View Full Version : Long time PC user wanting to switch - need advice

01-30-2005, 02:36 PM
I have posted some general questions on the Apple forum at [H]ard|Forums and got many of them answered. But, there were a few that no one's answered as yet.

I'm taking my tax refund, like so many others, and purchasing a Mac mini. I don't game much anymore and I've been wanting to delve into OSX for some time now. I'm purchasing a 1.25GHz mini w/ 512MB RAM being the only upgrade which, according to Anandtech's review, is an absolute MUST.

I know Bluetooth has to be BTO'd if it's going to be internal. Is there any way for me to add an Airport Extreme card on my own later? I'm no stranger to opening the cases of every computer I've ever owned, and this Mini will be no exception. But if it requires proprietary tools or soldering, I'm not interested in attempting that on a platform I'm a complete newbie to. I would, at some point, like Bluetooth simply to sync my mobile phone and perhaps a PDA at some point. I have a wireless network (802.11b) installed in my house already and would like to take advantage of that as well.

Why not buy those when I purchase the mini? Simple; it's not likely to fit into my budget. I have $800 to purchase both the mini and a 17" LCD monitor. I may be able to fudge that by $100 or so by the time I get my refund, but I don't want to bank on it. Is it worth waiting until I can afford Bluetooth and Airport?

I also plan on selling my PC once I get comfortable with OSX. It's not a complete dog but it's hardly the latest and greatest. I have 200GB of storage in my PC that I absolutely cannot part with (mostly movies and music). I'm told that OSX has no issues reading NTFS partitions, so I should be OK while I move the data around enough to get them reformatted to HFS+ (that's the filesystem, right?).

Will I see any sort of performance gain if I install apps to the external drives instead of the Mini's 5400rpm drive? I know that's a major bottleneck in the Mini, so I figured this might be worth a shot.

Come summer time, I'll be looking into an iBook or Powerbook. For general use with the odd DVD viewing, an iBook should suffice, I hope. What is the real necessity for going with a Powerbook over an iBook?

Thanks in advance for any tips you can give this total Mac newbie!

01-30-2005, 03:00 PM
There is no soldering involved if you want add an airport extreme card later - but there is a fair amount of take-apart just to get to the slot. If you're comfortable with small spaces and keeping track of where wires are supposed to wrap then you'd be fine. I'm sure there will be places with how-to's if there are not already.

NTFS is read-only in OS X, so you should have no problem copying from your 200gb drive. HFS+ is the standard filesystem and I don't see Apple changing that anytime soon.

You will notice a performance gain if you use an external firewire drive. Disk writes and/or programs that do a lot of I/O you will notice but not as much with memory intensive apps. That is an oversimplification but is generally accepted.

With the iBook/Powerbook there are a couple of differences. No monitor spanning with the iBook - its mirror only. Also you cannot currently get a superdrive in a 12inch apple without going Powerbook. Powerbooks also have DVI and Firewire 800 as well as more speed and storage by default - but their price tag reflects that as well.

01-30-2005, 03:16 PM
I've been building PCs for quite a few years so I think I can handle the install of the Airport without too much of a problem. Bluetooth being a BTO-only option, I will try to go ahead and get that built-in. It just seems a lot more convenient than dealing with a USB adapter later (the fewer cables the better on this thing).

I'm planning on using a Dell 17" LCD with this, as they're going on eBay for ~$250 shipped which fits my budget. Any good/bad experiences with Dell LCDs used with Macs? I can't afford a Cinema display, obviously...

01-31-2005, 08:17 AM
Good questions, sounds like you've done a lot of research. Some good options have been posted above. Bluetooth could easily be added with a dongle on the back, and the Airport can be added later or also done with a dongle.

Let me suggest another idea; a used iMac. It might help with the budget since it includes an LCD display. I just picked up a 17" 1GHz/768/80GB for my mom for just over $900 since it included extras. You can get the 15" for a lot less, or look for a slightly lower-spec 17".

The cheap LCD displays are analog-driven, which means you lose a lot of the advantage of LCD; being digital displays. I consider that a major loss in terms of viewability of smaller items and text. You basically turn what should be an ultra-sharp LCD into the same as what you get on a standard analog monitor. Check that Dell display for input type; you want DVI, not VGA or analog.

