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2.26Ghz vs. 2.66Ghz Mac mini for HTPC—worth the extra money?
December 17, 2009 3:12 PM   Subscribe

2.26Ghz vs. 2.66Ghz Mac mini for HTPC—worth the extra money?

I'm thinking about a Mac mini as a HTPC. My thought is to rip all my DVDs on it, then install Plex to watch them and TV from Hulu and other sites

Assuming that this will be my HTPC for at least the next four years, and that I might someday try to figure out how to rip my Blu-ray discs for HD playback, will the 2.26Ghz model be adequate? Or would I be better off spending the extra money for the 2.66Ghz model (assuming comparable RAM and hard drive specs)? Would the extra speed make that much of a difference in HD playback, or anything else? Thanks!
posted by DakotaPaul to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I can't speak to the difference between those two speeds, but you would be much better served by upgrading the RAM to 4GB. It's not clear in your question as to whether or not you're doing that, but it would be well worth the cost to do so.
posted by DMan at 3:30 PM on December 17, 2009


2.26Ghz vs. 2.66Ghz Mac mini for HTPC—worth the extra money?

No.
posted by VikingSword at 3:36 PM on December 17, 2009


With the 2.26Ghz processor and 4Gb of RAM, you could connect two EyeTV tuners to your Mini, and even record two over-the-air televison channels at once, with no problem. Go for the RAM (and buy an EyeTV tuner if possible, they are amazing!).
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 3:40 PM on December 17, 2009


you would be much better served by upgrading the RAM to 4GB. It's not clear in your question as to whether or not you're doing that, but it would be well worth the cost to do so.

The 2.66Ghz model only comes with 4GB from Apple, so when I said "comparable RAM and hard drive" I meant that I'd put 4GB in the 2.26Ghz model.
posted by DakotaPaul at 3:52 PM on December 17, 2009


Thanks for the EyeTV tip, Napoleonic Terrier. I hadn't gotten into OTA tuners in my HTPC research yet. Sounds pretty cool!
posted by DakotaPaul at 3:55 PM on December 17, 2009


Another question: should I go with the 160GB hard drive when I buy it, then upgrade to the largest capacty 7200RPM drive I can get, like a Seagate Momentus? Is the faster drive going to make that much of a difference?
posted by DakotaPaul at 4:13 PM on December 17, 2009


Eh, I store all my media on a server I access through 802.11n and there are no problems with playing back 720p content downloaded from torrents. Drive speed makes a huge difference if you're opening huge files in photoshop or something, but for a home theater where you're streaming across a network? not so much. I'd go with the flexibility of hanging a bunch of USB drives off of it (or off of an Airport Extreme) if I were you.

Processor speed is increasingly irrelevant for normal people. Just get as much RAM as possible and sock the rest of the money away so you can upgrade a couple months early next time.
posted by paanta at 4:47 PM on December 17, 2009


Skip the extra hard drive space from Apple, and get a miniStack from OWC, and add any drive capacity you like for much cheaper. Also beneficial if you want to upgrade to a larger hard drive without ever opening the Mac mini case.

Although you still have to open the case to upgrade memory, you should never buy it from Apple. Get it from OWC or somewhere else. I don't have any financial interest in OWC, they are just a company I've purchased from many times with great results.
posted by santaliqueur at 5:12 PM on December 17, 2009


I would recommend Ultra Stackable External enclosures. I've used them for awhile, and they are neat and tidy, and relatively quiet, and the power supply unit they have will support six of these drives, and only use one power outlet.
posted by chambers at 5:19 PM on December 17, 2009


You sure it has to be a mac. There is an asus (arock i think) nettop that has a dual core atom, nvidia ion gpu and a blue ray drive for $330 more than 2 times less then the mac mini. Looking at what you want to do in the future does it have to be a mac mini?
posted by majortom1981 at 5:44 PM on December 17, 2009


This sounds perfect. Where can I find it?
posted by Germs of Love at 5:51 PM on December 17, 2009


400mhz? Humans have a hard time seeing any difference at double the clock speed, let alone something like this. Unless you have a very specific need, then its wasted money.

Seconding checking out the Asrock Ion nettop. A lot of the Apple tax is the marketing companies like Asrock cant afford to do.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:50 PM on December 17, 2009


I have a mini that I use as a HTPC. It's a 2.0Ghz with gma950 graphics (oh how I wish I'd waited for the one with the 9400 GPU). The Nvidia 9400 in the newer model is excellent, you'll have no problems watching HD content with it. Max out the ram, add a 7200rpm drive, and get a JBOD enclosure for a couple 1.5tb 3.5" drives. Use one drive as a media drive, and run a daily rsync job to mirror the drives so you're safe if one of them croaks (it's saved my hide before and is worth every penny).

