Mac Mini as a portable?

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by Bioguy35, Aug 11, 2011.

  1. Bioguy35 macrumors newbie

    Jul 17, 2011
    Hello everyone. I'm new to mac and need some buying advice. My wife and I are both teachers and are looking for a computer/laptop.

    We currently have an HP G62 laptop (AMD Phenom triple core processor, 4GB RAM and 500 GB HD) running Windows 7, which was new at the beginning of the last school year. We are lifelong pc users, but after my second 'black screen of death' problem in 6 months, I'm thinking of making the switch to mac, and I'm looking for a low cost 'trial' version with the possibility of spending more if things work out.

    I do most of my work at school with the laptop docked at a computer workstation. I carry the laptop back and forth from home to school. My wife does all of her computer work at home using a docked Acer laptop. She rarely carries her laptop to school. Both schools are windows based using Open Office and occasionally Mircosoft Word.

    I was thinking of buying a mac mini for $579 at the education store to carry back and forth for now. I would hook it up to peripherals (dvi monitor, usb keyboard, usb mouse, usb printer) that we already own both at school and at home (ie. I have a set of peripherals at school, and a second set at home). Later, if things go well, I would purchase a 13" MBP to carry back and forth, and make the mini a permanent desktop at home for my wife to use.

    I would be using our purchase for lesson plan research(internet) and writing (word processing), picture editing, email, light gaming, and occasional video editing. Since we are keeping the HP laptop for now, I think it would be best if we could dual boot windows 7 and lion.

    I believe the mini is lighter than a MBP, and i don't mind hooking up the peripherals each time. My quesitons are: Will my usb peripherals work well with the mini? Does my idea make sense, or are there hidden costs / difficulties that I am missing? Thanks in advance for any advice.
  2. jbg232 macrumors 65816


    Oct 15, 2007
    The mini is an excellent choice but a few points:

    1. The USB peripherals should work fine but some specialized functions that are windows only (5 keys on a mouse, etc) may not play well with mac.

    2. There aren't any other hidden costs if you already own the monitor, keyboard, mouse, and speakers.

    3. You will obviously not be able to use the mac away from a power source. The current cheapest macbook airs would be do this and have great resale value if you so wanted that. Just a thought.
  3. Bioguy35 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 17, 2011
    Thanks for the reply, jbg232.

    Since I dock my laptop, the power supply is not an issue. I would consider buying an apple bluetooth keyboard and trackpad since I would eventually replace the HP laptop with the mini as a home desktop. I'm still thinking that the cost of the mini with the trackpad and keyboard would be less than the MBA. Even though the airs are very cool computers.
  4. blairwillis macrumors regular

    Jul 24, 2005
    A minor detail, but might be important to some people considering this same option:

    You would need to go through a full shut-down and startup every time you moved between locations. If you're in a hurry or need instant access, that might be a bother.

    Of course, once the mini is at the location, you can do the typical sleep/wake cycling as long as it's there. Just the first startup and last shutdown are all that would take time.

    I've been a diehard MacBook user since the G3 Lombard. But now, I tend to use my iPad 2 for all things portable. This is the first time *ever* that I've been considering going back to a desktop (Mini or iMac) setup for my office. In my case the iPad covers 90+% of my portable computing needs, and that % is inching up daily as more apps are released that do what I need. A suitable Remote Desktop app just about sealed the deal for me.
  5. treestar macrumors 6502

    Feb 28, 2010
    The mac mini is not portable. Yes you can put it inside a small bag, but it doesn't have a battery so you need to bring the power supply or buy another. You need to reconnect peripherals every time it moves and that require a full shut down. I recommend getting a MacBook Air or the base MacBook Pro. You can connect peripherals to it at your hearts content, but you won't need to, and you won't need to carry a power supply with you every time, and you will be able to use it in more places than your home or classroom. I strongly recommend against using the mac mini as a portable. It's not designed for that and you have not discovered a slick option for a portable mac. It's more hassle than it's worth. You and your wife should just get notebooks now and enjoy four years of wonderful, portable computing. Further, when you realize you both need notebooks, that mac mini is going to be pretty useless unless you want to set up a home server or a media center.

    You might not see how enriching an ultraportable notebook computer will be to your life. Think about it.
  6. r0k macrumors 68040


    Mar 3, 2008
    The Mac Mini makes an excellent "lan party" machine for lugging over to a friend's house to play computer games... were it not for that Intel graphics. Still, I don't see anything fundamentally wrong with your plan but you might consider a small tweak.

    Get the cheapest mini you can find, immediately pick up an SSD (A ~$200 120 GB unit should do) and clone the internal drive to the SSD. Pop off the bottom cover and swap the internal drive for the SSD. (I think there are 4 screws to remove before you can get at the hard drive, but it's a LOT easier than swapping the drive or memory on an older mini.) Oops: I should add that I'm not sure if cloning software knows what to do with the hidden Lion "recovery partition" so there might be a few extra steps involved in "cloning".

    Now you would have a machine with an SSD drive that you don't have to worry about something happening to the HDD when you transport it. The cost for this 120 GB SSD based machine that is "semi portable" would be around $800 plus some work on your part. For only $100 more you might find a much better alternative...

