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Which Mac Mini.. Single Core or Dual Core?

1118 Views 17 Replies 6 Participants Last post by  Spiky
I'm planning to add a Mac Mini to my HT setup. I'm trying to decide between the Single Core and the Dual Core machine. I am considering the Single Core because, frankly, my intended purpose for the machine is less ambitious than most folks. I want to use it to:

1) Access my DVD library database stored on Delicous Library. That way, guests can browse the movies on the big screen to choose a title.

2) Play my Coca-Cola pre-movie slide show (iPhoto slide show with music)

3) Play my custom HT intro (currently on order from Bitstream)

4) Play any other "pre-movie" stuff that will be presented before the main attraction.

5) Casual internet browsing while in the HT room. (The Mini would be the 4th Mac in the house... I've got plenty of other higher horsepower machines to use for serious internet activity.)

It will not be used to:

1) Host (serve) any actual movies. While I know a lot of folks like to do this, I simply don't mind using the actual DVD.

I'm thinking that the slower, Single Core machine will have enough oomph. But I'm open to hearing reasons why I should go with the more expensive model. Hard drive space and, frankly, the SuperDrive issues are not all that important for me. If I need to burn a DVD I'll do it on my dual 2.7 G5.

Do I need Dual Core?

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If you are not planning to play back any HDTV or processor intensive (to decode) H.264 files, then you will be fine with a Core Solo.

If you are technically inclined, there is a chance that you will be able to upgrade to a faster Core Duo (or Core 2 Duo) down the road if you need more power.

Agree with Sean, you don't need a core duo for what you're planning to do right now; if you weren't planning on booting into Windows or running Parallels to take advantage of better software dvd player options, a G4 mini would even have enough oomph (though not the built-in digital audio out.)

That's not to say the core duo wouldn't be the wiser purchase now anyway--I think it would be, especially as a refurb for $699--it'll probably have longer staying power as apps evolve and as virtualization improves, it'll retain better resale value and since it can already handle playing back any high def content, should your priorities change down the road you'll already have a media player to handle it.
I was going to get a Solo and upgrade later if I decided it was necessary. Then the refurbs showed up and I got a Duo for $45 more than I would have paid for a edu discounted Solo of otherwise equal specs. I figure this way I won't have a burning need to get a Core2 next year. (fka Merom)

FedEx says Friday it should show up.
Mark: Just curious... What sort of custom HT intro are you getting from Bitstream?

Oh, and I'm asking the exact same question as you, and I'm going to go with the refurb'ed Duo...
Thanks everyone!!

I was just reminded of another pre-movie thing I will be using the Mac Mini for... Apple has all of those gorgeous high def movie trailers on their Quicktime web pages. Just as any true HT enthusiast would, I will be planning to include 2 or 3 trailers in my pre-main attraction presentation. I know those trailers require Quicktime 7 and I'm sure that means they are in H.264. So, with the thought in mind that I'll be including those, should I be looking harder at the dual core machine?

Thanks again!

BTW, I'm planning to run the Mac Mini's audio and video into my Pioneer Receiver (with HDMI switching). What type of cables do I need? Do I need a basic DVI to HDMI cable (such as I am using with my Oppo)? Or, does the Mac Mini have a special DVI port?

In addition to the DVI to HDMI situation, what about digital audio? I want to run that to the Pioneer Receiver (optical) too. Do I need some sort of special cable for that or is the digital audio port on the Mac Mini a standard Toslink or Coaxial audio port?

My apologies for asking what might seem simply questions... I've never paid any attention to the rear ports on the Mac Mini Intel machine.



