Macbook or Mac Mini? That is the question.

Alas, poor MacBook Pro, I knew him.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

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 You expect that whatever you buy, particularly as it relates to computers, is going to get outdated pretty soon after you get it.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.

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