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build a better mac mini

post #1 of 42
Thread Starter 
alright, let's give this a shot. i have signed up for assassin's blog and am trying to pound my way through this. being an absolute beginner i am in way way over my head here, but you guys have always been good for advice so i will throw this out there. i want to get rid of my mac mini and build a "real" htpc. i want the smallest quietest box i can get (within reason). i store my bluray rips and lossless music on an external NAS. i don't have a 3D tv (yet) but would like to future proof for it. i will use this to stream blurays and lossless audio. i do not game with this. so what i would like to do is build around the wesena ITX5 box:



http://shop.perfecthometheater.com/HTPC-ITX5-Black-Mini-HTPC-aluminum-chassis-HTPC-ITX5-B.htm

i don't need an optical drive. my proposed parts list is this (based around assassin's recommendations):

cpu: Sandy Bridge LGA1155 (3D) Intel i3-2105 (upgrade to Ivy Bridge i3-3225 3.3 GHz Dual Core and 4000 graphics???)
board: ASRock H67M-ITX for sandy ridge (or ASRock H77M-ITX for ivy bridge??)
ram: G.Skill 2x2GB DDR3 RAM
storage: ssd 128gb (for system, is second hard drive necessary/advisable if all media stored on NAS?)
cooling: stock cpu fan (more??)
pico psu: 120 Watt Wide Input
win 7
IR receiver upgrade for wesena

will the above fit/work/makes any sense/is completely stupid? any guidance would be mucho appreciato. the learning curve is quite steep here, and i would like to get it right the first time. thanx!
Edited by ratso1 - 12/22/12 at 6:11pm
post #2 of 42
I'm no hardware guru by any means. To future proof, ore more it more future robust, and cost permits, I would bump up to a quad core, and increase your ram to eight gigs. Not a necessity, but would be helpful if you're going to do 3D with it later or doing any ripping or transcoding.

I would add regular HDD if you're going to do any DVR. I know it's possible to DVR to a NAS, but I've read it can have issues. Unless, you're going to keep the DVR, those are usually a watch once situation. I've read, or was implied, SSD aren't the best location for DVR. Plus, 128GB is not a lot room if you're going to store media.

Speaking of SSD, unless you're going to be shutting off HTPC, boot times are not an issue.

Another option you could do, and may be more robust for you is do a two machine setup. Have a one machine, say in an office, that you do most of the work, media server, ripper, and so forth. You can use a traditional desktop, so parts are cheaper, bigger for expansion, and so forth. You can keep it near your router and wired. Then you can have your HTPC be your "mini close" with less stuff for it's just a client machine. It's just needs to play files.
post #3 of 42
Thread Starter 
thanx for the reply! i will not be dvr'ing as i will not be cutting my cable chord anytime soon (unless they figure out how to get espn without cable biggrin.gif ). following assassin's recommendations i don't think i would really need quad core - he says even the sandy will stream 3D, full HD and bitstream audio? (when i say "future proof" i should have been more specific - i really just want something that will do 3D for when i get a new TV - i really won't be doing transcoding or ripping with this machine. just streaming, web surfing, netflix, etc. is about it). all media will be stored on the NAS so i really don't need a ton of storage. the 128 ssd will be for the system, but i wonder if i need a small second ssd perhaps just for storing odds and ends?
post #4 of 42
You can put windows 7 x64 and your players of choice easily on a 32gb ssd, your single 128 will be more than sufficient.
post #5 of 42
Assassin is more educated on hardware than me. The machine I use predates Sandybridge.

You don't have to cut the cord to use a PC as a DVR machine too. If you have cable, you can get a TV tuners--cards or external devices--and DVR/TV suite such as Media Center. You may have to get one that uses a CableCard so you can get the unscramble channels. There are limits to what it can and can't do such as no cable VOD or Pay-Per-View. But I digress...

