MacMini 2010 great HTPC with Windows 7!

Discussion in 'Mac mini' started by klas, Nov 18, 2010.

  1. klas, Nov 18, 2010
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2010

    klas macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2008
    #1
    First of all, let me mention that I've never owned a mac hardware or used mac OS and, truthfully, I was always against them. That somewhat changed recently… After looking at all the alternatives to replace my HTPC, Mac Mini 2010 came on top of the list. Yes, the price was a bit hard to swallow, but the form factor and possibility of moving away from aging Windows OS was really enticing. So, I pulled a trigger and got myself a base model. Ram and possibly hard drive I plan to upgrade at a later time, but that’s not what I was going to write about. I wanted to share my experience using OSX as Windows 7 MC replacement and to make the short story long it was not everything I expected.

    Initial boot to OSX was impressive. The UI is great looking and I did not have trouble to navigate and figure out how to use operating system. As a matter of fact it was a smooth transition and I was almost sold on its usability, but things got a bit more complex when I was setting it up as media center. I was aware before I got a Mac mini that there was no All-in-One solution for OTA recording and media playback, so I was prepared to use EyeTV and Plex/XBMC.

    After some basic configuration I started with Plex experience. I’ve read so many praises about Plex, but it didn't do it for me. The UI was nice, but performance was a bit sluggish and it required a lot of setup. My next test was with XBMC which I liked a better, but my main disappointment came later after I finished setting up EyeTv with my HDHomeRun tuner. Is this really the best option for TV recording for OSX? Another issue I had when I attempted to switch between movie playback in XBMC and TV shows recording in EyeTV with a mouse I realized that it will not work long term. So after two days of messing with it and listening to criticism from my wife I gave up on OSX HTPC idea, at least for now...

    Bootcamp experience was painless, installed Windows 7, then run Driver CD and had everything setup and configured within couple of hours. Paired with my favorite gyration remote (which btw also worked in OSX with limited functionality) and HDHomRun I was ready to enjoy my experience without having to switch between two different UI with a mouse. Btw, the only two other things that I installed were Haali Splitter and AC3 filter. Surprisingly, the experience of setting up Windows 7 Media Center on a mac mini was less painless then on a Zino. Also base Mac Mini performance is way better than a maxed out Zino.

    I may revisit OSX when I give up on OTA recording, but until then Windows 7 is the best option.

    [​IMG]
     
  2. bearcatrp macrumors 68000

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    Sep 24, 2008
    Location:
    Boon Docks USA
    #2
    Nice review. Looking for the right setup myself. Sold my Mac pro and picked up a new mini. Was hoping for all in one to stream to multiple rooms but looks like it won't work without an external drive of at least 2TB to house the DVD collection. On the OS X side, you have ATV to stream to. On the windows side, you have iTunes and ATV. There is nothing out there like the ATV to stream to unless you put a computer in each room.
    Don't know much about the zino but if it was able to hold a ssd and a 3.5 inch drive to allow a 2TB drive AND hackable to install OS X, then would go this route. Could use windows with iTunes I suppose. Haven't done that yet. Only thing I can do now is use my pc I just built, 2 quad core westemere system that was half the price of equal Mac pro, buy a few more apple tv's, and stream from the pc. Over kill though.
    Apple needs to build a mini to hold a ssd and a 3.5 inch drive! This and a i5 processor and I would be set.
     
  3. bearcatrp macrumors 68000

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    Sep 24, 2008
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    Boon Docks USA
    #3
    Just looked up the zino. It does take 3.5 inch drives. Uses amd processors though. If they could put a i3 in that pc, could make a nice HTPC. I would sell my mini in a heartbeat if Dell did this!
     
  4. klas thread starter macrumors newbie

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    Feb 28, 2008
    #4
    I should've added that right now I have QNAP NAS TS210 that I use for my movie collection and streaming wireless with WNDR3700, so having large hard drive on a mini doesn't make any sense for me, but upgrading to a faster one does.

    While Zino offers 3.5 Hard Drives and ease of upgrading, the CPU is its weakest feature. Even if you go for Quad Core Zino with AMD processor the performance will be lacking in comparison to a base Mini. Also, Zino is just way too loud, Mini silence is so much more enjoyable.
     
  5. bearcatrp macrumors 68000

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    Boon Docks USA
    #5
    Nice. I need 2TB for all my movies. That's the biggest problem. If the zino is loud, then that's out. Guess for now i will have to use my tower.
     
  6. henryhg macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2010
    #6
    Thanks for the review!

    I just bought a base mac mini as well, together with the 128GB macbook air 11 inch. Too bad the MBA is going to my GF :(

    I just messed around with the OSX. First impression I see why people say the OSX is very easy to use. It is! Non tech savvy people can easily pick up OSX. However I've yet to see the advantage of OSX vs Win 7 for power users (I admit spaces and expose is damn nice). Maybe I need some more time to explore OSX a bit more.

