The Holy “headless” Grail – Psystar delivers headless “bargain” OpenMac – but is it a bargain? - Macenstein

The Holy “headless” Grail – Psystar delivers headless “bargain” OpenMac – but is it a bargain?

Yeah, it kinda is.

A company called Psystar has begun selling a Mac clone called the OpenMac, capable of running Mac OS X Leopard. Starting at $399, the specs are meant to compare favorably with the $800 Mac mini, yet offer more expandability options than the mini does.

Above: The OpenMac is not as stylish as Apple’s CPUS, but we’ve seen far uglier. Plus, it’s what’s inside that counts!

Base model

    – 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
    – 2GB of DDR2 667 memory
    – Integrated Intel GMA 950 Graphics
    – 20x DVD+/-R Drive
    – 4 USB Ports
    – 250GB 7200RPM Drive

In its base configuration, the Psystar “OpenMac” does not ship with Leopard, although you can have them install it for you for $155 (they include the Leopard Retail DVD/packaging, as well as a restore DVD). Additional options like a faster processor, more RAM, a GeForce 8600GT 512MB graphics card, larger drives, and a 3 port FireWire card are all available. A fully tricked out OpenMac will run you $1,044.99, and the majority of parts are identical to those found in iMacs and Mac Pros.

The Holy “headless” Grail

Many Apple fans (myself included) have long wished for a low-priced, headless Mac with some expandability options, and the OpenMac would appear to be the answer. However, when one looks at the base model for $399, it may not be the bargain many have hoped for. First, unless you own a copy of Leopard, you’ll need to add $155 to the price of the OpenMac to get it to even begin to compare to the mini. then, throw in $79 for iLife, and suddenly you are up to $633 vs. $599 for the mini.

But not so fast. The $599 mini only has a 1.8 GHz processor, 1 GB of RAM, an 80GB Hard Drive, and a combo drive. Apple doesn’t allow you to even come close to building the base OpenMac specs into the mini. Even the top of the line mini tops out at 2 GHz processor, 2 GB of RAM, 160 GB Hard Drive, and a SuperDrive. And it costs $949.

Of course, the biggest selling point of the Open Mac is it’s expandability. You can add up to 4 GB of RAM to the OpenMac, and add a dedicated graphics card, something mini-critics have long seen as the mini’s greatest shortcoming. For just $100 more than the top-of-the-line Mac mini, you can get a fully tricked out Open Mac with 400 GB Hard Drive, a 2.66GHz Processor, the GeForce 8600GT 512MB, 3 FireWire ports, 4GB of RAM and Leopard. When you take a look at these specs, you do get a somewhat sobering glimpse at Apple’s profit margins.

Sounds awesome, what’s the catch?

Well, yes, it IS awesome, and yes, there are sure to be catches. While there is no question the OpenMac bests Apple’s Mac mini (and even iMac) in power and features, there are risks involved in committing to the OpenMac. First, in theory running OS X on any non-Apple computer violates OS X’s End User License Agreement. But we’ll assume you don’t care about that. The real catch is a line in the OpenMac FAQ with regards to installing updates.

Can I Run updates on my OpenMac?
The answer is yes and no. No because there are some updates that are decidedly non-safe. Yes, because most updates are not non-safe. It’s best to check InsanelyMac for this information but when in doubt don’t update it. You may have to reinstall OS X if it is a non-safe update.

The reason for this is in order to run Leopard on a non-Apple machine, certain patches must be made to the Mac OS X kernel. This means in theory Apple could make updates that detect these changes and do not install correctly, thus forcing you to downgrade your installation to get your machine up and running again.

So, is the extra power and expandability worth the risk of perpetually being stuck at Leopard 10.5.2? That is something you’ll have to answer for yourself. I’m tempted to buy one just to screw around with it (and apparently so are many other people, as the Psystar site is down at the moment due to traffic). Or perhaps people realize Psystar has about 20 more minutes before Apple’s lawyers try to stop them from selling these machines with Leopard pre-installed. It sounds like the EULA is not enough to legally stop them, however, but given Apple’s deep pockets, it will be interesting to see how big a fight Psystar wants to put up.

Thanks to faithful Macenstein readers Jonathan and Brian for the heads up.