01-31-2005, 09:32 AM
If I'm allowed to throw a spanner in the works, can I suggest the following:

If you are going to have to buy a monitor anyway, why not buy a new eMac (unless you can get a really cheap monitor and you want it to be a flatscreen)

01-31-2005, 10:21 AM
Well, one of the major reasons I'm going with a Mini and an LCD is to gain desk real estate. Being a semi-employed student, I share a house with 5 others so my system is in my bedroom on a very small desk. I've run the gamut with PC stuff and I have a fairly modified system (y'know, window, cold cathodes, LED fans, all that "ricer" computer crap). I don't game anymore and I've essentially outgrown mod'ing PCs (and, one could say, PCs entirely).

So, size is a factor. I want this 19" CRT off of my desk and this mid-tower gone. I am aware that there is a slight loss in quality with analog LCDs, but most everything I've ever read has said that, for most users, it's not going to be noticeable. You can't game with a Mini, anyhow, so I don't think I'll see much effect. LCDs with DVI are quite expensive and way out of my budget range. I could tack another $200 onto my LCD budget alone and I wouldn't be able to get one with DVI. I can't afford $700 - $1000 for an LCD, unfortunately (maybe in a few months - definitely this summer).

A further advantage of my purchasing a Mini and an LCD are that I can continue using the LCD on any machine I ever buy. I can sell it separately or pass it on to my parents when I decide to move up to a DVI LCD. With an iMac I'm stuck with a single unit that's never going to be anything else.

eMacs are going to have a CRT, and I'm just over and done with CRTs. Not because I don't like the quality - my AOC 19" is wonderful - it's just too damned big.

Storage-wise, I'll be "expanding" the Mini via Firewire and USB. I need to purchase two Metal Gear Boxes, and I'll end up with a total of 240GB storage. Not bad on a Mini! :D My DVD burner will also be hooked up via either Firewire or USB 2.0, so I think I'm going to scrap the SuperDrive. I just don't need it, and this way I'll be able to copy CDs as well. That's another $90 I can put toward the LCD.

I've decided on a Samsung 710N-2. It's a much higher quality monitor than the Dell E173FP which, as I feared, is a complete dog. It goes for under $250 shipped because it's cheap garbage, alas. Newegg has the Samsung (http://www.newegg.com/app/viewproductdesc.asp?description=24-001-171&DEPA=1) for $289, free shipping, with a $30 mail-in rebate. That's the monitor I'm going with. It's highly regarded, has gotten great reviews, and I've yet to come across someone who's disappointed with it. Maybe at some point I can run two 30" ACDs, but not yet. ;)

I hope I'm not coming across as sounding like I'm ignoring your suggestions, as that's completely not the case. But my brain has been filled with nothing but "Holy crap, you're gonna switch and sell your PC. Think this through!" for about 4 days now and I definitely need the flexibility of having a separate LCD monitor, not to mention the size advantage of a Mini coupled with 3 Firewire enclosures. A Bluetooth dongle is ~$35 and with my student discount it's only $45 from Apple. I don't mind paying another $10 to have it built-in internally.

Speaking of the Airport, is it a PC Card (i.e., PCMCIA)? If it is, can I use any Mac-compatible 802.11 NIC? I'm sure that'd be cheaper than buying Apple's if it's not a proprietary connector. And I've got no problems rooting around inside my systems. It's going to take every ounce of self-control that I have not to rip (not literally) the case off the thing before I even hook it up! :D

Thanks again for all the input, guys. Between here and the [H]ard|Forums Apple forum I think I've got most of my bases covered.

01-31-2005, 10:35 AM
I am aware that there is a slight loss in quality with analog LCDs, but most everything I've ever read has said that, for most users, it's not going to be noticeable. You can't game with a Mini, anyhow, so I don't think I'll see much effect.
Sure, the Mini is not going to be a top-notch gaming machine, but it will run most games quite acceptably.
And the fuzziness others have mentioned with analog LCDs is not something that you would notice with most games where everything is moving fast anyway - it is something you would notice when using productivity apps and dealing with small details of text or graphics.

Speaking of the Airport, is it a PC Card (i.e., PCMCIA)?
No. Airport cards are not PCMCIA cards. They are for internal, specially-designed Airport slots only.

01-31-2005, 10:36 AM
DVD viewing on an iBook will not be a problem. I have a G3/500 iBook and it plays DVDs great.

Here is what i would do for the MacMini:

leave it at 256mb of ram and get the bluetooth and airport card when you order it. Here is why i say this. there is only one ram slot in it, if you want to upgrade to the max of 1gig later (which i would suggest), then the money you spent on the 512mb upgrade will be flushed down the crapper because you have to take the 512 chip out to put in a single 1gig chip. Plus, even though you maybe taking a bit of a performance hit by staying at the 256mb ram for a little while, as you stated you are not going to be gaming much so it will not be as bad as it sounds.