    I just ordered 2x2GB ram, and maybe plan to swap the HD in the future. Is the mac mini HD user replaceable? I know I need to take out screws and all, but it shouldnt be too hard, right?

    Can't wait to install win7 on the mac mini and see what this baby can do.

    Now all I need is a new LED TV to hook up the mac mini :p
     
  7. steve2112 macrumors 68040

    steve2112

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    Feb 20, 2009
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    East of Lyra, Northwest of Pegasus
    #7
    I have a Zino as my HTPC, and I agree about the processor. The AMD processor spikes badly when running video. I haven't noticed being too loud, though. It is louder than my Mini, but not too bad.

    I was going to go with a new gen Mini for my HTPC, but I was able to get the Zino with a 1TB hard drive and Blu-Ray for less than the price of a refurb base Mini. And honestly, it does the job for me. Boxee and XBMC work fine.
     
  8. klas thread starter macrumors newbie

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    Feb 28, 2008
    #8
    Zino is good if you plan to just stick with watching one source and not attempt to multitask (copying, unzipping etc...), the only thing that it did not handle well was watching 1080p content wirelessly and even locally without stutter. I am glad that base Mini could handle this and more with ease.
     
  9. bearcatrp macrumors 68000

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  10. lovekeiiy macrumors newbie

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    Nov 21, 2010
    #10
    I thought about getting a Dell Zino HD about a year ago. But I read there was issues with the drivers not being about to handle HD streaming video from sites like Hulu, which wasn't going to fit my needs. I've read some issues on Blu Ray playback, but it was either weak power or driver issues. I'm not up to date on the Zino HD, but I assume some of those have been resolved by now.

    I got a late 2009 Mini (2.66 C2D 4g RAM). Works very nice. I have similar issues when using OSX. Plex 8.5 very well for me. Upgraded, and couldn't get some of my favorite plug-ins to work such as the HDHomerun. I have issues with uninstalling programs. Tried installing to MythTV, but couldn't get it to work. I have a ton of problems with SageTV when I enable digital audio to get 5.1. Couldn't get The Tube to work. Wasn't willing to spend $80 on a program I could not try with EyeTV.

    I switched to Windows XP MCE. Don't have a copy of Windows 7. Not able to use HDHomerun with XP MCE. Some minor quirks because of the OS with dolby digital. Mini still works good though. A lot more software options. You get free TV viewing software from Silicondust for HDHomerun. Windows 7 MCE includes a pretty good PVR software that is compatible with HDHomerun. I can play online videos fine on NFL Game Pass, NBA League Pass Broadband, MLB.tv broadband, MotoGP, Hulu, Netflix, and so forth. The only limitation is more bandwidth than anything else.

    If you're really crazy, I've read some people have added blu ray drives for direct disc playback too.
     
  11. Undecided macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Mar 4, 2005
    Location:
    California
    #11
    I use the server version of the Mac Mini (no DVD, two hard drives), paired with the bluetooth keyboard and mouse.

    I've decided this is the best option (for me). Physical media is dying, the mini is silent, I can play all forms of video (unlike my 1st gen Apple TV). I run a few servers off it (like network cameras and Transmission).

    Usually I have audio played out the optical output (to the stereo) and video via HDMI (to the TV). One flaw I've found is that OS X doesn't seem to mix digital audio. So, for example, if I have iTunes open (using the optical output) whether actually playing anything or not, youtube audio will play via HDMI only. I have to quit iTunes to get the youtube audio to play via the optical output. <shrug>

    I've tried things like Plex but ultimately found them a barrier, because they won't handle everything, and they crash. I just use the regular OS X interface, with iTunes, Safari, etc.

    Being hunched over the coffee table to use the keyboard and mouse is backbreaking, so I used a rectangular piece of - well, I'm not sure what it is. It's the fake wood backing to a cheap desk. I put that on my lap, with the keyboard and mouse. It actually works really well.

    Of course, none of this is wife (or girlfriend) friendly, but that's not really an issue for me. Your mileage may vary. :p
     
  12. TheSandman2236 macrumors 6502

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    Mar 11, 2008
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    #12
    I am so glad I found this thread -- I am in this exact same situation.

    I have a WHS with 8TB's of movies, music, and photos -- I want to be able to play back all of that content. I want to hook up an EyeTV or TV Tuner to record and dump those shows onto the WHS and play them back on the Mac mini or device...I also need it to play Netflix and Hulu as well.

    I dont care much for blu-ray.

    What do you guys think?

    (Needs to be fiance friendly too!)
     