P.S. Still hoping for some feedback on the H.264 playback.... Solo vs. Dual.
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I'm planning to run the Mac Mini's audio and video into my Pioneer Receiver (with HDMI switching). What type of cables do I need? Do I need a basic DVI to HDMI cable (such as I am using with my Oppo)? Or, does the Mac Mini have a special DVI port?
The mini port is a single link DVI-I, depending on the display input you could use a variety of different cables, the one from your Oppo would probably work well, standard DVI-I or -D cables with a DVI-HDMI adaptor at the end work. I don't recall reading of another forum member here routing their mini through the Pioneer--most of us go direct to our displays or through an HDMI switch--not through an AVR. (It can be difficult enough just making a proper Mac to display connection.) So good luck with that and be sure to report back.

what about digital audio? I want to run that to the Pioneer Receiver (optical) too. Do I need some sort of special cable for that or is the digital audio port on the Mac Mini a standard Toslink or Coaxial audio port?
You'll need to, DVI out of the mini won't carry audio anyway. Use a standard optical audio cable with a $2 optical minijack adaptor tip. (Previously discussed on a good thread, with links to sources.)

Still hoping for some feedback on the H.264 playback.... Solo vs. Dual.
Now that you know you really do want high def playback after all, seems your choice is clear and you don't need any feedback. Go with the core duo.
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Thanks chefklc!! I will plan to originally set up the Mac Mini by plugging it directly into the JVC TV. Once I get it all configured and know the video resolution I want is working OK, then I'll route it through the Pioneer and see what happens. I sure hope none of the HDCP crap comes up to bite me in the ass. I realize the Mac Mini doesn't have HDCP but the Pioneer receiver has difficulty with some HDMI devices that do have HDCP. For instance, my SA3800HD cable box can't be routed through the Pioneer (a very well discussed pain in the neck in the Pioneer threads here).

I've got the extra HDMI port on the back of my JVC but switching to that input is a real pain. I don't have a direct remote button for it so it takes 3 button presses to get there. It wouldn't make for a smooth transition from my Mac Mini-based "pre-movie" presentation to the main attraction running off the Oppo (I'll have the movie queued up and on pause in advance).

BTW, as for buying refurb vs. retail store.... Since I do have some minor concerns about how well this will all work for me, I plan to buy at a store that offers return privs. For me, the $100 (or so) price difference is just the price I have to pay for feeling comfortable about the purchase just in case I want to return it. But I normally don't have any concerns about Apple refurbs. The 2.7ghz dual G5 I'm typing on now is a refurb (purchased in January at a VERY good price) and my wife's eMac is a refurb. Both run flawlessly.

Again, thank you all. I might be picking it up as early as today. I'm off for two days so that will give me some time to play around and have some fun! :)

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For lower resolution/bitrate HD, the solo is fine. Pretty much all the Apple trailers will playback without issue. If you plan on watching HD content in general I'd go for the duo, but if all you want is the trailers to spice up your pre-DVD watching, the solo should be fine.
Well, I ended up going with the Dual Core. I've already got it installed and up and running on my JVC HD70FH96 (through the Pioneer VSX-72TXV). Video is connected via an DVI to HDMI cable and audio via the mini optical cable. The Mac Mini booted right up and showed several available resolutions for the JVC (it actually thinks the monitor is the Pioneer), including 1920x1080i. In fact, I'm typing this message right now via a Bluetooth keyboard sitting in my recliner, 11 feet from my 70" JVC. I can read it just fine.

I've already downloaded several of the 1080p Movie Trailers from Apple's site and presented them full screen. FANTASTIC!!!! Crystal clean HD image quality AND Dolby Digital surround sound! Poseidon and Superman Returns really had my Velodyne sub pumping nicely! :)

Unfortunately, I've also hit a few rough spots...

I'm not getting a very strong signal via Airport (WiFi). Part of the problem seems to be the Salamander Designs TV stand that houses my gear. If I pull the Mac Mini out of the stand and sit it on the floor, I get a little bit better signal strength but not by much. The Mac Mini is about 30 feet from the Airport Extreme Base Station with 3 walls between them. So, thinking that I need a boost in the middle, I picked up an Airport Express and gave it a try. But I honestly don't think it made all that much difference. (Yes, I enabled WDS in the Airport Admin Utility.) Perhaps I did something else wrong in configuring the Airport Express? I'm going to try it in different locations and see if that helps.

