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THE MAC MINI
For years, it's been difficult to do "apples to apples" comparisons between Macs and PCs in performance testing. Either different CPU platforms, incompatible benchmarking software or the sweepingly different operating systems made it impossible to get a fair read on how one system did against another.
At the last minute, however, we decided to include a low-end Mac mini for laughs and giggles. For one thing, Macs now are standardized on Intel's Core 2 Duo platform. For another, virtualization software makes it possible to run both Mac OS X and Windows Vista on the same box. And, last, over the past year we've become incredibly impressed with the cross-platform nature of Primate Labs' Geekbench benchmarking software to fairly gauge hardware performance regardless of operating system.
With that in mind, we tested a low-end Mac mini the Test Center acquired earlier this year. The system was built with an Intel Core 2 Duo T5600 at 1.83 GHz and a meager 1 GB of RAM, preloaded with Mac OS X 10.5. Still, it delivered a Geekbench score of 2368—essentially the same ballpark in performance as the ThinkCentre M57 and the Vostro V220. Its heat generation never wandered above room temperature and its noise never rose above the ambient level of the room.
But wait, as they say, there's more.
Using Parallels' virtualization software, we loaded Windows Vista Business onto a VM and again used Geekbench. While the score was a relatively low 1468, nobody buys a Mac to run Windows Vista as its primary OS. It's an add-on. Including the cost of a Windows Vista license, the configuration ran about $800. The Mac mini gets points for providing nice value in a tiny form factor, and in giving VARs and their customers the flexibility to deploy Mac OS systems and Windows in the same box.
For those dyed-in-the-wool Mac lovers out there, we know, we know: We could have used a higher-performing system that would have done better on a raw-score basis. But that's not the point. We know that if we had chosen a Mac with more horsepower, the performance numbers would have been better. But we can now say, in an apples-to-apples review, the Test Center can recommend the Mac mini in business cases.
We weren't surprised that Lenovo won this review with its ThinkCentre M57; the Raleigh, N.C.-based PC maker has been impressive all year in this area and the M57 scores well with its combination of price, performance and design. We were surprised, though, with the continued pressure Dell is applying in the SMB arena with its Vostro V220, which is good, as well as how Apple's platform now competes in price, performance and features with the PC guys—even running Windows. We believe HP, which has been slow in refreshing its desktop line this year, will face a bigger threat going into 2009 in a world where innovation is often a key indicator of strength.
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