Which Mac Mini?
August 10, 2011 1:10 PM   Subscribe

Mac Mini media server: which model should I buy?

Will be connected to my 1080p HD set. I want to:
- play HD video (MKV and AVI formats, mainly)
- browse internet
- play games via MacMame

Should I just get the new 2011 model? I don't need the missing optical drive... Anyone else setup their media center with this new model? Or should I save some money and get the older version?

posted by cgs to Technology (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My copy of MacMAME doesn't run under Lion (which is what runs on the new models), but I haven't looked for a newer version. You'll be able to play HD videos, just install Perian.

The new Mac Minis are a bit overpowered for home theatre, IMO, and the lack of an Apple-packaged BD option is still a sore point. Apple is right to ditch optical media support in the long-term, but they are a bit cutting-edge in that respect.

I'd save money by buying the previous revision. Throw the savings into memory and storage upgrades, and Apple wireless keyboard and trackpad. The Magic Trackpad is pretty important if you're going to run Lion.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:17 PM on August 10, 2011

If by "older version" you mean the one just prior to that, you'd be absolutely fine. That's what I'm typing this on, with two bigass displays.
posted by odinsdream at 1:17 PM on August 10, 2011

RAM is dirt-cheap right now, so definitely upgrade it to the maximum allowed. It's super easy on these models - just as twist to the bottom opens it up, no tools required.
posted by odinsdream at 1:19 PM on August 10, 2011

This thread suggests running MAME OS X, but it may require updated ROMs. Or you could run MAME within Windows (Boot Camp or virtual).
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:22 PM on August 10, 2011

ROMs won't need to be changed - that's the point of the emulator.
posted by odinsdream at 1:39 PM on August 10, 2011

I have the previous generation model Mac Mini, running Plex. Plays everything I've thrown at it, including 1080p MKV files, without even a hiccup. I didn't even bother upgrading the RAM from the stock 2GB.

It's also running OS X Server in order to test and tinker before rolling things out to work production servers.
posted by BryanPayne at 2:09 PM on August 10, 2011

As long as you get one made in the last three years you're good to go. The last two generations have HDMI out, which is quite nice.
posted by Murray M at 2:31 PM on August 10, 2011

The most recent one has the thunderbolt I/O, so if you want to have an external drive and pump videos etc. in and out at a high rate of speed (for a price, of course), get the latest. Otherwise, get the previous -- take away the thunderbolt I/O, and you have a machine with the same I/O, the same capabilities, and you save money. You'll just be giving up some processor speed.
posted by davejay at 2:45 PM on August 10, 2011

You don't need anything from the absolute newest version, not for what you're going to use it for. Get the previous version. This saves you some money. Use it to buy an SSD for your main machine.
posted by krilli at 3:05 PM on August 10, 2011

Heck, I'm running the last generation before they got integrated HDMI outputs and it hasn't had trouble with any media I've thrown at it yet, even 1080p content. I'm fairly sensitive to lost frames and other jitteriness, but Boxee and the 2ghz C2D keep it cruising along. The only hitch is that I had to get a mini-DP->HDMI adapter, and upgrading memory is a bit more adventurous than the current body style, but otherwise they've been really pretty decently powered for HTPC purposes for a while now.
posted by Kyol at 3:28 PM on August 10, 2011

Like BryanPayne I'm running a plex install with lots of 1080p hooked up to a tv with streaming to two other computers in the apartment and no issues, works awesome. I have had the same mini for well over two years now and when I bought it, I got the cheapest one I could find.
posted by Brian Puccio at 7:09 PM on August 10, 2011

Ars Technica reviewed the new Mac Mini specifically as a Home Theater PC and said it's fine if you don't need Bluray.. But the previous generation would be more than enough for what you say you want to do. Save the money, and spend it on the Apple Remote and an external drive or two.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 6:52 AM on August 11, 2011

What's crazy is that the 2010 model is selling for the same cost as the new model:


~ final sell price is: $550

2011 mac mini is selling for $568 on Amazon right now :-/

Does that change things?

I was feeling good about the older version since I don't have Lion running on my MacBook...
posted by cgs at 1:00 PM on August 11, 2011

If you can't find a previous model cheaper, and you don't need optical or MacMAME, then get the new model.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:54 PM on August 11, 2011

well, macmame is one of the main reasons i want to get it... otherwise i could go even cheaper w/ iTV.
posted by cgs at 4:39 PM on August 11, 2011

Then get the old version of Mac Mini and don't upgrade the OS from Snow Leopard to Lion, at least until MacMAME gets an update.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:01 PM on August 11, 2011

Note that eBay's "Buy It Now" price is almost always higher than what the seller would get through an auction. You're paying for the convenience and certainty of shopping, instead of the risk of bidding and not winning, if that makes sense. Perhaps look elsewhere for one.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:12 PM on August 11, 2011

Thanks for the advice, everyone. My plan is to get the new one and just wait till MacMAME updates.

FYI: here is one auction I tried on ebay for the 2010 model:

Final sell price: $546
posted by cgs at 11:35 AM on August 14, 2011

"After 6 days and NUMEROUS attempts I have figured out how to get Snow Leopard onto the new Mac Mini!!  It turns out I wasn't thinking the problem all the way through.  I thought that the Mini was causing the kernel panic when connected in Target Disk Mode.  However I was trying to install the retail Snow Leopard (which is 10.6.0) onto the Mini using an MBP which required 10.6.3!"
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:55 AM on August 27, 2011

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