The Front Row interface and remote control make this an excellent media-playing device
Small and perfectly formed
Core Duo provides power
A perfect second machine
Needs more memory
You'll have to buy extra peripherals
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Given Apple's transition to the x86 architecture, we decided that despite being a Mac, it's worthy of our attention. The Mac mini is a small form-factor PC that's been around for about a year in various incarnations. It's tiny and lightweight: 6.5 inches square, 2 inches deep and weighs just 1.3kg, so it's worth a look if you want a PC for the living room.
If you need something portable, it'll fi t into a much smaller bag than any laptop, and might go in some coat pockets. The Mac mini comes without accessories - BYODKM, says Apple, for Bring Your Own Display, Keyboard and Mouse, and it's the cheapest way to buy a Mac.
The Mac mini is based around the 1.66GHz Intel Core Duo processor and has 512MB of 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM, which is expandable up to 2GB.
Built in is an AirPort wireless adaptor, Bluetooth 2.0 capability, four USB ports, FireWire 400 port, Gigabit Ethernet port and a DVD±RW drive. There's a DVI-out port and it comes with a VGAout adaptor. This stacks up to a reasonable spec for the price.
First-generation Mac minis utilised the ATI Radeon 9200 card for graphics, but the Dual Core ones use an integrated Intel chip called the GMA950. The trouble with using an integrated chip is that it uses system RAM to do the graphics processing - 80MB in this case - leaving the rest of the system with just 432MB to work with. However, in terms of graphical capabilities, the GMA950 is superior to the 9200 and it supports Apple's Core Image technology.
You will need to upgrade the system memory - though doing this when purchasing the system from Apple is rather expensive.
A great aspect of this Mac mini is the inclusion of Apple's Front Row software. You switch from normal desktop environment to the Front Row interface by hitting the menu button on the iPod nano-sized remote. From there you can access your DVDs, music and photos from an iPod-style menu system, all operated by the remote control.
There's a technology called Bonjour that searches nearby PCs for shared media and streams it without your having to configure anything. So it's good if you want to put the mini in your living room and store all your music and fi lms on your PC somewhere else in the house.
Entertainment hot seat
Front Row isn't the only software bundled with the mini: it also comes with Apple's iLife suite for editing your home videos and photos, and for publishing on the Web. GarageBand enables you to record music and create your own podcast, and iWeb helps you to make Web sites and blogs. This comprehensive suite has all the features you need to get started.
The Mac mini is so small, light and attractively styled that you might choose it just because you are won over by its physical form. It runs quietly and doesn't get too hot. The 80GB hard drive isn't huge, but streaming media is so easy that you won't need to store your collection on it.
The Front Row interface and remote control make this an excellent media-playing device. In addition, if you didn't want to abandon Windows, you can use Boot Camp to install XP. Tanya Combrinck
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