Sunday, November 20, 2005

Mac Mini System

I narrowed my choice to a Mac Mini. Being an XP user and never having owned a Mac, this is a leap of faith. The Mini won out for several reasons against my next choice, a Linux fanless system, for several reasons:
  • Integration: The Mini has everything I need bundled in an amazingly user-friendly manner.
  • Sound: This unit is very quiet, except when ripping CD's, when the Superdrive can be a bit noisier. I can barely hear the fan, and the unit is fine when listening.
  • Cost: Fully configured, a Mac Mini with 1.44 ghz CPU, a DVD-RW, and built in Airport Express and Bluetooth, plus 512 mb RAM, is $625 delivered from Amazon (after a $75 rebate). No display, mouse, or keyboard are included in this price.
  • Style: Nothing touches the look of a Mini.

Here is a pic of the unit on top of 2 LaCie Hard drives. Each LaCie is 250 gb, and runs off FireWire. I chose LaCie because of generally good reviews, their quiet nature (I think this is the most quiet of all the Mac Mini drives), their cost ($165 ea shipped from Amazon after rebates) and the included hardware and software. A great bundle, and I am using one drive as the main storage unit, and the second as backup. LaCie includes great backup software that automatically backs up each newly added track, and includes a short and long firewire cable. For reviews of other compatible Mac Mini drives (and a great review of the Mini), see One note: the LaCie does not have any USB ports (though it has an extra FireWire port to daisy chain); several other Mini compatible drives also include powered USB and Firewire ports.

Installation of the Mini was the easiest thing I have ever encountered in over 20 years of using computers. It took about 20 minutes to set up the Mini and it found my wireless connection after a bit of tweaking the wifi router settings. The drives were recognized immediately. For input devices, I chose the Mac Bluetooth wireless keyboard (a bargain at only $60) and a MacNally Bluetooth mouse ($49), which has a nice recharger base. Again, installation was painless, with no software drivers to load or configure, the Mini recognized the devices immediately. I finished off the display choice by adding a Samsung Syncmaster 730b, a 17" LCD display with DVI cables included, a great deal at $249 after rebates from Office Depot.

With almost a week of use, I am incredibly impressed with Apple's Mini. The speed is great, the burn time of CD's is very quick, the interface is so amazingly simple and easy to use (and intuitive, even for a Windows power user). If Mac could support running Autocad (my wife uses it for business), I would be a Mac convert in two seconds. Any doubts I had about running a Linux solution or even an ITX case on Windows XP have been banished.

As a committed (as in insane asylum) audiophile, I have gone overboard in the AC filter dept, using Foundation Research LC1 and LC2 cables, plugged into a PMI outlet, with Cardas Golden Reference AC cables for other components. I haven't tried these with a Mini yet, but I did identify the need for a surge protector and UPS battery system. APC, one of the oldest UPS makers, provides a great unit perfect for the Mini, the ES 35oVA, which has a USB connector cable to the Mini that will automatically and safely shut the Mini down in case of power failure, and provides up to 20 minutes of power.

After a week with the Mac Mini, I have zero regrets, and a few observations.

Don't skip on RAM. Order the version with 512 mb; I have tried the cheaper Mini's with 256 mb RAm and they have to work harder, swapping memory with the hard drive, which increases the noise.

Bluetooth can be a little quirky. The keyboard has never given me fits, but the mouse can be slow to react if it has been inactive for a while, and occaisonally needs to be "recognized" (a short process of pushing a button on the mouse). If your input devices will rarely leave the stand, you might consider the wired versions, which are cheaper. I liked the idea of being able to "surf" my music from my chair, but you can do this other less painless ways.

The sound of PC Audio is very very good. I compared the Mac Mini using WAV files against my PC using WAV files. I couldn't hear the difference (but I could hear how loud my old XP machine's fan was. Many have claimed that PC audio playing WAV files and using Foobar 2000 sounds audibly better.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, let me congratulate you on a nicely done site on PC based audio.

On using the Mac Mini as a music server, have you looked into a web based interface so any terminal can tap into the Mac Mini and control the music and video operation. Sort of like using the Mac Mini as a high end Squeeebox, with no monitor or keyboard attached?

Better yet, a PC equivalent would even nice too, considering there are new hardware out there with Mac Mini type form factor.

J Lane

11:05 PM  
Blogger Dave Green said...

SB3's are controlled by Slimserver software, which is web-based. In fact, the only ways to access my music are via the SB screen interface, or using a wireless Pocket PC or any computer.

In fact, I am using the Mac Mini to support a second wireless SB3 downstairs, hooked up to the family system. Both SB3's can access the Mac Mini using only the SB3 interface.

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