New ATV 2 - Server dilemma. Mac Mini?

Discussion in 'Mac mini' started by SmittS, Jul 14, 2011.

  1. SmittS macrumors regular

    Jun 23, 2010
    Hey all. I'm a new owner of an Apple TV 2 after owning iPhones and iPads for some time now. After purchasing the Apple TV 2, I'm looking to streamline my media setup and how I stream to the device or any other device in my home for that matter. I'm looking for some opinions from seasoned users of these products.

    I have a year and a half old HP desktop I purchased on Black Friday. It's a decent rig for what I use it for, 1 TB HD, 8 GB ram, AMD quad core CPU. I upgraded the graphics card to a 9800 GT for a decent price for some light gaming (namely Diablo III coming up). Runs Windows 7.

    I have a old (~ 6 years old) PC running XP sitting in a closet. 1 GB of ram, onboard graphics, ~1.4 Ghz P4 (I think). Small HD.

    My first delimma is I have no backup capabilites for any of my media. Everything is stored on the desktop and not backed up anywhere. My first child is now 1 year old and 1 year's worth of baby pictures are invaluable! I need to do some backup! Adding some sort of RAID 1 setup is a must.

    Lastly, I'd like to finally become a Mac owner. With an ATV 2, iPad 2, and iPhone 4 (soon to be 2 iPhone 5's) it's the next logical step. I don't hate W7, but I love Mac hardware and OS X. Lion looks fantastic.

    I have several options to serve my media server needs and possibly quench my thrist for a Mac.

    Option 1: Continue to use HP as primary desktop and convert old Dell desktop to media server

    To do this, I would likely need to purchase a new, quieter power supply along with a RAID SATA controller and 2 1TB HDs, along with an ethernet switch as I'll probably access the same RJ-45 port in my bedroom. The intent of the sever will be media serving only, but hold my entire Itunes library to feed my Apple TV and pull media to put on my iDevices. It will be hidden and have decent airflow, but no direct access. I can remote into it to manage files, etc. with Splashtop on my iPad.

    Questions: If using this setup, can I access the Itunes library on this computer using my normal desktop? e.g. Can I place files on my iPad using Itunes on my normal desktop but the files are on the server PC? Also, for converting media, would you recommend ripping DVDs on the normal PC and moving them to the media server to Handbrake, or ripping and Handbraking on the normal PC?

    Option 2: Use primary desktop as media sever

    I already have a 1 TB HD in this PC, though it's a 5400 rpm drive. I would likely still need to purchase 2 drives and I would need to purchase a RAID controller. This PC is in our bedroom and quieter than the old guy, but still a little loud and power hungry to possibly run 24/7.

    Option 3: Purchase Mac Mini and external (Firewire?) RAID 1 Enclosure

    This is the most expensive option but perhaps the most elegent. I would now have the Mac I always wanted and would likely be a little smoother for the light home movie editing I do. The Mini is fairly low power and quiet, correct? If I use this setup I now have 2 PCs in the closet and my primary desktop is on 24/7, though I keep all my media in one spot and it's backed up in the RAID enclosure.

    Another kicker is Plex. Currently I'm Handbraking all my movies to Itunes, but what is the advantage of Plex? It is nice to be able to stream any movie format, but the disadvantage is the server has to transcode. I imagine if I used the old PC as a server, it would be too slow to transcode, but the Mini or my current desktop could handle it.

    Thanks in advance for any advice and opinions!:D
  2. Tulpa macrumors regular

    May 11, 2011
    The 2010 mini is pretty slow for transcoding (at least WMV to MP4). If you're watching something from the beginning it can probably keep up, but if you want to jump between parts of the video that probably won't work.

    The putatively imminent 2011 mini refresh is likely to still have a dual core i3, with arguably worse GPU, so I wouldn't expect significantly better performance in transcoding.
  3. SmittS thread starter macrumors regular

    Jun 23, 2010
    If the Mini is not great for transcoding, then my old computer is definitely a no go. I transcode with my current PC with Air Video so it is capable. Again, I'm not sure I want to use Plex or anything as I'm happy to just Handbrake all my movies and put them into Itunes.
  4. OmegaRed1723 macrumors 6502


    Jun 19, 2009
    The Waste
    My 2010 base-spec mini running Plex transcodes with no problems. The room it's in doesn't even have a tv set; I use it headless to stream video to the MBPs and iPads in the house running Plex, as well as an :apple:TV1 running XBMC. For media server purposes, I find that it is a great unit. And it only consumes 85w max/10w at idle.
  5. Panch0 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 23, 2010
    RAID <> Backup

    RAID 1 (Any RAID really) is not the same as backup. Yes, it protects you from a single hard disk failure, but it is really for absolutely critical systems that can't have down time. It doesn't protect you from fire, flood or theft, or even accidental deletions. an external drive is a better backup solution than RAID 1. Multiple external drives that you rotate between your home and an external location (your office or a friends house for example) is better. Best of all is some variety of online storage (Mozy was awesome until they jacked their rates up).

