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Old Mar 29, 2013, 04:54 AM   #1
danielwerner
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Mac mini as media center?

Hi,

I'm sure there's lots of threads about mac mini as a media center, but I'd like some buyers tips for me personally. My first mac was a 15¨ Macbook Pro Retina, and lately I've been getting the idea that I could use a mac mini as a media center, connected to my 46¨hdtv.

I just want to use it to download torrents (and display them with plex), play 1080p movies, and also use it as a emulator for SNES, PSX, etc (with a controller in the USB port - awesome!). My only criterias is that the Mac mini can play these games without lagging, and it needs to be DEAD SILENT. I bought a NAS a couple of months ago, sold it after 24 h because it was making too much sound.

So my questions are:

I'd love to spend as little as possible on this. Is it overkill to buy a 2,3 quad-core Mini with 8gb memory and a 256 gb SSD? Will I be fine on the baseline mac with dual-core and a 5400rpm hdd?

I mean, will the media server/game station be fast AND silent enough without an i7 processor and a SSD? The difference is like 700 dollars.

Also: Can I play 1080p movies without the slightest of lag from a USB3 external hdd (probably a WD My Passport)? Does a SSD vs a HDD make any difference there?

I'd appreciate your input. Thanks alot!

PS. Please don't comment that I should buy a 150 dollar media player. A mac mini is what I want, I just want to know what I need in terms of hardware for it to be fast and silent.
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Old Mar 29, 2013, 07:03 AM   #2
blanka
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Or get a 2009 or 2010 one as you can equip those with a internal BluRay player.
Anything from the 2009 2.26Ghz Core2Duo with 9400M does everything you want (it was the first with decent HD decoding capacity in the GPU).
So YES the 2.3 quad is overkill.
I would advise to use gigabit for connecting external drives. The 3,5 inch USB bricks on a short USB cable will probably produce more noise than any Mini since the G4 produced, and so will your TV's backlight.

If you want to update the drive for media-player purpose, you probably are better of with the Scorpio 750Gb ones than with SSD as SSD speed is not needed for media playing, yet the size is very small. But you can also add a small SSD in the second bay yourself, and keep the 1Tb for storage.

Lag in movies is more caused by the software you use than by the storage solution. XBMC is flawless where VLC can drop a frame now and then.
I play a lot of movies from a FW400 external drive connected to my work desktop, which runs over gigabit to the Mini 2009. Never a drop in playback.

Last edited by blanka; Mar 29, 2013 at 07:11 AM.
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Old Mar 29, 2013, 08:51 AM   #3
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A 2009-2010 mini with a Blu ray and a 1tb drive is a ultimate media center
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Old Mar 29, 2013, 09:00 AM   #4
Che Castro
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You can get an Apple TV for $99

And use an external drive connected to your MacBook with movies

And if u have an ipad/iphone you'll have AirPlay
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Old Mar 29, 2013, 09:38 AM   #5
blanka
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That is no compare:
- The apple TV will become a brick in 3-4 years. All iOS devices do thanks to crappy iOS support for older devices. If you count rest-value into account, buying a 2009/2010 mini now will probably not differ much on the annual cost compared to an Apple TV.
- The Mini is a full-featured computer, that does all emulation gaming for example.
- The Mini does BR playback, the Apple TV chokes on even the lowest bitrate Full-HD movies, and don't botter about HQ audio codecs.
- You can play MKV's. I really ROFL when I read all topics on subtitle problems and MP4 conversion horror. Time is money too!
- You can add a DVB tuner and do time-lapse
- You can attach to gigabit wired networks. Not only crappy Wifi/100baseT or USB2 options to feed your computer with more data.
- Remote-desktop control
etc. etc.
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Old Mar 29, 2013, 03:38 PM   #6
danielwerner
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Cool, thanks for your answers!

A question though: If I buy a 5400 rpm 1 gb HDD, will that be silent? What are your experiences? Anything else I should think about when buying a Mac mini for media center use? And btw: Is it okay to have the mac mini via wifi? I have a great wifi router (Asus N66U) but will I be able to transfer files, and use the screen sharing without much lag? I plan to access the mac mini from my wifi connected Macbook pro.

