Older Mac mini as iTunes server

Discussion in 'Mac mini' started by Jaffaman27, Jul 3, 2016.

  1. Jaffaman27 macrumors member

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    Tampere, Finland
    #1
    Howdy!

    I'm sure there have been a lot of discussion here about this particular topic, but I would still appreciate some help in my "special" case.. :)

    I have my trusty old mid 2010 27" iMac as my work computer. It's pretty highly maxed out with SSD etc. so it's still serving me very nicely. But I do have my shopping-pants on and waiting for the next update and the new GPUs. I'm very much waiting to jump to Retina also.

    Anyway, I've been also using my iMac as the iTunes server in my house. Serving the movie collection to several Apple TV's around. But I would like to release my iMac from this duty and buy an old Mac mini for that purpose. Saving some electricity while doing that. Save the world and all that :)

    The Mac mini would be on 24/7 and I need it to do the following things:

    1. Act as iTunes server, pushing HD-movies to several AppleTV's. Sometimes several at the same time.
    2. I would also connect the mini to my home office tv to watch some streams of sport, but mostly the mini would be used as headless "server" and controlled with my iMac.
    3. I would also use it as a centralized Time Machine backup-hub (similar way as Time Capsule works).
    4. Also I would like to wirelessly backup our iOS devices using the mini as the iCloud space is always full.
    5. Share a printer in the house.
    + Maybe some remote server functions, but that is still just an idea, and maybe not necessary...

    These are my needs and as far as I know the mini should be able to do all this.
    Maybe I need the OSX Server app, but I'm not sure (?) But either way it all should be possible.

    The plan would be to buy the oldest and cheapest mini that does all I need..
    Is 2009 mini able for all this or should I buy something more recent? And why/why not?
    What kind of processor I need to look for? What about memory, is 4gb enough?
    Do I need an SSD or is a spinner still fast enough for my situation?
    I'm ok to get my hands dirty and open up the mini to change the HDD and memory myself. That is not a problem.

    If I go with 2009 mini, is the external USB2 HDD going to be a problem with my streaming purpose?
    I would probably have several USB HDD's connected to the mini. Some for iTunes-library and some for my backups. Does it create a bottleneck and slowdowns for the streams?
    For backups, I have a feeling it wont create an issue as it all happens in the background anyway.

    Also 1 bonus concern..If the 2009 mini fits my basic needs..
    2009 mini can't be updated to Sierra, but I will be updating my iMac for sure..
    Sierra will use the new file system (APFS), different from the old one that would be used in the mini..
    Does that create problems with my Time Machine backups?

    Some advice and help needed.
    Especially from users who have similar setups and use an older minis for such purpose.

    Thanks in advance! :)
     
  2. jpietrzak8 macrumors 6502a

    jpietrzak8

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    #2
    Yes, the mini can do all this. :) There are some nice features provided by OS X Server, but you can still do all of these things with the standard version of OS X.

    Well, the 2009 Mini can do all this, but the big caveat is that Apple has just decided to drop it from future OSX/macOS versions (as you've noted). :(

    If all you are doing is purely streaming media, you won't need a whole lot of either CPU or RAM. However, some folks are using systems (like Plex) that perform real-time conversions on media; in that case, you'd want as much CPU as you can get. But it sounds like you're not looking to do that sort of thing.

    An SSD is great when moving massive quantities of files from one device to another; but for streaming, it's really unnecessary. Even the slowest HDD can stream the highest-def video without breaking a sweat. In fact, the serial-access nature of streamed media is optimal for a spinning platter device.

    No problem. USB2 is one of the slowest ways to connect an external drive these days, but it can still handle streamed video easily.

    Ok, this is where it could get interesting. While the streamed data won't take much bandwidth out of the USB2 connection, raw file transfers can use all available bandwidth. File transfers should be run with lowest priority though, so it shouldn't interfere with a streamed media connection.

    The 2009 Mini does sport a Firewire connection though; using this for your time machine backup drive would both provide for faster backups as well as not contending with media streams taking place over the USB connection. Might avoid problems that way.

    Nope! :) The file system only matters for how data is laid out on a particular physical device; once that data is liberated from the device and sent on its way to the computer (or between different computers), the file system used to store it no longer has any effect. :)
     
  3. Jaffaman27 thread starter macrumors member

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    #3
    Thank you for your AWESOME reply!
    Seriously, that was the best and most professional answer on any forum I've ever had. :D

    The idea of SSD was to get a small one for the system, so it would be snappy.
    But as it's always on and mostly just serving movies around or handling backups (that are all on external disks), I wasn't sure it would be worth it.
    I'm sure it would be better in general, but I don't want to spend for anything that doesn't really help in my usage.
    Same goes for the RAM..

