Back in the days when you could tell a Mac apart by the nature of the chip that blessed its innards the Mac Mini was the Johnny come lately, the entry level machine that was designed to lure the PC faithful away from their beige boxes by way of a cheap alternative machine. Allowing the individual to take the keyboard, mouse and monitor that lived with their Windows machine and giving it a new existence as a peripheral on the periphery (did I just type that?) with their Mac.

Of course it was all cheap enough and the machines were solid enough little performers with that vaunted Mac eye candy factor. Yet now they have been Intel’d are they still the little engine that could or are they that little bit more?

These models remain entry level of course but with the technology rethink there has been some increase in price. Whereas the old model came in at around three and half hundred the latest incarnation does come in a chunk higher at ?449. Of course this is going to draw the usual gasps of incredulation from the Dell/Self build brigade who will undoubtedly start bleating on about how this is not “an entry level price”. And yes, we all know you can build a PC for less but before they start white knuckling themselves stupid at the chance to do some Mac baiting lets have a look at what you get for your money.

There are two options to consider at the heart of this machine, one being the 1.5Ghz Intel Core Solo or the 1.66Ghz Intel Core Duo chipset. The latter of course is where the performance is going to be found with its dual CPU performance on one physical chip. Apple is claiming this makes the new Mini four times as fast as its predecessor. Obviously performance figures are always subjective but now that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet we might see some interesting comparisons in terms of performance.

The machine sports the capacity to support up to 2Gb of DDR2 RAM and all this works off a 667Mhz front side bus (in English, the paths your data travels along are wider which means there is less chance of a bottleneck. Y’know like when there are two old ladies with those stupid shopping bags talking on the street and you can’t get past).

In terms of the ins and outs of the machine, you get one Firewire port (the old 400 version), and four USB 2.0 ports for that all important plug and play expandability. You can run either DVI or VGA monitors of this machine with the aid of the supplied adaptor and the resolutions go up to a rather professional 1920 x 1200.

There is of course the standard warhorse of the networking world in the form of 10/1000Base-T Ethernet, that factor alone would make this machine quite useful as an option for educational institutions (if it wasn’t so bloody small the kids couldn’t walk out of the classroom with it under their coats). Airport and Bluetooth both come as standard allowing the mini to talk to other computers wirelessly as well as chatting to other devices such as phones and the like (making this very much the digital hub for the living room that Steve Jobs always promised). Apple have also given the Mini combined audio/digital jack plugs enabling the user to record into the machine without having to buy any additional kit. This was of a criticism of the original model and its nice to see that Apple have actually listened and done something about it. The drives on the machine consist of a CD/DVD combo drive on the entry level machine and the DVD burning superdrive on the dual machine (of course you can specify which drive you require if you are buying from Apple). While storage is a decidedly average 60 or 80 Gb drive depending on which model you plump for (you can however go optional with a 100/120Gb build to order drive).

The software suite that comes with the machine is where the value for money really kicks in. If you buy now you’ll be running OS X Tiger that as you’ll know by now has been optimised for the new Intel chipset (and if you didn’t know that don’t worry). Also included is Apple’s suite of killer apps that comes in the form of iLife 06 (iTunes, iMovie, iDVD, new release iWeb and the music making software GarageBand). Also included is the nifty Front Row app (with a remote control) so your Mac becomes your media centre and can play host to your DVD’s, photos and music.

It’s a little early to say what the true performance of this machine is going to be. After all with some OS X applications awaiting the Intel optimisation process we’ll have to wait and see how they perform when they “go native”. However overall the Mini offers up a fairly attractive hardware (and very attractive software) package for the new user or for someone who might be looking for a second machine.