01-31-2005, 10:57 AM
leave it at 256mb of ram...it will not be as bad as it sounds.
I think Apple should have set the base model at 512mb. If you use more than one app at a time, you'll see a performance hit at 256mb. I'm thinking that you're going to want to make the jump to 1gb as soon as you can. Going to 512mb would be good, but 1gb means no worries, and it's not a great deal more. Of course, I spent about as much just on my display as what a Mini goes for.

01-31-2005, 11:30 AM
I think Apple is starting to get a clue. All of this morning's new PowerBooks have 512MB RAM standard. The bigger models have it on one chip instead of the lame 2x256.

01-31-2005, 11:32 AM
Well, if I can do some gaming on the Mini, then I'll be a happy camper. I've just delved into a heavy discussion re: DVI vs. VGA on [H], and everyone seems to agree - analog conversion has come a long way and there won't be a problem. Having said that, however, I'm currently looking at a Hyundai ImageQuest L90D+. It's a 19", it's DVI, and it's only $379. I have the terrible habit, however, of doing exactly what I'm doing now - setting a budget and grossly exceeding it! :rolleyes:

I would, however, like to get an LCD that's going to be a good all-round performer, and I've yet to find a bad review of the L90D+. I think I'll be happy with this monitor across several machines, including a G5 workstation if I decide to get one. ACDs are just way out of my league.

Conversely, I've yet to read a review that says OS X runs acceptably on 256MB RAM. I'm impatient to begin with, and I don't like choppy animation, so for my first foray into the Mac world, I don't think choppy animations and sluggish performance would make the system very endearing. The upgrade costs less than it would for me to buy a 512MB stick and do it myself, especially with the student discount. I have no intentions of putting 1GB RAM into a Mini - what would be the benefit? Perhaps if I was editing video, but I don't currently own a DV cam. I run 512MB in my PC right now, and there's nary a game out there that I'm interested in that it can't handle (granted I don't play Doom3 or HL2 ;) ).

Selling off my PC after getting settled in with the Mini should net me enough cash both to pay a couple months' rent and buy some modest upgrades (Airport Extreme card, for example). I finally have my "shopping list" and here's what I'm getting:

Mac mini 1.25GHz
56K v.92 Modem
Internal Bluetooth
40GB Ultra ATA drive
Combo Drive
512MB DDR333
$591 (I'm also seriously considering an iPod Shuffle, bringing it to $690)
Free Shipping

Hyundai ImageQuest L90D+ (DVI)
Free Shipping

Total = $970 (no iPod) / $1069 (w/ iPod)

Depending on how I do on eBay between now and when my tax refund gets deposited, I think I've got a pretty good plan here! :D

01-31-2005, 11:47 AM
Well, one of the major reasons I'm going with a Mini and an LCD is to gain desk real estate.
You seem to be set on the "flexibility" of a separate monitor, but ask yourself if that's really of value. I don't think you can bet much better in real estate savings with good ergonomics than the old dome style iMac. And everything else you say leads me to think that's your best bet.

I have no idea what other people are saying about DVI vs. analog, but I see a HUGE difference. I've experimented with users I support and all of them notice the difference in office apps and web browsing. Games and video would not be affected, just text or detailed graphics.

01-31-2005, 01:03 PM

You are looking to introduce yourself to Mac, and I would start small. I personally would not start with the Mac Mini. I would go with CAlvarez' orginial advice in getting a used iMac. My 17" screened version takes up only 12" depth and 15" width minus the keyboard. That is a pretty small footprint.

However, if you are set with getting a Mac Mini, then the specs you outlined would suffice just fine. You do not NEED the Airport or Bluetooth, but you DO need the memory.

01-31-2005, 01:25 PM
I'm very definitely locked into getting a separate monitor for, as mentioned, being able to use it across any platform I purchase. A used iMac is going to cost me almost as much as buying separates and it's going to have worse specs, most likely. If anything, the video is going to be substantially more outdated, and it may even be running on PC133 SDRAM.

If for some reason I just don't "take" to OS X, I'll still have a nice new DVI 19" LCD. If I bought an iMac, I just lost ~$900. Now granted, I certainly don't expect this to be the case, and I could resell the iMac. But I'd rather not take the chances.

Besides, you did see that I decided to get a DVI LCD, didn't you? :confused: And I'm not disputing anything you say re: differences between the two, CAlvarez, but you really are the first person I've talked to that has thought it made a "huge" difference. Perhaps Macs are more sensitive to the difference than PCs? I don't see why that'd be the case, but who knows. I am susceptible to becoming extremely annoyed with flicker and other issues caused by low refresh rates and the like, so perhaps I would indeed notice the difference. Anyhow, I'm getting a 19" DVI LCD, so it shouldn't be an issue.