    As you seem to be well informed about macs and stuff around them can you help me to decide this:
    - Buy early 2009 mini (2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4gb RAM, 120gb HDD) for 90€
    OR
    - Buy 2010 mini server (2.66 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4gb RAM, 500gb+500gb HDD) for 170€

    Surely the 2010 mini server would be better, but is it worth the extra in my situation?
    Biggest benefits would be:
    - Sierra support (for some possible benefits and future proofing)
    - HDMI (for easy connecting to my tv)
    - 2 internal HDD's (if I would change them or at least another one to 2tb for the movies and then externals for backups).

    But as you already pointed out, I could be just fine with the 2009 mini.. and spend the extra for more external storage. Or change the dvd-drive to HDD, which is always a possibility.

    What would you do? :)
    Thanks again!
     
  4. jpietrzak8, Jul 3, 2016
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2016

    jpietrzak8 macrumors 6502a

    jpietrzak8

    Joined:
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    #4
    As it turns out, I have that exact 2010 Mini Server model (I'm typing this message on it right now), and I love it dearly. :)

    But yeah, if you're already planning on using some external storage, I'm not sure the advantages of the 2010 outweigh the lower price of the 2009. I'm not personally a huge fan of swapping out the internal drives on these machines; it seems a lot easier to me to work with external drives, particularly as 3.5 inch HDDs are so much cheaper (and seem to be more reliable than 2.5 inch HDDs).

    Probably the main advantage of the 2010 moving forward is going to be the Sierra support, as you noted. Another oft-missed advantage of the 2010 Minis, in my opinion at least, is the Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics; it's an integrated GPU, but is superior to the Intel HD3000 in the 2011 Mini and almost as powerful as the HD4000 in the 2012 Minis. But yeah, you probably don't care much about the GPU in a server. :)

    So what would I do? I guess if I'm sure I want to keep this machine as a media server forever into the future, I'd go for the 2009. It can do the job, and the price is right. :) But if there's a chance I might ever want to use this machine for some other purpose, the 2010 does have more future potential at this point than the 2009...

    EDIT: BTW, forgot to mention: HDMI and DVI are basically the same standard, other than the different port structure and the audio signal added to HDMI. So, you can just plug the DVI connection from the 2009 Mini directly into a TV's HDMI port (using an adapter or a HDMI - DVI cord).
     
  5. rigormortis macrumors 68000

    rigormortis

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    #5
    The only thing I would like to throw at the wall is that if your going to be running headless, don't turn on filevault or you won't be able to log in remotely. You have to enter the password at boot each time to be able to access it remotely when filevault is enabled

    Hdmi = DVI + optical audio + Copy Protection ( oh and ethernet in later versions )

    All Macs, including Mac mini, iMac, Mac Pro and MacBooks are MINI TOSLINK , the headphone jack is a combination jack that is also your optical audio out , so if you have a tv that is only DVI and you have a sound bar or a tv that has an optical input, you can get an adapter to run it from the mac's headphone port
     
  6. Jaffaman27 thread starter macrumors member

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    Tampere, Finland
    #6
    Thank you for all the advice so far.
    Both of you.

    What about the MiniDisplayPort on the 2009 mini? Can I get sound and video with that (+HDMI adapter)?
     
  7. jpietrzak8 macrumors 6502a

    jpietrzak8

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    #7
    I can't recall if more modern Minis support audio on the Mini Displayport (or Thunderbolt) ports, but I'm pretty sure the 2009 is video only, no audio...

    Ok, I went ahead and checked. :) Here's an official statement from Apple on which machines have video only and which have video + audio over Mini DP:

    https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT202079

    Long story short, the 2010 Mini has audio, the 2009 does not. (The 2010 has audio over its HDMI port as well.) So, that might be another bonus for going with the 2010...
     
  8. T'hain Esh Kelch macrumors 601

    T'hain Esh Kelch

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    #8
    Sierra will not run on AFPS, so you have misunderstod something there. In fact, it wont even be released along with Sierra as it is far from ready for mainstream use.
     
  9. Jaffaman27 thread starter macrumors member

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    #9
    Oh, ok.. That is a pity..
    I thought all the Mini Displayports also carry audio, but live & learn :)
    Thanks for the info.

    The HDMI on the 2010 really makes it more appealing, but let see.
    Time to go shopping around and see how low I can negotiate the prices.
    --- Post Merged, Jul 4, 2016 ---
    Really?! I haven't been following the conversations around that too closely after WWDC, so you are surely more educated on that.. :)

    Whenever it is released to the public, it seems I don't have to worry about it anyway..So it seems to be all good :)
     
  10. Jaffaman27 thread starter macrumors member

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    Tampere, Finland
    #10
    One more thing before letting this thread die a slow painful death...:D

    Would I be ok with a 2007 Mac mini + Lion (2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 3-4gb RAM, 120gb HDD)?