    If you get a mini, Time Machine does a nice job of automatically backing up to an external or network connected device. Again, that is different from RAID. If you want RAID 1, it might be used on the external backup device, but not in place of it.

    Handbrake is pretty processor heavy, but you can automate your encodes and let them run overnight. See the Sticky threads in the AppleTV/HTPC forum for all the info you could possibly want about encoding and automation.

    I personally find getting iTunes to work with a network share to be cumbersome. if the share is not opened/mounted at the time you launch iTunes, your media files will appear to be missing. This is easily fixed by connecting the share and then restarting iTunes, but is - let's just call it 'sub-optimal'...

    Check the Apple support site for Home Sharing. This is what the ATV2 uses to access your iTunes library, but it can also be used to sync content between devices. This might be useful for your question about which computer to sync from.

    if you are already invested in iTunes (having been encoding movies and managing them there), I don't think Plex is going to be a big advantage for you. If you already had hundreds of movies in not .m4v formats, then it might have some appeal. If you already have everything in iTunes, which the ATV does a great job of accessing, why switch?
  6. Tulpa macrumors regular

    May 11, 2011
    It depends on what you're doing. If you're just watching a video from beginning to end, the mini is more than capable of keeping up while transcoding (particularly if it's not HD).

    Having attempted to Handbrake HD WMV files into H.264 on the mini -- it's a pretty tedious process. Or if you want to jump around to different parts of the video while you're watching it, you have to wait for the transcoding to reach the parts you want to jump to, which can be a while. Having quad core helps a ton, especially with HB since it utilizes all the cores pretty well.
  7. dolphin842 macrumors 65816

    Jul 14, 2004
    Agreed: To the OP, this is step 1. If you have invaluable data, you need offsite backup now. Looks like the best combination of price and flexibility (i.e. being able to include external drives) at the moment is BackBlaze. Take care of this before thinking about HTPC or Mac stuff.


    OK, started uploading your backups? Good :cool:. As for media center stuff, the advantage of Plex is its support for various formats, and plug-ins for internet video (Netflix, Hulu, etc.). You also have more discretion over how you organize your library (you can divide your movies into separate collections that show up as top-level menus in the Plex interface). Finally, Plex also automatically downloads cover-art, metadata, and other associated niceties for stuff in your library.

    If you use a Mac as your front-end to Plex, then you don't have to worry about transcoding. If you use something smaller like a Roku box, then transcoding will occur for anything that's not H.264-formatted.

    Here's a thought: Do you like your current PC monitor? If not, perhaps a new quad-core iMac would work as your first foray into Macs. Stick the Plex Media Server on there, and it shouldn't have a problem transcoding stuff for a Roku box (or even just re-encoding your stuff so you don't have to transcode each time). Assuming you can avoid tax, that's under US$1300 out the door. Keep in mind the Plex app for the Roku is currently in beta, but it seems they're committed to making it as full featured as possible.

    In that situation, even if you like your current monitor, you can go dual screen.

    Repurposing an old PC as a media server is cheap at first, but an old Pentium4 system probably uses a good bit of energy. Depending on how expensive electricity is in your area, leaving that on 24/7 could have an effect on your bill.

    In any event, this is just some random thinking off the top of my head... let us know what you think might work for you :cool:.
  8. SmittS thread starter macrumors regular

    Jun 23, 2010
    Thanks for the replies. Seems like off-site backup is a must. Haven't thought about that. Main concern is the more likely event of a drive failure which is why I'm pushing a RAID setup. I don't think Plex is for me. As I said earlier I'm already Handbraking all my movies and almost done with that so now as I add to my library I will just Handbrake as I go.

    So it looks like either the Mini or continue to use my current PC. Either way, I think I need an external array. The older slower PC does not look like a good way to feed media to all my devices.
  9. MattG macrumors 68040


    May 27, 2003
    Asheville, NC
    I would go for option #3, but I'm biased because that's pretty much what I did ;)

    I have the Mini in my office, which both serves as my office computer as well as my media-streaming computer. I also have two ATV2s for watching media from off of them. Connected to the Mini, I have one of the 4-Bay RAID drives from OWC, configured in a RAID 5 config (with a hot spare), which is more or less the best option for drive redundancy.

    I'm currently in the process of ripping all of my DVDs to this computer. The Mini isn't the fastest when it comes to Handbrake, but it gets the job done (though my work MacBook Pro is doing the majority of that work).

    I know a lot of people like Plex but I gave up on it because it was annoying. If the tags weren't just right, the content wouldn't show up in the browser, and frankly I don't care about having more than just the basic information (e.g. Title) in there. I've been using StreamToMe, which is a couple of bucks to buy and can stream to my iOS devices, as well as over the Internet, and seems to work really well.

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