Mac Mini Media Center
Issue: 8.2 (January/February 2010)
Author: Dave Mancuso
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Article Length (in bytes): 3,635
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RBD Number: 8204
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IN BRIEF Product Mac Mini Manufacturer Apple, Inc. Price $599.00 Contact Info http://www.apple.com/macmini/ Pros Good value, versatile uses Cons Poor speaker, no remote included Rating (1.0-5.0): 4.5
Video content is increasingly available on the Internet. In fact, some content on the Internet is not available at all from TV providers. You could cost justify a small computer like a Mac Mini just by cancelling your television service. You'd replace it with a computer that could be a media center, and also a server. And more. But would it really work?
Purchasing a Mac Mini (or any Mac) from Amazon gives you a couple of advantages. First, you can usually find a slight price savings over the retail price of Apple products. More importantly, Amazon will ship to most locations tax-free. If you live in a state with say, six percent sales tax, that's another $36.00 savings over a retail Mac Mini purchase. And even with free shipping, the Mac Mini arrived in two days.
Setup was easy. I connected the Mini to an old 52 inch Mitsubishi HDTV. The Mini chose the proper resolution and even had a color profile for the HDTV. I bought the wireless Apple keyboard and used an old wireless Mighty Mouse with the Mini. The Mac recognized them immediately and had me pair them over Bluetooth. I was up and running within minutes. I played around with video resolutions and stuck with 720p. This made video look good, but also made the Mac screen look good on the HDTV for Safari (or any other application I wanted to use).
The Mac media center is covered in a sister review in this issue, but suffice it to say that I installed the regular video codecs and tools to run the media center and serve media to other computers in the house. A good network is pretty helpful in this situation. My current network is not permanent, but has 10/100 ethernet on its wired side. This worked for streaming video to other computers (notably an old PowerBook that I had laying around, attached to an HDTV in another room).
I wanted to set up an automatic network backup for the house computers, but the Mac Mini's hard drive size was too small. I took a Seagate Expansion external drive (two terabytes) and hooked it up to the Mac Mini. I connected to it over the network from my laptop and configured OS X's built in Time Machine backup software to use the Seagate. This should have given me automatic network backup without user intervention, but the Seagate kept going to sleep and halting data transfer. I had to download a Seagate utility on a Parallels virtual machine and use it to turn off the drive's sleep setting. Backup then worked flawlessly.
Essentially, the Mac Mini was a success. My only worry is about the Seagate, since it tends to get warm running continually. I would likely spend a bit more on a better external drive next time. Even without the new Mac Mini OS X Server option, the new Mac Mini is a fine server for any small business of household installation.
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