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Old Jan 18, 2013, 01:37 PM   #1
Travisimo
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How my Mac Mini has become my Maxi...

I switched to Mac several years ago with a 27" iMac. Since then, my wife and I have added many Apple products to our lifestyle, including Macbooks, iPads, and an Apple TV. The latter has been using primarily as an Airplay streaming device from our iPads and iMac computer (via the Air Video app).

I had a growing desire to have a "Home Theater PC" experience in my living room. The Apple TV solved a few problems, but never really went the whole way. With that in mind, I decided to get a 2012 Mac Mini (base model) for our living room.

Here's my setup:

2012 Mac Mini (base model, but upgraded to 16GB of Ram)
Samsung 50" LCD HDTV
Yamaha AV Receiver with HDMI
Wireless keyboard/trackpad with Magicwand
3GB Toshiba Canvio USB 3.0 external hard drive
Gigabit Ethernet networking to my iMac in another room with attached hard drives.

So it is a real revelation having the Mac hooked up to my HDTV. After making some initial adjustments to screen resolution and audio setup, I can now say that this has become my main computer. It is so much nicer and more convenient sitting on my couch with the wireless keyboard/trackpad.

Things I'm really enjoying on my Mac Mini:

- Using Plex to stream movies and tv shows from local and networked storage. The interface is so nice and clean, and it has been playing all of my content without issue. I love how I can pass digital audio to my receiver via HDMI and have it decode the audio in 5.1.

- Using Spotify and iTunes to play music on my home theater speakers.

- Playing games like Minecraft, The Walking Dead, and Plants vs Zombies. I know the Intel HD graphics are not going to play the most demanding games, but it does a fine job for simpler games at medium resolution.

- Installed Windows 7 via Virtualbox and have it permanently assigned to its own Space with 2GB of dedicated RAM. Having 16GB of RAM makes a HUGE difference on this machine, as it was getting bogged down with only 4GB. I do not use the Windows 7 install for games, but for some apps that don't have Mac counterparts.

I'm using it more than anything for media viewing, but with either HIDPI mode or screen zooming, I have no problem reading webpages or text even from my couch. All in all, my iMac has now taken second seat and the Mini has become my main computer. It's still nice having most of my storage and peripherals attached to my iMac. And with the Gigabit Ethernet network, I can easily stream media from the iMac to the Mini. I can even use the iMac's optical drive if I need to using Remote Disk. The Toshiba 3GB Canvio external drive is attached locally and is actually faster than the internal drive via USB 3.0.

My wife is interested in using iMovie to make our home movies using the Mini, but I'm not sure if the onboard graphics will be up to the task. I've also attached one of our older Wiimote controllers to control Plex, which is pretty nifty.

In summary, the Mac Mini is a fine machine. The USB 3.0 ports are great for attached storage. And the HDMI output is perfect for video and audio to my receiver and HDTV. I've encountered a few glitches here and there, but for the most part, I have everything working the way I want.

For some, I know I'm preaching to the choir. For others, my unashamed praise will seem like Apple fanboyism. Hopefully, there are those that find my anecdote interesting and helpful in some way. Thank you for your time.
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Old Jan 18, 2013, 01:48 PM   #2
nephron8
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Congrats on your setup.
Would you mind posting some nice snap of all this in action.
Would surely inspire many including me to replace tv with mini.

Thanks.
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Old Jan 18, 2013, 03:17 PM   #3
Leut
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Could you specify what kind of settings you've changed for the resolution and the audio?

I am most likely be picking up my mac mini 2012 by the end of next week, and am also planning to hook it up via HDMI to my tv.
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Old Jan 18, 2013, 04:15 PM   #4
sentiblue
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I have done similar setup

Mac Mini too...

- When I'm in my home office, I hook it up to two 27" thunderbolts
- When in the bedroom, I activate entire screen airplay to the AppleTV in the bedroom. Together with the app called "Rowmote" used on ipod/iphone/ipad, I can remotely navigate the computer and use ALL applications on it with display sent to the HDTV.
- I have to say though... the responsiveness of this airplay is not as good as I expected... but for the first revision it's good enough.

This machine came home with 4GB RAM (built like this on purpose) and I purchased 2x8GB from newegg for 100 bux... cheap and takes care of memory issue.

My only issue now is the 1TB 5400RPM drive. It's dawg slow!!!

- I'm thinking of SSD + external thunderbolt... but boy isn't thunderbolt expensive!

- 1TB fusion: if I do a complete reinstall over the internet... I'd have to hook the old drive up some how to transfer all my data... anybody can point me to a piece of hardware for this?
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Old Jan 18, 2013, 04:34 PM   #5
ActionableMango
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sentiblue View Post
- I have to say though... the responsiveness of this airplay is not as good as I expected... but for the first revision it's good enough.
Airplay is much less laggy if you used wired Ethernet instead of Wi-Fi.

