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Report Card, Part Three When the original Apple Macintosh debuted in 1984, it carried a $2,495 price tag - roughly $5,250 in 2008 money. Ever since, the debate has raged over whether Macs are more expensive, feature-by-feature and capability-by-capability, than their PC brethren.

And what a meaningless debate it is.

Here at The Reg, we subscribe to two time-honored dictums: "You get what you pay for," and "You pays your money and you makes your choice." By and large, Apple produces solid, reliable hardware, much of it bundled with a broad range of user-friendly software. If you want Apple, you buy Apple and you pay Apple's price. No one's forcing you to.

On January 24, 1984, when Steve Jobs unleashed the Macintosh at an Apple shareholders meeting (click here for video), no one cheered when he announced its un-LISA-like "mainstream price point." They cheered when he pulled it from a carrying case and it said "Hello, I'm Macintosh. It sure is great to get out of that bag."

With the inevitable January 24, 2009 just around the corner, we're handing Jobs and crew their 25-year report card. Just because we can. We've already served up Parts One and Two, rating and slating everything from Apple's innovation mojo to its (non-existent) philanthropic efforts. Now, we rate the products themselves. But we won't mention the price of a PC.

Sons of Macintosh

Since Steve Jobs first pulled the original Mac out of its carrying case, there have been just under 300 different Mac models.

Today, there are nine - not counting variations in processor power, graphics subsystems, and the like. The desktop line includes the Mac mini, the 20-inch and 24-inch iMacs, and the Mac Pro. On your lap, there are a pair of MacBooks, plus two different-sized MacBook Pros and the featherweight MacBook Air. Well, "on your lap" might be a wee bit overstated, since Apple's laptops have such toasty bottoms that it's not wise to get them too close to your naughty bits.

Most Macs are, in general, closed systems that aren't meant to be upgraded or customized, despite the fact that an entire third-party ecosystem exists to do just that. Most Mac users, however, don't exploit upgrade possibilities other than RAM - and except for the top-of-the-line Mac Pro and the hard drives of the MacBook and MacBook Pro, Apple doesn't make it easy for them to do so.

That said, if you buy the right Mac, it'll do pretty much what you want it to do right out of the box - unless you're a devoted gamer. Despite the fact that Apple continually tries to assert that it's got game, the truth is that no Mac can carry the jockstrap of a fully hot-rodded Windows box when it comes to PC gaming.

Let's start at the bottom of the desktop line and work our way up.

Mac mini: Ah, pity the poor, neglected runt of the Mac litter. The mini ($599 to $799) is the only Mac to still contain a last-generation 65nm Merom-class processor, and its innards haven't been upgraded since the middle of last year. It's the only Mac, for example, that's still lumbered with 667MHz frontside bus (FSB).

Rumors of the mini's impending death have yet to come true, and so it carries on in its humble duty of being the cheapest - and the cutest - way to run Mac OS X. It's tiny (2- by 6.5- by 6.5-inches), quiet, and unobtrusive. Do remember that you'll need to supply your own mouse, keyboard, and display.

Mac mini: C

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