Macbook or Mac Mini? That is the question.

Macbook or Mac Mini? That is the question.

Summary: Alas, poor MacBook Pro, I knew him.


Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the flaming arrows of outrageous Talkbacks...

So last week, as some of you may recall, I announced that I was joining the Reality Distortion Field that is the community of Mac users.

As with any large purchase, even if you consider yourself to be a well-informed consumer, there is always some doubt that you have made the right decision.

While I have been exposed to Apple products on and off over the years on various different projects, I'll never claim to be an expert at Macs. I work with an entirely different class of computer systems in my day job and I've been a PC user for over 20 years, and consider myself a very good technology generalist, but if you ask for my recommendation on which Mac you should buy, I'm really not the right person to talk to.

Not wanting to make a grave purchasing mistake, I consulted a number of folks who I trusted that told me that the price I was offered on the 2007 15" MacBook Pro which I intended to buy from a large 3rd-party vendor was actually a very good one, and still very much a capable system with years of life left in it.

The machine had a Core 2 Duo 2.4Ghz processor, 6GB of RAM (with the upgrade) a 160GB hard drive, and most importantly, a 1-year warranty, not counting the natural extension from AMEX Platinum which always bolts on an extra year to whatever you buy.

It was an older generation MacBook Pro to be sure, but for the price, with the warranty and given the upgrades I was going to be putting into it, the computer would have suited my purposes for what I was going to do with it just fine. I placed my order, and that was that. I would soon be the proud owner of a new (used) Mac.

I could have left things alone, but I didn't. Instead, I started looking at prices of other systems. Specifically, this Mac Mini server at Apple's Certified Refurbished site.

Now, buyer's remorse is a normal thing. You expect that whatever you buy, particularly as it relates to computers, is going to get outdated pretty soon after you get it. That's life. But I was looking at used equipment.

That being said, this particular refurbished, price-reduced Mac Mini is essentially still a brand-new, current technology system that is still being sold, with a full 1-year Apple warranty. And with the 8GB memory upgrade chips I intended to buy (approximately $100.00) it would only end up being about $30.00 more than the MacBook Pro, after taxes and everything was said and done. Hmmmmmm.

The Mini had a slightly faster processor and basically the same amount of graphics processing power (Core 2 Duo 2.66, with an nVidia GeForce 320M 256MB GPU) as the MacBook. It uses DDR3 versus DDR2 memory, and it can take 2GB of more RAM, most of which I probably would not end up taking advantage of.

The Mini also has a lot more onboard storage, but I intended to use a external Firewire drive array anyway for most of my files, and I was going to replace the internal drives with SSDs, so that wasn't really part of my purchasing calculus.

Both the MacBook Pro and the Mini can drive more than one display, although the Macbook can only use DVI whereas the mini has both an HDMI and a Mini DisplayPort, both of which can also drive DVI displays via converter cables. Basically a wash, at least from my perspective.

The 2010 Mini was slightly more powerful than the older MacBook Pro. Not enough of a performance increase that it would really impact my own usage, but enough that it could impact potential future software upgrade issues compared to the laptop which might get orphaned from support in some capacity by Apple and third parties earlier, and I knew that having a more recent vintage machine might permit me to keep the machine longer.

That usually isn't part of my calculus either, since I tend to throw away or hand equipment down every year or two in order to stay current. I have a budget on purchasing and upgrading new systems every year, and don't expect any particular system to last more than two or three at the most, particularly desktops. But knowing I could keep this system around longer -- particularly as this is really going to be dedicated to my photo and video work -- would be a nice bonus.

At the end of the day, both computers would end up being about $1000 investments total -- an amount I consider to be pretty disposable. So really what it came down to was did I want the convenience of being able to have the portability of a MacBook Pro versus the compact desktop power and more modern design of the Mini, which would have at least two years of guaranteed software support left from Apple.

Realizing I was not really likely to drag the computer around with me, since I already own three laptops and the iPad 2, the MacBook seemed unnecessary. I mean, I'm sure I would have been perfectly happy with it, but after taking a look at a Mini at the Apple Store this weekend, and realizing just how little desk real estate it was going to take up, I decided that I would rather have a Mini instead.

I'm sure there will be an occasion where I wish I had gone with a portable, perhaps on that one time when I'd like to do some video or photo editing on-site. But I just don't think it's worth it.

There are folks that are already telling me I should have stayed with the MacBook, while some are glad I decided to go with the Mini instead. Personally, I think I made the right choice, but I realize what works for some people might not work for others.

Have you also had to make tough choices when it comes to purchasing Macs or PCs? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • RE: Macbook or Mac Mini? That is the question.