As for the storage drive, it's true about for DVR you'll need more space. But at the same time, unless you shut off your HTPC, boot times doesn't matter. Mine only goes into standby and takes like five or ten seconds to wake back up. And I only reboot because of updates. Other than one of two apps, most apps load within about thirty seconds. An SSD would by quickier, but how much of a difference is it of a wait, rhetorically speaking. A normal HDD could save you some money.

But based strictly on what you've said, sounds like the machine you proposed should be sufficient.
post #6 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by lovekeiiy View Post

I'm no hardware guru by any means. To future proof, ore more it more future robust, and cost permits, I would bump up to a quad core, and increase your ram to eight gigs. Not a necessity, but would be helpful if you're going to do 3D with it later or doing any ripping or transcoding.
I would add regular HDD if you're going to do any DVR. I know it's possible to DVR to a NAS, but I've read it can have issues. Unless, you're going to keep the DVR, those are usually a watch once situation. I've read, or was implied, SSD aren't the best location for DVR. Plus, 128GB is not a lot room if you're going to store media.
Speaking of SSD, unless you're going to be shutting off HTPC, boot times are not an issue.
Another option you could do, and may be more robust for you is do a two machine setup. Have a one machine, say in an office, that you do most of the work, media server, ripper, and so forth. You can use a traditional desktop, so parts are cheaper, bigger for expansion, and so forth. You can keep it near your router and wired. Then you can have your HTPC be your "mini close" with less stuff for it's just a client machine. It's just needs to play files.

Future proof, the core i3 has the cpu grunt to handle all current video without breaking a sweat. The main thing that requires upgrading will be the integrated gpu's ability to output new audio formats and formats like 4K video. The quad core and dual core come with the same gpu so I don't think it makes much difference.
post #7 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by ratso1 View Post

cpu: Sandy Bridge LGA1155 (3D) Intel i3-2105 (upgrade to Ivy Bridge i3-3225 3.3 GHz Dual Core and 4000 graphics???)
Go with Ivy Bridge since you will get better performance and lower power. Why use last-gen technology for a new build?
post #8 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by jeffkro View Post

Future proof, .... upgrading will be the integrated gpu's ability to output new audio formats and formats like 4K video. ...

Well, seeing how 4K is not around the corner. I say this because, yes there are "some display" devices that can do it, but even less sources of it. The infrastructure to support it from display device and display needs to upgraded, standardized, and supported by manufactures. There is not much for the general public to demand it.

When I think future proof, I think 10% of what he states, and 90% based on what we all stated when we started, and what most of us eventually wanted and ended up adding to our HTPC/systems. Thus is why I mentioned DVR, transcoding, and ripping, with the later two being heavily reliant on CPU and RAM.
post #9 of 42
Thread Starter 
thanx for all your help guys! btw, i will be doing transcoding and ripping, just not with the htpc (i do it now as a matter of fact, with my big rig computer). i have been kicking around what i will really gain if i go with this build, as i do have a mac mini. hard to beat a fanless i5 that is slightly bigger than a deck of cards and silent. i hate apple though and would like to have a more user friendly computer (something apple was supposed to be known for, hah). i might wait until the jriver for mac comes out, that may solve all my problems without having to change anything. or maybe i will just build this for fun and compare the two, loser goes on ebay. any problems getting the above hardware to fit into that little box? doable?
post #10 of 42
I like the Minis too for livingroom. I use a late 2009 model (2.66ghz, 4GB ram); I also use the same model as my main office PC, which does the Plex server, and my DVR recordings. I just pick them up used. I put WIndows 7 on them because it's what I know, and the limited software in OSX for the home theater.

As for the cost, you really need to compare them to a laptop since it's basically a laptop in a very small desktop case; the inverse of the desktop replacement laptop. They're still a little pricey, but not as bad compared to desktop.

