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Summary:

Yesterday, Apple introduced new hardware across its desktop offerings, and with one exception, the changes were pretty much hailed and welcomed by all. That one exception received, and continues to receive, fairly harsh criticism from all sides, including from our very own Tom Reestman, who argued […]

macmini1Yesterday, Apple introduced new hardware across its desktop offerings, and with one exception, the changes were pretty much hailed and welcomed by all. That one exception received, and continues to receive, fairly harsh criticism from all sides, including from our very own Tom Reestman, who argued that Apple really under-delivered with yesterday’s update to their tiny all-in-one. Tom’s main problem is with the value prospect of the new machine, since, as he rightfully points out, you don’t get very much bang for your buck when you drop $600 on the entry-level machine.

What’s Wrong With It

It is underpowered, it is overpriced, and, worst of all, as Gizmodo points out, it is not easily upgradeable after the fact, so most users would be advised to bite the bullet and pay Apple’s extortionate rates for in-house upgrades, or risk breaking something. The hard drive options are almost insulting, with the max available upgrade being 320GB. That seems pretty clearly intended to force your covetous gaze towards the higher-priced iMacs, if you ask me.

Even though I agree with Tom, and I truly believe everything I just said, I will still be buying a new Mac mini today…despite already owning an iMac and a MacBook. Maybe I’m masochistic, or just a compulsive shopper, right? While both of those things may be true, neither is the reason for my purchase.

What’s Right With It

The reason I’m buying the Mac mini is that for my needs (not as a small business owner, and not with such specific tastes as some), and with my existing setup, it is the perfect home theatre PC. Before you protest, let me explain. Afterward, you can protest till the cows come home.

The Current, Mac mini-less Setup

I currently don’t have a proper home theater receiver, or traditional book shelf or floor speakers or any kind of 5.1 surround setup. What I do have are two sets of Logitech X-series (two different incarnations of the same product, but released at different times) 5.1 computer speakers, three gaming systems (Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii), an HD cable box, and an LCD HDTV. To wrangle these mismatched, hodge-podge devices, I currently use a system of plugging and unplugging depending on what I intend to do, watch, or play, and what source I intend to use. Volume is controlled either remotely or manually, owing to my speaker sets lacking a wireless remote. I would provide a visual diagram, but I don’t want anyone to become terribly lost and confused.

There is one set of circumstances during which everything seems at peace with my home theatre setup. In order for everything to come together, I have to have my MacBook hooked up next to my TV, with both set of speakers attached to the headphone jack via a 2-mini stereo jack to 1-mini stereo plug adapter, and with the optical audio out from my TV attached to the MacBook input via a TOSLiNK to mini-TOSLiNK cable. Also, my MacBook’s video out is hooked up to my TV’s VGA input.

Still with me? I also need a software helper, the freeware app called LineIn that lets you pass audio directly through your computer from the input jack to the output. This means that audio from the cable box will play through the speakers, or, if I watch something from my MacBook, I can hear that too. It also gives me remote volume control, thanks to Apple’s own IR remote (of which I have many).

All that sweet synchronicity falls apart every time I have to unplug my MacBook to work, or to travel, and in the meantime I trip on all the cables it takes for me to be able to use my computer from the couch. Then it’s back to fumbling with plugs and switches, and turning dials to control volume.

The Setup With the Mac mini

The Mac mini will sit quietly in my TV console, nestled comfortably next to my cable box, all wires out of site. With the improved graphics card, it’ll be able to handle full 1080p HD video without issue, and maybe even some older games. Thanks to LineIn, it will be doing the duty of a receiver, and thanks to my existing external media hard drives, which will be plugged in behind it, it will provide access to my entire media library, including movies, TV shows, and music.

Buying a new home-theatre-in-a-box would cost me at least $600, and that’s not for a good one. I don’t need Blu-ray, because I’ve got it with my PS3, and even then, I suspect digital distribution will replace it in a few years anyway. I don’t need an HDMI connection, although it would be nice, because the PC-in on my TV, even if it does required two cables (gasp!) works just fine. I’d like a larger hard drive, but I can live without it, thanks to the FireWire drives I already own. I don’t want a screen, because that’s precisely what’s stopping me from using my iMac in the same capacity.

The new Mac mini may not be the ideal computer for everyone, and I fully acknowledge its many failings. For someone like me, however, who’s looking to leverage his existing components, and cares more about form factor than whiz-band features and specs, it might just be the perfect machine.