Also, I agree about the Apple TV not being able to do what I want in this context. I have a 3rd gen one, and the only thing it's good for is streaming spotify to my TV's speakers. I tried watching a 1080p episode of "Girls", which lagged. So... Yeah. It sucks.
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Old Mar 30, 2013, 12:05 AM   #7
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I just picked up a 2.3 with 4gb ram which I will upgrade eventually to 16 and it works perfect. I use XBMC for playback and plex to stream. I went with the quad core in case I needed to do any encoding and the possibility of having multiple streams from Plex going at once since its literally a full fledge media center/server. The fan in the mini so far has never gone over 1800 rpms. The only sound I hear is from the 4tb external next to it!
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Old Mar 30, 2013, 06:17 AM   #8
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More RAM doesn't make any sense in a media center.
My 2.33 GHz C2D Mini with 2GB RAM still pulls strong with XBMC, over 900 HD movies and +5000 episodes of TV series. It's worth $300 now but will work until 4K becomes a broadcast standard...
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Old Mar 30, 2013, 08:44 AM   #9
danielwerner
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hwojtek View Post
More RAM doesn't make any sense in a media center.
My 2.33 GHz C2D Mini with 2GB RAM still pulls strong with XBMC, over 900 HD movies and +5000 episodes of TV series. It's worth $300 now but will work until 4K becomes a broadcast standard...
Hmm... Really? Even when I plan to download torrents, play 1080p, use Plex/XBMC at the same time? And play PSX games via emulator?

I always thought RAM was the bottle-neck of most computers. But it would be nice to save 100 bucks (not a big fan of upgrading myself).
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Old Mar 30, 2013, 09:32 AM   #10
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Even though you plan to do transcoding on-the-fly, big RAM is not that important as a fast processor, IMHO. Transcoding is a process that needs to work more or less real-time (possibly with a small overhead, so the recoded stream is smoothly played back on a device on the other end). This means you won't gain a lot if you max out your memory. You are well catered with skip protection by the buffering that is built into OS X anyway.
This said, I use my setup as an XBMC front end for a storage array I have in my basement and do not do any transcoding, so I can not back up my claim by a solid "it works for me" argument, however I did play with transcoding a couple of times before and got satisfying results even from a dual-core G5 with 1.5 GB RAM, so I believe you will be OK without a lot of RAM anyway.
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Old Mar 30, 2013, 09:53 AM   #11
Santabean2000
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Quote:
Originally Posted by danielwerner View Post
Hi,

I'm sure there's lots of threads about mac mini as a media center, but I'd like some buyers tips for me personally. My first mac was a 15¨ Macbook Pro Retina, and lately I've been getting the idea that I could use a mac mini as a media center, connected to my 46¨hdtv.

I just want to use it to download torrents (and display them with plex), play 1080p movies, and also use it as a emulator for SNES, PSX, etc (with a controller in the USB port - awesome!). My only criterias is that the Mac mini can play these games without lagging, and it needs to be DEAD SILENT. I bought a NAS a couple of months ago, sold it after 24 h because it was making too much sound.

So my questions are:

I'd love to spend as little as possible on this. Is it overkill to buy a 2,3 quad-core Mini with 8gb memory and a 256 gb SSD? Will I be fine on the baseline mac with dual-core and a 5400rpm hdd?

I mean, will the media server/game station be fast AND silent enough without an i7 processor and a SSD? The difference is like 700 dollars.

Also: Can I play 1080p movies without the slightest of lag from a USB3 external hdd (probably a WD My Passport)? Does a SSD vs a HDD make any difference there?

I'd appreciate your input. Thanks alot!

PS. Please don't comment that I should buy a 150 dollar media player. A mac mini is what I want, I just want to know what I need in terms of hardware for it to be fast and silent.
You're better off going with an internal drive rather than mixing in externals; the passport drive is 2.5" anyways.

My advice: buy the 2.3quad with Fusion drive. 4GB RAM should be ok, but if not then a quick after-market purchase will do you nicely.

Pretty much, buy, set and forget. Done.
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Old Mar 30, 2013, 10:12 AM   #12
danielwerner
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Santabean2000 View Post
You're better off going with an internal drive rather than mixing in externals; the passport drive is 2.5" anyways.

My advice: buy the 2.3quad with Fusion drive. 4GB RAM should be ok, but if not then a quick after-market purchase will do you nicely.

