Replacing a Macbook Pro with a Mini (Server?) and an Air

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by rbrian, Nov 27, 2011.

  1. rbrian macrumors 6502a

    rbrian

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2011
    Location:
    Aberdeen, Scotland
    #1
    My Macbook, Pro, the one in my sig, is the best computer I've ever owned - but it's starting to get a bit limiting. I'm currently ripping all my DVDs, and converting them with Handbrake. This, plus BOINC, hammers my CPU, and fills up my hard drive - 715Gb and counting. Trying to do anything else, such as very basic photo editing with iPhoto, working on 20,000 cell Numbers spreadsheets, listening to iTunes, and general web browsing and email, has become painfully slow, even with 8Gb of RAM.

    I rarely take it out of the house, because even though it seemed slim and light when I first got it, it now seems big and heavy - I want an 11" Air!

    So, here's my plan:

    1) Get a Mini with a great big hard drive to store my 500+Gb of video and 160Gb of lossless music, and run Handbrake and BOINC several hours a day. I have an external DVD drive. It will also be hooked up to my (720p) TV. Am I correct in assuming for these purposes, the discreet graphics card is unnecessary? Is there any point getting the Server?

    2) Get an 11" 4Gb 128Gb Air for the "anything else" mentioned above. It should be able to handle it, right?

    Questions:

    a) What's the best way to handle my iTunes library? At the moment it will just squeeze onto a 750Gb drive, but I think I'll probably put it on an external drive - I have a 1Tb fw800 lying around, and when prices drop I'll get something even bigger. Home sharing should allow me to access everything from the Air, right?

    b) I will take the Air out of the house, and I'd like my music with me. The 160Gb of mostly lossless music takes up 22Gb on my iPhone, down converted to 128kb. What's the easiest way of down converting it to fit on the Air, 128kb or 256kb? Don't say iTunes Match, it hasn't launched in the UK yet!

    c) Sometimes I might want to take some video with me. Video files downloaded from iTunes are DRM'd, but with both Macs registered to the same Apple ID, I should just be able to transfer the files and play them, right?

    d) The Mini will be headless. What's the best way of controlling it? Can I use the screen and keyboard of the Air to control the Mini?

    e) Which machine, if any, to sync my iPhone to?

    Thanks for reading, sorry it was so long!
     
  2. blevins321 macrumors 68030

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2010
    Location:
    Winnipeg, MB
    #2
    I made the exact same switch shortly after the 2011 Airs were released. I'll try my best to answer your questions:

    1) For your purposes, I think the base model would be fine, especially with an external drive connected to it. I just bought a 2011 Mini to replace my temporary 2009, though, and the 2GB of RAM in the base model is hard to deal with. I'm waiting on Amazon to ship me 8GB from a Black Friday special. You can find 8GB for $50 or less almost everywhere..don't buy it from Apple.

    a) Yes, home sharing will allow everything to be accessed from the Air.

    b) iTunes Match is definitely the way to go once it's launched in the UK. It's awesome. Until then, you can right click on a group of songs in iTunes and click "Create AAC version." I just tested this one a group of 320kbps marching band recordings and it created 256kbps VBR AAC files. You can then create a Smart Playlist with the filter "Kind: AAC file" to filter them out to know which ones to copy to the Air.

    c) Yeah, if both computers are authorized, you can just copy them over and play.

    d) Lion Screen Sharing was trumpted as a terrific feature. It however still crashes pretty often. I trust Apple is working on it though, so that's what I'll recommend. Enable Screen Sharing in the system preferences, and then you'll see the Mini in the side bar of your other Macs. Click on it, then click the Screen Sharing button. Then you'll be able to remote control using the Air. One thing to do for headless Macs - in the bluetooth settings, click Advanced. Then uncheck the two settings that popup the bluetooth device adder when the keyboard and mouse are not detected on startup. Also disable the password upon boot/wake/screen saver in the security settings.

    e) You should still have a set computer for iTunes syncing. I'd suggest the Mini, and enable the Wifi Sync feature of iOS 5. This is because you'll want a local copy of all the Apps, and I doubt you want to waste Air space on them. This way, you can also have your full music library on the phone, too, and not have to copy songs to the Air first. You can still plug in your phone to the Air for convenience in restoring the firmware, but personally I like syncing to my Mini server.

    Hope this helps! :)
     
  3. thekev macrumors 604

    thekev

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2010
    #3
    I'd have to look up the screen sharing thing. Given that you mentioned handbrake, you'd definitely make use of any cpu power available. I really don't know anything about the size of your projects or speed requirements, but it will scale pretty well with the cpu if you opt for the server. I don't personally view the macbook pro as lacking portability, so for me nothing below a mac pro would really justify a laptop + desktop lineup. From what I can tell it's just going to be a matter of how much power you want for handbrake. I haven't seen comparisons on the base model vs. server in this regard, but it is significantly faster. The thing with the quad cores is they have a lower base clock, yet turbo boost approaches the same point for each. They'll stay in turbo boost mode for this stuff as long as they're running cool enough.
     