    Welcome to the Mac world. BTW, those concentric black and white circles that immediately appeared on your back are a target. You will now be a bona-fide victim of every Apple-hater. I suspect that you made the right choice with a Mac mini, especially if you already have 3 laptops and an iPad 2. Enjoy your Apple product, whichever it will be and good luck ignoring the idiots, though given that you are a tech writer, you are probably already immune to brainless insults ;-)
    • RE: Macbook or Mac Mini? That is the question.


      On the other hand, now that you've bought a Mac you will instantly be adorned by the Mac faithful regardless of any previous blogs. All the "brainless insults" they tossed at you way back when will all be forgotten. ;)
      • RE: Macbook or Mac Mini? That is the question.

        @perlow Your transformation into an applebot is now complete. Can you now move your a$$ to the "Apple's Core" blog at ZDNet? Just so that everybody knows what to expect. I'm sure the patriarch of all iFanBoys, David Morgenstern, will welcome you with open arms there.

        Admit it, that's the right thing to do. Your compadre Chris Dawson was really honest on that and became part of the Googling Google squad where he belonged all the time.
    • so how did his second thought turn into an opportunity for you to insult?

      what insecurities do you carry that forces you to say such dumb things?

      All he said was that maybe the mini was a better choice then a laptop, which by the way is the SAME kind of "second thought" a PC user may think about.

      But no, you used the talkback to start off insulting anyone who might dare bring up what they consider a downside to Apple products.

      good work.
      Will Farrell
      • Hooked on Phonics

        @Will Farrell

        Please quote where he did that.

        Good work.
      • RE: Macbook or Mac Mini? That is the question.

        @Will Farrell <br><br>"insulting anyone who might dare bring up what they consider a downside to Apple products."<br><br>Where did I say that? I said no such thing, nor would I ever say such a thing. It is your own insecurities speaking.
      • RE: Macbook or Mac Mini? That is the question.

        @Will Farrell Wow.! That was a completely innocuous post. How you find fault I have no idea.
  • Seriously Jason?

    Now, you're just not making any sense...<br><br>First you dropped $1k on a 4 year old laptop, because it "ran the programs you absolutely wanted."<br><br>Fine. even after the sticker shock and the fanbois telling "oh, but you can turn around and re-sell that same MBP for $1k or more" (i'm still not convinced of that -- I'm guessing you nixed your purchase, hopefully did not have to pay re-stock; but there's no way you could list as an individual on ebay and pull $1k)<br><br>So instead you go with a $900 refurb Mini, with Server o/s. um, why? if the whole thing about 'getting a Mac' was just about the editing programs you were wanting...<br><br>why not just pay $699 for a <i><b>brand new </i></b> Mini, add the RAM upgrades, and spend the extra on Apple Care? (as in, opting for the 4G RAM upgrade, I think I remember you saying you really wouldn't ever use all 6G you purchased for the MBP) <br><br>At this point, it's starting to come across as you got caught up in Apple fanfare after buying your iPad2... either that, or you really have a boatload of bread to blow, and LOL, us that don't carry a certain credit score or bank account balance DONT deserve to get in your way at the mall?!<br><br>what gives, man? You always seemed more 'grounded' than this.
    • RE: Macbook or Mac Mini? That is the question.

      @chmod 777 First, I plan to run Snow Leopard Client on it, not server. But it doesn't really matter, because Lion, which succeeds Snow Leopard, has both Client and Server integrated into it, and I plan to run that as soon as it is available. The pre-loaded OS doesn't impact my purchase decision. I had to buy a Snow Leopard client for the laptop anyway.

      I simply RMA'ed the original machine for a full refund. No big deal.

      As to brand new mini, I could still buy the Applecare if I wanted on the used one, which I felt was unnecessary. Even the guys at the Apple store told me that there's no difference between a refurbished 2010 mini and a brand new one. That's $150 saved that I spent otherwise on RAM and a new keyboard.

      Additionally, I have other uses for the two 500GB hard drives that come with the Mini server. I plan to put them in a PC and use an SSD RAID in the Mini. :)
      • Check out the Applecare rules carefully

        @jperlow While you can get Applecare on a refurb machine (it comes with 1 year the same as a new one) you cannot get Applecare once a machine has had it's first birthday. In other words, you cannot buy Applecare on the old MBP you were thinking of.

        I found that out the hard way. I bought a brand new iMac in 2009. I don't normally buy extended warranties but I decided to at the last minute with the iMac. Unfortunately I didn't read the small print.

        An Apple warranty starts at the exact millisecond you press confirm on your order, even if it takes 3 business days for Apple to process the order and 3 more for Fedex to ship it.

        I went to the store and bought Applecare and didn't realize my warranty had expired by 2 days. The local store sold me the package but it wouldn't apply when I tried to license it online on the Mac.