I tried doing Windows 8 on my HTPC. It basically worked, but there were some driver issues. The main one was with WiFi drivers, and a quirk with the NVidia display drivers. I've read there wasn't the issues on the 2010 or newer models; apparently the generic drivers worked fine with the IBM display GPU hardware. It's hard to complain about noise, size or power consumption with them.



When I'm upgrade my AVR, I may need to do HTPC, LOL.
post #11 of 42
This case looks kinda like a Mac mini case with the optical drive. They come in silver too.

post #12 of 42
that looks like the 2007 to 2009 models. The newer ones are smaller. Here is a 2010 vs 2009:

The newer models are same size as 2010, but without the optical drive.
2012 model:
post #13 of 42
Thread Starter 
well, it's been a fairly long journey in my head. i wanted to basically get a small silent good looking HTPC that ran windows so i could free myself from the tyranny of apple and it's lack of media friendly programs, like itunes and front row (oops they don't even have that anymore). what i discovered was i would wind up with a larger, uglier, noisier, less powerful version of what i already have. then it hit me what i REALLY want. i am going to get a good size SSD for my mini and boot camp it into windows. this, to me, is really the ultimate HTPC for anyone that doesn't game.
post #14 of 42
it's you're going to use it as your HTPC, don't boot camp it, just install windows. I did a fresh install of Windows 7 on mine. I use the OSX disc because it will install all the proper drivers for Windows and adds a program that updates the drivers for Windows from Apple. On a side note, if your mini had NVidia drivers, I suggest grabbing them from NVidia directly because Apple doesn't update them as frequently.

Off topic, I think it's BS apple keeps making these machines more expensive. I thought they were trying to make an affordable Apple desktop.
post #15 of 42
Why would anyone build a mac anything?
post #16 of 42
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by tootal2 View Post

Why would anyone build a mac anything?

why? im not a big fan of apple, but come on give them some credit. feel free to show me your plans for a solid aluminum HTPC that has an quad i7 in it, space for 2 SSD's, runs cool and silent and is less than two inches tall and 8 inches wide. oh and costs less then $800.
post #17 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by tootal2 View Post

Why would anyone build a mac anything?

Although the hardware inside the box isn't impressive (they use the same hardware as PC's), there's two things that make Macs "different"

1) Form factor
2) Software

Take the Mac Mini for example. You can build something with better hardware, but it won't be as pretty and small.
post #18 of 42
You could just buy a WD Live Gen 3 if this just for playback. That would be my first choice or something from Micca (like the EP 600 G2). 3D would be a problem, so in that case I'd get:

- i3 3225
- 8GB DRR3 1600MHz
- Asrock B75M-ITX
- Samsung SSD 830 128GB
- Get the 150w PSU option.
- Win 8

Don't get Sandy Bridge. Its obsolete and redundant especially when Ivy Bridge is a touch faster at the same price.

Done.
post #19 of 42
Thread Starter 
pretty close to what i was originally trying to do. but i can put windows seven on the mini, add a 128 SSD and have a more powerful, better looking and probably cheaper computer. i had been looking at this all wrong, because i had forgot all about being able to run windows on a mini. i stick with my claim - if you aren't going to game, i have no idea why anyone would build a HTPC when you can just load windows onto a mac mini. and i just read that the first of the thunderbolt external video cards are coming out. if these offer acceptable performance than mini owners will have a realistic option for gaming too.
post #20 of 42
The Mac Mini looks nice. My problem there is what I do with the sound, as my amplifier does not have a HDMI connector nor support anything more advanced than DTS and Dolby Digital mad.gif
post #21 of 42
ah, you do realize that there is a adapter for a Toslink or 3.55mm jack. The Mini detects the Toslink as a digital input. If you're running windows, you just have to change the sounds settings to your digital drivers.

I understand because my AVR predates HDMI and HD audio as well. I have a Denon 3803 or 3805. I got it around 2005.