Quote:
Originally Posted by sentiblue View Post
- 1TB fusion: if I do a complete reinstall over the internet... I'd have to hook the old drive up some how to transfer all my data... anybody can point me to a piece of hardware for this?
Any cheap USB-to-SATA adapter should work. These are inexpensive and can be found at Amazon or anywhere else really. Obviously I'd get a USB 3.0 one for the much greater speed.
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Old Jan 18, 2013, 05:14 PM   #6
sentiblue
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Appreciate the tip!!

Thanks Mango...
I'll definitely try Amazon for that item... and yes definitely USB3
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Old Jan 18, 2013, 05:36 PM   #7
Photics
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sentiblue View Post
This machine came home with 4GB RAM (built like this on purpose) and I purchased 2x8GB from newegg for 100 bux... cheap and takes care of memory issue.
I'm using an early 2009 Mac Mini as my main computer. The only upgrade I did was the RAM. 1GB to 4GB. I've been thinking that I should upgrade my Mac, but it still works. It's nice and quiet.

Quote:
Originally Posted by sentiblue View Post
- I'm thinking of SSD + external thunderbolt... but boy isn't thunderbolt expensive!
Thunderbolt is fast. Although, USB 3.0 is more affordable for me. I've been looking at external hard drives for running Time Machine. USB is good enough for me for that task. Although, I have been thinking about upgrading my monitor to a 27". Again, Thunderbolt seems cool... but HDMI is probably good enough for my computer projects and it's a lot cheaper.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Travisimo View Post
So it is a real revelation having the Mac hooked up to my HDTV. After making some initial adjustments to screen resolution and audio setup, I can now say that this has become my main computer. It is so much nicer and more convenient sitting on my couch with the wireless keyboard/trackpad.
I have a PC Laptop hooked up to my TV, but I find it hard to read websites or generally be productive while on the couch. When I retire my Mac Mini as my main desktop computer, I think I might hook it up to the TV. Maybe Mac OS will be easier to customize for large viewing. I'm skeptical though. I feel like the title of my main computer is the one at my desk and not my TV.
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Old Jan 18, 2013, 05:48 PM   #8
Travisimo
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nephron8 View Post
Congrats on your setup.
Would you mind posting some nice snap of all this in action.
Would surely inspire many including me to replace tv with mini.

Thanks.
I would love to do a video when I get some time. No promises, but anything to inspire others would be fun!

----------

Quote:
Originally Posted by Leut View Post
Could you specify what kind of settings you've changed for the resolution and the audio?

I am most likely be picking up my mac mini 2012 by the end of next week, and am also planning to hook it up via HDMI to my tv.
I actually installed Quickres in order to quickly change the resolution and also enable the HIDPI mode. However, there isn't one resolution that works best all the time. Right now, I'm finding 1344x756 to be a sweet spot for browsing the web and reading because it enlarges the text enough for me to read from my couch. However, there's also a HIDPI mode at 960x540 that makes text look much better but enlarges the UI a bit too much. 1080p is my TV's native resolution, but everything is very small at that resolution.

Which begs the question... the Mac Mini is actually switching resolution, but my TV is always reporting 1080p/60 no matter what my Mac is set to. So does that mean if I set the Mac Mini's resolution below 1080p that my TV is actually upscaling the video to 1080p anyway?

At any rate, I still need to do some more experimenting, but for now, I routinely switch resolutions depending on the resolution. Plex looks great no matter what resolution my Mac is set to, Steam's Big Picture mode helps too. I also use the Screen zooming feature by holding the Control key and using my trackpad to zoom in and out.

----------

Quote:
Originally Posted by sentiblue View Post
- I have to say though... the responsiveness of this airplay is not as good as I expected... but for the first revision it's good enough.

My only issue now is the 1TB 5400RPM drive. It's dawg slow!!!

- I'm thinking of SSD + external thunderbolt... but boy isn't thunderbolt expensive!
Regarding Screen Sharing, it definitely works better over wired Ethernet as mentioned (especially if you keep everything Gigabit). I have Cat 6 running between my computer room and living room, as well as to and from my Gigabit router. In my living room, I have a Gigabit Ethernet switch that allows me to hook up all of my living room connected devices via Gigabit Ethernet. This has greatly improved all of my media streaming and even my gaming. Wireless has come a long way, but still does not hold a candle to wired Ethernet. Of course, some of my devices are only 100mbps, not 1000, but it's still better than wireless (especially in reliability and consistency).

