An over the top switcher configuration for the Mini-disappointed

Discussion in 'Mac mini' started by giggles, Oct 17, 2014.

  1. giggles macrumors 6502

    Dec 15, 2012
    So, it was long wait. Had a lot of time on my hands to think about an alternative for a disappointing Mini. I'll leave it here should anybody be interested. Keep in mind it's admittedly over the top and makes no compromises to achieve silence and low temperatures (as any Mini alternative should).

    1) Case: Jonsbo U3 / Rosewill Legacy U3 / Cooltek U3 (~100$)
    Why: one of the smallest mATX (= 32gb ram possible, compared to mITX which is limited to 16gb) case, apple-like all-aluminum design; one of the few SFF case that can accomodate a long PSU.

    2) CPU: i7-4785T (~400$ on ebay. OEM part, hard to find)
    Why: at 35W, coolest i7 desktop haswell 4C/8T

    3) Mobo: Asus Maximus VII Gene (~220$)
    Why: bells and whistles (wifi AC, bt 4.0, audio section, etc.), quality, software

    4) RAM: 32GB Crucial BLT4C8G3D1608ET3LX0 (~340$)
    Why: low profile for clearance flexibility while building, 1.35v at cool 1600Hz, good timings (cl8), 32GB (instead of more reasonable 16GB) "because I can" (compared to the Mini).

    5) PSU: Corsair AX1500i (~450$)
    Why: ok, this is going to be highly controversial. A 450$ psu in this kind of SFF low power build? Madness! Still: 1) QUALITY 2) Fanless operation up to a threshold that this system will never hit = virtually fanless. We're going for Mini-grade silence.

    6) GPU: ASUS STRIX-GTX750TI-OC-2GD5 (~160$)
    Why: fanless operation up to 65°C = it will be silent during light to medium destkop load; 750ti because it has stunning performance per watt at 65W; does circles around the integrated intel HD4600.

    7) SSD: Crucial CT1024M550SSD1 (~470$)
    Why: capacitors for power loss protection while the second bit in the MLC cell is written = no risk of corrupting stored data; fast enough; 1TB (instead of more sensible 512GB) again "because I can" (= relatively cheap compared to apple own upgrades).

    8) HDD storage: as many Seagate STDR2000100 as needed (~120$ each)
    Why: the STDR2000100 is an external 2.5" drive, you have to crack it open (super easy, provided you're ok with destroying the outer shell and discarding it) and you'll get the slimmest 2TB hdd possible (9.5mm), buying it already naked costs MORE (go figure). You can prop a number of 2.5" 2TB drives inside the case, officially up to 4 (via Silverstone SDP08B adapters in the two 3.5" bays) beside the 2.5" SSD (for a total of five 2.5-inchers), you could also use a m.2 ssd as the boot drive (like Crucial CT512M550SSD4 at ~280$ for 512gb) and free a 2.5" bay for another hdd. So where at one 512GB M.2 ssd stick and five 2TB 2.5-inchers, there are still 3 free SATA ports on the motherboard. Enter industrial strength velcro and ps3 metal caddies (to avoid ghetto-glueing the velcro directly on the HDDs), find a way to strap them to the walls of the case and we're at eight 2.5-inchers. Then it's up to you....RAID10, RAID6, etc..
    Of course this is the most extreme configuration. If you just need 1-2 drives try not to populate the bottom of the case at all, since it's the main air intake.

    9) Rear case exhaust fan: Noctua NF-S12A PWM or FLX version (~20$)
    Why: optimized for silence; choose the PWM version if you want to set up the temp/rpm curve in the UEFI/asus_software, pick the FLX version if you're ok with it working at a fixed speed using the provided low noise voltage adapters (and hence not worry about the software control misbehaving). Even at a fixed 700rpm the FLX one should be very silent. Remember to set it up as an exhaust (company logo facing the outside of the case).

    10) CPU Cooler: Noctua NH-U12S (~70$)
    Why: silent, slim design, 1 or 2 fans config possible (probably 1 is enough). With that kind of cool CPU (35W tpd) the heatpipes alone can probably dissipate most of the heat during light workload. Comes with Noctua branded thermal paste. Mount the fans in line with the rear exhaust fan. The fans are PWM controlled, using Asus AIsuite you can set the temp/rpm curve in order to make them start only if the CPU reaches like 60°C, basically only under medium-heavy load. Notice how were going for silence in a SEMI-passive fashion. But it's going to behave like a passive system a lot of the time.

    11) OS: Windows 8.1 Home full RETAIL reinstallable license (~100$)
    Why: Good bang for the buck. Pro is mostly useless for home users.

    12) Software for playing movies: MPC-HC (Free)
    Why: it smokes anything available on OSX. Even in its "vanilla" "just installed" status (no tinkering with settings and externals filters), it's plays perfectly, with pristine quality and responsiveness 1080p of any bitrate, BD/DVD disc images (mounted as virtual drives), BD/DVD folders (it integrates in the Windows rightclick contextual menu...try that on player "just works" by rightclicking on the folder, since there's not "Open with..." for are forced to convert everything to MKV with MakeMKV), all of this by leveraging mostly the GPU via microsoft DVXA. (or other ways if you're willing to tinker). Then with time you can discover madVR renderer, upscaling of DVDs and the like.

    Time to recap the price
    Case: 100$
    CPU: 400$
    Motherboard: 220$
    RAM: 340$
    PSU: 450$
    GPU: 160$
    SSD boot drive: 470$ (1tb 2.5") or 280$ (512gb M.2 stick)
    HDD storage: 120$ x up to 8
    Case fan: 20$
    CPU cooler: 70$
    Windows: 100$

    (as for keyboard mouse monitor, since we're in the Mini room: BYODKM)

    We're looking at 2500$-ish with 1TB ssd + a single 2TB hdd, and 3000$-ish if fully loaded with a 512GB ssd M.2 stick + eight 2TB hdds.


    While it's not completely fair to compare the Apple 1TB pcie ssd solution in the new Mini to the 1TB Crucial m550 SATA ssd used here, for comparison sake a fully spec'd new Mini (mobile i7 3Ghz dual core, 16GB ram, 1TB pcie SSD) comes at 2200$.

    There's of course the size argument but honestly I'd rather have this with 16TB of internal storage than a jungle of external HDDs (and AC adapters) like I have now with the Mini. The vertical theme also fits nicely next to the tower Airport Extreme.

    Next year Windows 10 will get Exposè, Mission Control and Spaces, by the way. Now if it only had Time Machine.... (there's "Files History" in Windows 8, which does an hourly incremental backup of every file and folder on the Desktop and in personal user folders like "Pictures" "Music" and so on, better than nothing...)

    Make of all of this what you want.
    Leaving OSX isn't easy. The polish and integration with iOS, especially now, is something not available elsewhere. But if headless desktops and internal storage are completely neglected by Apple...
  2. PhoneI macrumors 68000

    Mar 7, 2008
    I stopped reading here. I recently built a very powerful desktop running windows 8.1. Every time I boot the thing up I find myself missing my old mini. Not nearly as powerful but there is so much about OSX that I just miss (especially the stability).
  3. giggles thread starter macrumors 6502

    Dec 15, 2012
    Well apparently nvidia just released maxwell (gtx 750 750ti 970 980) drivers for Yosemite so this build could be easily, maybe with some tweak, be converted into an hackintosh...

    But I'm not sure I'm brave enough to live "on the edge" like that on my main PC...honestly never looked a lot into it...I just wanna be able to install updates (especially security ones) the moment they're released...

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