  13. acribb macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2007
    #13
    I was looking for a media streamer to replace my aging Popcorn Hour A-110 box. I initially looked at the Boxee Box, and after it was released, read all the bad, bad reviews and complaints on the forums. I then looked at the Zino HD, but then read about issues with that PC, from loud fans to jittery 1080p video. I currently had a MacBook Pro, and was thoroughly enjoying that, so I looked into the Mac mini.

    I bought a 2010 Mac mini from pcconnectionexpress.com for $599, brand new, shipped to my door after Thanksgiving this year. I had to wait until Christmas to open it up (wife made me wait).

    I have about 5TB of movies, mostly in mkv, avi, iso and and m2ts formats. I stream all of these from an always on Windows 7 Professional HP quad-core tower I have in my home office.

    Let me tell you. It's awesome. It's a solid machine. In fact, I am slightly disappointed and bored with it because it was so EASY to get running. No futzing around at all. I am running Boxee and XBMC with the Aeon65 skin FLAWLESSLY. I have it hooked up via HDMI to a Denon AVR which switches HDMI to a 60" plasma. It's great.

    There is one caveat though- In order to run XBMC with VDA decoding on Snow Leopard (GPU hardware video decoding), you have to be running Snow Leopard 10.6.3. Snow Leopard versions 10.6.4 and 10.6.5 have VDA decoding problems ON SOME uncompressed Bluray releases like Alice In Wonderland or Rambo. This manifests itself as stuttering frame drops when playing back these videos. There is a lot more info on this issue in the XBMC forums if you want more info.

    Overall, the Mac mini is an absolute dream for Movies and i'm loving it so far.

    I haven't messed around with audio or pics too much as of yet. I'd like to hear how others access their pics and music on the Mac mini HTPC.

    XBMC has an interface for Music and Pictures, but I think i'd rather stick with iTunes for music and iPhoto or Aperture 3 for pictures, although i'm still working out how to seamlessly control these apps. So far, I have been using Screen Sharing on my MacBook Pro to control the Mac mini or I will use the Rowmote app on my iPhone. Either works a treat.

    I upgraded the memory to 4GB on my Mac mini, but I don't really think it is necessary. I ran it with the 2GB for about a week and it worked fine for running XBMC and Boxee.
     
  14. jezza70 macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Nov 4, 2009
    #14
    I first got the Zino not really happy with it got myself 2010 mac mini never been happier with it.I use eyetv for recording tv, boxee to store my movies and tv shows use my ipod touch with hoppo pro for remote plus apple remote .
    I don't know why you would put win 7 on a mac mini but it all up to preference i supose
     
  15. TheSandman2236 macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Mar 11, 2008
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    #15

    Can you send me some pictures of your set up? Are you using Hulu and Netflix on boxee? How is your eyetv set up?
     
  16. acribb macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2007
    #16
    If your goal is to store the TV you record on your WHS, then you should just buy a Hauppage card for your WHS, record TV with it, and then stream the shows to your mini with XBMC or Boxee. These provide an excellent front end to access your tv shows.
     
  17. TheSandman2236 macrumors 6502

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    Mar 11, 2008
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    #17
    I have an EX490 -- I can't expand it.
     
  18. acribb macrumors regular

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    Nov 30, 2007
    #18
  19. jezza70 macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Nov 4, 2009
    #19
    no im not using hulu or netflix becouse i live in Australia they don,t stream here,What sort of pics do you want just of my mini or what it looks like running on my tv
    the tv side of it im running two PCTV nano sticks (pinnacle) so i can record two show at once hope this helps
     
  20. TheSandman2236 macrumors 6502

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    Mar 11, 2008
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    Atlanta, GA
    #20
  21. jonfleck88 macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Mar 1, 2009
    #21
    Windows 7 is Actually Great for Media Playback

    I've been a mac user for a little over 3 years and still prefer using Windows 7 for my HTPC needs. I mostly prefer it because I already have a decent PC, so the extra cost is only $30 for a student copy of Windows 7. The availability of media playback software also seems to be better for Windows. There are a few applications that aren't available for OS X that are home theater necessities. I use Total Media Theater 5 for great DVD upscaling and Blu-Ray playback, I haven't found a good alternative for this on OS X. Also, there is a H264 decoder for Windows called CoreAVC that is very CPU efficient, it seems to decode files with a lot less stress on the CPU than any OS X program I can find. Lastly, Flash seems to perform much better on Windows than it does on OS X, I have a lot less trouble with Hulu, History.com and any other site that uses Flash for video distribution. Here I've detailed my Windows 7 HTPC setup. I use an iPhone with Air Mouse to interface with it and have the DPI turned up so that it's easier to read from the couch.
    Here is a screen shot of the desktop. As you can see, I've set the icon size to large and replaced any low resolution icons with nicer looking ones.
    [​IMG]
     

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