Apple Archive

Is the Mac mini as Disposable as a Low End PC?

A 'Best of Apple Archive' Article

, 2005.05.20

These days when you buy an electronic item - a telephone, a TV set, or even a computer - you expect it to last for a few years and then die. Once it dies, you go out and buy another one to replace it.

When I talk about computers, I'm specifically talking about most of the lower-cost options that are available from PC manufacturers such as Gateway and Dell. These US$399 boxes are, well, cheap. They're cheaply made - the power supplies may not last more than a couple years, for example. However, just like the $24.99 cordless telephone you bought on sale, they will serve their purpose just fine for a short amount of time.

The design of Windows PCs is such that industry-standard components can be packed into a somewhat small box (usually a small tower). Whether or not it's specifically made to be difficult for the consumer to upgrade (in some HP PCs the hard drives are almost impossible to get at), I'm not sure, but it's certain that they don't make upgrades and repairs easy.

How about the low-end Macs on the market today? The Mac mini isn't terrible - the bottom can be pried off, if you're careful not to break it, giving you access to the RAM slot and the hard drive. That's assuming an average consumer would even want to attempt to replace the hard drive on their own.

eMacs give easy access to RAM upgrade slots, much like inexpensive PC's, but the hard drive and optical drives are more difficult to access.

Ease of access comes at a price, no matter which manufacturer you're buying from. It's logical, too, because the more you invest in the system in the first place, the longer you'll want to keep it for. If a $2,000 computer lasts for six years, a $500 machine should last for just under two. In most cases.

Without anything but a RAM upgrade, a Mac mini should be able to remain fairly current for 3-4 years, so you're certainly getting value for your money, if not the fastest or most upgradeable machine in the world.

Should you buy something on the high-end, such as my blue Power Mac G3 was in 1999, you get a very easily upgraded machine. The fold-down side door gives easy access to RAM slots (more than just one slot), and the two drive bays are also very easily accessible. It's easy to tell that this computer was built to last for more than just a couple years.

Unlike many inexpensive PCs, the inexpensive Macs tend to last for a while. Once it breaks down, a cheap PC just isn't worth having repaired. Its more cost-effective to replace it completely.

However, since many older iMacs are still in service, there are processor upgrades for them (for instance, the Harmoni G3 upgrade for the tray-loading iMacs) which are aimed to extend the life of the machine by an additional couple years.

The Bondi blue iMac was definitely a low-end, consumer, "surf the Internet" machine, but with upgrades it can be made into a bit more than just that. Since the quality of many of the parts inside a low-end Mac are higher than those in a low-end PC (for instance, the power supply), people find ways to extend a Mac's useful life.

Up until the Mac mini, you generally paid a bit of a premium for a Macintosh, but at the same time got a machine that would last for many years if upgraded as needed. It remains to be seen if Apple, with the Mac mini, has gone the way of the low-end telephones, TV sets, and PCs, becoming essentially disposable goods.

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