Minimum requirements for a mac mini HTPC - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 7 Old 07-02-2012, 05:34 PM - Thread Starter
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Hi,

I'm considering getting a mac mini as my HTPC and I'm trying to figure out how up-to-date and powered it needs to be.
The PC will actually mainly be running itunes and playing music to a receiver and it will also serve as a media server for a WD Live TV and a stream to some WiFi network speakers (Sony SANS400).

What would be an adequate system?

Would the 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo with 1GB memory and 802.11g wifi be adequate?

Is the optical digital audio out on one decent quality?

Also, I've seen issues with Lion and/or Mac OSX in integrating with WD Live TV -- do any of you know about any of these issues?

Thanks!
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post #2 of 7 Old 07-03-2012, 07:18 AM
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I've seen issues with Lion and/or Mac OSX in integrating with WD Live TV -- do any of you know about any of these issues?

this isn't the best place to ask about WD Live TV, you'll get better answers in the content streamer forum...here we mainly use Apple devices like Apple TVs and Airport Expresses for our home network streaming...
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Would the 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo with 1GB memory and 802.11g wifi be adequate?

Short answer, probably yes, if 1) you don't care about video playback, 2) plan to run it headless and 3) even though I can't remember when the last time I used a Mac with less than 2GB of RAM was; longer answer, I'd probably recommend you approach things a little differently.

mettle, the 1.83 core duo is a 6 year old Mac, do you have this already or are you thinking of picking one up used? The reason I ask is that used Mac minis sell at a premium, for more than they're actually worth especially relative to the price and value of newer models. (One of the reasons that particular model is valued by some is because a C2D chip can be swapped in place of its CD.) That under-powered, RAM-starved 1.83 CD Mac could probably host your iTunes library on an external drive just fine, but the g wireless would probably not support reliable multiple simultaneous streams to your devices if all of your destinations were wireless. If any of those destinations were wired, you'd be more reliable. Real world wireless g speeds and reliability are not as good as you might think. So if you already have that Mini, go for it, you lose nothing but your time setting it up; if you do not have that mini yet, you wouldn't have to spend much more to get better performance--and I'd recommend you put that amount toward a different Mini.

The 1.83 CD from 2006 has a slow, small, crap hard drive inside--for your media server purposes you'd really benefit from a better, faster drive inside your Mini, something like a WD Scorpio Black or better yet a small SSD (pick something that seems to be working well in older Macs, two I can recommend are the Intel 320 Series (I have one in a 2005 G5 PowerMac) and the Crucial M4 (I have one in a 2007 Macbook.)

1GB of RAM isn't enough, so to get that hypothetical 1.83 CD up to decent speed you'd need to spend more $$ on RAM, a better hard drive AND crack the case to add them. Are you willing to do that yourself?

Would you like the Mini to grow with you if your needs change? Want it to be able to run Lion or Mountain Lion down the road? Get something newer.

Where will you put the Mini, in your living/main listening room? The aluminum models are more efficient, green and quiet than the older white ones, with the right external drive hosting your iTunes library you could keep one right out in your living room and probably never hear it if its duties were primarily to serve audio.

Much easier to add RAM to an aluminum Mini than the white ones.
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Is the optical digital audio out on one decent quality?

It's great quality, even on the Late 2006 core duos. Optical either works or not, and though its combo audio minijacks are relatively cheap, if it works, i.e. isn't broken, and your AVR has optical in, it will be fine.

So, I'd say look a used 2010 or a refurb 2011 Mini, with 4GB RAM and n wireless, which you can upgrade to Lion and/or Mountain Lion should you desire. New Minis should come very soon, which will mean further price drops on the 2011 models. At the moment the cheapest 2011 Mini refurb is $519, after the pending 2012 refresh to Ivy Bridge, that 2011 model will drop to ~$469 with full warranty from Apple. Not a bad deal.

Is that year old Mini much more machine than you need...yes. But 1) it is such a better value proposition unless you can score a 2009 or 2010 model for a reasonable price and 2) if your needs change, say you all of sudden want to play full-size blu-ray rips in your home theater AND simultaneously stream iTunes audio to other locations, well the low-end 2011 model can do that, handily.

I'd also give some thought to picking up an Apple TV and Airport Express for those other locations...they are fantastic AirPlay and iTunes Home Sharing devices.
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post #3 of 7 Old 07-03-2012, 01:04 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for the in-depth reply.

I don't have the mini in my possession, but I found a refurb with the specs I posted for sale for $250 which seemed like a pretty good deal.
I hear what you're saying, though, and it sounds reasonable to spend an extra $200 or so for something much better.

I'm not sure where you're seeing the $519 refurbished + full warranty deal, though. Through Apple? If so, they're out for now...

Thanks again.
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post #4 of 7 Old 07-03-2012, 06:11 PM
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try REFURB TRACKER. It's fairly accurate/timely.

cnet refurb tracker info

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post #5 of 7 Old 07-03-2012, 06:19 PM
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in fact, I was just alerted to the fact that several minis are now available in the Apple Store refurb section via Refurb Tracker


Refurb'd minis NOW!

