My Computer Comparisons

Mac Mini vs. My Other Mac and PC systems.

Main Mac Mini Page | The Computer Systems | The Tests | My Conclusions | Recommended Mini Accessories

I've collected quite a menagerie of computer systems, so I thought it might be fun to do some quick comparisons between them. My latest computer purchase has been the Mac Mini, which delights me. However, while I feel it's quite snappy, it's not going to be mistaken for a high-end speed demon. But, it holds its own.

The Systems:
"Purple PC" 1.4 GHz AMD CPU, 1 GB RAM, 128 MB video card, 60 GB 7200 rpm HDD, Windows XP Pro SP2
"Old G4 PowerMac" 533 MHz G4 CPU, 1.12 GB RAM, 16 MB video card, combined 160 GB 7200 rpm HDD, Mac OS 10.3.7
"Old Dell" 1 GHz Intel CPU, 512 MB RAM, 16 MB video card, 40 GB 7200 rpm HDD, Windows XP Pro SP2
"Mac Mini" 1.25 GHz G4 CPU, 512 MB RAM, 32 MB video card, 80 GB 4200 rpm HDD, Mac OS 10.3.7
"Crappy PC" 1.2 GHz AMD Duron, 512 megs RAM, integrated video, 40 GB 7200 rpm HDD, Windows XP Pro.

The Purple PC is a custom-built PC (in a purple case) with a nice Asus motherboard (sorry, can't recall the model right now). It's very spiffy. It's got two optical drives—a DVD/CD drive, and a CD-RW drive, I think both of them have CD-read speeds 48x or above. It also has a GeForce 128 MB video card.

The Old G4 PowerMac is one of the "Digital Audio" G4 Power Mac models. I upped the RAM to 1.12 GB, but kept the stock Apple 16MB ATI Rage 128 video card (AGP), which honestly is fine for most things. Its optical drive went belly up a while ago, so I have it connected to a FireWire 24x CD burner.

The Old Dell is an Optiplex GX110 model, which came out a few years ago. It has a PCI 16 MB video card, and a PCI Soundblaster card. It has a CD-ROM drive of unknown speed, but I'm almost positive it's 24x or 32x, since those have been out forever.

The Mac Mini is my most recent purchase. I had it "BTO" (Built to Order) the Apple's online store. It has an 80 GB laptop drive (4200 rpm), which is only available for the 1.25 GHz models if you have it custom built. It has the 24x DVD-ROM/CD-RW Combo Drive.

The Crappy PC actually belongs to my sister; she generously allowed it to be used for the Photoshop tests. (I didn't put it through the iTunes test since she doesn't use her computer for playing music and has no need for iTunes.) It is a low-end generic PC made by the same local computer shop that built my Purple PC. It has integrated video and sound.

All these computers (with the exception of the Crappy PC) have recent fresh installs of their OSes, so they're all running pretty clean and snappy—not bogged down by defragmented drives or clutter.

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The Tests:

Well, I am not the most savvy computer user, so the tests were kind of limited. I did some tests that were of interest to me—I might add more later. When you look at these scores, bear in mind that I'm not trying to speak for all Macs or PCs, just my own. I hope that these comparisons will offer some useful information to you, however.

The Photoshop test were straightforward: I made three Photoshop (PSD) files of differing sizes—73 MB, 39 MB, and 23 MB. I timed how many seconds it took to open the files in each system, and also how long it took to apply Guassian Blur. The top number in the chart below (under the "PS" files) is the seconds it took the open the file, the bottom number is how many seconds it took to apply the Blur filter.

The iTunes test consisted of importing (ripping) a whole album into iTunes (AAC files, 160 kbps). The album used was the 48 minute Timeline soundtrack by the late Jerry Goldsmith.

So, let's look at the scores:

PS (Photoshop) Files: Top number (seconds) opening file; bottom number (seconds) rendering filter.

