Mac MiniWell I was about half right with my predictions for yesterday’s Apple announcement. New Mac Mini’s are a reality but no super video iPod and, as I expected, no iTablet. What we did get instead was an iPod stereo. I have zero interest in the iPod stereo so I’m just going to talk about the new Mac Mini.

I’m a very happy owner of a ‘First Generation’ Mac Mini and I like it. I like it a lot. It has now done me a years sterling service and is still going strong. It was cheap (for a Mac anyhow) and has proved to be reliable, quiet and acceptably fast. It is also tiny making it really handy if you have to squeeze all your tech into a small room!

Although I’m very happy with my old Mac Mini and consider it money well spent (I did up the RAM from the base model (256MB to 1GB) and the hard disk (up to 80GB) so it cost me 900 Euro), there were a few annoyances with the Mac Mini.

The first one I noticed was a lack of USB ports, I simply had to buy a USB hub to get by. The keyboard has to be USB as does the mouse so even if you only need one USB port for both of those (as is the case if you use an Apple Keyboard or, as in my case, a Logitech cordless desktop), you are still only left with ONE free USB port! This has been tackled with the second generation Mac Mini which now has four USB ports which is nice.

The second problem with the Mac Mini only became obvious to me about a month ago when I started looking into creating PodCasts and VoIP stuff. I bought myself a nice headset with mic and headphones in one and then went to plug it in ….. didn’t get far ….. the first generation Mac Minis have no Microphone in port! There is only one sound related plug on the back of the old Mini’s and that is for your headphones. The great news is that this too has been solved in the new Minis.

If you look at the back of an old Mac Mini you will notice that pretty much every squire cm of space is taken up so the reason there are only two USB ports and no mic in port is that there was no room! Most of the back of it was taken up with air vents for the power-hungry G4 inside (a LOT of heat comes out of the back of a first gen Mac Mini). If you now look at the back of the new Mac Mini you can see that they’ve made more room on the back by dramatically shrinking the size of that vent, I guess that as well as being faster the new Intel chips must also run quite a bit cooler!

Again, you get the great iLife software package and you get FrontRow (which rocks IMO) and the nice Apple Remote which is all great but there is one disappointment – the price. Unlike what Apple usually do, it didn’t stay put, it went up by $100 in the US and now costs just under 670 Euro in Ireland for the base model. For the 900 I spent on my G4 Mac Mini with 1GB or RAM and 80GB hard disk I can now only get 512MB RAM and the same 80GB hard drive but I do get a Superdrive and faster Intel Processor. To get back up to an equivalently ‘future proof’ model I’d have to spend slightly over 1,200 Euro which is 300 more than I spent last year. That is almost the price of a nice 19″ flat panel monitor and remember, the Mini comes without monitor, keyboard or mouse!

If the price of the iMac keeps coming down and the price of the Mini keeps going up there will soon be no point to the Mini which would be a real shame. Last year I could counter the standard “Macs are expensive” argument with a MacMini for about 520 Euro, this year I can’t really counter that argument as well anymore. Yes, the iMac is great value for money, but it is not cheap! Bottom line is that the new Mac Mini is still a nice machine but I wouldn’t buy it, I’d save up and get an iMac.