Better value: New mac mini or 2011 model? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 23 Old 10-23-2012, 12:39 PM - Thread Starter
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New mac mini announced today. I would prefer to get the 2011 model at a discount to use as a HTPC, but I'm aware that I'm won't have the ability to upgrade most components down the road, so whatever I get will need to last a while. The big differences are:

2011 model (was $600, should show up on clearance soon)
2.3ghz dual core i5
2 gb ram
Intel HD 3000 Graphics
Usb 2

2012 model (new today at $600)
2.5ghz quad core i5
4 gb ram
Intel HD 4000 Graphics
Usb 3

I'm not concerned about USB 3 because I would still have a thunderbolt and firewire 800 port on the 2011 model, so I can add a fast external drive without a problem. Ram is also cheap, and one of the few things I can easily upgrade later, so that's not an issue either. The big question is the graphics. Intel HD 4000 is supposed to be about 50% faster than HD 3000, but will 3000 be adequate for HTPC duty? The quad core i5 is also a big bump up from the dual core i5, but I don't plan to do any gaming on this machine. All I need to output is 1080p video and hi-rez audio playback without hiccuping, and I understand the base 2011 model can handle that workload.

I'm also saving up for a separate laptop that will be my main workhorse, so I'd really like to spend as little as possible on the mini, i.e., less than $500. Will the 2011 model cut it?

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post #2 of 23 Old 10-23-2012, 01:07 PM
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Who will be the first to confirm / deny 4k over hdmi output capability?
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post #3 of 23 Old 10-23-2012, 07:19 PM
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Unfortunately, if I read Apple's Mac mini page correctly, their $599 model is a DUAL-core i5, not a quad-core. You are looking at $200 more (to $799) for the quad-core. So price being a constant and USB notwithstanding you get a 0.2 GHz bump (irrelevant) and the HD 4000.

Is your Mac mini only going to play the video? Or is it also going to be used to rip and re-encode movies? Do you have any other devices that will be streamed to from something like Plex, maybe with transcoding? That uses a lot of CPU.

I am personally planning on either getting the quad-core i5 (and hate that the $599 model is not a quad-core as I had expected while waiting for the new models) or looking at prices for a 2011 quad i-7 mini server, but those might be very close to the Ivy bridge i5 in price, and then I get lost in comparison of value/features..

Video-wise, for playback the HD 3000 is enough.

- HD 2000/3000 and H.264 decoding article
- HD 4000 performance (including 25% improvement in CPU utilization during Blu ray playback)
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post #4 of 23 Old 10-24-2012, 06:24 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Dr. Crash View Post

Unfortunately, if I read Apple's Mac mini page correctly, their $599 model is a DUAL-core i5, not a quad-core. You are looking at $200 more (to $799) for the quad-core. So price being a constant and USB notwithstanding you get a 0.2 GHz bump (irrelevant) and the HD 4000.
Is your Mac mini only going to play the video? Or is it also going to be used to rip and re-encode movies? Do you have any other devices that will be streamed to from something like Plex, maybe with transcoding? That uses a lot of CPU.
I am personally planning on either getting the quad-core i5 (and hate that the $599 model is not a quad-core as I had expected while waiting for the new models) or looking at prices for a 2011 quad i-7 mini server, but those might be very close to the Ivy bridge i5 in price, and then I get lost in comparison of value/features..
Video-wise, for playback the HD 3000 is enough.
- HD 2000/3000 and H.264 decoding article
- HD 4000 performance (including 25% improvement in CPU utilization during Blu ray playback)

You're right, I misread the page re: dual/quad core. So it looks like the graphics bump is the main difference, performance-wise.

I will be using it for ripping DVDs and reencoding them into m4v format for now, and eventually ripping blurays, hence the 1080p requirement, but I don't have so many movies that I need those rips to go super fast. I basically want a ripped blu ray to play with high quality surround without stuttering. For the near term, however, I will be using it mainly as a music server with some light video duty (mostly kids movies that are in heavy rotation).

I'm having trouble finding the 2011 models on a discount anyway, and I suspect that the discounts will be minimal, since the feature bump is so minimal. Amazon still has the 2011 model listed at $599. If I can't get the 2011 for less than $500, I think I'll just get the 2012.

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post #5 of 23 Old 10-24-2012, 07:14 AM
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I'm having trouble finding the 2011 models on a discount anyway...

Yesterday, right after the announcement, Apple had the 2011 mid-level model with the AMD Radeon HD 6630M graphics for $549 as a refurb, and it quickly sold out. If it pops up again, it will very quickly sell out again because that's a very good machine for that price, so if you didn't particularly care about having USB 3 ports, I'd give some consideration to picking that up instead of a 2012 model. RAM for it is still inexpensive, it can take 16GB, it has the same single Thunderbolt, HDMI and FW800 ports that the 2012 models have...I had been hoping for a second Thunderbolt port instead but oh well...