Well, the Purple PC was the fastest in all the tests, with the exception of the iTunes test, which the Mac Mini won. Even the Old G4 (with its external FireWire 24x CD drive) was not much slower than the Purple PC, with its much faster CD drive. Why the speed lag on the PCs? I really don't know. It's odd since the Purple PC's optical drive is much faster (48x) than the Mac Mini's (24x).

The Photoshop tests were not really that much of a surprise. The Purple PC, with its fast hard drive and 1 GB of RAM, won out on all Photoshop tests. The Old Dell did okay, all things considered, but it's old and slow and has 512 megs of RAM. The old G4 also did pretty well. I believe that its ample amount of RAM and fast hard drive really helped it handle Photoshop. The Crappy PC—well, it's crappy, so what do you expect? It didn't do any better than the Old Dell. But it has integrated video, while the Old Dell doesn't. The Mac Mini really did quite well, especially when you consider its slow hard drive and having only half the RAM as the Purple PC (and Old G4).

I also opened some even larger Photoshop files in the Mac Mini, and as the files get larger, the Mini gets s-l-o-w-e-r — at least on my particular Mac Mini. I usually work with files within the ranges used for this test (under 100 MB), but I will create 300+ MB Photoshop files now and then. Working on mega-large Photoshop files on a 4200 rpm hard drive (like this Mini's) is glacially slow. However, it's not something I do that often, so it's not a concern for me. I definitely suspect that upgrading the RAM to 1 GB on the Mini will improve its performance dramatically.

Additional Mac Mini Benchmarks: I ran XBench, a Mac-specific benchmark test, on the Old G4 and the Mini, and submitted the scores to the XBench site. You can see their comparisons here. Mac Mini scored 112, Old G4 scored 69. You'll notice that the Mac Mini trounced the Old G4 in all tests except the disk tests.

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My Conclusions and Opinions:

For the first-time potential Mac user (or for the PC user who wants to get a Mini):
If you are interested in the Mac Mini as an inexpensive way to introduce yourself to Macs, then I believe you are thinking in the right direction. Just look at the benchmarks above and remember that it's got a slow hard drive (trust me—you won't notice this a lot of the time). When I compare my Mac Mini to the Old Dell (and Purple PC), it doesn't feel too slow (especially compared to the Old Dell).

For frequent heavy graphics or video work, I recommend at least getting the 1 GB RAM upgrade on the Mini, or better yet, getting an eMac or iMac G5. If, however, you want a hassle-free, virus/spyware-free computer for watching movies, listening to iTunes, and for light to moderate work in iPhoto, iMovie, Garageband, iDVD, Photoshop, etc., then the Mini will be fine. Remember that the stock 256 megs of RAM is only good for casual Internet surfing and light word processing, so upgrading the memory is highly recommended.

For the Mac user who wants to "upgrade" to a Mini:
If you've got an older Mac (perhaps a G3 or older G4), then you will love the Mini. I decided to keep my current old G4 because it has so much hard drive (160 GB) and I seem to go through hard drive space like Kleenex. I've got all the computers networked (it is super easy with OS 10.3) and I can transfer files over to the old G4's massive hard drive.

Overall, I find the Mac Mini to be much snappier than the Old G4. I do a lot of work with huge (120-170 MB) files in Microsoft Word and Adobe InDesign. On the Old G4 I found that scrolling through documents this large was frustrating and sluggish. The Mini handles these same files as smooth as butter. Additionally, I had upgraded the Old G4 to Dreamweawver MX 2004, but it could get a little pokey at times. It worked well enough, but scrolling down pages and getting around the application was sometimes cumbersome. I am delighted to work with Dreamweaver now—it is much faster and smoother in the Mac Mini.

Since the old G4 has a 16 MB video card, some movies (viewed in the excellent VLC Player) were choppy, or even unviewable (if the file was large enough). The Mini handles these larger video files with ease.

