Mac Mini for virtualization

Discussion in 'Mac mini' started by evilcat, Aug 27, 2010.

  1. evilcat macrumors member

    Apr 18, 2005
    So I have a Quad G5 I develop web sites on, and it works fine. Four 2.5GHz cores, Leopard, 6Gb RAM, two 1Gb 7200rpm hard disks and a 500Gb 7200rpm FW800 disk.

    However, I need a machine for testing. I have a budget of about $900 (plus $100 for Windows 7). I'm thinking the '10 Mac Mini. I need to run 3 instances of XP and one instance of Windows 7 to test my sites on. I can throw 8Gb RAM in there nice and cheap ($200 + delivery from OWC) and I'm sure the 2.4GHz Core2Duo will be fast enough so long as I run no more than 2 VM's at a time.

    I'm thinking the hard disk will be an issue. Since the VM's would be on the same disk as the OS, and the disk is supposedly exceptionally slow (like 30/40Mb/s) especially compared to the internals on my G5 (110+ Mb/s) and even the external FW800 disk (70+ m/s)....... has anybody here had any experience running VirtualBox/VMWare Fusion/Parallels on a Mini's internal drive?

    If it's that slow, is it better to run the OS off the internal disk and VM's off an external FW800? I use the FW800 as a system/apps disk on the G5 and run data off the internal disks but I guess I could repurpose it.

    I don't need a fast system disk on the Mini as it will never be turned off and will run (at most) the OS, iTunes and whatever VM's I want. Not even going to use a monitor, just VNC/Remote Desktop in from my G5.

    On the other hand, would a Mini Server with 4Gb and a RAID 0 stripe be a better bet? They're $850 refurb on the Apple Store. Will the virtualization software work OK under OS X Server? Will one 5400rpm disk be a bigger bottleneck to a machine with 8Gb RAM than having 4Gb would be to a RAID 0 stripe?

    Thanks for your help!
  2. dolphin842 macrumors 65816

    Jul 14, 2004
    According to some recent threads, a 3.5" drive hooked up via FW800 will indeed be faster than the internal, and the RAID0 Mini server configuration doesn't do a whole lot to speed things up (i.e. FW800 would still be faster).

    If you grab a last-gen refurb mini when they appear, you can sometimes get a higher-clocked Core 2 Duo (2.53GHz+) for less money than the stock current-gen model (2.4GHz). I'm not sure how the 9400m (or the Core 2 Duo for that matter) would handle 4 VM instances though...

    EDIT: Just had a thought... since you'd just be accessing the box remotely, it'd probably be cheaper to throw together a cheap, quiet PC, from which you can run one copy of Windows on the bare metal and use VirtualBox for the rest. That would save money, and cut down on system strain (only 3 VMs instead of 4). Microsoft even has a native remote desktop app for OS X. I just built a dual-core 2.8GHz Athlon system for under $300 last week (would probably be under $500 if you add 8GB of RAM). Quad-core Athlon CPUs are only a $30-40 premium over the dual-cores nowadays. If you're still up for spending $900, you could probably get a large-enough solid state drive to house all the VMs and really make them fly...
  3. talmy macrumors 601


    Oct 26, 2009
    I run a copy of Windows XP on my mini with Snow Leopard Server, it runs fine, but I don't tax it (unlike when I run a Windows VM on my iMac or MacBook). For web development it shouldn't be any problem.

    Having a 7200RPM drive makes a big difference, but setting up SLS is a pain, not like the client Snow Leopard at all. It would be better to buy the base Mini, perhaps even an older refurb, open it up and replace the drive with a Seagate Momentus, and max out the RAM while you are at it. Might end up faster than your quad G5!

    dolphin842 is right, though, about just building a cheap Windows box if all you intend to do is run Windows on it (because you don't have an Intel Mac).
  4. evilcat thread starter macrumors member

    Apr 18, 2005
    That's what I thought. I can run the system off a slow disk and use the 7200rpm FW800 drive to house the VM's.

    I want it to be easy to upgrade - I'll take the ability to put in 8Gb in 5 minutes over a 5% faster CPU, I think :D

    Yeah, I thought about that. I usta run VM's in VB on Ubuntu and it was fine, could RDC in and everything, but frankly, Ubuntu seems to get flakier as far as hardware support goes. I had a really bad time trying to use VBox under Vista about a year ago, and I'm not convinced 7 would be any better.

    Fact is, I want something small and not power-hungry so I can leave it on 24/7 (run iTunes off it, plus iPods etc) without having to have that power-hungry G5 on all the time :)
  5. evilcat thread starter macrumors member

    Apr 18, 2005
    Antivirus, web browsers and Flash will be all I'll be running in the Windows VMs. Had a Pentium D that ran them okay with 4Gb ran a couple of years back. Nothing taxing at all.

    Last time I set up Server it was 10.3 and that was nasty. Adding client just keeps upping the cost and effort.

    Really, I just want to plug it in, install the VMs and go. Otherwise I'd go for a refurb Mini.

    Yeh, it'll be interesting to compare. According to Geekbench the Minis rate in the low 3000's whereas my G5 come in at about 3600. I think I'd miss the quad cores though -- I like to have tons of stuff open at once. That said, the C2D PC I have at work isn't that limited. I reckon it would beat a dual core G5 if they both had the same RAM.
  6. indg macrumors 6502

    Feb 7, 2007
    from fastest to slowest:
    SSD > internal 7200rpm raid-0 > external 7200rpm via fw800 > internal 5400rpm
  7. Giuly macrumors 68040


    On a Mac maybe, but not with standard PC hardware. Just get a recent version and you are fine. The last time I had problems with hardware on Linux was 2002 on a 166MHz Pentium, because Redhat 8 didn't like the S3 graphics cards. Other than that, everything worked. Worst stuff I had was my Hauppauge video capture cards, but they were supported ~3 month after the release. They were brand-new hardware though, and the guy from hauppauge worked like the devil.