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si possis, recte, si non, quocumque modo, rem.
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post #6 of 7 Old 07-03-2012, 06:25 PM
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and if I may be so bold as to suggest buying the least expensive I7 you can get, and changing out the drive with a SSD & adding memory while you're at it...


Also, be aware that a refurb (anything) does NOT qualify for American Express warranty extension!


ADDED after watching OWC's HowTo video:


Holy CR@P! That's MUCH more simple (by far!!!) than replacing the HD in my 2009 mini!!!

DO IT!

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si possis, recte, si non, quocumque modo, rem.
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post #7 of 7 Old 07-04-2012, 08:28 AM
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I'm not sure where you're seeing the $519 refurbished + full warranty deal, though. Through Apple? If so, they're out for now...

yes, via the Apple store website, grubavs has kindly posted the direct link, the way Apple refurbs work is if it is in stock, it's displayed, out of stock, it won't even be listed. If it isn't listed when you try, try back in a few hours and it just might be there.
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I don't have the mini in my possession, but I found a refurb with the specs I posted for sale for $250 which seemed like a pretty good deal...I hear what you're saying, though, and it sounds reasonable to spend an extra $200 or so for something much better.

You can get a better Mac for that same $250: I picked up a 2.0 C2D Macbook in perfect shape 4-5 months ago for my parents for less than $250. Every one has to make their own decision whether it's better for them to spend ~$250 or $450+ and I don't think there's one clear answer, it's going to depend on a lot of different factors and that's why we like discussing these things, to help make choices. (In your case, a $250 or so used Mac as an iTunes server allows you to pick up an Apple TV ($85) or two and/or an Airport Express ($69) and come in very close to what you would have paid for that newer Mac by itself...not a bad tradeoff for some.)

In your case the first performance hurdle you have to clear in your mind is why just limit yourself to audio streaming--why aren't you thinking about whole house streaming and playback of audio and video?

I realized I didn't answer your question about the minimum requirements for your needs, so if you're really looking to save money, to spend the least amount possible on a quiet, low profile Mac to host your iTunes library and serve it up to other devices, I'll be a little more specific...I'd start your used search with the 2009 Minis, I believe they were the first Minis to get n wireless and I think they have some good life left in them. But something else, somewhat outside the box to consider, a Macbook circa 2007 would function as your networked media server as least as well, if not better, than the 2009 Minis--and they're much better than the core duo Minis--and used prices have really fallen on older plastic MacBooks. First, it's a laptop, so you can take it with you, if you don't also have a laptop or iPad, all I'll say is mobility is nice. Like the 2009 Mini, those old MacBooks are also C2D and n wireless, but unlike on the Mini it is extremely easy to upgrade both hard drives and RAM in a plastic Macbook--pop the battery, remove 3 screws, both the RAM and drive pull right out. After initial setup they run with the lid closed just fine, and a 2007 Macbook can run Lion, if that matters. You can also replace the crappy optical drive in those MacBooks with a second hard drive using a very inexpensive tray adapter, which means you could keep a copy of your large iTunes library right there (in the Macbook) and wouldn't need an external. That maintains a slim form factor and saves some money if you don't already have an external enclosure.

Since your priority seems audio streaming, I can't stress enough how valuable it is having multiple copies of your iTunes library.

I see relatively inexpensive MacBooks used on Craigslist and eBay all the time, I almost never see inexpensive Mac minis, so perhaps give it some thought--an old cheap Macbook could be your inexpensive whole house iTunes media server at home, that you could also pack up and take with you on the road should the spirit move you. If you go the Macbook route, here's exactly what I've done to my old warhorse of a 2007 Santa Rosa Macbook:

1. Make sure it has at least 4GB RAM (mine has 6GB but then I often asked it to play HD video while multitasking)
2. Boot it off of a small, affordable SSD (I've had both an 80GB Intel 320 Series and a 128 Crucial M4 in there)
3. Replace the optical drive with a large 2.5" drive partitioned in two, one a clone of your SSD boot drive, the other your entire iTunes library, that way you have some redundancy if your boot drive fails (I have a 750GB Seagate Momentus XT in there at the moment, with a clone of my lossless iTunes library (640ish GBs) plus a bootable clone of the SSD.)

This strategy isn't for everyone, but I already had the Macbook, I already had plenty of drives and SSDs to repurpose, and it was my main HTPC in the living room for a few years until I really started to get into blu-ray. (I don't sell my Macs, and usually hold on to them for a long time or pass them on to family.) Anyway, that old Santa Rosa Macbook got new life with an SSD, and souped up the way it is functions essentially as a backup and drop-in replacement for the 2011 Mini in my living room, which can also go on the road with me when traveling, visiting relatives, etc.

Once people realize which older machines can't be upgraded to Mountain Lion, prices will fall even further.
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