Before the announcement, the 2011 base model was $519 as a refurb; I wouldn't be surprised to see it for $479 on the refurb page if you just wait a day or two. And since I've used that base model every day for the past year I can confirm what Dr. Crash said, it handles blu-ray playback just fine, as long as you don't particularly care about high def audio. I've booted mine off of a Crucial m4 or Samsung 830 series SSD in 1) a Seagate GoFlex Thunderbolt adapter or 2) a LaCie Little Big Disk thunderbolt for that whole time, and I've been very happy. So I'm already invested in Thunderbolt. If you aren't, and it doesn't sound like you are, you may place higher value on the USB 3 update with the 2012 model, that adds some very fast, very inexpensive storage possibilities, if you think your Mini might morph into more of a storage hub and media server as your needs grow, it will be less expensive to add USB 3 enclosures and devices than it would Thunderbolt or Firewire devices down the road.

A weakness of all these entry level Minis besides the Intel graphics is the slow stock hard drive. Whether you get a 2011 or 2012, plan to boot off of a SSD, and while it is possible (albeit fairly tedious) to put an SSD inside the Mini, I'd recommend you boot off an external, it's safer than opening the thing up yourself.
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post #6 of 23 Old 10-24-2012, 07:35 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by chefklc View Post

Before the announcement, the 2011 base model was $519 as a refurb; I wouldn't be surprised to see it for $479 on the refurb page if you just wait a day or two. And since I've used that base model every day for the past year I can confirm what Dr. Crash said, it handles blu-ray playback just fine, as long as you don't particularly care about high def audio. I've booted mine off of a Crucial m4 or Samsung 830 series SSD in 1) a Seagate GoFlex Thunderbolt adapter or 2) a LaCie Little Big Disk thunderbolt for that whole time, and I've been very happy. So I'm already invested in Thunderbolt. If you aren't, and it doesn't sound like you are, you may place higher value on the USB 3 update with the 2012 model, that adds some very fast, very inexpensive storage possibilities, if you think your Mini might morph into more of a storage hub and media server as your needs grow, it will be less expensive to add USB 3 enclosures and devices than it would Thunderbolt or Firewire devices down the road.
A weakness of all these entry level Minis besides the Intel graphics is the slow stock hard drive. Whether you get a 2011 or 2012, plan to boot off of a SSD, and while it is possible (albeit fairly tedious) to put an SSD inside the Mini, I'd recommend you boot off an external, it's safer than opening the thing up yourself.

Good to hear. I think that confirms that the 2011 machine will be more than adequate for my needs for a good while.

Thanks for the feedback.

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post #7 of 23 Old 10-24-2012, 02:41 PM
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I just scored a deal locally (Craigs list) for a 2011 i5 2.5ghz with 8gb RAM and the AMD 6630 GPU for $500. Still under Apple Warranty and confirmed to be working without any issues. Compared to the 2012 base model this is a great deal with a better GPU. I plan on using it as a HTPC with Plex streaming media from my NAS
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post #8 of 23 Old 10-25-2012, 06:24 AM - Thread Starter
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B&H has the 2011 base model new for $529. At that price, the 2012 is a better value, but it's a good sign for when the 2011 refurbs start showing up.

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post #9 of 23 Old 10-25-2012, 12:28 PM
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I use a 2011 mac mini as an XBMC media player, steaming off of a Synology NAS in the attic. No problems at all with high bitrate bluray with lossless audio (sorry, I go W7 bootcamp until XBMC OSX gets lossless audio). I've thrown Avatar and Planet earth "bird scene" (70mbs+) at it with no hiccups, and no issues with anything else either from my perspective. I call it good with the 2011 model.

Also, since XBMC stores menu information, fanart, metadata locally, I used an SSD for snappy response with large libraries, so plan on that no matter which model you get. BTW, swapping in an SSD is cake (unless you're all thumbs), so I'm not sure what all the fuss is about opening this thing up as it's pretty easy to swap hard drives on (nowhere near as bad as my original mac mini, that's for sure).

Just my 1.5 cents.
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post #10 of 23 Old 10-25-2012, 03:05 PM
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I'm planning on getting the 2012 mac mini because of USB 3.0 (I have 3 3.0 drives already) but I'm a bit torn between just getting the low end model for $600 or springing for the dual core which opens up the possibility of the bump up to the fusion drive. There's also the matter of where to get (or which to use) parallels or boot camp... B&H offered parallels for free with purchase.

Admittedly I could probably do just fine putting together my own HTPC but I'd rather buy one already built instead of resorting to BTO, and I couldn't find any alternatives from HP or Dell... is the Zio discontinued?
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post #11 of 23 Old 10-26-2012, 07:07 AM
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Zino quietly vanished about a year ago, AFAIK.
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post #12 of 23 Old 10-26-2012, 09:09 AM
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Ah too bad. It looks like my options are Mac Mini or buy and build my own unit. Or 1 of those massively overpriced commodore models.
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post #13 of 23 Old 10-26-2012, 11:16 AM
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Originally Posted by h0mi View Post

There's also the matter of where to get (or which to use) parallels or boot camp... B&H offered parallels for free with purchase.

