Ars Technica Reviews the i5 mini (as an HTPC)...

Discussion in 'Mac mini' started by slyseekr, Aug 9, 2011.

  1. slyseekr macrumors member

    Jul 6, 2010
    Brooklyn, NY
    ...and they like it!! I thought they'd go the opposite direction, considering how they were framing the review.

    It's not TOO glowing, but they definitely are far more reasonable and forward thinking about Apple's choice to remove the optical drive and recognize the mini's newfound and improved capabilities as a desktop.

    Very fair and balanced, which is what you can expect from Ars.
  2. philipma1957 macrumors 603


    Apr 13, 2010
    Howell, New Jersey
    I agree with you.
  3. dh2005 macrumors 6502a

    Jan 25, 2010

    The Mac mini is finally starting to look like a decent desktop computer."


    Mind you, since getting stung over the 2009 Mini myself, I'm very dubious when people praise the Mini as an HTPC. According to some, the Mini's been a brilliant HTPC since 2006 - according to me, the 2009 model absolutely sucked, and the 2010 model wasn't much better.

    I wish reviews like these got into the 'nitty-gritty' a little more: like testing some media files to find the bitrate ceiling, assessing how the machine responds to trick-play, and things like that. Simply saying, "it's a good HTPC" doesn't really mean anything, other than that the machine meets with that reviewer's personal, subjective - and largely unknown - media requirements.

    I'm not gonna wail on. It's not a bad review. But I'm forever more in the, 'I'll believe it when I see it' camp, when it comes to the Mini as an HTPC.
  4. astrorider macrumors 6502

    Sep 25, 2008
    What's your beef with the 2009? I've been using a 9400m equipped 2009 as a HTPC with Plex and it plays everything, including blu-Ray rips, with ease. I will be happy to have the extra CPU grunt of the 2011 minis for transcoding files for multiple TVs throughhout the house though.
  5. thejadedmonkey macrumors 604


    May 28, 2005
    I don't understand how you can give something that doesn't have a Blu-ray drive a "good" review for watching movies off of... Sure it's got a hard drive and internet, but so does my laptop, which I can hook up to a TV. According to Ars, that would make my laptop a good HTPC too?
  6. dh2005 macrumors 6502a

    Jan 25, 2010
    My beef is squarely that it does not play everything, including Blu-ray rips, with ease. Unless something spectacular has happened with Plex in the last thirteen months - which was when I jettisoned that Mini via eBay - so that decoding has been significantly improved, I must respectfully disagree with you.
  7. philipma1957, Aug 10, 2011
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2011

    philipma1957 macrumors 603


    Apr 13, 2010
    Howell, New Jersey
    depends on each persons needs. I was an early hdtv adapter so all of my hdtv's in 2009 were 720p or 1080i thus blu ray was not a big deal for me. the 2009 had fw800 it recorded tv in 1080i via eyetv and play dvds. to me it fit all my needs perfectly at the time.
    now the 2011 is far better machine the server or the 2.5 with a gpu are both nice machines. the lack of dvd player is not a big deal as I have moved to 720p netflix quite a bit. Now I have replaced a hdtv 1080i with a 1080p I would like blu ray with no hassle.

    Here is the truth no machine exists in a small form factor that does it all. Pc's at the very least don't have t-bolt. Mac minis don't have blu-ray or usb 3. Trust me if the mac external dvd player did blu ray it would sell like water in the desert.

    does it all means:

    4 core cpu
    discrete gpu
    2hdds 2.5 inch would be good better then 1 3.5 inch when you are in the small form world.

