $999 price point, which would be great.

Just wanted to throw my opinion out there. Many people love the mini. and if and when Apple kills it off, I believe it'll still have a sort of cult following like the Cube has. It won't be dead for a long time.

Thanks for reading my ramblings.

Donny Vershure

Donny,

Ever since the introduction of the iMac in 1998, Apple has been updating most models more than once a year, the biggest exception being the eMac, which was aimed at education and released to coincide with schools' buying cycles. iMacs, iBooks, Power Macs, PowerBooks, MacBooks, and MacBook Pros are almost always upgraded within 6-9 months of the last upgrade.

The lone exception is the Mac mini, which went almost a year (11 months) between upgrades. Apple's neglect of the mini when it could have been easily bumped to the next speed level or moved to Core 2 Duo lead me to speculate that Apple considered the mini a failure and was going to put it out to pasture.

Rather than an incremental upgrade in March or so and another one in August or September, Apple did a double upgrade - CPU speed and the CPU itself.

We still maintain that the Mac mini has always been a decent computer, albeit limited in some ways to keep it small. And not it's Apple's least expensive 64-bit model, thanks to the Core 2 CPU.

The problem isn't the mini itself, but what Tommy Thomas calls the "gaping hole" in Apple's product line between the US$599/700 Mac mini and its extremely limited range of internal expansion options and the US$2,200-3,999 Mac Pro with 4-8 cores, four PCI Express slots, and available drive bays.

It should be possible for Apple to produce an in between model at a very affordable price. Because desktop components are less expensive than laptop ones, I believe Apple could offer a "Mac midi" for about the same price as the Mac mini - it all depends on what level of power goes into it.

My ideal midrange Mac would use the Santa Rosa chipset, which puts it on an 800 MHz system bus - a step up from the Mac mini, but still behind the Mac Pro. A bottom end model could run a 1.6 GHz Core 2 to keep costs down, include 1 GB of RAM (expandable to 4 GB), use the successor to Intel GMA 950 graphics, include a 160 GB hard drive and a Combo drive, have one empty drive bay for a second optical drive or hard drive, and include two PCIe slots. This could sell for US$699 wanted to.

Next would be a 2.0 GHz model for US$949 including a 250 GB hard drive and a SuperDrive, and at the top would be a 2.4 GHz Mac for US$1,299 including a 320 GB hard drive. Build-to-order options would include video cards, larger hard drives, something to fill the spare drive bay, and memory upgrades. Maybe even a quad-core CPU.

Yes, it would steal some sales from the Mac Pro, but it wouldn't have quite the power and only half the expandability. Better yet, it would give a lot of people a reason to spend more than they would on a Mac mini, add more to it, and rave to their friends about the great frame rate their Mac got simply by putting in an inexpensive video card.

Alas, Steve Jobs believes in all-in-one solutions (not counting the Mac mini and the Mac Pro!), so it seems less likely than ever that Apple will build a hobbyist/prosumer desktop Mac.

Dan

Dan,

Thanks for the reply. I totally agree about the gaping hole in their product line. If they offered something in the $1,000 price range that has some expandability, I'd be all over it. In fact, I think a lot of people would. These days since Macs run Windows, they're drawing a lot of interest from the PC crowd. Most people don't want to spend $1,199 for the lowest end iMac and get no expandability and have another big monitor on their desk.

Thanks for the reply!

Donny Vershure

Mac mini Officially Dead in My Eyes

Joseph Burke says:

I just read the specs of the new iMac, and I have to say that the Mac mini, in my eyes, is officially dead.

Apple has pulled off something with the new iMac that will finally bury the Mac mini once and for all. After looking at the specs of the new iMac, I wandered over to the Apple Store to see how the iMac and mini now compare. You will be shocked.

The new iMac with 20" screen (the 17" model is discontinued), 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo, 1 GB RAM, 250 GB hard drive, ATI Radeon HD 2400XT graphics, SuperDrive, mouse, keyboard, Airport Extreme, and Bluetooth comes in at $1,171. A Mac mini, on the other hand, with 1.83 GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 1 GB RAM, 80 GB hard drive, Intel GMA 950 graphics, Combo drive, mouse, keyboard, and 20" Apple Cinema Display costs $1,296. A 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo, 1 GB RAM, 160 GB hard drive, Intel GMA 950 graphics, SuperDrive, mouse, keyboard, and 20" Apple Cinema Display comes it at *gasp* $1,571!!