    I know I would be stuck with Lion and no option to add more RAM later..
    But my needs are fairly modest (as explained earlier)..

    Does Lion support everything I need?
    And even if the support is there now, is there a possibility that things stop working later..? o_O
     
  11. jpietrzak8 macrumors 6502a

    jpietrzak8

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    #11
    Unfortunately, iTunes is produced by Apple, and Apple doesn't want people running old (unsupported) versions of their operating system. The latest version of iTunes requires at least Mountain Lion (10.8), and some features of the software require more recent versions of the OS than that. But you can still run an older version of iTunes, if you don't mind doing that.

    The sad thing is that if you install Windows (even just old Windows 7) onto the 2007 Mini (via Boot Camp or whatever), you'd be able to run the latest version of iTunes, because Apple still fully supports Windows 7. :(

    I'm currently using a 2007 Mini as a home theater PC, but I'm not an iTunes kinda guy, so I'm not bothered by having an older version of that app. That said, I've got it hooked up to a 720p TV; unfortunately, the graphics power of the 2007 Mini just doesn't have enough oomph to always be able to manage 1080p videos by itself. :(

    Also, it's got a Firewire 400 port, half the speed of the Firewire 800 port on the 2009 and 2010 machines.

    Other than that, though, it works just fine as a file server (which is another job my 2007 Mini is currently doing). :)
     
  12. Jaffaman27 thread starter macrumors member

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    #12
    Alright..
    I'm not an iTunes kinda guy either.. but for movies, with Apple TV, it works flawlessly..
    Anyway.. If the 2007 Mini has problems with 1080p videos, it will be a problem..
    So I guess it's a simple NO for 2007 mini :)
     
  13. Jaffaman27 thread starter macrumors member

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    #13
    jpietrzak8:

    If you happen to be around, a quick question.. again :)

    I know there is a price difference between US and Finland, but..
    What you think would be a reasonable price to pay for a Late 2009 Mini (2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 8gb RAM, 320gb HDD) + mini DVI to DVI adapter from Apple as a bonus :p
    There is one available now on our local auction website.. And the price is now 110€.

    Any point to offer more than that or would I be just wasting my money..?

    I know it's a personal preference how much is ok, but just asking your opinion :rolleyes:
     
  14. rctlr macrumors 6502a

    rctlr

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    #14
    That price sounds pretty good.
    I'd expect a 2009 4gb to go for around €200
     
  15. jpietrzak8 macrumors 6502a

    jpietrzak8

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    #15
    Honestly, I'm terrible at buying and selling stuff. :) But that price does sound good to me. A quick check on Ebay shows prices for this Mini hovering somewhere around $200, which I guess is a bit less than 200€..
     
  16. Jaffaman27 thread starter macrumors member

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    #16
    Thank you both for the help..
    It was sold for 153€, while still an ok price I guess, a bit too much for me today. :)
    I'm not in a rush to get one, so I can look around until something fitting comes up..
     
  17. Orizence macrumors 6502

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    #17
    I just got myself a Core Duo Mini for $80 and I bout a T7600 CPU to upgrade with for about $20, and this is Canadian Dollars :) But I see 2.16 GHZ Minis go for around 150-250$ which is just crazy for a computer with a C2D. But Im pretty excited to get it in the mail.
     
  18. Jaffaman27 thread starter macrumors member

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    #18
    Finally found something and bit the bullet.. :)
    Early 2009 mini (2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4gb RAM, 120gb HDD) for 110€

    Not the cheapest thing in the world for ancient tech, but it will do what I need I think.
    And I will probably be ok without adding any RAM or changing the internals.

    Thank you all for your help :D
     
  19. Orizence macrumors 6502

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    #19
    That should be great for what you seem to need it for :)
     
  20. msh, Jul 22, 2016
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2016

    msh macrumors regular

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    #20
    FWIW, if you just wanted to serve files and do Time Machine backups you could stick a 4TB drive on an Apple Airport Extreme. That is what I did temporarily when my '09 Mac Mini went down (a bad fan which I easily fixed and use today as a file server); it worked flawlessly.