It was more interesting, to say it nicely, when my HDTV predated all that stuff too. It had only one HD input and it was component video, so I have to use a digital to analog video converter, HDFury2. Needless to say getting it to output a resolution the TV could understand was frustrating sometimes.
post #22 of 42
The 3.5mm output is analog *and* toslink built into the same jack
post #23 of 42
Yes. I've been using that setup for around two and half years on a late 2009 Mac Mini.
post #24 of 42
Sorry for hijacking the tread.

The toslink is optical as I recall, so the toslink and minijack is in the same connector?
What should I setup in windows or codecs etc to ensure that the amp only get a format it can understand and any transcoding takes place on the mini?
I can get a used 2012 Mac mini with 2,3ghz i5 and 2gb ram for 75% of the price for a new 2,5ghz/4gb. Would I notice/need the faster CPU/more ram?
Does the Mac remote work with windows/media center?
post #25 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by Schroinx View Post

The toslink is optical as I recall, so the toslink and minijack is in the same connector?
Yes. Technically it is Mini-Toslink, so you need an adapter for normal Toslink cables.
Specs from Apple: https://support.apple.com/kb/HT5539
Quote:
What should I setup in windows or codecs etc to ensure that the amp only get a format it can understand and any transcoding takes place on the mini?
I can get a used 2012 Mac mini with 2,3ghz i5 and 2gb ram for 75% of the price for a new 2,5ghz/4gb. Would I notice/need the faster CPU/more ram?
Transcoding is CPU intensive, the dual cores will struggle, consider the i7 quad cores especially if you want to do it in real time.
You will also need to use quicksync to help with the transcode.
Intel's page has further explanations and the types of sofware packages available.
http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/architecture-and-technology/quick-sync-video/quick-sync-video-general.html
Quote:
Does the Mac remote work with windows/media center?
Yes
post #26 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by NorCalJason View Post

Although the hardware inside the box isn't impressive (they use the same hardware as PC's), there's two things that make Macs "different"
1) Form factor
2) Software

Take the Mac Mini for example. You can build something with better hardware, but it won't be as pretty and small.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tong Chia View Post

Yes. Technically it is Mini-Toslink, so you need an adapter for normal Toslink cables.
Specs from Apple: https://support.apple.com/kb/HT5539
...
Apparently there's 3 things. Form Factor, Software and odd-ball hardware. Oh wait, there is only 2. To use it as a HTPC you ditch AppleOS and install Windows! biggrin.gif
post #27 of 42
Have you guys taken a look at the Intel Next Unit of Computing.
post #28 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by space2001 View Post

Have you guys taken a look at the Intel Next Unit of Computing.

There will be a Haswell NUC out soon. Probably going to be a low-power quad-core model. There will also be others from manufacturers like Zotac as it's not just an Intel thing that they put out themselves.
post #29 of 42
when do you think the Haswell NUC will be coming. Where did you hear this news source?
post #30 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by Schroinx View Post

... What should I setup in windows or codecs etc to ensure that the amp only get a format it can understand and any transcoding takes place on the mini? I can get a used 2012 Mac mini with 2,3ghz i5 and 2gb ram for 75% of the price for a new 2,5ghz/4gb. Would I notice/need the faster CPU/more ram?
Does the Mac remote work with windows/media center?

You would set that up in your settings. Most likely in the OS and playback software. I have a reciever that predates HDMI and HD audio. I told windows to use a digital audio drivers which handles sounds for in the OS and web videos through a browser. Had to tell Media Center and Plex the kind of audio setup I had.

Transcoding can be intensive, but unless you're doing video, your most likely fine if it's just the audio. And you're probably fine even with the video unless it's a really high bit rate video and HD audio. I've played full 1080p HD audio MKV rips from MakeMKV ok; some buffer at the beginning of the movie, but played fine the rest of the time, at least through Plex. I found it improved when I told Plex to play through HDMI, yet I have no HDMI audio nor does the late 2009 mini even have the hardware to support HDMI audio. I think it's just playing the core 5.1 DD or DTS track.
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