That, and you don't even get Airport Extreme, Bluetooth, or the new assortment of FireWire ports that come with the new iMac. An iMac is also more upgradeable than a mini.

A Mac mini system purchase is an unwise investment compared to the iMac, especially now the iMac has been vastly upgraded while keeping a hold on the price. It's time for Apple to kill the low end of it's lineup, find a way to greatly reduce the price, or replace it with something that is a better value for the money.

The latest mini offers even less bang for the buck compared with the latest iMac than in previous generations. It is falling behind the curve. It's time for something new.

Joseph,

Thanks for your analysis based on Apple Store prices. However, that's where the flaw lies. $98 for the new USB 2.0 keyboard and a Mighty Mouse. $599 for Apple's 20" Cinema Display. It's possible to buy a good mouse and keyboard for under $50 and a nice flat panel display for under $300, which strips about $350 from the Apple Store numbers.

Then we're comparing a 2.0 GHz iMac at $1,199 with a 1.83 GHz Mac mini at roughly $950 - and you can keep your keyboard, mouse, and monitor when you upgrade, where the iMac has the display built in. For people who don't need a new display, the mini is a value alternative to the iMac. For those who need a new display, it provides a lot more options than the iMac does.

Also, the Mac mini has included AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth as standard features except on the entry-level G4 model.

It's too bad Apple didn't leave a 17" $999 iMac in the line, as that would have been very competitive with the configuration a Mac mini buyer is more likely to choose.

I agree that it's time to replace the Mac mini with something that offers even better value.

Dan

The Formatted Capacity Myth

Jessie Dasher writes:

I thought the difference in size was caused by the formatting process.

Drive manufacturers give the size in real world storage capacity. OS give the size after formatting which is smaller because some space is used in overheard to keep track of file information.

God Bless You,
Jessie Dasher

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. (Proverbs 3:5, 6, NKJV).

Jessie,

That was true in the era of floppy disks. A double density disk had a theoretical capacity of 1.0 MB, and a high density floppy 2.0 MB. But formatted capacity was 720 KB (DOS, Windows) or 800 KB (Mac) on double density, 1.4 MB on high density. That's because formatting a floppy disk created tracks of data that had to be separated from each other by a small amount. There was no way to use all the potential capacity.

Things are different with hard drives, which are formatted at the factory and shipped ready for use. Some people, including Dr. Macenstein, mistake the difference between OS gigabytes and decimal gigabytes as a result of the formatting process. Modern drives are never formatted at that level.

Dan

Truth in Terabytes

Mark Abrams writes:

Dear Dan,

I noticed this part of your hard drive article mentioned

"Yes, it's been going on since the first 5 MB hard drives were attached to personal computers. And it's been confusing and frustrating users since the start of then. It didn't seem so bad when a 20 MB drive showed up as 19 MB or a 40 MB drive as 38."

I remember my first hard drive was a 20 MB connected to my Mac Plus. I don't remember what the actual formatted capacity was, but it was over 20 MB. It may have even been close to 20,480 K showing up in the finder, but I suspect it was closer to 21. My geek friends explained that it was because of the 1024 versus 1000 issue. I saw this same thing happen to 80 MB drives as well.

So back in the day (1989), we weren't being cheated, we were getting a bonus! That makes me feel even more cheated when I buy a 160 GB hard drive and find out it only has around 150 GB formatted.

Great article, I agree with everything else.

Sincerely,
Mark

Mark,

I'm a bit rusty with the Finder in the Classic Mac OS, but I believe it rounded off the decimal number of bytes when reporting file size, drive size, and free space. Also, a lot of "20 MB" drives were actually a bit larger than that. It was a looooong time ago, though, so I don't remember a lot of details.

Dan

Base 10 vs. Base 2

Steven Hunter says:

Just to play Devil's advocate here...

Why is this the drive manufactures' fault? Computers can handle the concept that 1 kilobyte = 1,000 bytes just as easily as they can 1,024.

