Mac mini: Creative Uses for the Little Mac that Could

35 Comments

Last year, AppleInsider claimed inside sources foretelling the forthcoming discontinuation of the Mac Mini. This year, they are claiming that not only is it going to stay around, but that it is going to get a big bump in specs, including 45-nanometer 2.1 Ghz Intel processors and Intel XMA X3100 graphics controllers. So, not only has the Mac mini not been discontinued, it looks to have a long life ahead of it.

Many people have done some very creative things with the Mac minis, and while I don’t have any sales numbers from Apple, it is possible that all these creative minds have helped Apple decide to keep this machine on. After all, we know what happens when you see that prominent Apple logo on the top of the Mac mini.

For instance, Peter Green made a Mac Mini Laptop. Not quite as svelte as the MacBook Air, but you can’t hate a man for trying.

Mini Laptop

Someone made a Mac mini robot, with a now-extinct iSight.

Mini robot

If you got really crazy, you could make it a toilet paper dispenser (what?):

tp.png

In addition, Macminicolo.net is there to provide you with a place to store your Mac mini as a server. They are running a contest to give away a year of colocating and a Macbook air. [Full disclosure: I entered the contest, and I really hope they pick me as the winner!]

Matt Burriola even installed his Mac mini in his Mazda 3. It sits over in the glovebox and is controlled by a 7″ Xenarc touch screen. Adding it to your car is not for the newbie; it takes a lot of time and know-how to be able to do that.

mazda.png

My personal favorite is the Mac mini Millennium Falcon. Derrick Hixson took the shell off the mini and put innards inside a toy replica of the Millennium Falcon. Then he added an iSight in the turret as well.

Falcon

What other creative uses have you seen for the Mac mini? Sound off in the comments.

35 Comments

Jethro

Peter, I have been using a USB HD for my media. Photos and music work great, but video doesn’t.

peter

Jethro, thanks for your advice!
I hope to get an external HD as well, for back-up and storing the photos and maybe storing my CDs so I can listen to them through my hifi system. Should I get a fast HD with Firewire for all that?
Peter

Jethro

Peter, I think that the 1GB mini would cope, but I think down the road you would me happier with the 2.0 GB mini. If you are going to keep it for five years again, it will probably be worth the extra money right now.

peter van balen

I’m thinking of getting a mini mac to replace my (5 year old windows xp) PC, which I use for browsing the internet & email (70%), photo-editing (photoshop elements or similar; 10%), and office work (wordprocessing, spreadsheets; 10%), and watching dvd’s (10%).
For the latter use I’m thinking of buying a biggish (at least 22″) LCD screen.
Would a 1.83GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 1 GB mini mac cope with the above or should I opt for the 2.0GHz version and/or upgrade to 2 GB RAM?
Any advice is greatly appreciated
Peter (in France)

A. Kimball

Jeff,
We have our Mac Mini connected via optical cable to our surround sound amplifier. At first, it seemed like only Apple’s DVD application would output surround sound, but now I do believe that QuickTime also will use at least 5.1 when available (I could be wrong about this). I know that until 1 year ago, getting surround sound out was a problem for QuickTime… it might be worth the research. DVD_Player on the Mac Mini works well and it lights up the surround sound detection LED’s on the audio equipment and sounds great.

Not sure if it will do 7.1. I believe that Apple may have some documentation on all of this some place.

Jeff

hello i would just like to ask about the audio out of the mac mini. can it connect to a optical in of a theater system? or is it limited to rca connections? jethro your setup sounds great, may i ask what type of connections do you use for the audio of your mac mini connected to your movie system? ty

Jethro

Sticky Rice,
Blu-Ray movies will display at whatever resolution your TV and player support. If the Mini does get a Blu-ray player then it will display at a much higher resolution. So, if you have a 720p TV, that is the max your movies will play at. They won’t go any higher than the lowest maximum resolution of the player, TV, or disc. I think I understood your question right. Let me know if that didn’t answer it.

Sticky Rice

Thanks for the advice, Jethro. I’ll certainly look into it if the rumors about the upgrade to the Mac mini prove true. One further question, though. Do your comments about showing DVD movies on a small, 720p LCD HDTV also apply to movies on Blu-Ray optical discs? Won’t they be in 1080p format?