The other problem is, of course, the overscan on the JVC. I knew it would be a problem but I wasn't too worried about it because of SwitchResX and DisplayConfigX. But, unfortunately, I've not had much success with either of those. I was able to make a 1920x1080i custom resolution setting that worked fine (with the same timings of the Apple default res), but the minute I try to reboot after modifying the timings, I get the black screen and have to start over. I've been unable to find a custom resolution that will work and eliminate the overscan. Even the "Quick" adjustments in SwitchResX (which, unlike DisplayConfigX, automatically changes the timings as you adjust the resolution settings) did not create a reliable resolution setting that worked. I spent a good amount of time over in the Rear Projection forum reading up on success that a couple folks had with Powerstrip and native PC graphics drivers and the JVC, but none of their timings seem to work correctly when plugged into the Mac utilities.

Despite the problems, I am absolutely THRILLED with how well it actually worked right out of the box. It truly was "plug and play" as far as getting a gorgeous 1920x1080 (albiet, overscanned) image is concerned.

If anyone can offer some tips on Airport Network tuning and suggest a "lay person" tutorial on resolution timings, I'd really appreciate it!

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Well, I got mine today. Just starting to play with it and my TV. Couldn't seem to get DVI-HDMI going, but I think my cable isn't physically connecting with the Mini, it seems to be junk. I have a good one on order.

The most interesting surprise was that I got a maxed out Mini for $845. I think I like Apple's refurb system.

I suppose I should add that it seems to work just fine with a VGA hookup set to 1280x768 60Hz on my 1280x720 projector. And Airport is working very well. I have a separate RF keyboard/mouse, so I have bluetooth off.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of reports about poor wireless performance. However, if you are going to be streaming any HD content, you will definitely want to go with ethernet.

A friend of mine that is a Network Administrator came over and helped me get the Airport Express working. The mistake I was making was trying to give the Airport Express a different network name than the main Base Station network. (I was adding "Relay" to the name so I could tell which access point a device was connecting to.) The WDS requires that all access points in a distribution system have the same name.

We put the Airport Express right inside my Salamander TV stand that houses my gear. The Airport Express does a much better job of connecting to the main Base Station and, with the Airport Express right inside the TV stand, the Mac Mini gets a VERY strong signal.

After we got it working, we ran some tests on DSLReports and I was very pleased to see my Wireless network getting approx. the same performance as my G5 which is hardwired to ethernet (cable modem). The G5 was pulling down 4750 kbps and the Mac Mini was right around 4450 kbps. Since I don't plan to stream any HD, I think I'll be fine.

My friend and I also spent a LOT of time with SwitchResX, trying to get a custom resolution that eliminates the overscan. We were able to shrink the image a little bit and drop it a bit lower on the screen, but there's still lots of overscan on all four sides. All attempts to get closer to a perfect fit simply failed. The monitor (or Intel video chip) wouldn't accept it.

Fortunately, despite the overscan, the computer is completely useable. I can't see the menu bar at the top of the screen but I can easily find the necessary drop down menu items when I need them. When they drop down, all options in each menu are on-screen so it's just the actual menu bar that's off the top of the screen.

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Isn't overscan a TV issue more than a PC issue? Why don't people try to fix it in the TV? I generally keep my TV set to zero overscan and it hasn't been an issue with the Mini.

That is what I plan to do. I will eventually have an ISF tech calibrate the set and eliminate the majority of the overscan. Until then, it will meet my needs as is.


Edit: Was just reminded (found in another thread) that the JVC is a fixed-panel display and doesn't have overscan adjustments in the service menu.

No wonder so many folks have to turn to DisplayConfigX and SwitchResX (and Powerstrip on the Wintel).

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Mine is a fixed-panel display and has such adjustments. Too bad yours doesn't. At this point, after dealing with HD, SD, computers, DVD players, etc., I will probably never again buy a TV that doesn't have this capability. At least not for my theater.
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