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  1. This is exactly the argument I am facing. I already have a MacMini doing almost exactly what you want yours to do, but mine is the first intel one, the Core Solo and it has worked great (except the intermittent remote). We hook up to it using JollyVNC, keep all of our music, our movies and tv shows and photos on it. It goes right into the back of our 1080P flatscreen. Very nice. The only issue is that it can’t really drive full HD videos. There is a tiny stutter that I am almost positive is ultimately due to insufficient hardware. So I think I’m ultimately going to have to upgrade to a faster processor and video card, which this new MacMini exactly has. I’m still good with mine for at least another 6-12 months and will probably transition it over to replace my G4 Sawtooth desktop (still running fine on Tiger), so I hope there may be a price drop by then.

    The one thing that is weird is that they dropped the remote. Is their concern that this thing trumps AppleTV?

  2. Can I ask a question to you Darrell? I’m just curious as to why you aren’t waiting until the WWDC Season to make a purchase when Snow Leopard is (inevitably) going to come out? After all, June/July isn’t THAT far away and, while Leopard is great and all, it’s always better to save a few bucks on a spiffier OS than having to upgrade it later, no?

  3. I think what you are getting it for is perfect – and I use one for the same reason… but dude, get a receiver already :-p

  4. Andrew Bednarz Wednesday, March 4, 2009

    I have a previous generation MacMini for my TV Media computer and its absolutely perfect. I upgraded the ram to 2gig myself – have two EyeTV USB digital tv tuners attached and a FireWave firewire 5.1 sound box to go to my powered active surround speakers. Chuck a wireless mouse and wireless keyboard in the shelf under the coffee table and its perfect. The Mini also looks nice next to the Wii under the tv. :D

  5. @ spark0919

    I’m not speaking for Darrell but it probably has something to do with the fact that he owns multiple macs. He’s already going to have to purchase Snow Leopard’s family pack just to have his MacBook and iMac running Snow Leopard legally. The family pack comes with 5 licenses so it’s not an extra cost for him. This is only a guess.

  6. The boo-birds whining about the new Mini are full of it. typical pack-blogging.

    – so what if it can’t be a Mac server (that guy’s problem)? businesses actually buy Mini’s for staff workstations and special purpose situations, in much greater numbers. the $600 MIni is a great little workstation (my company uses them).

    – it is not underpowered nor overpriced (Giz is full of snark as usual). it’s big jump technically, not a mere spec bump, compared to the 2007 Mini. as to price/value vs. the PC competition, check out a real and intelligent analysis at Low End Mac:

    http://lowendmac.com/musings/09mm/2009-mac-mini-value.html

    – so the geeks can’t take it apart and add stuff. fine. go hack an AppleTV or something instead. but please stop whining about your hobby within earshot of all the rest of us.

    – you are right about one thing: it is also a great HTPC.

    the new Mini is a terrific product/value for those of us who need a basic Mac (or HTPC). no more, but no less either. if $100 or $200 more or less in its price is so utterly critical to you, then you got a lot bigger problems in life than Apple.

  7. How a New Mac Mini Will Improve One Home Theater Setup « NewTeeVee Wednesday, March 4, 2009

    [...] How a New Mac Mini Will Improve One Home Theater Setup Apple just refreshed its desktop lineup, and while most of improvements got raves, the new Mac Mini was roundly criticized by almost everyone. Almost everyone except Darrell Etherington over at our sister publication The Apple Blog. Sure, he concedes, the Mac Mini is underpowered, overpriced and practically un-upgradeable. But Etherington thinks its perfect for his home theater setup. If your video setup involves a hodge-podge of devices and speakers, his write-up may make you a believer too. [...]

  8. Darrel,

    A great example and explanation of where the mini can really shine. Thanks.

    In the comments section of my original article I said this:

    “I don’t dislike the mini. I think it’s a beautiful machine. And if you want, say, a tiny server or media center you can tuck away, it might be perfect.”

    Looks like you just confirmed that. Seems there are more people getting the mini to run along these lines than for its supposed original purpose. As the former it works, as the latter it leaves a lot to be desired.

  9. I think the Mac mini is now a nice little machine. Max out the RAM third party and plug in an external HD and it is all good IMHO. Would make a fantastic HTPC or a nice little iPhone developer machine. As someone who replaced the HD in an iBook G4 the thought of upgrading anything in the Mac mini doesn’t phase me in the least.

  10. “http://lowendmac.com/musings/09mm/2009-mac-mini-value.html”

    This is a joke, right? I can get a Dell 530s for $599 that comes with a 19 inch monitor that’s better than Apple Displays (which are so expensive it has to be a joke), 4GB of RAM, a 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo and a 500GB hard drive. Yes, the mini has better graphics but you can configure the Dell to match it. Okay, so the Dell might not come with speakers (not sure) but the Mini doesn’t come with a KB/M or Monitor…. Not to mention Dell’s are more reliable, easier to upgrade, and it’s better for gaming.

    Macs are too expensive, period.

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