Why don't all operating systems report the size of disks and files in base 10? It seems to me like the drive manufacturers are simply adhering to the standards of the Metric system by using multiples of 10 and the SI prefixes. Apple, Microsoft, and the Open Source community have been scoffing at well established international standards, which are hundreds of years old mind you, for long enough. I think it's about time someone did something about it.

- Steven Hunter

Steven,

Some operating systems have worked that way, but it's easier when RAM and storage space are measured the same way. I think it would be easier moving forward to have drive makers use the same numbers today's operating systems report than modify all of our operating systems to report decimal numbers - but either solution solves the Base 10 vs. Base 2 problem.

Dan

I Already Miss the 17" iMac

Robert Crane writes:

I think it is bad marketing to drop a 17 inch version.

A GMA video based 2 GHz 17 inch at the $899 price would have met my needs. I am looking for 2 systems priced under $2,000 total.

I will have to hold off for another year.

RKC

Robert,

If that's what you want, you couldn't do any better than pick up a pair of refurbished 17" 2.0 GHz Core 2 iMacs from Apple for $849 apiece. Apple will ship for free unless you want faster delivery, and they will have to add sales tax, but it should still keep you well under the $2,000 mark.

I agree, it's a real shame Apple isn't making a sub-$1,000 iMac yet again. Not only is it a good price point, but 1440 x 900 is great resolution for a lot of computer users. I could use the extra width, although I'm getting by comfortably with my 1280 x 1024 Dell LCD monitor.

Dan

Preparing Hard Drives for Sale/Trade

Dan,

Thanks for a great website! I get to your articles when I can, and your value equations articles when new Macs come out are very helpful. I always feel like you're trying to educate your readers and encourage us to be wise spenders, and as a teacher I appreciate that.

I have several older Macs (1400, 3400, Lombard laptops, Umax 500 desktop, several G4 towers, iMac 3xx, eMac 700, both at home and here at work) that I would like to either sell for cash (local want ads, eBay, LEM Swap List) or trade-in at a used Mac dealer for something newer and faster (not new, just newer!). Operating systems range from OS 7 to OS 9, as well as several versions of 10.x.

I'd like to clear out the old drives of any personal information first, but am not sure what software I need, or the best series of steps to take to accomplish this. Also, since some of the machines were donated without accompanying OEM software, I can't restore the system to it original 'shipped from factory' configuration. What's the best way to prepare a computer for sale to either a private party or a used Mac dealer, and do the tools change depending on the vintage of the Mac?

I would also appreciate your thoughts on advantages/disadvantages trading in to a used Mac dealer vs. eBay vs. the LEM Swap List vs. ???.

Thanks again for being a great resource to the Mac community (both novice and veteran)!

Joel Maas

Joel,

Thanks for your kind words. We're more interested in the quality of the Mac experience than the speed of it. So long as it's fast enough for you, that's all that really matters.

For the most part, it's sufficient to run Disk Tools (in the Classic Mac OS) or Disk Utility (in OS X) to adequately wipe a hard drive just by formatting it. Most people don't have the know-how to recover data from a Mac hard drive, and once you install a new OS, you've overwritten a lot of files that were on the old drive.

If you're paranoid, the current version of Disk Utility lets you zero out all data on a hard drive or do 7 or 35 passes writing random data to the drive. Probably overkill, but definitely secure.

It's hard to sell a Mac privately without an OS installed, especially models that don't support Tiger, which is the only version generally available. You may be able to pick up old installer disks and CDs on the LEM Swap List; I've done that a few times myself.

A trade-in will almost always give you the poorest return. eBay vs. LEM Swap? Probably less headaches on LEM Swap, as the buyer is more likely to know what he's buying. No fees, either. But for some Macs, eBay may give you a better return. Best bet is to search for completed auctions and see what a particular model is actually selling for.

Good luck!

Dan

Moore's 'Road Warrior' iBook

After reading iBook (Dual USB) a Road Apple, Charles W. Moore writes:

Hello,

"Having worked as an ACDT/ACPT, I can say that without question the (dual USB) form factor iBooks (including G4s) are among the least durable machines that Apple has ever made. Now, if the machine never left a desk (in the case of Charles W. Moore) - reliability and longevity were second to none. But as soon as the machine was used in an environment where it had the display being opened and closed, got moved around, and had the occasional bump or drop - problems are guaranteed."

