“Think of the Mac Mini as a laptop with the screen, keyboard and battery sliced off, or a desktop with all the air sucked out of its case. Apple has taken the stuff of everyday computing and stuffed it into the smallest possible enclosure. To judge from the past week of testing, the Mac Mini fills that role just fine — as long as you choose your setup wisely. The Mini’s shrunk-to-fit design forces some compromises that can drastically limit its usefulness,” Rob Pegoraro writes for The Washington Post.

Pegoraro recommends that you order your Mac min with at least 512MB of RAM, as does MacDailyNews. Think about adding the SuperDrive (DVD±RW/CD-RW), AirPort Extreme Card, and Internal Bluetooth module options, too. Also, Pegoraro writes about using a Windows keyboard and mouse with the Mac mini:

The other potential hiccup with the Mini comes when you try to attach an existing keyboard and mouse to it. (They aren’t included in the box.)

It’s not that the Mac Mini won’t accept non-Apple gear. An IBM keyboard worked instantly; the only trick was guessing that its Windows-logo key took the role of a Mac’s Command/Apple-logo key, while Alt subbed for the Option key (the Mini’s manual should explain this but does not). Similarly, every mouse I tried — even a fancy Logitech wireless model — functioned immediately, without needing extra software for its right button and scroll wheel to work on the Mac.

So, think about getting an Apple keyboard for your Mac mini – it’ll be worth the $29. “If you can steer past the memory and USB roadblocks, the Mac Mini should be an utterly pleasant machine,” Pegoraro writes.

Pegoraro concludes, “I didn’t try to match the software bundles of those PCs to that of the Mini, because that’s not possible. The PC universe has no answer to Apple’s elegantly matched bundle of its virus-free Mac OS X Panther, its Safari, Mail and iChat Internet applications and its new iLife ’05 multimedia suite. There’s still a difference between the start-up costs of Windows and Mac computing, but with the Mac Mini, Apple has shrunk them to the size of an ATM withdrawal, not a car payment or a month’s rent in a group house. That ought to be enough to make buyers give Apple a second look. Given the woeful state of Windows computing, they should.”

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Note: Here are a couple of other pointers for those new to Mac OS X. Drag your hard drive icon to the right side of the Dock. Then, you’ll be able to click and hold on it (or right-click with a two-button USB mouse) and you’ll be able to dive down into its contents with ease. You might also want to drag your Applications folder to the Dock for the same reason. We don’t know why Apple doesn’t ship Macs set up this way by default. You’ll also want to drag your commonly-used applications to the left side of the Dock for convenience and slide them around to group them into whatever order makes sense for you.

Also, you don’t have to shut down your Mac all the time. Sleep works perfectly well in Mac OS X, so when you’re done with your Mac, just choose “Sleep” from the Apple menu in the upper left corner of your screen. Then when you’re ready to use your Mac again, just tap the spacebar on your keyboard or move your mouse and you’re back in business again in an instant. No more waiting for start ups!

[UPDATE: 6:45pm ET: fixed description of location of Apple menu to upper left. Duh.]