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Originally published May 12, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 12, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Getting Started

Maximum pleasure from Apple mini

This story begins when my family (or yours) eventually confronts a collection of ancient and aging computer equipment. Some of it is stored...

Special to The Seattle Times

This story begins when my family (or yours) eventually confronts a collection of ancient and aging computer equipment. Some of it is stored in boxes, and some is still being used.

It's definitely time to clear out the old, consolidate and update — but not break the family bank.

In this family, there are four active computer users living at home and a 4-year-old who will probably be using one soon.

There are four Macintosh desktops, two Mac laptops and another owned by my daughter's school. There are three Windows PC desktops and a laptop.

That's too many computers, some no longer functional. When I search the Internet for places that will accept donated computers, I discover most charge money to receive them.

Then I discover King County's Take It Back Network (www.metrokc.gov/dnrp/swd/takeitback/index.asp) and find a list of possibilities. Most charge something, though a few charge less than $10 per computer.

I also receive a flier announcing a local recycling event that will accept computer equipment at no charge.

My kids want to try selling the functional equipment in a garage sale. Nice idea, but we'll see.

Before handing over any computers, however, I'll reformat the hard drives so the private information on them doesn't linger for another to find.

Meanwhile, it's time to decide what this family really wants and needs regarding computing power.

Sick of the sneaky nasties that seem to find their way into PCs, even with virus protection, my husband and I decide to stick with Macs, hoping they'll remain less of a target for mean beings who create viruses and other computer disasters.

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To replace the old Windows PC that sits in the family room and has been used by many to search the Net, check e-mail, and play games, I ponder the possibility of a new Mac mini.

There's not a heap of money in the family budget for new technology, so the basic mini, at $599, would provide a good computer while satisfying our need to conserve.

The Mac mini comes with a processor and disk drive but not a keyboard, mouse or display screen. Luckily, we already have those, so right away we'd save ourselves a few hundred dollars.

Some of you may also be interested in acquiring a second (or third) computer in the family at reasonable cost and might be interested in learning more about the Mac mini. So, I decide I'll borrow one from Apple, try it out and report back.

It arrives, and right away I'm impressed by its small size (6.5 inches square and 2 inches high). Compared with my huge and heavy Mac PowerPC, the mini is, well, quite mini, yet also powerful.

For example, it comes with a 1.67 GHz or 1.83 GHz Intel Core Duo processor, 512 MB (or up to 2 GB) of RAM, a 60-GB or 80-GB hard-disk drive (or optional 120GB or 160GB drive), a Combo drive (DVD-ROM/CD-RW) or SuperDrive with double-layer support.

It has built-in Ethernet, wireless networking, Bluetooth support, one FireWire 400 port and four USB 2.0 ports.

To find out about all its tech specs and other details, go to www.apple.com/macmini.

I unpack my three-year old Apple 17-inch Studio Display and find it can't plug into the mini's DVI port, even with the included DVI-to-VGA adapter. Turns out it needs a DVI-to-ADC adapter ($99), which doesn't come with the mini.

I happen to have a ViewSonic display with a cable that does connect with the mini's adapter, so I'll use that.

Everything is now plugged in. I turn on the mini and watch it fire up and display the familiar desktop with Mail, Safari (Apple's Internet browser) and the iLife applications — iPhoto, iTunes, iMovie, iDVD, iWeb and GarageBand.

That takes care of the essentials, except word processing. Apple iWork (with Pages for word processing and Keynote for presentations) is loaded for a 30-day trial. There's also a test drive for Microsoft Office.

The mini comes with some games, including checkers, chess, backgammon, mancala and tic-tac-toe. In addition, it has the Comic Life utility for adding talk balloons and other graphics to photos.

One of the nicest family features is Front Row, which enables me (and the whole family) to view stored photos, slideshows, movies and other media while sitting on a couch and controlling the show with the included Apple Remote.

We can also access photos stored on my Mac G5 and view those photos on the mini.

To do that I need to have checked "Share my photos" on my G5 (under iPhoto>Preferences>Sharing), and both Macs need to be connected to our home network. The same is true for accessing music from my Mac's iTunes Library.

To access and watch movies stored on my G5, I need to have dragged them to the Movies folder in my iTunes Library. If I've bought movies from the iTunes Store, they would be stored in that Movies folder, too.

Alternatively, I can connect the Mac mini to a TV and use the Front Row remote controller to view the shared content on a TV screen.

Plus, I can insert a DVD movie into the mini's disc slot and control it with the remote.

To connect the mini to an HDTV, I can use a standard DVI cable or an optional DVI-to-HDMI adapter, if my HDTV requires it.

If I bought a 23-inch Apple Cinema HD Display ($899), I wouldn't need to plug the mini into a TV to watch our family's shared content on a large high-resolution display screen.

In fact, I did get a chance to view my own photos and movies on that screen, and it was awfully hard to stop.

Indeed, I have to remind myself that controlling the family budget is today's goal.

Write Linda Knapp at lknapp@seattletimes.com; to read other Getting Started columns, go to: www.seattletimes.com/gettingstarted

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