Mac Musings

The Late 2009 Mac mini Value Equation

Dan Knight - 2009.10.21 - Tip Jar

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Yesterday's introduction of new consumer Macs included some expected developments and some surprises: iMacs got bigger, the MacBook got a bit lighter, and the Mac mini got a bit faster.

Of the three, I'd have to say that the iMac got the biggest change, physically larger, higher resolution displays topping the list. The polycarbonate MacBook got its first redesign since the line was introduced in May 2006, and the mini's changes are all under the hood.

The Updated Mac mini

The last time Apple updated the Mac mini, it had been 18 months since the last update to its tiny desktop. Seven months later, it has made some small improvements.

The previous design ran at 2.0 GHz with a 2.26 GHz build-to-order option. At the same retail price, the new entry-level mini runs at 2.26 GHz, while the deluxe version sports a 2.53 GHz CPU. The top-end mini can be boosted to 2.66 GHz for an additional $150, and the entry-level mini can reach 2.53 GHz for the same cost.

The US$599 base Mac mini has a 160 GB hard drive (up from 120 GB in the previous model) and 2 GB of RAM (double the Early 2009 mini), while the US$799 mini has a 320 GB hard drive and 4 GB of RAM. For the $50 difference in price between a base Mac mini upgraded to 2.53 GHz and the larger hard drive and additional RAM included with the faster mini, I can't see many people taking that route.

That's pretty much it for differences between the Early 2009 and Late 2009 models.

Mac mini Server

Ever since Apple introduced the original Mac mini in January 2005, it's been popular as a low cost, low energy consumption, small footprint server, and Apple has run with the idea. You can now order a Mac mini Server, which has 4 GB of RAM, two 500 GB 5400 rpm hard drives, no built-in SuperDrive, and Mac OS X 10.6 "Snow Leopard" Server - itself a $499 program. (Apple will sell you an external SuperDrive for $100.)

How good a deal is that? For just $100 more than it would cost to have Apple put a single 500 GB hard drive in the top-end Mac mini, making it a real no-brainer for anyone who would like to set up a Mac mini server. With two 500 GB drives and OS X Server, it costs $400 less than a 2.53 GHz mini with one 500 GB drive and a copy of OS X Server purchased separately.

Late 2009 vs. Early 2009 Value

The Mac mini is rarely sold at a significant discount. You might get $25 off the base model or $30 off the top-end one plus free shipping, not a big deal. A quick check of online dealers shows that in general inventory of the Early 2009 model has been cleared out, so we can't make any price comparisons based on that.

Further, Apple's inventory of refurbished minis has been low or nonexistent. When Apple had them, it sold refurb entry-level models for $469 and the better model for $699.

With a 13% difference in CPU speed, less RAM, and a smaller hard drive, I'd peg a fair close-out price on the entry-level Early 2009 Mac mini at $479 to $499. At the top, the new model is now 26% more powerful, has twice the RAM, and uses the same 320 GB hard drive. I'd say that $599 to $639 is a fair price range all things considered.

In August, I declared the Mac mini the best value in desktop Macs, and that assessment hasn't changed. If anything, it's an even better value now with faster CPU speeds, more RAM, and a bigger hard drive in the entry-level model. And with the introduction of a Server version, Apple is addressing a small but important market of those who want small, energy efficient servers.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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