    This machine does not exist why? People do want this yet it does not exist . The new server with an external brick would allow for all of the above except a blu ray player. The new server .5 inch taller with an external brick would be able to have all of the above. Apple won't built it. No pc company has built it either. TOO BAD! Right now all users of any computers are forced to make a choice of what to leave out. oh well
  8. gigaguy macrumors 65816

    Apr 19, 2010
    One day in 2006 I guess, I was using my 20" Sony desktop and looked over at my HDTV and thought, I wanna use that big screen as my PC monitor.
    So I got a Mac mini (1.66ghz I think) and put it in my ent. center and was freed from desktops and tiny screens forever.
    For all my PC needs all my minis have been winners. I love the mini out of sight, no clutter or ugly or shiny screen desktops for me.
    with my iPad added to the mix, I'm good.
    I hope to upgrade my 2.0ghz mini in the near future.
  9. dh2005 macrumors 6502a

    Jan 25, 2010
    Absolutely. That's precisely my point, in fact. When someone reviews an HTPC, they should explain in forensically detailed terms what it can do, and the point beyond which it craps out. Saying, simply, "it works great for me" is bloody useless. What is that supposed to mean to anybody else?

    My experience of the 2009 Mini was that it ran DVD rips perfectly fine - so should a modern-day mobile phone - but when it came to Blu-ray video, it choked. It could not run it. Or, at least, not without dropping frames and audio, video pixelation, jamming, sometimes even all-out crashing; depending on the bitrate. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the files that I was attempting to run - I've been ripping Blu-ray for years, and it's not exactly difficult to do in any case - which meant that the blame sat with the Mini: either with its hardware, its software, or both.
  10. astrorider macrumors 6502

    Sep 25, 2008
    Strange. My 2009 mini plays 99% of blu-ray rips perfectly once I checked the hardware acceleration option in Plex. Without that it didn't have the CPU to play them smoothly. Not sure how long that option has been available in plex, but I'd guess it's been a little over a year now
  11. Osamede macrumors 6502a

    Oct 28, 2009
    Not really they gave bogus reasons like "size", when in fact last years model in the exact same body unit did manage to have the optical drive.

    And since apple offered it last year in versions with and without the optical drive there is no reason this year it couldnt have been offered with both options.

    It was as much a cost-cutting move as anything else, and the least any reviewer can do is put that on the table.
  12. dh2005 macrumors 6502a

    Jan 25, 2010
    Hardware acceleration had been introduced in the few months before I sold it. It improved playback, for definite - The Hurt Locker, as I remember, went from 'unwatchable' to 'alright' - but it didn't fix things by any stretch. Trick-play was still pretty shambolic, too. I've since bought a Popcorn Hour A-210 - a dedicated HD media streamer - and it absolutely smites the 2009 Mini into the ground, for a fraction of the cost.

    When someone says, "great HTPC", I think of something that can do everything the A-210 can do. Hence, as I said earlier, why somebody giving a subjective judgement doesn't tell anybody anything.
  13. ReggaeFire macrumors 6502

    Mar 19, 2003
    It's all subjective, for many a Popcorn is useless because it can't do Live TV. For others a mini in underpowered because it can't play emulated PS3 games. The reality of the situation is that no machine has yet been released that meets ALL the requirements of a truly "Great" HTPC (small, quiet, powerful, low power, high capacity, etc etc etc). It's getting close, but it's not there yet. People will just have a to wait another year or two for technology to catch up to their dreams (or five or ten, desire tends to outpace development).

    It does seem that no PC manufacturer seems particularly interested in chasing the mini's market. Sure there is the Zinio, but that's running on an Atom platform, which isn't good enough. You can try to make your own, but finding a good board and case the size of the mini with all the needed ports and support for good processors is a headache (though to be fair I haven't looked in the past year). This is a niche interest, and some people are on the extremes. Just because something doesn't meet the needs of everyone on those extremes doesn't mean it isn't a good solution for those in the middle.
  14. dh2005 macrumors 6502a

    Jan 25, 2010
    I feel I'm being misunderstood here.

    I agree with everything that you've said. What I'm objecting to - and I believe I've been pretty clear about this - is that reviews of HTPCs typically do not say, in concrete technical terms, what the machines can and can't do. I'm advocating reviews saying something of the order, "when the bitrate hits 42Mbps, frames begin to drop..." or, "Blu-ray video runs smoothly, provided you reduce HD audio to its core stream... " etc. Rather than saying, "it's a good HTPC", which doesn't account for the possibility that other people might have different standards. It's a useless comment.
  15. Minicube macrumors regular

    Jun 5, 2011
    I'm curious, dh, how much RAM did you have in your 2009?
  16. dh2005 macrumors 6502a

    Jan 25, 2010
    Ummm... as I recall, 4GB. I had the 'middle' one. 2.53GHz Core2Duo... yeah, pretty sure it had four.
  17. Vermifuge macrumors 68000


    Mar 7, 2009
    Yeah the 2.53 came with 4 GB.

