Should I retire the old Mac Mini?
December 18, 2011 9:42 AM   Subscribe

Should I get an external drive or a new computer? Longtime Mac Mini user details inside.

I have a Mac Mini from about 2005. It has served me well over the years. I've replaced the hard drive and upgraded to OSX 10.6. This is a recreational-focused computer: surfing, movie watching, music and photo storage. I don't play computer games. A first-gen iPad is associated with it.

The most frustrating thing about this Mac is its inability to upload CDs. I have several hundred music CDs that need to be copied into iTunes. The original drive is exquisitely slow (10-45 minutes per CD), and occasionally it will spit a CD out and not copy anything.

A new external drive would seemingly solve this problem, and I've also been told that I can replace the original drive.

However, given the age of this machine, I realize that it may be time to replace it. The main issue is, I have no idea what to look for. I'm not a tech head. I've done some hunting on newegg, but the specs just read as alphabet soup.

I am not absolutely hell-bent on another Mac, as my work computer is a PC, and I appreciate the simplicity of XP (not so much of a fan of Windows 7). In the interest of keeping things simple, should I just buy a new Mac Mini? What has improved with this line since I bought mine?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
posted by computech_apolloniajames to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: A new external drive is $20-$30.... if you can afford a new computer, worst is you're out 20 bucks and have an extra external drive (if you decide to get a new computer anyway.) For what you use your machine for I don't see why you would need a new one...
posted by at 9:55 AM on December 18, 2011

Best answer: 3 things you should know.

1. New Mac Mini's don't have CD drives... you would have to buy an external CD drive for it.

2. New PCs will come with Windows 7, you will be hard pressed to find a PC with XP.

3. Even if you do find a PC with XP. XP support will be retired in 2012. I don't advise this route.

My suggestion is to buy an iMac, as it will do the things you need and play nice with your iPad.
posted by j03 at 9:57 AM on December 18, 2011

Best answer: I'm gonna guess your problems with Win7 are due to the look of the menu and the control panel, both of which can be configured to use a "classic" look. IMacs are indeed nice.
posted by rhizome at 10:41 AM on December 18, 2011

Best answer: Second -- you might as well buy a new drive. There's no need to upgrade the computer if a slow drive is your only problem with it.
posted by katrielalex at 10:41 AM on December 18, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks much for the advice and perspective, everyone. I have four bins from the Container Store filled with CDs that need to be transferred, and I've been putting this off for years, due to the slow drive. Time to go shopping!
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 11:11 AM on December 18, 2011

Best answer: The new Minis are verrrry nice. I love the new Mini, the 2011 version with i5/i7 and Radeon graphics. It's awfully fast for a 'beginner' model and blasts out three 24" monitors for me so happily. I have one on my 'home office' desk here, and was so pleased that I snatched up two more to attach to TVs for entertainment and couchsurfing. No, it has no DVD drive, but it plays happily with the external I had leftover from my MacBook Air, and I'm sure it works fine for ripping with any old $30 external drive out there.

Gaming has never ever been remotely important to Apple, but this one can actually play modern Windows games at medium-to-high settings. This is the first (non-$4000) Mac I have had that can do this. Even if gaming isn't important to you, knowing that the graphics are good enough for this is probably worth something.

That said, reasonably recent (2010, not 2011) Mac Minis have been floating on that lovely Apple refurb list for $450 or so lately, too. Those are still a leap and six bounds better than your ancient one, and not expensive. And yes, they boot into Windows XP (or use it in a window via virtual machine) very nicely. I have Windows running "on the side" almost all the time, and boot into it for occasional videogame.
posted by rokusan at 11:11 AM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

The 2011 Minis made a huge performance jump over the 2010 versions. Keep that in mind if you go the refurb route.
posted by The Lamplighter at 5:43 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

A Mac Mini refurb will make you happy. I have a new Mini and it is indeed awesome, but I had to buy a DVD drive for it. With a refurb from before this summer, you'll get an internal DVD drive.

That being said... YOU REALLY WANT AN EXTERNAL HARD DRIVE!!! ...better yet, two!

The price of external drives has come down so much over the past few years and you have a ton of music to back up. Do you really want to risk losing all of your music if your hard drive crashes? Bye bye music? NO! :)

But a pair of external drives. Preferably huge.
Name the smaller one: Media HD.
The larger one will be your Backup HD.

Partition the Backup HD into two drives with the size of the smaller one slightly larger than the size of the hard drive in your Mac. The rest of the space will (sounds complicated, but it's easy to do in Apple's Disk Utility app which comes with your Mac already). Name these partitions:
Backup Macintosh HD. Give this drive slightly more space than your Macintosh HD came with.
Backup Media HD. Give this the rest of the remaining space on the drive.

Next, but an app called SuperDuper. It's cheap and it's awesome. SuperDuper is backup software that works brilliantly. I have mine set up to clone my hard drives each night at 4 AM.

At some point, your hard drive will fail. They all do. By setting yourself up with a backup, you lose nothing. YAY!

One last important note: if you're importing a ton of music, you really should do it right. Go into iTunes import settings and set the bit rate to AAC 320 - or, better yet, lossless. I use AAC 320. The files are still small but the sound quality is as high as possible without using the larger lossless audio files.
posted by 2oh1 at 2:41 PM on December 19, 2011

iTunes match makes music backups a whole lot less essential.
posted by The Lamplighter at 10:24 PM on December 19, 2011

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