  4. rbrian thread starter macrumors 6502a

    rbrian

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2011
    Location:
    Aberdeen, Scotland
    #4
    That's very helpful, thanks! One more question, if you don't mind. Will the RAM sticks in my current Pro fit in the new Mini? I have 2x4Gb sticks, I could put one in each, and one of the Mini's 1Gb sticks, for 5Gb total. Or I could just buy some more - the 8Gb upgrade for my Pro only cost £20!

    ----------

    I'll pop round to the Apple Store in a bit, and see if they'll let me play with screen sharing.

    I don't really mind how long the Handbraking takes, especially if it's just whirring away under the TV, not interfering with my work. Though the Server undoubtably has a better processor, I don't think it's £300 better! The base model is only £500, so that's what I'll go for, plus some RAM from Crucial.
     
  5. thekev macrumors 604

    thekev

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2010
    #5
    I'd have to look regarding the ram. They do charge significantly more on the server. You get an extra drive too, but yes they definitely profit on the upgrade. If you don't care how long it takes, the base model should be fine. The only thing to mention there is that Intel's integrated graphics don't really support OpenCL, so if that is a priority for now or the future, you may want to consider the one with discreet graphics. Otherwise the base model is the way to go. Some people were using slightly more expensive ram in the models with integrated graphics (the server one especially) because it supposedly helped. The reason I think they noticed a difference is due to the graphics sharing ram with the main ram, whereas video ram is typically much faster. The popular choice there was Kingston HyperX (can't remember the exact spec but you could do a search).

    For what you're doing I wouldn't worry too much, as there's nothing graphics intensive. All of the minis are basically using laptop internals. They're decent little machines, but they are built to be budget models, so I can totally understand that £300 extra is significant. I kind of like the minis, but it would be too expensive for me to outfit one to the specifications I'd need. When you really try to max one out, it loses all or most of its price advantage. I'm waiting to see if a new round of mac pros makes it off the line.
     
  6. rbrian thread starter macrumors 6502a

    rbrian

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2011
    Location:
    Aberdeen, Scotland
    #6
    Just got home from the Apple Store, with a shiny new Air in tow! I can't believe how light this thing is, it must be less than half the weight of my Pro. I have to work tonight, but tomorrow I'll play with screen sharing my Pro, just to make sure it works. In a week or to (after I get paid), I'll get the Mini, and sell the Pro for £200 or £300 more than the Mini costs. In the meantime, anything the Mini can do, the Pro can do.
     
  7. techstaholic macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 20, 2011
    #7
    No!

    Both mac minis and macbook airs have low processing power. Plus the cost adds up. You are much better off getting a newer macbook pro, and getting something like an OWC data doubler or Optibay to add a second hard drive if you really need over 750GB of space. plus an external hard drive is always a good option, too plus those can be portable.
     
  8. rbrian thread starter macrumors 6502a

    rbrian

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2011
    Location:
    Aberdeen, Scotland
    #8
    The Geekbench tests showed the 2011 Airs all beat my 2010 Pro by some margin, and equalled the early 2011 Pros. They may be a little lower powered than the late 2011 Pros, but it's all relative.
     
  9. Naimfan macrumors 68040

    Naimfan

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2003
    #9
    Actually . . .

    Just a couple of thoughts for you to consider.

    The fastest Air available, the CTO 1.8 GHz Air, does not match the base 13" Early 2011 MBP. It's close, but it doesn't quite match it, and the CTO Air is considerably more expensive. Also note the 2011 MBPs can be upgraded to 16 GB RAM and to any hard drive or SSD you care to buy, while the Air is sealed. And as we all know, Lion eats RAM - and the Air is forever stuck at 4 GB.

    If it were me, I wouldn't want to have to wonder what file was on which computer, which is part of why I stick with a single computer. If you were to get a base 13" MBP, upgrade the RAM to 8 GB, and put a 1 TB drive in it, you'd have far more processing power and would be considerably more "future-proof" insofar as you can be.
     
  10. rbrian thread starter macrumors 6502a

    rbrian

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2011
    Location:
    Aberdeen, Scotland
    #10
    I bought a 13" pro a little over a year ago, put a 1tb hard drive and 8gb of ram in... And it's out of date already! I'm going to hit 1tb soon, and there are only a couple of 1.25tb drives which may fit mooted, but not yet available.

    So I'm going to get a Mini to act as a server with infinitely expandable storage, and buy a new Air every year or two, selling the old one for nearly as much, especially as I get a corporate discount. File management may be an issue, but I should be able to log into the Mini from anywhere - my own private iCloud. Most of what will be on it is archived DVDs, I don't need all of them all the time.

    Time will tell, and in a few months I may well start a thread asking how best to consolidate the files on a Mini and an Air and put them onto a Pro... But I doubt it.
     

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