In point of fact, my iBook has served as my road warrior portable pretty much throughout, and especially since I bought the 17" AlBook 18 months ago. It's not had a great deal of portable use, but it does get lugged around (in a backpack) on road trips and opened and closed a fair bit. Still no problems after 4-1/2 years.

OTOH, my daughter's 1.2 GHz G4 iBook is showing signs of the dreaded "sudden shutdown" disease, but it's been used intensely as a portable, on campus at university and lugged through 5 or 6 countries of Europe in the summer of '05, and is now in Japan with her for the past 13 months.

Charles

G3 iBook Quality

Ted Fort writes:

Dan,

First off, I love the site. I troll on it a lot, as I kind of collect Macs (I have two 12" iBooks, a 15" iBook, a 12" PowerBook, an iLamp, Mac TV, LC475, SE/30, 7100/80av)

Anyhow, I was reading the recent emails on the quality of the iBooks. The 12" iBook was my first Mac, and the only one I ever had new. I always thought it was a great little machine, and *though this mildly kills my point*, ran wonderfully until the hard drive died.

I can't really blame the hard drive just on the 12" iBook, as it's a common failure that is Toshiba's fault. (Happened on my Toshiba laptop, too). I used it for years until the hard drive died, and it lived a hard life and never complained. It was dropped on to a tile floor at least three times, and didn't even suffer cosmetically. Once, in my family's motor home, it slid off the dinette and flew across and hit the opposite wall while we were going 70 MPH. It didn't bother it at all. Calling the iBook unreliable so quickly is unfair and misses what a great and affordable traveler it is.

Thanks for such an entertaining and informative site.

- Ted

Ted,

As you can tell, we're getting a lot of mixed messages about the Dual USB G3 iBooks. On the one hand, about half of them have gone back for a logic board replacement. On the other, once they have a good board, they tend to be pretty reliable.

I'll eventually distill all of this into an examination of whether these models merit the "Road Apple" designation or not. Thanks for writing!

Dan

User Feedback on the New USB 2.0 Keyboard

Jeff Pitman says:

I have one, and I have a few complaints. First, not all the letters are printed centered on the key. The old keyboard had everything off to the side, so it did not matter; this one centers everything but a bunch are off center . . . very annoying. Second, I have the full size wired one, and I now have to look at the keyboard to find the volume and eject buttons. It does not help that they are half keys, but the location feels all wrong to me.

Other than those two complaints, I do love it.

Jeff

Thanks for writing, Jeff. I guess I've never paid much attention to where the printing is on the keycaps. On my Logitech, they're in the upper left corner of the key for letters, lower left for numbers.

Given time, you'll probably get used to the placement of the volume and eject buttons.

I'm glad to hear you like it other than that.

Dan

End of an Era for WallStreets

David of Wegener Media writes:

Dan,

Since you recently wrote up the WallStreet systems, I thought I'd mention this to you: We just pulled our G4 upgrades for the WallStreets off the market.

We've been having a difficulty sourcing the correct cache and controller chips for the past 6 months, due to a variety of reasons. Many of the parts went out of manufacture last year. Several suppliers claim to stock them, but the quality has been sketchy, and we've had to return more parts to suppliers than we've kept. This has resulted in frustrating time delays, and we don't want our customers to be left in the gap.

So, it may signal the end of the G4 upgrades for the WallStreets, unfortunately...

We still have our G3/400 MHz Avanti card and will continue production on it, as the parts availability for the G3/400 are not affected.

Thanks,
David

David,

Thanks for sharing the info. I'll be sure to update our profile pages to note that this upgrade is no longer available.

Dan

Can't Find Mac Profiles on LEM

Hi Dan,

I used to go to Low End Mac like clockwork whenever I wanted the lowdown sheet on any Mac model, and now I can't even find the list in the menus on the left.

Thanks,
Terry

Terry, thanks for sharing your frustration.

The link is in the blue navigation bar at the top of the page (below the banner ad), but the link itself says "Mac Specs". I think I'll change that to read "Mac Profiles" so people have a better sense what it links to.

Dan

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Dan Knight has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. Mailbag columns come from email responses to his Mac Musings, Mac Daniel, Online Tech Journal, and other columns on the site.

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