Jethro

@Sticky Rice,
If your main interest is watching DVDs, you aren’t going to be able to push out 1080p. DVDs are only 480p at most, so having a full HD 1080p tv won’t do that much for your DVDs. I have a 1080p capable DVD player hooked up to my 1080i TV through HDMI, but regular DVDs don’t look any better on that player than they do using my 480p DVD player hooked up with component cables. You would probably be fine with your 23″ Cinema Display. Otherwise, Vizio makes a good screen that isn’t that expensive. Your desktop would be a high resolution on the TV, but the DVD quality will still be limited to 480p, regardless of your setup.

Sticky Rice

I’ve been thinking about connecting a Mac mini to an HDTV for a year now, mainly for viewing movie DVDs, but was unimpressed by the technical specs of the MM. After reading the posts here, I see that I have been underestimating the capabilities of this little machine. On the TV side, I’ve been frustrated because I have only enough space for at most a 30″ display and all the true HDTVs (1080p) seem to be much larger than that. Since computer displays with 1080p pixel formats are quite common and quite cheap, I’m surprised no one is marketing true, small-sized HDTVs. Why is that? I’m mainly interested in watching DVDs, so I could easily forego a TV tuner and just hook up my spare 23″ Apple Cinema display to the Mac mini. However, like all computer displays, it lacks the huge contrast, luminance, and high refresh rates of HDTVs. Any suggestions about what I can do to squeeze an HDTV viewing experience into a small viewing area?

A. Kimball

Amen for cheaper. Knowing where (and when) to buy stuff is the secret for putting it all together. AppleTV number 1 cost $400 and the Mini was $800. AppleTV number 2 was only $230. Airport $180, each 500-GB hard drive $100 (separate enclosures $25-each), cost a total of $600 or so (2.4-TBytes). 1 D-Link hub, misc. cables, another $70 est..

Total cost: 800+400+230+600+70 = $2100.00

Not including the TV sets or the Media. Collecting DVD’s has been a hobby for years and years; it’s only been the last year since we’ve had then all networked. I haven’t listed the entire network (we do have other computers… for more serious uses), but I think that 2100 for this system is not too bad considering it’s features.

Jethro

Yeah, we’ll save predictions on the future of the mini for a future article.

Interesting how you combine the use of AppleTV and mini, probably cheaper than using three minis, right?

A. Kimball

The mini is connected to the wireless (Airport Extreme Basestation with Ethernet, USB, and b/g/n) through a Gigabit Ethernet port, while the AppleTV’s are wireless. The ‘n’ bandwidth is great on the AEBS. The AppleTV’s don’t actually use the Mac Mini wireless… they sponge off of the AEBS.

I hope that Apple keeps a ‘mini’ type computer around for many years. Obviously, if the cost were much less, they might sell fewer AppleTV’s. Sometimes I wonder if the limits on the AppleTV’s are inspired by Apple’s desire to differentiate it from the Mac Mini. I luv the AppleTV. I luv the Mini. Having 1 mini and two AppleTV’s has turned out to be an awesome combination.

Any opinion about the future of the Mac Mini? Or is that another article?

Jethro

A. Kimball – Sounds like a sweet setup. I would love that. Thanks for the great explanation as well. So does your mini have the 10/100/1000 ethernet port or do you go wireless N?

A. Kimball

The AppleTV is simple to use … with a capital “SIMPLE”. While the Mac Mini requires the usual amount of Apple computer knowledge. I think it is the simplicity that makes the AppleTV shine. I’m just saying that the Mac Mini can suppliment some of the AppleTV’s short-comings, and for the room in which the mini is attached, it will give you almost everything you don’t get with the simple AppleTV. Simple is good.

A. Kimball

Jethro,

You have a point but the Mac Mini is a God-send compared to the AppleTV:

The Mac Mini takes on many other useful roles including sync and server for the AppleTV’s and additionally interception of Email Spam… among many other things…

Our home electronics actually include several flat screens, two other plasma’s each with an AppleTV attahced, but remember that the AppleTV only has 40- or 160-GBytes of hard drive attached? For us, this is important since we also have several Terabytes of movies living on external network hard drives (Apple Airport Basestation, Gigabit b/g/n with USB hub attached) and we store more than 700 movies (not counting hundreds of Music Video’s and TV shows) on the network (yes, we do in fact own all of the DVD disks).

