With Apple's recent release of the Mac Mini for just $499, the following question arises in my mind: Why buy an Airport Extreme ($199) or Airport Express base station ($129) when the Mac Mini can do so much more? Price aside, the Mac Mini soars past the capabilties of the others.
Any Mac running Mac OS X can act as a simple wireless base station if it has an Airport card installed. Most Macs can run iTunes, and have a modem, ethernet, and internet sharing capabilties. (as well as firewall capabilties built-right-into the OS) Most Macs can also share Printers with other users on a network… just as an Airport Base Station can.
Well, when I say “Most Macs”… the Mac Mini can do *all* of these things… as well as thousands more! Not only can it act as a file server for Windows/Mac/Unix/the Internet, an iTunes server, an iPhoto server, a web server, and a print server, but it can play DVDs and music… as well as display photos… on a nearby LCD, Plasma TV, or computer monitor. (via a DVI or VGA hookup on most models… Apple also offers an S-Video/Composite adapter if you're looking to hook it up to any other type of TV)
Why didn't they call it the XServe Mini? Installing Mac OS X Server brings even more server-related functionality. Plus, using it as an Internet Connection Sharing server for the house places the system in the perfect place on the network to act as a web-based server… accessable to millions if you so desire. (much of this functionality is also available in home versions of Mac OS X as well… such as the ability to run your own website)
But what about the AirTunes functionality offered with Airport Express base stations? If you don't have a monitor/keyboard/mouse hooked up, throw a copy of “Share My Desktop” (free) onto the Mac Mini and remote control the computer from another Mac with VNCViewer (free). Your Mac Mini can also be controlled from Windows and Unix-based machines with similar “VNC viewer” applications.
You can dock and charge, and sync your iPod in the living room now by just plugging it into the back of the Mac… and sync your music as well by using your iTunes library remotely through a network share.
Who needs an iPod Photo to hook up to your TV when you can just open iPhoto on the Mac Mini and get that Ken Burns Effect? 🙂
Did I mention that it's also a full-blown Mac? For all this it seems like a real bargain… especially when considering an Airport Base Station instead.
The Mac Mini is about the same size as the Airport Extreme Base Station… so I guess it just depends on what kind of functionality you'd like, and how much you want to spend.
All in all, the Mac Mini has a LOT of potential. (I've heard about people putting them in their cars… more on this later if I end up doing that, too. *wink*)