Where to Buy Your Mac mini
There are several ways to purchase a Mac mini. Which is "easiest" depends on what matters to you. So I'll outline four ways to purchase your new computer and present the pros and cons of each.
Apple's retail stores
An Apple Store, if one is close to you, is the best place to buy a Mac mini (go to www.apple.com/retail/ to find a store close to you). Prices at the Apple Stores are the same whether you shop in person or online. In some cases, one or the other offers better product availability.
Yes, you can get a slightly better price from the online stores, but as someone new to Macintosh, you should visit an Apple Store anyway, so why not buy there? The Apple Stores sell a variety of Mac applications and accessories, as well as a few books and magazines.
If you are buying non-Apple–branded merchandise, you may find a better price at another retailer, though you may not be sure the product will work with your Mac. Most everything does, but some printers don't have Mac drivers available. The Apple Stores also carry accessories that color coordinate with your new Mac, if that matters. And you will find a selection of cables.
Everyone who owns a computer—and especially those who don't—should visit an Apple Store. This is the only place where consumers can see demonstrations of the applications that make home computing fun, regardless of operating system.
The Apple retail stores accept all Apple hardware for repair, regardless of where it was purchased.
Another retail store
Before there were Apple Stores, there were stores that sold Apple computers. Those are almost all gone now, and Macs have become pretty hard to find outside of the Apple-owned retail stores. This is sad, but it's also how business works. Those stores that still exist seem to get merchandise some time after it appears in Apple's own stores. Imagine that.
I am all for supporting small merchants, but Apple has made it very clear where we're supposed to buy our Macs.
Apple's online store
The Apple online store (store.apple.com/) offers a larger selection of products than the retail locations. It is also a good place to find cables and adapters and other add-ons, especially iPod goodies. I have been pleased with the online store's service, but I also pass as many as four Apple Stores when I drive into San Francisco, so I usually shop in person.
Another online store
There are several Mac specialty merchants online. Their prices are usually very close to what Apple charges, but they generally include special deals with hardware purchases. Buy your Mac mini from one of these online stores, and you may get a "free" printer or something else you may or may not need. The major online Mac stores, such as Mac Mall and MacConnection, are reputable and may be able to fill your order more quickly than Apple's online store.
My recommendation: Buy your Mac mini directly from Apple unless you really need the free printer or whatever the online merchants are offering this week. I don't think other vendors offer enough added value to recommend them for Apple-branded items. However, for non-Apple merchandise, the Apple specialists should be able to assure you of compatibility with your Mac mini.