The Minolta scanner won design awards when it was produced and has received excellent reviews. Many people including serious professionals use them successfully. I find the detailed image quality it produces remarkable. Of course there are always people who have negative experience with any piece of equipment, but that is not necessarily a reflection of overall quality. I'm sure Nikon also makes excellent scanners, and there are probably people who complain about them too. However, all that said and done, the workflow I described has a logic of its own beyond the make of scanner one uses.
Any high resolution scanner will reproduce film grain. You can always use GEM but it bakes the results into the scan, and if you are happy with that, you don't need Neat Image. I'm not. As I said in a previous post and in my article, using Neat Image in Photoshop after scanning - especially on a layer of its own, regardless of the scanner, gives you avenues of control over grain management you don't otherwise have.
The option of choosing a scan resolution at scanning time rather than resampling in Photoshop again is one of those choices that is scanner-independent. One can spend a month of Sundays debating which option ends-up producing better quality under what circumstances. Ray and I have been having that discussion in this thread, and the up-shot is that we may be doing some comparison scans. Should be fun. Have you tested both options and compared the results? I'd be interested in your observations from actual tests, and how you specified the tests.
For a great many situations the advantage of having 5400 PPI rather than 4000 PPI to play around with is nil - as you say, but those extra PPI can come in handy for very large prints, or large prints from cropped images, etc.
I doubt one would see any quality difference under most circumstances whether scanning at 14 bit or 16 bit. Scanning at 8 bit is another matter. Again, alot of debate, but MOST experts in these matters overwhelmingly recommend using greater than 8 (16 if available) as the best insurance against banding and posterization, especially when working in large colour spaces and making substantial image adjustments in Photoshop.
Let us not confuse bit depth with dynamic range. This is explained here: http://www.scantips.com/basics14.html
. Anyhow, I do make "fine art prints", and many images of all kinds have shadow areas for which a combination of high bit depth and high DR can only be helpful. So I vote for 16 bits, thank you.
If Nikon's native scanning software is so good you don't need Silverfast, that is great, because Lasersoft charges a big bundle of money to provide this program for Nikon scanners. There must be a market and some reasons, otherwise they wouldn't waste their time on it, but for anyone who can do well without it - that's to their advantage.
Finally, the procedure I described in my article takes a certain number of words to explain, but honestly when you do it, really isn't complicated and expensive. Many professionals own Neat Image and PK Sharpener Pro anyhow, and if they don't, these are not nearly the most expensive plug-ins, nor are they difficult or time-consuming to use, after gaining a bit of experience. All I've described in that article can be boiled down to grain and sharpness management through two plug-ins, and perhaps some Photoshop layer masking in certain images where one size does not fit all - one has that luxury using the procedure I described. Many other procedures I have no doubt work just fine (that is the beauty of digital imaging, lots of options) - but not all procedures offer the same kind of control.