The iMac is fine but it's too integrated for my taste. Remember, I'm coming off of a 15-year stint on PCs and buying something that I can never use the monitor from on anything else again just isn't going to do it for me. While I definitely like the style of Macs, I just can't justify paying nearly $1000 for something that cannot be parted out or have anything in it reused on another machine. *shrug* Old habits die hard. ;)

01-31-2005, 01:42 PM
I think you will be fine with the Mac Mini. I think you will also be very pleased with DVI connection (I know I am with my home theater!). Just makes sure you get at least 512MB memory. I still do not think you need Airport or Bluetooth.

01-31-2005, 02:06 PM
I'm not buying an Airport card for it stock. I'm getting Bluetooth built-in because it's only $10 more (with my student discount) to have Apple build it into the Mini internally than it would be to have yet another USB dongle hanging out of the machine. My house is already wired for network so the Airport isn't a huge issue. But I also installed a wireless network in the house, and I'd like to eliminate yet another cable. I will given time, but I can install the Airport myself when I get ready to buy one.

And it's definitely going to have 512MB. This article on AnandTech (http://anandtech.com/mac/showdoc.aspx?i=2328), a review of the Mini, said performance was unacceptable with only 256MB RAM. I've been a long-time AnandTech reader and am going to take Anand's word for it.

01-31-2005, 09:12 PM
And it's definitely going to have 512MB. This article on AnandTech (http://anandtech.com/mac/showdoc.aspx?i=2328), a review of the Mini, said performance was unacceptable with only 256MB RAM. I've been a long-time AnandTech reader and am going to take Anand's word for it.

You are wise to go with 512mb - when I tell people computers to buy, especially if they're getting a mac - is to have 512mb minimum as OS X by itself generally uses almost 256mb and that's with no programs running.

Good luck with your purchases I think you'll enjoy it. And remember if you have any problems that we're a nice folk over here happy to help.

01-31-2005, 10:20 PM
And it's definitely going to have 512MB. This article on AnandTech (http://anandtech.com/mac/showdoc.aspx?i=2328), a review of the Mini, said performance was unacceptable with only 256MB RAM. I've been a long-time AnandTech reader and am going to take Anand's word for it.
That's a good article on the Mini. But I noticed that Anand was running it with a 1900x1200 display which means that much more RAM will be used by the WindowServer process than if run on a more normal resolution display - maybe 3 or 4 times as much. On my iBook (1024x768), WindowServer is averaging around 47 MB of RAM. This means that Anand's machine might have been using half or more of the 256 MB of RAM just for WindowServer. He likely would have seen much better performance on a lower res screen. Note that this RAM usage is in addition to the video RAM usage that he does mention as a limiting factor.

Nevertheless, I definitely agree that you should get the 512 MB of RAM - it will allow you to use the machine much more.

02-01-2005, 09:47 AM
I would keep them both. As a long time PC user and a Mac user for over a year now I can tell you it is nice to have both systems. Nothing better than a MAC online and my PC is strictly Game central. I will always have both there is no need to choose now that apple is offering the mac mini. You know M$ would never dare to offer a price break. But unless you are prepared to repurchase all of your office software and photosuites etc I would keep it around. Just my 2 sense:cool:

02-01-2005, 12:39 PM
...and a KVM switch to spare desktop clutter.


02-01-2005, 03:24 PM
Just to complete this very thoughtful discussion:

A couple of days ago I've been reading around on the net about the mac mini hardware and my understanding is, that to install the Airport card it probably takes an extra (not included) adapter and the antenna seems not to be included in standard models either.

Maybe there will be a nifty hack around this but if you anticipate to need WLAN in the near future without external devices hanging off the USB-port, you might want the option built-in.

Anyway, all the best for your new computing experience !

02-01-2005, 06:52 PM
The Airport and Bluetooth cards are not built-in, but available as inexpensive options at the time of purchase. Both antennas are built-in and ready when/if you add the option in the future.

02-02-2005, 01:27 AM
the airport card definately requires an adapter card. you will probably have to get it from an authorised dealer as an install item, not likely available as a do it yourself thing.

02-02-2005, 10:59 AM
the airport card definately requires an adapter card. you will probably have to get it from an authorised dealer as an install item, not likely available as a do it yourself thing.

I just read a news item about this yesterday - apparently the necessary adaptor will only be available in a bundle that includes the Airport card and the Bluetooth hardware as well. Price had not yet been determined.
Thus you had better get it built in at time of order if you think you will want it.