Mac minis are small and inexpensive. They're a good choice for first-time Mac users, for adding to home theater systems, or for serving as very portable desktop computers for college-bound students.
But as attractive as the Mac mini is, it’s not flawless. The Mac mini’s small size and low price demand some compromises you should be aware of before you decide to bring one home.
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.
Note: This document covers Mac minis up to 2009. You can find the most recent Mac mini buying guide at: Before You Buy a 2012 Mac mini
Is Adding Memory a DIY Project?
The Mac mini supports up to 4 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 and 2 GB configurations.
Because the Mac mini's RAM isn't designed to be user accessible, I generally recommend buying it with the largest upfront RAM configuration you can afford. If you're handy, you can upgrade the RAM yourself for about half the price that Apple charges. But the disassembly and reassembly process isn't easy, and any damage you inflict could void the warranty.
What About Adding a Hard Drive?
The Mac mini comes with your choice of 160 GB, 320 GB, or 500 GB hard drive. Because the hard drive in a Mac mini is difficult to replace, you should consider buying the largest hard drive you can afford.
Another option would be to go with the base 160 GB drive and add an external hard drive, in any size you wish. An external drive from a third-party vendor should be less expensive then Apple’s hard drive options, and should perform better as well, since an external will probably use faster hard drives.
What's In The Box?
The Mac mini is sometimes thought of as just an entry-level Mac. But while it is the least expandable Mac model available, it is by no means an underachiever. The Mac mini’s performance is on par with many of the models in Apple’s MacBook Pro line of notebooks, which is not surprising since they use many of the same components.