    The '09 Mini is just barely adequate for video streaming directly to a monitor; you'll probably experience occasional dropouts and pixilation with 1080i/1080p content. Putting an SSD in there might make a difference as I have noticed that no matter how much RAM you have streaming content is still paged/cached to the HDD and those slow 5400 rpm drives can't read/write fast enough; an SSD takes care of that - you only need a 60GB one for the OS which can be had for like $30. I now use a '12 Mac Mini (upgraded to 16GB Ram and 500GB SSD) as a client only for direct connection to the TV and the '09 Mac Mini is the file server in another room. With this setup I can simultaneously record two HD OTA TV streams while playing back another.

    (Note: On both Mac Minis I am using Windows 7 in a bootcamp partition and JRiver as the media software; your experience may be different with iTunes under OS X).
     
  21. jpietrzak8 macrumors 6502a

    jpietrzak8

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    #21
    Actually, that's not the case. :) Otherwise, the idea of hooking up an external blu-ray drive to a computer via USB would be impossible (as blu-ray disks, of course, provide 1080i/1080p video content).

    Video streaming, even for 1080 resolution video, works fine from even the slowest HDD. The problem, unfortunately, is that the data is heavily compressed using a particular codec; you need to decode and decompress the data in real-time to display it to the screen fluidly. As you noted, extra RAM doesn't help much here (trying to buffer even a few minutes of uncompressed video will quickly eat up all your available RAM).

    Most computers today (and cell phones, and tablets, etc.) use hardware decompression provided by their GPU in order to display video. Unfortunately, the GPU on the 2009 Mini is just too old to have support for modern codecs (and is fairly weak anyway).

    It is possible to do decompression in software; that is, allow the computer's CPU to do all the decompression itself without any hardware support. My 2010 Mini, with a 2.66 GHz Core 2 Duo, is in fact fast enough to decompress 1080p video without using its (also very old) GPU. However, it has to use most of the CPU's power to accomplish this feat; I can't do anything else with the machine while a video is playing, or the video will break up.
     
  22. msh macrumors regular

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    #22
    That is what I thought too. But in my case I was streaming over Ethernet to a '12 Mac mini with a 5400 rpm drive and 4GB ram and would get occasional video pixelation as well as slightly delayed start times for both video and audio. Upgrading ram recently to 16GB made no difference. However, upgrading the HDD to a SSD has eliminated the video issues and improved start times. I carefully observed disk I/o on the Windows performance monitor and you could see that there was regular disk activity notwithstanding all the available ram. It may be that the JRiver software doesn't handle the buffering as efficiently as it could and/or something going on with Ethernet and file sharing chain. Whatever it was the SSD overcame it.
     
  23. jpietrzak8 macrumors 6502a

    jpietrzak8

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    #23
    Ah! Well, the key here is that video streaming is (or, at least, should be) a serial-access task. You don't want to access frames of video at random; instead, you want to retrieve the frames in sequence (and, in fact, all forms of video compression absolutely depend on the fact that you retrieve frames in sequence). And retrieving data in sequence is a perfect task for a platter-based storage mechanism; if you're retrieving data in sequence, a fast platter-based drive can actually perform competitively to your average SSD.

    However, if you're forcing your system to access data out-of-sequence, this all blows up. So, if you break up a video file and place fragments of it all over the drive, or (more commonly) try to access two different video files at the same time (therefore forcing the drive to switch back and forth constantly between the two), you can utterly destroy an HDD's performance. This is where an SSD shines; it can perform random access of data with practically no downside.

    So yeah, if you're planning on forcing one drive to manage more than one stream at a time (or do other significant work while streaming a video), better to use an SSD.
     
  24. msh macrumors regular

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    #24
    I do and this is probably typical of home theater server setups. I frequently watch one video stream while recording one or two others or watching a program while it is being recorded. And remember we are talking about a 4 year old 5400 rpm 500GB laptop drive in the Mac mini. I think performance is always at its limit on a 1080p program even with one stream with this drive. Yes, it will perform but I always like to have considerable margin or headroom to be safe.
     
  25. jpietrzak8 macrumors 6502a

    jpietrzak8

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    #25
    Hmm. You might be right. Then again, I never task a single HDD for both media streaming and other tasks at the same time; I've got one drive dedicated solely to providing video, and another drive for miscellaneous I/O work (whether storing video or other tasks). I'm using a 2007 Mini with 2GB of RAM and a pair of HDDs to both play and store video, and have no trouble with it. (Although the GPU there is nearly useless for modern video, and the CPU can only manage 720p video using software decompression.)

    I should note that recording video doesn't require the same real-time access as viewing video does; normally (with sufficient RAM) you can buffer a sufficient amount of data and store it in a single burst as the disk becomes available. So recording multiple video streams is not usually an issue with HDDs.

    But yeah, if you're trying to do everything at once with a single drive, an SSD will definitely work better. :)
     

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