Best use for a Mac mini
July 7, 2013 2:26 PM   Subscribe

I've been given a Mac mini and I'm dying to put it to fun or geeky use (already have a laptop so don't need to use it as a 'main' computer) but now that I'm staring at it I'm lost for inspiration.

I initially thought to use it as a headless server in the home...but then struggled to imagine any benefits.

I then thought - aha! kitchen computer; but my wife has vetoed that idea.

Anyone got any cool/interesting ideas to suggest? With real-world advantages?

posted by dance to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Why not a media center, with Plex as a front-end, with all your media hosted and easily sorted/searched instead of having to juggle discs?
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:39 PM on July 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

I used our old one as a media server (video/audio jukebox) with iTunes and Usher as front-ends, as well as using the web browser to watch the odd bit of Netflix. Now I put it to use for software development, for doing some automated builds of an open-source package I helped author.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:47 PM on July 7, 2013

Agreed with Tomorrowful. Mine drives my TV. Is yours an old one or a new one? I have an older one that also has the DVD drive, which makes it handy to reduce the number of separate electronics sitting on the media stand. Also, as opposed to an AppleTV or Roku sort of solution, the Mini running the normal Mac OS is flexible enough to stream from any URL through a browser, as well as to acquire anything (cough, legal) from BitTorrent. Very handy.
posted by olinerd at 3:57 PM on July 7, 2013

Thirding the Plex idea. It's the only device connected to my 32" TV in my living room. All TV watching happens through Plex on the Mac Mini.
posted by Brian Puccio at 4:06 PM on July 7, 2013

The media center thing is a good idea, but make sure to do some serious tests of how smoothly it can play HD video, especially streamed stuff. if it's one of the earlier intel GMA950/x3100 graphics models it might abjectly suck at that which could limit its usefulness as a media center.

I've seen some of the older mac laptops with the same cpu/integrated graphics combo as the mini utterly fail at even 720p youtube. And don't even get me started on trying to play hd netflix...
posted by emptythought at 4:25 PM on July 7, 2013

Look here or here for a few suggestions.
posted by Silvertree at 4:28 PM on July 7, 2013

We have a Mac Mini and it lives in our closet as a server.

We use it to run a webcam that takes pictures of our cats when we are on vacation, as a Time Machine automatic backup server (very important!), storage for movies and music for us and our friends, and we host some files on the web that we want to be able to access from anywhere. It's been very useful.
posted by Cygnet at 4:46 PM on July 7, 2013

Been using a mini to drive our TV for years. I addition to Plex there's XBMC and with Elgato's EyeTV you have free DRV.

Enjoy mini goodness.
posted by humboldt32 at 5:06 PM on July 7, 2013

We have a mini running as our home server. It's a PowerPC model, but I wish it was Intel so I could run Plex (there are PPC builds, but the thing is too slow to bother really). I have a couple of external HDs plugged in that are used for backup (one manual, one TimeMachine) for every other computer in the house. Plus, I can remote in to the machine using SSH to retrieve any file I need at will, which is useful. Before I signed up for iTunes Match I used it to stream music using Home Sharing, too.

If you can run Plex, you can easily use it to house your media. If you have a Roku elsewhere, there is a Plex channel you can add to pull media off of the box, so you are not limited to the render speed of the Mini. Same for Raspberry Pi, there is a Plex/XBMC frontend available, allowing the small dedicated box to run the video render, rather than relying on the Mac. I have two Rokus and a Pi but no Intel Mini... But the one I do have cost me $40 (for a hard drive; the machine itself was handed to me for free because it was "broken").
posted by caution live frogs at 5:28 AM on July 8, 2013

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