Regarding storage, yes the internal drive is not the fastest. I thought about going with Thunderbolt, but went with the Toshiba Canvio USB 3.0 instead and it's getting very good performance (better than the internal drive, actually). Not sure Thunderbolt would do much better unless you're running RAID since the limiting factor is likely the actual speed of the drive itself.
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Old Jan 18, 2013, 06:21 PM   #9
phrehdd
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It is good to see that folks are exploiting the Mini for home theater purposes and work around some issues.

Rather than try to replace the internal 5400rpm drive, consider USB3 or Tbolt external drive for a main drive and use the 5400 internal for back up or Time Machine. The former offers a good fast fix for a failed main drive as you simply disconnect the external and boot up until you replace the external.

OSX if I recall wont pass through or handle HD audio and thus PLEX and XMBC (unless things have changed so forgive me) uses the core audio only which is DTS and Dolby etc. There has been discussion that the MS OS and Linux on a Mini can handle HD audio. Better info can probably be found on PLEX and XMBC site.

No optical drive is rather interesting to me as both the Mini and the iMac's weakest mechanical point were the optical drives. They seem to be first candidate for failure and given their integration, most had to send their systems out to be repaired/part replaced. An external optical drive has and remains a better bet for two reasons - if a disc is "locked in" one can turn off the unit and leave the Mini/iMac on rather than have to reboot the computer. External drives tend to be more robust and certainly faster than internal slot load drives.

I admit I am somewhat of a Mini enthusiast but often grumble under my breath at some of the decisions Apple has made which limits the ability of the Mini either by chip choices (video) or OS/EFI choices - audio. I am glad USB 3 is now available as Tbolt was just plain wrong as the only high speed choice back when. eSATA should have been included since 2010 or so and yet another on purpose limitation by Apple.

I'll continue to be a Mini user and find that the advantages outweigh most of the challenges and foibles of the models provided. My next computer will certainly be a Mini again.
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Old Jan 19, 2013, 05:21 AM   #10
JohnnyComeLatly
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Sounds like your Mini is similar to my set up. It's my main computer hooked up to a 32" HD LCD TV. Just a few tips/suggestions for others considering it, if your screen size looks off (windows go above the screen when you drag/maximize), then look for that little "Overscan" button which will cure that in no time.

For your wife's thoughts on iMovie, I use mine for it all the time for it. I just recently went to Cabo San Lucas (Mexico) and had a HD GoPro helmet cam while we zip lined across some ravines. I had no problems editing, and rendering didn't take a really long time. Your fans will kick up a bit, but if you're using your mini from across the room you likely wont hear them.

I upgraded to an OWC SSD and maxed the memory. It smokes all my other Macs in terms of speed. To my understanding, Mini's don't have USB 3 yet, so I don't see any difference between my USB2 and USB3 externals...unless I hook it up to my new MBA.

I bought a NAS (Western Digital) which has a built in Twonky Media Server, so your iMac wouldn't even need to be on, plus you can stream to other Windows, XBOX 360, etc devices.
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Old Jan 19, 2013, 09:15 AM   #11
Travisimo
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnnyComeLatly View Post
I upgraded to an OWC SSD and maxed the memory. It smokes all my other Macs in terms of speed. To my understanding, Mini's don't have USB 3 yet, so I don't see any difference between my USB2 and USB3 externals...unless I hook it up to my new MBA.
.
After watching some of the videos showing how to add an SSD, I am not brave enough to try it and worry about voiding my warranty for now.

I don't understand your comment about USB 3 because the 2012 Mini certainly does have USB 3.0 ports.

Using Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, my internal drive maxes out at about 95MB/s Read and 85MB/s Write. My Toshiba Canvio 3TB USB 3.0 external drive maxes out around 125MB/s. This does show that the internal drive is on the slow side, but I'm definitely getting USB 3.0 speeds on the external.
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Old Jan 20, 2013, 01:54 AM   #12
JohnnyComeLatly
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Travisimo View Post
After watching some of the videos showing how to add an SSD, I am not brave enough to try it and worry about voiding my warranty for now.

I don't understand your comment about USB 3 because the 2012 Mini certainly does have USB 3.0 ports.

Using Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, my internal drive maxes out at about 95MB/s Read and 85MB/s Write. My Toshiba Canvio 3TB USB 3.0 external drive maxes out around 125MB/s. This does show that the internal drive is on the slow side, but I'm definitely getting USB 3.0 speeds on the external.
Oh, maybe my Mac mini bought in 2012 is a 2011. I don't see any difference between my two externals, one is a 2 and the other is a 3. However, the 3 is faster in my 3 week old MBA.

It's not terribly difficult to get to the drives, but I can see how it can scare off people. I have read a few stories of people popping their power connectors from the wire (instead of the motherboard, as designed), but I had the proper tools (OWC tool kit) and no issues. I also watched and re-watched 2-3 videos at least a dozen times before I even started.
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