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Before You Buy a 2010 Mac mini

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Mac minis are a great choice for first-time Mac users, for college-bound students who want a desktop Mac, for individuals and families who want to include a Mac in their home theater system, and for home and business users who want to set up a Mac mini as a server for their home or small business.

BYODKM (Bring Your Own Display, Keyboard, and Mouse)

The Mac mini is currently the only Mac that doesn't come with its own keyboard and mouse, a somewhat strange concept at first blush. But considering that the target market for the Mac mini is Windows switchers, the idea makes perfect sense. Most Windows switchers already own a display, keyboard, and mouse that can work with the Mac mini.

If this is your first computer, or your old keyboard and mouse are getting a little long in the tooth, you can order the Mac mini with an Apple keyboard and Magic Mouse, or purchase almost any standard USB-based or wireless keyboard and mouse available for Windows or Mac computers.

Is Adding Memory a DIY Project?

The 2010 Mac mini supports up to 8 GB RAM. Apple suggests filling its two available slots in matched pairs; you can also leave one slot open. The Mac mini uses 1066 MHz DDR3 SDRAM modules, which are available from the Apple Store in 1 GB, 2 GB, and 4 GB configurations.

The 2010 Mac mini now has user upgradable RAM. In fact, it may be one of the easiest Macs to perform a RAM upgrade on. With that in mind, you may be able to save a little cash by buying the minimum memory configuration from Apple, then upgrading the RAM yourself, using third-party RAM.

What About Adding a Hard Drive?

The Mac mini comes with your choice of a 320 GB or 500 GB hard drive. Because the hard drive in a Mac mini is difficult to replace - in fact, Apple doesn’t consider it a user replaceable item - you should buy the largest hard drive you can afford.

Another option would be to go with the base 320 GB drive and add an external hard drive, in any size you wish. An external drive from a third-party vendor may be less expensive than Apple’s hard drive options, and should perform better as well, since an external will probably use faster hard drives.

Processor Choices

The 2010 version of the Mac mini still uses the Intel Core 2 Duo series of processors running at 2.4 GHz or 2.66 GHz. This is similar to the processor choices in the MacBook, and why not? The Mac mini and the MacBook are very similar; both use notebook technology to keep their sizes small.

The 2.66 GHz processor is a $150 upgrade. While it’s nice to have a faster processor, it might be better to spend that $150 on additional RAM. You should be able to find a pair of 4 GB RAM modules for very close to the processor upgrade price; money better spent, in my opinion.

Graphics

As I mentioned earlier, the 2010 Mac mini has the soul of a notebook. This can be further seen in the NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics it includes. This is the same graphics option that Apple offers in the MacBook, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air.

The 320M is a nice choice for the Mac mini. It provides up to twice the performance of the previous generation, and has enough graphics oomph to feed HD resolution videos to your home theater system.

The Little Server That Roars

One option available for the Mac mini is to dress it up in the server configuration. This entails removing the optical drive, replacing it with a second internal hard drive, and then adding Snow Leopard server as the operating system. The result is a little server that’s a great candidate for small business or advanced home use.

In the server configuration, you can use the Mac mini as a file server, mail server, web server, wiki server, or calendar and contact server; you can even use it for IM (instant messaging) and podcast services.

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