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BW Businessworld

A Fine Balance

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Over the past six years, this diminutively sized (and named!) product has come a mega long way, and to this day, the Mac mini consistently serves to be the cheapest entry point into the Mac ecosystem yet seeing increasing use in home theaters and home servers as well. With a jolt of added muscle to go with its sleek looks, how does the 2011 Mac mini fare? Let's find out.

More showpiece, less computer – that about describes the mini over the past few years, and the classic Apple minimalist, industrial design remains, with the seamless aluminum unibody enclosure. The rear has the standard complement of ports, right from the HDMI ports to the 4 USB 2 ports, and more (Firewire 800, audio, SD card slot). There's also the uber-fast Thunderbolt port, but with literally next to no Thunderbolt accessories (none that are reasonably priced, at least) out there, the lack of the more popular USB 3.0 ports just feels…wrong.

 It's still very beautiful, and will inspire inquisitive looks if you place it in your living room. Having said that, it is by all means a desktop computer – you will need the display, keyboard and mouse to even get started with this. Unlike most desktops though, upgradability is limited – a bottom panel under the mini serves as the main access door to the memory slots. Getting to the hard drive bays is much harder, and I strongly recommend a trip to the Apple Store if you're thinking of upgrading or adding in another drive later.

The internals are 2011-spec and the mini, much like the 2011 range of Mac laptops, features the latest Core i5 and i7 processors, with options that allow you to choose integrated graphics or a dedicated graphics card. Mac OS X Lion is preinstalled, and things move along snappily. Bear in mind though, that since this machine doesn't come with any input devices at all, you will need to buy a Magic Mouse or the Magic Trackpad to get the full Lion experience. Push this system with a number of apps open, and things do slow down – so if creative work is what you're thinking, pick up the models with 4 gigs of memory. Pick one with the discrete graphics card, and the mini is a capable gaming machine too, although you would probably want to boot into Windows for the gaming, to be honest. 

But this is the kind of computer…nay, device that you'd love to be front-and-center in your home entertainment setup. I mean, small footprint, instant LCD TV connections (courtesy HDMI) and enough ports to add in external storage – what's not to love, right? There is the one rather controversial exclusion – the mini has no optical CD/DVD drive! On a desktop computer, for crying out loud! Granted, Apple firmly believes that like Mac OS X Lion, software is going download only, and the future of movies is in digital distribution, but this is stretching reality a tad too far. All of a sudden, you lose the ability to play back DVDs you've bought, install applications on physical discs, play back audio CDs, or even burn an MP3 CD for the car.

Granted, if you need to access a CD or DVD on your mini but only occasionally, you can use Apple's Remote Disc feature to 'borrow' the optical drive of a Mac or PC on the same network. Or you could get Apple's external Superdrive, but it's not an elegant solution, not for a desktop computer at least and certainly not for a Mac which can as well occupy pride of place in your living room. Given Apple's history with such decisions – they dropped the floppy drive from the iMac in 1998 and replaced it with a CD drive – I get a sense that they're showing users a path that they may not have taken on their own, or even appreciate now. Even having said that, dropping the drive is premature. 

On its own, the mini a mighty fine computer with a stunning form factor and worthy internals. If you're not too hot on upgradability and have moved past shiny optical media, this relationship may work. Others should look for great deals on last year's model for a more complete experience.

Rating: 7/10
Price: Rs 33,900 onwards

Compact Supercharger
Part cable management solution, part smart charging solution – the Belkin Conserve Valet is a USB charging station that can charge up to 4 devices at once (through USB slots) while keeping cords neatly tucked in under its top panel. Connect this and loop all your power wires, and your cluttered bedside will thank you for it – there's even a non-slippery platform on which you can keep your phone(s), making sure your devices will stay in place for the whole night. With most devices charging readily off USB these days, not including a power socket is fairly acceptable though I'd honestly have preferred at least one plug point for laptops and the like.

 What makes this unique though is that it turns itself off after a 4-hour period to conserve power (when your devices are most likely be fully charged). Of course, it recognises when you connect a new device while having another being recharged half way, the station will reset the 4-hour timer - this is done to make sure that new devices get the 4-hour charge too. The Conserve Valet will automatically turn itself off a few seconds after you unplugged all devices from it. It's a good concept by any means, but I'd really like to find out how much energy it saves in the long run.

Price: Rs 2399


Changing Track

Taking a successful game from the console onto the iPhone isn't an easy task, and Jump Games take on Codemaster's F1 2010 game proves just that. First off, it's a 2010-spec game that's released halfway into the next season. Once you begin playing it, the tilt controls are iffy at best, letting the already difficult-to-control beasts out of your hands the moment you slip up even the slightest. Although it does feature all of the 19 official tracks and 12 teams, this game needs more gameplay by way of adding a championship mode (at the very least) before one can recommend it.

Price: $2.99


(App)ropriate Store
If you own a netbook, but didn't know where to find apps that would suit the screen size and modest internals, look no further than the Intel AppUp Center. It is a centralised catalogue of applications for purchase or download, where apps are divided into categories like Business, Education and Games. What's interesting is that it lets one "try before you buy", allowing consumers to test out apps they otherwise might not have before they pony up the cash for the paid version of the app. 

Price: Free to use, apps may be paid/free

technocool at kanwar dot net
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