        I called support and was on the phone for nearly an our and the Genius on the end even escalated up to his manager but they wouldn't apply it, even though in his experience other people had lapsed the one year warranty by over a week and still got Applecare applied.

        They refunded the money immediately. My fault, I know, but I'm disappointed they wouldn't help me.
      • RE: Macbook or Mac Mini? That is the question.

        @jperlow There's ALWAYS a difference between a new and a refurbished item, especially when it comes to computers.
      • RE: Macbook or Mac Mini? That is the question.

        @jperlow The so-called 'Genius' at the Apple store couldn't be more wrong by stating that there is no difference between re-furbs and new products. I know not all manufacturer's are the same, but as for Apple, refurbs are each individually tested and proven to perform as designed. Where as new products, fresh off the production line are not. There are the few samples pulled form a given batch that are but that leaves 90+% untested. Sure they may verify an OS boot takes place on each one, but the actual functionality of each device is not. If you enjoy the RMA process that much, go for the 'new' one, if you want reliability in what you are paying for, re-furbs are the way to go! BTW....good decision on choosing the mini!
      • RE: Macbook or Mac Mini? That is the question.

        @jperlow <br><br>While I applaud your ability to open up to the world of Apple, I can't help but to comment on a few interesting points in your article and this reply.<br><br>You have no problem mentioning the perks around owning an AMEX platinum card, yet you would rather buy a refurbished mac mini to save $150 ?<br><br>You've been in technology for a long time and for you use the "even the guys at the Apple store told me that there's no difference between a refurbished 2010 mini and a brand new one." excuse for buying a refurb, is downright amateur and doesn't make much economical sense. I'm not an Applecare expert and haven't owned many Apple products, but have been in IT management for a some time. My instinct tells me that refurb mac mini, which you saved $150 on, will probably have an EOL of serviceability by either a year or two over a brand new mini. Which means that $150 you initially saved, will cost you, or the person you hand this down to, a year or two of coverage. So, in the end, which really makes sense, especially in terms of long-term resell worth? Additionally, unless the identical hardware is used in the 2010 and 2011 models, you're not getting the same device.<br><br>You also mentioned you intend to use the 500GB drives internally for a PC and replace them with SSD's configured in a RAID set. really? That's a bit contradictory to your leading argument as to why you bought a refurb vs new: frugality. Admit that the process of buying an Apple is a new one and in hindsight, the best decision, for YOUR needs, should have been to have bought a new mini.<br><br>Otherwise, I enjoy your candidness and articles as whole and wish you good luck with your new Apple gear.
      • RE: Macbook or Mac Mini? That is the question.

        @jperlow make sure to get the magic trackpad. It does lots of nice things, especially in OS X Lion
    • RE: Macbook or Mac Mini? That is the question.

      @chmod 777
      I agree. I recently purchased the same 8GB upgrade for less than $80. So, for less than $900, including sales tax on the Mac Mini purchase and the RAM upgrade he could have had a brand new Mini maxed out on RAM.
  • Buy them all

    I buy a Mac or two every year. MacBooks, iMac and last year a Mac Mini server to give it a run.<br><br>Laptops are good for portability, but with iPhones and iPads they're not as important anymore. <br><br>The mini server linked is great value: unlimited client licensed workgroup server for under USD900. NB you can get a new Mini sans server OS from USD700<br><br>For desktops the all-in-one iMac is terrific, worth the additional USD150 in the refurb store. However if you're planning to use existing KDM then the freed desktop is worth saving with the mini.<br><br>This stuffs costs nothing for the hours of use. Cue MCSEs complaining it takes them a week to save for a iMac;-)
    Richard Flude
    • And Richard...

      @Richard Flude

      I see you quite alot ragging on MCSE's... it only must mean they're still in demand (even after their cert is old news). Tell me, how many Mac Mini server admins are/ will be hitting these blogs up?
      • Mac OS X Server

        Save on CALs, save on MCSEs. Cheaper and less stuff ups;-)

        Not sure I agree laughing at equates to demand for something. But I'm more of a 640 kinda guy.
        Richard Flude
      • Feeling a little inferior to them?

        @Richard Flude: <i>Not sure I agree laughing at equates to demand for something. But I'm more of a 640 kinda guy.</i><br><br>Or a lot? Drop the MCSE non-sense. It's getting old and only makes you look like an ass.
      • You hit the nail on the head.

        @chmod 777
        He's an out of work IT want-to-be in my opinion. His life has come to this, insulting anything without an Apple logo on it, or anyone who disagrees with him or user something without an Apple logo on it.

        Sad to see people like him, knowing that there are still people in this world who's only way to "equality" with those around him is to try to drag people down to their level because working his way up to theirs is not possible.

        You have to wonder what insecurity they carry around with them to make them act as childish and imature as they do.
        Will Farrell