Electronic Design

Teardown Reveals Mac Mini's Cutting-Edge Design

With products like the iPod nano and the iMac, Apple Computer has demonstrated its talent for packing large amounts of functionality into small form factors. Yet its Mac mini desktop PC takes high integration to a whole new level. Creative design and cutting-edge components have produced a system that is small in size and cost but big on style and elegance.

Recently, iSuppli’s Teardown Analysis service dissected a Mac mini based on a 1.25-GHz PowerPC G4 microprocessor with 256 Mbytes of double-data-rate 333 (DDR333) SDRAM and a 40-Gbyte Ultra ATA drive. Starting at $499 and measuring 6.5 in.2 and 2 in. tall, it’s positioned as a low-cost entry point into the Macintosh world. Its small size and simple appearance set it apart from today’s cumbersome, unattractive PC boxes, providing an alluring alternative to Windows-based systems. But its beauty is more than skin deep.

The dissection revealed one of the most cutting-edge designs ever seen by iSuppli’s Teardown Analysis service, one that borrows heavily from notebook PCs. Its power supply is external. Major components, including the hard drive and the optical disk drive, employ the laptop form factor. Also, the Mac mini’s highly integrated semiconductors reduce size and cut costs. Its core logic ASIC combines the functions usually found in separate Northbridge and Southbridge chips into a single device. Out of the hundreds of teardowns conducted by iSuppli, this chip had the highest pin count—997—ever seen in an electronic product.

The Mac mini’s design and mechanical attributes are simple and elegant, using few screws, many snap-in parts, and modular subsystems wherever possible. Apple’s highly efficient design-for-manufacturing approach is similar to that seen in high-volume products like Nokia mobile phones. Its heat-dissipation system’s thermal, non-skid pad is co-molded to the base of the PC. Also, its pass-through-channeled microprocessor heatsink and ducting promote airflow through the system.

Still, the Mac mini is cheap to build. The Teardown Analysis service estimates its bill of materials (BOM) cost to be $274.69. With manufacturing costs added, the total rises to $283.37. Apple once again has demonstrated how smart design choices can yield a product that combines high style, small size, and low BOM and manufacturing costs.

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