Pretty much, buy, set and forget. Done.
Thanks, but I plan on having many more movies than just 1 TB. And the Fusion drive costs like 350 dollars more, plus it isn't sold with the i5 processor. Which also costs 200 dollars.

So basically I just need to know if I'll do fine with the i5, 5400 rpm HDD, 4 gb RAM model, for my needs.
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Old Mar 30, 2013, 02:57 PM   #13
famous600
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I had this question when I was in the market just a month ago. What makes more sense, buying the low end that may not suit your needs in the future or buying overkill that will for sure handle everything you can throw at it with no questions asked. That's how I made my decision. The quad i7 will be great for years to come.
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Old Mar 30, 2013, 04:04 PM   #14
danielwerner
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I went ahead and ordered the base version (i5). I figured I can sell it and buy a newer one in a couple of years. I may lose a couple of hundred bucks on it, but what the hell.

I'm just hoping it will work without much lag when accessing the mac mini from my RMBP via screen sharing. It will go via N-wifi to my ASUS N66U and then from that to the Mac mini. I could wire Ethernet between the router and the mac mini, but I'd rather not. Anyone with experience on how this will work?
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Old Mar 31, 2013, 03:34 PM   #15
airtonac
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Hey,
I think my post is related to this thread, but it goes a bit further than using a Mac mini as a media center...
My idea is to buy an used mac mini to act as a NAS and to be connected to my tv as a htpc (xbmc or plex) streaming 1080p movies.The mini would also be used as a time machine to backup files from a macbook pro. I'm wondering if I can get rid of my wifi router (it's broken) and use the mini for this task. Two laptops, one ipad and iphones would connect wirelessly to this network. Few questions:

1. What would be the cheapest version of mac mini for this purpose? I found one on ebay (MID-2010 - 8 GB RAM (upgraded) - 320 GB HDD, 2.4 GHz) which is reasonable priced at £230. But maybe I don't even need 8GB of RAM...
2. Does the internet connection sharing of Mac OS X have ample security for this (wpa2? any special firewall configuration options? etc.)
3. Any 3rd party apps that would be better than what is built in?
4. Is this advisable? Are there any disadvantages of using a mac instead of a normal router? I know there isn't any physical separation of the firewall and my inner network, but it seems if I configure this correctly, there wouldn't be issues.
5. Can the mini's built in airport card handle all the packets between all the connected devices like a normal router?

Sorry about all this questions... I just want to make sure the mini is the best option for my needs.

Cheers
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Old Mar 31, 2013, 03:57 PM   #16
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1) Get the quad Mini as the dual may be powerful enough for regular duties but various additional software you may want down the line to help with your media center (rippers etc.) may be able to exploit a quad. The resale should be better.
2) RAM - Yes media players such as XBMC and Plex can run on "less" but strongly suggest 4-8 gig of 3rd party RAM as other applications and the OS itself runs better (the latter being 4 gigs over 2). You may also want to open up multiple applications that allow you say to handle downloading while playing media or whatever. Running on minimum has no value given how inexpensive 3rd party RAM memory is today.
3) OSX and playback - in general works very well. The only major challenge is that Plex and XBMC (jump in anyone if this has changed) will not play back HD audio but rather the core only - thus, DTS-Master as example plays only as DTS level. The Windows and Linux version can handle HD Audio. A Mini can be installed with Windows or Linux.
4) Drive speed - for playback of 1080p content a 5400 drive is more than fast enough. The drawback of a 5400 drive is more related to applications and also slower launch times along with seeks.
5) Blu ray players - the slot load portables are traditionally much slower than their full size counterparts. They also have in general a shorter life. The heat generated from an internal blu ray or dvd player can cause the Mini's fan to rev higher and be more audible. An alternative might be the "MiniStacker" that is offered by OWC or a similar product. It will house a drive, a slot load dvd or blu ray player and has various connections.
6) HDMI and older receivers - there are various adapters out to convert HDMI to optical and other video outs. Optical has limitations as it too will never pass HD Audo but just typical DTS and Dolby etc.

I use a Mac Mini daily. I have excellent results with it and though I am not a fanboy per se, I prefer it over the iMac line in form and use. I tend to prefer XBMC over Plex but my friends are quite the opposite and prefer Plex.

Just more peanuts from the gallery.
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Old Mar 31, 2013, 04:27 PM   #17
danielwerner
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Anyone know how screen sharing will perform over N-wifi? Acceptable?
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