"A Solid Value a Beautiful Package"4.0 starson by Mars21
Pros: Great cross-platform (OSX/Windows) performance. Tiny footprint, Elegant looks. Media PC Capable.
Cons: No 802.11n, only 802.11G. Slower hard drive than needed. Could have more memory at the price. Challenging for most consumers to upgrade.
Summary: Apple has not developed a lowest cost box here. You can certainly find a configuration that has higher performance on some measures, but as an overall package, there is nothing like the mini.
As anyone who read the C|Net review, they really strained to find comparable, mainstream alternatives. The best example were windows-oriented mini-towers but as you can see, these are hardly in the same league. The Mac Mini is tailored to those who want good (not the best) performance in a tiny package. The elegance of the design also lets you put it in your living room as an accessory for a home theater set-up.
This is how I'm using my mini - using a DVI to HDMI converter, I'm using my Plasma display. I've added a blue-tooth keyboard and mouse to do more intensive computing. As a media server, Apple's Front Row software plus the simple remote let me play tunes and movies in my home theater. I also plan to add Windows XP since the mini can run both. Vista works, but most reviews suggest that upgrade may not be worth the performance hit you get.
Some negative: Apple did not offer the improved 802.11n wifi capability with this upgrade. This hampers the range and bandwidth of the wireless. This makes the Mini the only computer in Apple's lineup without 802.11n. Apple also scrimps on memory in the basic package. For modern applications, maxing out on memory is the cheapest, best upgrade. Apple's built to order upgrade costs are pretty high when compared to other providers (and assuming your willingness to install memory yourself). The mini is also challenging to open for memory upgrades. Sure you can get into it with a putty knife or a bunch of wires (to pull past the internal tabs), but that's not for the average Joe or Jane. I did a memory swap to max out the RAM, but I had to be patient and deliberate to follow the online directions provided by other pioneers.
I also reformatted the 200 GB desktop drive from the Compaq this replaced. Just got a $20 USB enclosure for the 3.5inch drive and I've more than doubled my capacity.
Finally, here's a tip for people who want to dip their toe into a Mac Mini - wait for Apple to offer refurbished units which happens periodically on their online store. You may get last year's technology, but for less intensive applications it's fine. A 1-year Apple warranty can take out any concern you may have with a refurb.