    I have a 2010 mini server and when paired with the 27" Cinema Display the system always felt a little sluggish at 2560x1440. HD video was OK, at 1080p fur never felt as smooth as it could be And 1440p video (Via you tube) was just a slide show.

    My 2011 mini i7 dual core seems to play 1440p video just fine and the system is generally speedy. I do see some problems with lion that are holding the system back however.
  18. dh2005 macrumors 6502a

    Jan 25, 2010
    Thanks for the feedback on the 2011 model. I've said several times now, it certainly seems like a step in the right direction.

    I wouldn't criticise a current-gen HTPC for not being able to cope with 1440p playback, personally. It's tomorrow's technology, really. Although my A-210 can do it; it has a bitrate ceiling of circa 110Mbps.

    My experience with Blu-ray 1080p was similar to what you've described. It was tolerable, at a push - as in, if the choice was 'watch this, or watch nothing at all...' then yeah, it was acceptable for some of my movies. But it was never as smooth as the playback you'd get from even a cheap-ass Blu-ray player; and Blu-ray isn't exactly 'new-fangled' technology, is it...?

    Anything being praised as a "good" HTPC, in my opinion, should be able to run Blu-ray flawlessly. Other people, clearly, feel differently. Other people either cannot tell the difference between, or do not consider the difference to be important, 100% Blu-ray rips and (what I consider to be) grotty, substandard transcodes. It's a free country. We don't need to agree about that...

    But I digress: to restate, for the third or fourth time now, my contention with this review (which is the topic of the thread) is that it doesn't tell me, with reference to objective technical criteria, what the machine can do.
  19. MJL macrumors 6502a

    Jun 25, 2011
    ASrock Vision 3D is attempting to address the more powerfull CPU and the Blu-Ray. Unfortunately not available in our country.....
  20. dh2005 macrumors 6502a

    Jan 25, 2010
    Hm. Hadn't been aware of that, previously.

    I just Googled it. Looks excellent in terms of its Blu-ray drive and its output sockets, although the mid-2011 Mini has a superior PCMark score and - I would expect - slightly better 3D gaming performance.

    You win some, you lose some...!!!
  21. Vermifuge macrumors 68000


    Mar 7, 2009
    Please assume Lions driver support is junk and it will improve in 7.1 or 7.2
  22. dh2005 macrumors 6502a

    Jan 25, 2010
    You mean, benchmarks will significantly improve with subsequent updates to the OS?
  23. Vermifuge macrumors 68000


    Mar 7, 2009
    I believe support for both the HD 3000 and the 6630M is still immature in lion. In fact i noted a performance hit on my 2010 Mac mini when playing Eve online of about 10% (after upgrading from snow leopard to lion) so even the 320M was affected. I think there is room for improvement.
  24. Aegelward macrumors 6502a

    Jul 31, 2005
    I had a 2008 mini that handled nearly everything perfectly, it only had some issues with motion which i put down to my fairly old 50hz tv and the limitations of the VGA output i was using.
    But then again, i never used 1:1 blu-ray rips, i only ever used encodes, which have dramatically lower bitrates.

    Personally i could not see the quality difference between a rip and actual discs.

    At the moment i'm using a media streamer, but i'm significantly tempted by a new mini...

    Ah, i have to get a better TV first however.
  25. dh2005 macrumors 6502a

    Jan 25, 2010
    My TV's four years old, now. Reckon I'll have replaced it, this time next year.

    With regard to HD transcodes: I'm afraid I'm cursed with eyes and ears that can tell the difference. I wish it weren't the case, honestly; I'd save a fortune in hard drive space...

Share This Page