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    Mini provides Apple with entry to computer market's low end

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Business in Vancouver March 1-8 2005 High Tech Office column

    With attacks by hackers, viruses and spyware showing no signs of letting up, Windows users are increasingly coming under fire. You could slip under the radar of these virtual terrorists by switching to Linux, but that operating system has the reputation of having a higher geek factor than most of us are prepared to deal with. (More on that next week.)

    Or move to Mac. That means jettisoning your current computer and buying a new one from Apple. But Macs are too expensive, right? Apple fans (and remember, the word "fan" is short for "fanatic") point out that if you compare a Mac with a name-brand PC that's decked out with a comparable set of hardware, there's little or no price difference. But regardless, PC vendors like Dell advertise desktops starting at $499, while (until recently) Apple's lowest price model, the eMac, starts at $999.

    Last month, Apple announced a new Mac model at a new-for-Apple lower price point. The Mac Mini starts at $629. (Just for comparison, Apple's top of the line iPod Photo music player costs $649.) Immediately, a debate broke out over whether this was a good deal.

    As with many media-fuelled debates, the right answer is "it depends."

    Like lots of other advertised specials, you're probably not going to want to settle for the $629 model. As with most other Macs (and many computers from other vendors), you really need more memory than the base 256 MB. Apple charges an extra $97 for a more realistic 512 MB. You might be able to do it yourself and save a few bucks.

    You may want the optional larger hard drive (80 GB instead of 40 GB), faster processor (1.4 GHz instead of 1.2 GHz), DVD-burner (instead of CD-RW/DVD combo drive), or WiFi (which Apple calls Airport) or Bluetooth wireless modules, but many can get along fine without them. As well, the $629 Mini doesn't include keyboard, mouse or monitor. Again, that may or may not be an issue for you. The Mini will work fine with a standard PC monitor and with any USB keyboard and mouse. If you're replacing an older PC, you may already have ones you can use.

    In the end, it'll cost you anywhere from $700 and change (just upgrading the RAM) to somewhere around $1,000. So yes, while it's the most affordable Mac, you can still buy a PC for less. And that will probably include a monitor, mouse and keyboard. But that may not be comparing Apples to oranges (groan!).

    The $499 Dell Dimension 3000 is a typical desktop tower. The Mac Mini is, well, mini: about the size of a stack of five CD jewel cases. You can get so-called small form-factor PCs (though most are still several times larger than the Mac Mini); local retailers CompuSmart and Office Depot advertise some. But prices seem to be pretty much in line with the Mac Mini or even higher. I priced small form-factor PCs online from; their LG-SX5 model starts at US$429. But that's without CPU, RAM or other must-haves. More or less matching the Mac Mini's $629 package, the price jumped to $1,165 (also minus keyboard, mouse or monitor).

    So if the idea of a tiny desktop computer appeals to you, the Mac Mini is priced at least as low as comparably equipped small PCs. Maybe that's affordable enough that you should get one to test whether you can migrate your business or home use to Apple's platform.

    Unlike purchasing yet another Windows system, you won't be getting a virus and spyware target.

    But you may have to get in line: Apple is reporting a three-week wait for online orders.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan