Mac Mini to travel as desktop between two countries? How feasible?
February 20, 2014 12:09 AM   Subscribe

Thanks MeFites for your assistance; now for a Mac Mini question! The Flashdrake is needs a new computer to take to Italy for around 5 months a year; he currently uses an all-in-one desktop PC in Australia running Windows 7 and a 23" screen. Has been using a 17" 2010 laptop now running Windows 8 when travelling to Italy, although doesn't like using it, finds the screen hard to see, and never got a handle on Win8. I could buy a new laptop, or a new desktop to keep overseas, but it seems that getting a Mac Mini and hitching it up to a monitor at either end. While we would still backup, it seems like an elegant solution. He is not familiar with the iOS, but loves his iPad, which he uses when he needs portability when out and about. Is there something that I'm missing here? I imagine that as long as we avoid an expensive Apple monitor (that's possible, right?) it would work well, with be relatively cost effective. Thoughts? What am I missing here?
posted by Flashduck to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
1. Yes, you can connect a mac mini to a non-apple monitor without trouble.

2. Macs don't run iOS, they run Mac OS X. Under the hood it is BSD Unix.

3. What will this computer be used for? Most tasks can be accomplished equally well on a Mac or Windows machine, but some are particularly well suited to one platform or the other.

4. Why not pick one of the ultra-slim Windows machines?
posted by b1tr0t at 12:30 AM on February 20, 2014

Thanks b1tr0t, I meant OS X. The idea of the Mac Mini is carrying it internationally and being able to work straight away without syncronising data, updating and so on after 4 or 5 months.
posted by Flashduck at 12:38 AM on February 20, 2014

What b1tr0t said.

The biggest problem I see is that the mac-mini is due for a refresh any time now. (I needed a new mac recently and would have rather gotten a mini but got a macbook instead because of this reason.)

It sounds like you want a big screen ( like the 23inch he's using now ) ?

Why not just start with getting a 23+ inch screen for the current laptop?

Re synchronizing data.....kinda depends on your needs and the amount of data you need to synchonize but do you know about
posted by Spumante at 12:41 AM on February 20, 2014

Mac Mini is a fine platform for Windows 7 thanks to Boot Camp. I would also recommend the Intel NUC, in a tasteful i3 or i5 processor. NUC is *way* cheaper, and no fussing with Boot Camp and dual-booting, but you will need to do a USB install. Fortunately that's far easier than it used to be.

NUC will have HDMI-out, Mac-Mini has Thunderbolt (or at the very least, DisplayPort). Either is convertible to DVI with the right adapter, which he should keep with the computer along with the the supplied power cable, as well as a backup power cable, and any power plug/voltage convertor necessary. Otherwise, USB.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:45 AM on February 20, 2014

Any current model laptop can be attached to an external screen, keyboard and mouse, if that's all you need. You can install windows 7 on any current model laptop.

It really depends on how much travelling you need to do - if it's only twice a year, a mac mini or other ultra-small computer is likely fine. The problem with more travelling is that internally desktops aren't made to be shaken/moved a lot, and if it's every week or something, a cable may eventually come loose.

If I was you - I'd try installing windows 7 on your existing laptop and attaching an external screen/keyboard/mouse to it, and see how that works as a setup. (If this has problems like being too slow, too heavy or insufficient hard drive space, newer laptops are better.)
posted by Ashlyth at 4:18 AM on February 20, 2014

Sitting here typing at a Mac Mini with a Dell 24" monitor, PC keyboard, and microsoft mouse. No reason to buy expensive Mac peripherals for the Mini.

I haven't taken mine apart, but as far as I can tell, the Mini is more of a screenless laptop than a small desktop: the cpu, memory, and disks are all laptop spec and form factor, and the case is the same gray machined metal as the powerbooks. The only internal connectors appear to be for the disks and memory - there is no backplane to shake loose. (Disclaimer: while I own a mini, I have never tried to travel with it.)
posted by mr vino at 5:03 AM on February 20, 2014

I suggest you make a careful list of exactly what is important to you and what is not. There are many potential ways of fulfilling your requirements in terms of platform, specification, physical specification and cost. A prioritised list of your requirements will help narrow things down.

As Sunburnt says, you can start your search with low end devices such as a NUC or a Gigabyte Brix. These can be relatively easily configured to give you Win8, Win7 or a Linux variant - as well as different memory and storage capacities.

However if you are spending more than about USD300 you will be spending more than you would on a simple tablet or Chromebook - and at USD500 you would be spending more than you would on a pretty reasonable laptop. I found this review of the area from Wirecutter useful.

If you are looking for a MacMini then be aware that a new model is anticipated within the next few weeks by Mac Rumors.
posted by rongorongo at 5:48 AM on February 20, 2014

Just chiming in to say that my Mac Mini 2011 server was one of the best values I've ever experienced in a computer purchase. The thing is unstoppable, tiny, silent, cool, and fast (I've got mine configured with SSD internals, 16GB of RAM, and a thunderbolt 12TB array.) I have never had to even do a hard reboot on it and it operates under significant load on a constant basis.

You can use generic peripherals. But yeah, I'd wait on the new Mini due in the early spring. I plan to buy one.
posted by spitbull at 6:44 AM on February 20, 2014

Just an FYI, there are PCs that are very similar to the Mac Mini and, in some cases, cost a lot less. You'd have to do some research but this seems like a good start.

Windows 8 sucks. He should just get Windows 7 for his laptop and call it a day. You can still hook up monitors, keyboards and mouses to a laptop. But the nice thing is, you can also just use the laptop and a laptop with no peripherals. Just because he doesn't like Windows 8 doesn't mean he needs to buy a Mac Mini. Getting Windows 7 is the cheapest and easiest solution here.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:19 AM on February 20, 2014

If you're set on a Mac Mini, that's fine - although this is probably a bad time to buy one.

But if you're specifically looking for a computer to travel with, a Mac Mini is a square peg that you're forcing into a round hole. Why not a light laptop (like the 13" Macbook Air) to use with external monitor, keyboard, and mouse?

My daily desktop setup is a Macbook Air using a Dell monitor -> DVI cable -> DVI to Displayport adapter, an Apple extended keyboard with USB plug, a Microsoft USB mouse (yes, multiple buttons + scroll wheel) plugged into the keyboard, and some leftover Dell speakers + bass. I plug in every day and have a nice desktop setup, but when I go home or travel, everything goes with me.

Wouldn't something like this work better for you, with the extra benefit that you could, if you wanted, also work without the external monitor + keyboard?
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:41 AM on February 20, 2014

I traveled several times with my Mini and it worked out fine. But each time I would have to arrange somehow for a monitor. Last year I bought a MBPro Retina to alleviate this. I packed a bluetooth mouse and keyboard and never really missed the screen. YMMV of course.
posted by humboldt32 at 2:54 PM on February 20, 2014

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