The nettops do look nice, but they don't have the bus speed that the mini does, and the atom is decent but a bit slow for a HTPC. The bus speed will make a big difference for the graphics chip because it uses shared memory. Plus there are little things with OS X like the accessibility zoom that help when you're surfing the web or using Final Cut and squinting to read the tiny print. Control + scroll and suddenly that tiny text fills up the screen! I use this daily and can't imagine life without it (although I did find a Microsoft-built hack to get something similar) Also handy for blowing up video when there's no fullscreen button.


But yeah, the extra proc speed is irrelevant. Use that money for ram/hard drive.
posted by mullingitover at 7:11 PM on December 17, 2009


If you're not going to use the OS X GUI, buying a Mac Mini as an HTPC is a huge waste of money. A nettop + XBMC is plenty.

Also, there is still no support for Blu-ray on OS X.
posted by wongcorgi at 8:34 PM on December 17, 2009


The Asrock Ion nettops, well, basically all the Atom-based nettops, including the new Ion chipset, are absolutely useless at full-screen Flash.
posted by General Malaise at 11:07 PM on December 17, 2009


I wouldn't waste my money trying to do a HTPC with Atom processors.

The difference in processor speed isn't worth the extra money. I'm running my HTPC on a 1.83Mhz MacMini, and it's more then enough horsepower (only 2G of memory too). I'm not doing an off the air recording, mostly just torrents with Plex. Love it!
posted by dirt at 5:15 AM on December 18, 2009


>are absolutely useless at full-screen Flash.

Really? Thats not my experience. Last I read, Flash 10 supports hardware acceleration in full screen modes. 10.1 supports hardware acceleration for non-full screen modes. Dont believe me. Read the reviews. People are doing hulu, BD, netflix, etc on these things.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:40 AM on December 18, 2009


Here is Intel's comparison between the two chips. If it were me, I'd save the cash.
posted by cp7 at 7:46 AM on December 18, 2009


Wow, thanks for all the great info, everyone. The consensus is that the extra cycles aren't worth it, so I'm marking VikingSword's succinct answer as best.

Yes, I'm kinda stuck on the mini. Guess I'm just a hopeless Mac guy.

I hadn't seen the JBOD that mullingitover mentioned, and I like the price. I was thinking about a Drobo down the road—does anyone have experience with it? In enclosures like these with multiple, redundant drives, does it matter what quality drive you buy?
posted by DakotaPaul at 8:38 AM on December 18, 2009


Although you still have to open the case to upgrade memory, you should never buy it from Apple. Get it from OWC or somewhere else. I don't have any financial interest in OWC, they are just a company I've purchased from many times with great results.

Good idea. Thanks! And I've ordered many times from OWC when I upgraded my old G3 desktop as much as I could and they were great, so I know you're not a shill. :-)
posted by DakotaPaul at 8:54 AM on December 18, 2009


I was leaning towards a mac mini but ended up purchasing the new Dell Zino. I upgraded the processor and everything is working great for me (including flash based stuff like Hulu).
posted by gfrobe at 3:17 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was thinking about a Drobo down the road—does anyone have experience with it? In enclosures like these with multiple, redundant drives, does it matter what quality drive you buy?

You might be opening a can of worms with this one - there are many, many people who are dedicated Drobo fans. I'm not one of them.

What many people like about Drobos are that they are simple to operate. However, I see a lot of downsides. Drobos don't use conventional RAID schemes, they run a proprietary system (something they call BeyondRAID) - should it go down, you are out of luck in trying to get data off the drives. And they do go down. The problem with these units is not even so much that a hard drive will go bad - if only one goes bad, it's recoverable. The problem is that if the controller goes down, the whole thing collapses - in other words, the problem is reliability upstream from the hard drive in additional to the problem people usually think about, i.e. the hard drive reliability. Again, this being a proprietary system makes it a definite downer from my point of view (if one were to go non-RAID but still using some RAID like ideas, I prefer unRAID). There are other things - performance. Drobos are notoriously slow. It doesn't matter if you use a FW800 or merely USB, it's slooow. Now, that may not make a difference depending on what you use if for, but it's something you should be aware of. Some people also complain about noise, but that may be an individual thing or maybe defective units. I'm not a Drobo fan. Maybe a Drobo fan can drop in now and make their case, and you can see what you like better.

A word about RAIDs. If you are looking for very simple way to preserve data in case a drive fails, RAID 1 (mirroring) is not a bad system, providing something upstream doesn't fail borking both drives simultaneously - or more, in case of RAID 5 - like a failing controller; also make sure you're on a good fuse, so a power spike doesn't fry all your drives at once; basically, you should watch out for things that can take all your drives at once (fire, theft etc.). Some people believe in getting drives from different manufacturers or at least different batches in a RAID, so as to minimize the odds of simultaneous failure, but I think that's overkill. And at the end of the day, RAID1(5) is not backup - because if you mistakenly remove data, it's gone from all drives; true backup hangs on to your data forever (and best offsite with easy access).
posted by VikingSword at 5:38 PM on December 18, 2009


Wow, thanks for the info, VikingSword.
posted by DakotaPaul at 11:10 PM on December 19, 2009


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