    Case, $20.
    Mainboard, $45.
    8GB of DDR3-1333 RAM, $175.
    CPU, $130.
    10000RPM hard drive, $170.
    DVD-Burner, $20.
    80+ certified PSU, $45.
    = $605, fully working on Ubuntu or Windows - and faster than a Mini, especially with virtualisation because of the 2 more cores and the VelociRaptor.
  8. dolphin842 macrumors 65816

    Jul 14, 2004
    It's entirely possible to build a quiet, 25-watt i5-based system, but if you're looking to avoid spending the time building a PC, then a Mini would make sense.
  9. DannySmurf macrumors 6502a

    Jul 7, 2005
    The RAID0 is especially speedy for VM use compared to the other solutions. The larger the mean file size, the faster the RAID solution gets relative to a single drive. It's accesses of lots of small files (ie "normal" use) that drops the perceived speed of that for some people.

    It will never be faster than a good SSD though, of course.
  10. MikeinJapan macrumors regular

    Apr 23, 2010
    I have a Mac mini 2.26ghz with 4Gb ram and 7,200 rpm hdd. It's geek bench score is 3,900. A faster clock speed and 8Gb RAM and you will kill the G5 in terms of Geek bench. I don't trust geek bench to be honest either.

    If you get an older mini they actually really easy to upgrade. The first time is slow but the second time is super easy and fast.
  11. evilcat thread starter macrumors member

    Apr 18, 2005
    Interesting, thanks for the link. Fact is, I was building PCs from 1995 onwards but left those days behind when I went Mac at work (2004) and home (2006). Now the only thing I want to swap is memory and disks, provided it's easy enough.
  12. evilcat thread starter macrumors member

    Apr 18, 2005
    So would you say the Mini Server with an OWC SSD and a fast hard disk would be a better bet?
  13. DannySmurf macrumors 6502a

    Jul 7, 2005
    I don't know if the SSD is worth it for running a bunch of VMs, given the price and smaller size. That's your call. The SSD would definitely be faster, but I think a RAID would be fast enough, and give you significantly more space (unless you're about to spend a fortune on a large SSD).
  14. evilcat thread starter macrumors member

    Apr 18, 2005
    I'm going to complicate this question a little further, and think about replacing my Quad G5 with a Mini. This would give me the advantage of a larger budget for the Mini, somewhere in the region of $500 to $600.

    The following kit was bought recently and would need to be used with the Mini:

    • A 500Gb, 7200rpm 2.5" external HDD with FW800, USB and eSATA interfaces (bus powered)
    • Two 1Tb 7200rpm 3.5" SATA hard disks.

    Currently, I boot from the FW drive (a 300Gb partition). It's slower (gets about 80Mb/s) but all that is on there is System and Applications.

    The first 1Tb disk gets 130mb/s and is split into Data (245Gb containing all files and also User directories) and Media (500Gb, containing over 300Gb of iTunes and a load of videos). I like to keep data and systems separate.

    The last 1Tb is a Time Machine volume.

    The Mini has a very slow (I understand it gets as low as 35Mb/s) 320Gb disk.

    I will need between 60Gb and 100Gb for Virtual Machines.

    So... I could run the system off the bus-powered FW800 disk, then daisy-chain a two-disk enclosure containing the two 1Tb drives. My guess is the internal drive would be shockingly bad for VMs. If it were bigger, it would pass muster for iTunes, but my iTunes library is currently 262Gb and things go wrong when a disk is too full. In two months I have added 26Gb to the Library. I don't expect to keep that rate up, but still, 320Gb might be too tight.

    One possibility is:

    [*]SATA - 320Gb stock drive, 5400rpm, Media (iTunes Library)
    [*]FW800 - 500Gb 7200rpm external, System
    • ...daisy chained to: 2x 1000Gb 7200rpm external in single enclosure, Data (245Gb), Media2 (150Gb), Time Machine (1000Gb)
    ...Probably placing the VM's on the first of those two 1Tb disks.

    System access is infrequent, and although TM would share the same bus, after the initial backup, the amount of changed data won't impact the speed there. The question is the VMs and whether the disk would be fast enough.

    I could always remove the stock drive and replace it with something faster, but I really don't want to open things up.

    Should I be looking at a different arrangement? Or am I just going too far with this Mini?

    I'm beginning to wonder if a 13" MacBook or MB Pro would be a better idea, since they're pretty identical to the Mini but easier to upgrade.
  15. darkst4r macrumors newbie

    Sep 1, 2010
    I have macmini 3,1 with the hitachi 500gb/7200rpm disk in it. The seq r/w is around 70MB/s except for 4k blocks read which is at 20-30MB/s,
    The random r/w is 25MB/s for 256K blocks and 0.5-1MB/s for 4k blocks.
    That was done with xbench. Looking at other submits somebody else gets 3x faster access with esata ssd raid (their description is "intel 64gb raid0 ssd. external sans digital attached to an esata mod")

    Since you don't want to be messing with hardware your disk access will be limited to what you currently get on the FW. If you're happy with that and don't expect to grow your music library very much I guess the best option would be to get a stock mac, use the internal drive for system and music and the other disks daisy chained on FW for the rest.
    With 8GB memory the system shouldn't want to access the internal disk for swap, but if that becomes a problem see if you can point it to use the FW drive, or if not possible move the system there.

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