[EDIT: Psystar has changed the name from OpenMac to Open Computer.]

11 Responses to “The Holy “headless” Grail – Psystar delivers headless “bargain” OpenMac – but is it a bargain?”
  1. Art Vandelay says:

    Is it down because of traffic? Or is it down for a different reason…

  2. Hindsight says:

    That’s awesome, if for no other reason that smacking Apple upside the head for refusing to offer a headless mid-desktop option. I’m a MP user, using my MP in a pro capacity, but I can certainly see there’s a niche to be filled. I’m sure Apple sells a lot of MP’s to people who buy them just to run FCE/ iDVD/iMovie/Aperture and do some gaming in Winders but who really don’t “need” or more aptly don’t “use” the processing horsepower of their MP’s.

    I get it though. Apple wants to keep everything jammed into neat and tidy little iMachines that can be upgraded constantly. Disposable if they were razors, but instead people end up with 6 old iMacs in their basement over a decade.

    These dudes will get shut down, at least as far as advertising their OSX computability, and certainly as you mentioned having it pre-loaded.

  3. Having just bought a Mac Mini, I am certainly glad I paid the premium I did for it. Its so compact and quiet I don’t think this offering would come anywhere close. Also, I think a Mac Mini will hold its value far longer than this will.

  4. Jason Burns says:

    I wrote an article on this topic a year ago

    It does beg the question though, if Apple were to try and fill this void, would they raise the price on the iMac? Drop the price on the Mini? There is a serious hardware gap between the two, and very little performance gap besides the monitor/video. How would the differentiate it? I for one would buy one in a heartbeat because I don’t want a built in LCD ala iMac, but I don’t need to spend $3k on a Mac Pro. But where does it fit? Apple isn’t exactly known for giving options in a given price point.

  5. Uber Eterpay says:

    I love this idea. I was contemplating making my AppleTV a computer for the house. Just email, and the like.

    But this is a great idea. It’s lke the guys installing Leopard on the Asus EEEpc. Affordable is a lot better sounding to me than style.

  6. Bart says:

    I think it would be all good if the Mac mini just came with a decent graphics card option like my iMac. Intel GMA is crap for most purposes.

  7. Uber Eterpay says:

    Bart, size is also a factor here with the Mini. If you added a full fledged video card, it would take the Mini back to the stature of the G4 Cube. And while that’s all well and good, it wouldn’t make for a good advertising scheme of tiny, and kewl.

    Gotta love the Apple Marketing Machine.

  8. imajoebob says:

    It’s called the “Open Computer.” If they were stupid enough to call it OpenMac Steve would have the sheriff at their door calling them ClosedPsystar.

    By the way, the part about upgrades is one of the justifications Apple uses for why it doesn’t license their design. Their customers are willing to pay more to avoid the compatibility horrors of Windows systems.

  9. imajoebob,

    they changed the name this morning apparently when the site was down. it was called Open Mac last night.
    see here…

    -The Doc

  10. Ulf says:

    You cannot compare the Mac mini and the Open Computer directly. Just have a look at the measurements. Having this in mind of course the Mac mini isn’t as expandable as the Open Computer is but they do use a more-or-less-standard mini tower enclosure. The Mac mini is tiny and very, very quiet, the Open Computer is supposed to be whether nor. At least the size isn’t…

    I’d love to have a affordable “Mac midi”, just the thing the Open Computer is but this doesn’t seem to be a solution. I don’t think that Psystar will be able to sell these machines for a long time as the Apple lawyers will earlier or later prevent the company from selling this computer. It’s not legal to sell or even use a hacked Mac OS X and one of the main advantages of Mac OS X, simplicity, is lost when you have to hack your system before installing a security upgrade…

    Please, Apple, build a Mac midi yourself…

  11. Bronskrat says:

    Yeah, basically the “patches” are hacks and they’re going to get busted on that, even though they are purchasing a legal copy of the OS. I don’t know though, if I legally own the OS, aren’t I allowed to do anything I want with it? How far can the EULA control a purchased product? Owners of the patched OS will need to be a bit savvy as Apple will be making it as difficult as possible with every update to continue to run the patched OS.

    I’m surprised that no one can build a fake-Mac that Apple can’t detect is fake. Is there an “I’m an Apple” chip on the motherboard or something?

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