VirtualBox? Though I have to say that right now my Win7 VM is only showing as a black screen frown.gif
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post #14 of 23 Old 10-26-2012, 11:19 AM
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Ah too bad. It looks like my options are Mac Mini or buy and build my own unit. Or 1 of those massively overpriced commodore models.

As I see it, the only reason to build would be better drivers on non-OS X systems. But I suspect that one could run Plex in Linux or Windows in a VM and get the high-def audio drivers working. If so, then one could run Plex in the VM, but PMS in OS X, and then have all the fun stuff from OS X, like Airfoil, AirVideo Server for AirPlay mirroring, etc. Seems very tempting to me. And if you don't care about high-def audio, then no need to even think about a VM.
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post #15 of 23 Old 10-26-2012, 11:22 AM
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Something I have been wondering: is the 2011 Sandy Bridge quad-i7 faster than the 2012 Ivy Bridge quad-i5? I doubt I'll see them at a competitive price to the new quad-i5 (Apple manages pricing very, very well), but if I do... I'd love to know!
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post #16 of 23 Old 10-26-2012, 03:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Dr. Crash View Post

As I see it, the only reason to build would be better drivers on non-OS X systems. But I suspect that one could run Plex in Linux or Windows in a VM and get the high-def audio drivers working. If so, then one could run Plex in the VM, but PMS in OS X, and then have all the fun stuff from OS X, like Airfoil, AirVideo Server for AirPlay mirroring, etc. Seems very tempting to me. And if you don't care about high-def audio, then no need to even think about a VM.

I'm hesitating building my own because I loathe the hassle of it. I'd rather buy a mac mini or some other such desktop system that runs out the box and has tech support I can deal with in the event something bad goes wrong instead of fighting with "why wont the system boot up because my mb is touching my case wrong" or something for 40 minutes after initial assembly that still haunts me 15 years later. (heh). Some of the small form atx systems offered better specs (space to easily put in an SSD and bigger hard drive vs the hdd options of the mini, or more ram capacity, or desktop ram vs. laptop ram, or a discrete, quality GPU). But again, I'd rather just buy a system than build it myself

I'm new to macos (well I will be once I buy the mac mini). I was planning on an imac purchase but the mac mini will suffice, and can serve nicely as a basic htpc as well.
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post #17 of 23 Old 10-27-2012, 09:48 AM
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there are other companies that build small footprint PCs like the mini. Not many quite that small, but you can find some that size of the Late 2009 Models. Of course, what's inside has a big effect on cost such as blu ray drive, HDD size, ram, CPU and so forth. I have three minis and all have Windows 7 because OSX drove me nuts with it's quirks; I've been using Windows for twenty years.

I'm not the biggest apple fun, but I do like the mini for it's size and decent hardware; although the hitachi HDD are less than desirable.

The big thing about the mini, think of it as a laptop in a desktop case.
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post #18 of 23 Old 10-27-2012, 03:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dr. Crash View Post

Something I have been wondering: is the 2011 Sandy Bridge quad-i7 faster than the 2012 Ivy Bridge quad-i5? I doubt I'll see them at a competitive price to the new quad-i5 (Apple manages pricing very, very well), but if I do... I'd love to know!


Geekbench numbers comparing the various Mini numbers over the years http://www.123macmini.com/news/story/1915.html

I did not think there was a quad i5 only i7 for 2012
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post #19 of 23 Old 10-27-2012, 06:56 PM
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My bad... There never was a quad i5. I saw the quad next to the other non-server mini and jumped to the conclusion that it was an i5. Next time I will read smile.gif
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post #20 of 23 Old 10-28-2012, 06:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dr. Crash View Post

VirtualBox? Though I have to say that right now my Win7 VM is only showing as a black screen frown.gif
Downgrade your VirtualBox to 4.1.23. I had the same problem with 4.2.x.
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post #21 of 23 Old 10-28-2012, 10:10 PM
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Downgrade your VirtualBox to 4.1.23. I had the same problem with 4.2.x.

Still a black screen on 4.1.23 (and on 4.2.4 which was released two days ago). Grrr.
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post #22 of 23 Old 10-30-2012, 01:29 AM
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Still a black screen on 4.1.23 (and on 4.2.4 which was released two days ago). Grrr.

Could be a display driver problem. Did you get far enough to install the Virtualbox client tools ?

If you see the BIOS message when you reboot try the following below

Start Win7 in safe mode, as the VM is booting, hit the F8 key a in rapid succession but do not hold it down continuously, if you do it will start beeping, and you have to do it all over again.

This is tricky as it takes a few tries even on a real PC keyboard. You will get a menu and safe mode is an option select that and see if it starts up.
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post #23 of 23 Old 10-30-2012, 09:57 AM
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I tried booting into safe mode, and even into safe mode with command prompt, and once the console is done showing the loading of all the DLLs etc. the screen still gets black. This started happening after I installed the client tools a while ago :-( I may have to see if I have an old enough backup on my Time Capsule to start over from (and then I'll immediately snapshot it!).
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