    I think a better fit for you is the 11 inch Macbook Air for around $900 (education pricing). You can still dock a larger display at work and at home (with a ~$30 mini display port to vga adapter). You will have 64 GB SSD and still have an i5 processor. It's definitely a better fit as a "portable" machine.

    MBA Pros:

    MBA cons:
    No hdmi output, need minidisplayport to vga adapter
    low vertical resolution 800 pixels or so

    mini Pros:
    HDMI output
    can be upgraded to SSD

    mini Cons:
    No battery power
    risk of HDD damage when being carried around
    need to shut down to move it (takes seconds not minutes but still...)
  7. sagnier macrumors regular

    Sep 19, 2007
    Yes it is - it's just not a portable.
  8. seb-opp macrumors 6502

    Nov 16, 2008
    get a macbook air, using a mini as a portable is madness. You will not regret getting an air while a mini in this instance has endless drawbacks
  9. MaxxTraxx macrumors 6502

    Jul 2, 2008
    I think this is a good use of the mini, seeing as how you will use it.

    Go for it!
  10. jbg232 macrumors 65816


    Oct 15, 2007
    $579 for a decently portable first time mac is a good value and seems to be all the OP really needs if he is not using it anywhere aside from his office and home and already has all the external hookups. Everyone suggesting an MBA (myself included) has to realize that with tax it is almost double the price. As the OP mentioned, this is his first mac and if he likes it he will get a laptop as well.

    Obviously we all know the MBA is better, but possibly not "double-the-price" better for a computer that has better performance than an MBA and really only requires a complete shut down before moving.

    The idea that you need an SSD is not true as a conventional HDD will be fine if the computer is shut down (which it will be during transportation). Hard drives lock on shutdown and the main risk for laptop hard drives is moving them while the disk is spinning - something you can't really do with a mac mini.
  11. laflores macrumors regular

    May 5, 2011
    Costa Rica
    You wil need to pay for a Microsoft Office for Mac license.
  12. jbg232 macrumors 65816


    Oct 15, 2007
    Not if he uses open office (which he stated he does).
  13. treestar macrumors 6502

    Feb 28, 2010
    Well, I think the sentence directly succeeding the "not portable" statement covered that discrepancy, but I suppose I can just leave the forums.

    The OP should take everyone's advice about getting a MBA. I had a second thought about how he wanted to use it at work. If I remember school correctly, in K-12, teachers frequently help other teachers in other classrooms, do work in teachers' lounges, and use digital projectors for presentations. Try doing all that with a "portable" mac mini.

    I think it comes down to a $300 greater investment. Let's get real. There's no need to test drive a Mac. He is going to switch, and not switch back. Who would switch back to a PC at this point? I think most people on these forums have a Mac notebook, frequently in addition to a desktop model. People are using notebooks for their portability and compactness, inclusion of a keyboard, trackpad and display. Once desktops used to be powerful compared to notebooks but now it's even for the casual user. I think the OP would do well to recycle his old PC parts, his USB mouse and keyboard, and likely a good amount of old computer clutter. Computers can fit nicely into our lives these days, like the MBA -- just another notebook in our bags. It's no longer necessary to have rooms in our houses dedicated to using the computer, or over half the real estate on our desks. Get a small notebook. "Keep it simple, stupid."
  14. sagnier macrumors regular

    Sep 19, 2007
    In any case, I agree with you. The OP should get an MBA, unless the cost is a real issue, or he really needs the extra power.

    Personally, im looking forward to upgrading my MBP to an MBA at some point, now they have more oomph. The first-gen were pants weren't they?!
  15. treestar macrumors 6502

    Feb 28, 2010
    They were!
  16. Anonymous Freak macrumors 603

    Anonymous Freak

    Dec 12, 2002
    One suggestion: Get a second power cable and display adapter cable (HDMI to DVI.) Then all you have to haul around is the mini itself, and you don't have to worry about accidentally losing or damaging one of the cables and making the system useless until you get a replacement.
  17. Yvan256 macrumors 603


    Jul 5, 2004
    Since you want to do some gaming, here's what I would consider as valid choices:
    - get the new Mac mini with the Radeon GPU
    - get the previous Mac mini with the nVidia 320M. It shares main memory but it's still a very good GPU, decent enough for WoW at mid settings for most things, depending on which resolution you use.
    - get the previous MacBook Air with the nVidia 320M and 2GB of RAM. This is probably the best option since a lot of people are probably selling this MacBook Air to be able to get the new one (which is stuck with the intel GPU, but some people might need the i5 CPU more than the 320m GPU). Don't get one with only 1GB RAM, you'll regret it (and AFAIK you can't upgrade the RAM on the MacBook Air). 4GB would be better, but choices are limited with this option.

    If you get a Mac mini, also make sure to upgrade to 4GB RAM. I have 8GB in mine (Core 2 Duo 2.4 Ghz with nVidia 320m) and I see no reason to upgrade any time soon.

    Last detail: if you get an intel Mac mini, the power supply is built-in, so it's not a bother to carry the power cord or to buy a second one to leave at the other place.

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