My overall experience is smoother and nicer on the Mini—with the exception of opening extra-large files (like the 100+ MB Photoshop files), and starting up large applications (which isn't exactly slow, but isn't as fast as I'd like). I believe that getting the 1 GB of RAM is best, if you can afford it. I can make do with 512 megs for now, but I imagine that the Mac Mini will soar when its RAM is maxed out.

Running Garageband (part of the iLife Suite): People are concerned about the Mini being able to handle Apple's fantastic music app, Garageband. In my opinion, it will be fine (with the RAM upgrade, of course) as long as you have realistic expectations. The Mini isn't a G5. It doesn't have a speedy hard drive (though you can attach an external FireWire 7200 rpm hard drive, which will help). But you can still get work done. Think of it this way—if people with older G4 Macs (or even G3s!) can work in Garageband, certainly the Mini is up to the task.

I did a lot of Garageband work on the old G4. I had a great time and don't get me wrong—I did just fine. But it was an old G4 and had its limitations. I haven't done a whole lot of Garageband work on the Mini yet. However, I have opened some of my old Garageband files (that were always on the verge of making the old G4 choke), added several more tracks to the files, and the Mini handled them fine. My conclusion? If you can afford a faster Mac for Garageband, get it. But if your budget will only allow for a Mini, it will do okay as long as you upgrade the RAM and accept that it isn't the fastest Mac on the market right now.

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Recommended Mac Mini Accessories

If you are a PC user, you might be wanting some recommendations for accessories for the Mini. After all, it does not come with a keyboard or mouse. Mac OS X is pretty forgiving and most USB mice and keyboards will work with the Mini (some PS/2 mice will work as well, with an adapter—though I think USB is better). Here are some items that I recommend:

MICE

Logitech Optical Marble Mouse—I'm a big fan of the trackball mice. I have this model. Works flawlessly on the Mac.

Macally iceMouse USB Optical Internet Mouse—Macally makes great Mac accessories.

Kensington Mouse-In-A-Box—If all you need is a basic mouse, this should work fine. Kensington USB mice have always worked well with my Macs.

KEYBOARDS

Apple basic keyboardApple makes great keyboards and if possible, I recommend an Apple keyboard. It has additional Apple-specific keys that tie right into the OS.

Macally USB Slim Keyboard—Another fine product from Macally. Basic keyboard.

Adesso Tru-Form USB Mac Keyboard—I can't live without my ergonomic keyboard! I currently use an Adesso on my Mac.

OTHER ITEMS

Altec Lansing Speakers—I am using these speakers on my Mini, and they are great! Good sound, slim design, and not expensive.

Fantom 120 GB FireWire (1394) External Hard Drive—I seem to get a lot of Fantom products. I love my external FireWire hard drive. If you need extra storage for your Mini (or you want access to a faster drive), then this would be a good choice.

LaCie External Floppy Drive—I rarely use floppies now, but once in a blue moon I need to read one. A USB floppy drive comes in handy.

USB KVM Switch—What's a KVM switch? It's a way to save on desk space. If you intend to keep your current computer (perhaps an older Mac or a PC), you can share its keyboard, mouse, and monitor via a KVM switch. That's what I do with my computer menagerie—the Purple PC and Mini share a monitor/mouse, and the Old Dell and old G4 share a monitor. (I don't share the keyboard via KVM—it's never worked quite right so I've decided that it's not worth the hassle.) I haven't used this particular KVM switch, but it is well-reviewed and works well with both Macs and PCs.

Apple iWork '05—Sure, a Mac Mini comes with a free copy of iLife '05 (iMovie, iDVD, iPhoto, Garageband) and AppleWorks (word processing, spreadsheets, etc.), but if you want a really spiffy Word Processing App (and a Powerpoint-like app), and you don't want the entire MS Office Suite for Mac, then iWork is for you. Pages is a word processing program that will read and write Microsoft Word files, and Keynote will make fantastic presentations. Both are reported to be more elegant and easier to use than their Microsoft counterparts.

 

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April 22, 2005 , 2005  Copyright © J.R. Dunster, All Rights Reserved.