Without the Mini, the AppleTV would not have access to that much media. Leaving the Mac Mini “on” all of the time allows the AppleTV’s in our home something to Sync to for access of any flat-screen to the entire movie home network database. (Note: Apple has finally made the AEBS stable and the networked home movie database is now very reliable).

In other words, the Mac Mini “server” runs 24/7 and is the central media server for the AppleTV’s.

For Spam filtering, we use SpamSieve with Apple Mail. This great filter intercepts virtually all of the spam before any of it has a chance to reach my wife’s iPhone, my Windoze Mobile Phone, or any other computer I may be using. The filter system (running on the Mac Mini) has proven to be practically in-foulable.

The Mini is set to auto-restart on power failure and has been purring for 2 years serving movies and zapping spam.

Another use, I do lots of reading. Sometimes I need to read PDF’s and word doc’s and it’s comfy for me to sit with the family on the couch in front of the plasma, invert the screen (white characters on black background at a comfortable 13-foot distance) and just read off of the wall.

The high-bandwidth internet connection to the MacMini allows us to gather e-sources of internet TV which are not at this time available to the AppleTV, but work just fine using either Safari or FireFox.

Keep in mind the AppleTV limits: Small hard drives, iTunes connection only… no .wmv movies, no continuous music video, no internet, limited sources of lots various media. There are many more limits of the AppleTV… ALL overcome with the use of the Mac Mini, and a mini running continuously gives you great home server capabilities for existing AppleTVs and email.

I enjoyed your column by the way. I’m an electrical engineer and like seeing the creativity of other uses for the Mini.

Jethro

A. Kimball – So do you think that Apple saw people using it that way, and decided to make the AppleTV? How is it better than Apple TV? I understand the internet, but what else?

A. Kimball

While all of these worthwhile, interesting, but generally odd uses for the Mini are fine and good, the Mini does fill a purpose for Apple that is VERY important… a low-end data/internet terminal. It is the only inexpensive solution (much less than a Mac Pro) which gives people a chance to connect a Mac to their Home Entertainment systems.

When I bought my first 50″ plasma (a DELL), my next purchase was a Mac Mini (named DellBoy on our home network) to give our family internet, Front Row, DVD’s etc., right there in the larger family domain. This unit gets used more than we imagined as every Sunday when our kids come back to the nest for family dinner, someone typically wants to check out a MySpace, a job listing, or simply their email. These things do not require the ball’s out power of a Mac Pro (my office computer) and the Mac Mini seems custom made for this application. Millions of folks are headed this direction.

Jim Wallentine

The MacMini ThinClient. A little more speed and power, and I’m there.

Wow.

After all, what do thin clients do? Some small software package, already supported by Apple, on top of something fast and configurable, that lets a user establish an ICA connection to a Citrix farm, or RDP to a Windows Server, or establish a remote connection to a unix host.

After 30 + years of something other than MacOS ??, I am absolutely delighted with my experience behind my Imac. And I would love to go to work, sit behind a macMini, establish an ICA or RDP session whereever in a multi OS environment.

Truly fabulous.

Honza

I switched to Mac with the mini (G4).

It’s still a capable machine even with a 3yr old PPC architecture. It’s not my main workstation anymore, but it is on 24/7, and still clocks up more hours of use.

I personally hope the mini stays part of Apple’s product line.

slappy

LOL.. your right. I think I focused in on too much with the story of the mac mini demise. Or prediction of the demise. But yeah, I’ve seen a lot of mod that people have done on it also. For awhile there were lots of stories with people putting it in their cars for movie playback.

slappy

Like Matt says above, but in corporate America. Big companies that wants to see how Apple Mac OS X can work within their Windows network buy it. Mini has a low enough price to warrant the cost for it.

Matt

Typical small Windows developer has a few old displays/mice/keyboards lying around, so mini is perfect for trying out OS X. Mini gets no respect, but it fills a lot of roles.

Scott

My Intel Core 2 Duo Mini is the hub of my home theatre system. I have a keyspan ministack v2 HD attached to it with about 100+ MP4 movies all running thru Front Row and displayed on my 80″ projector screen!

TMM

Well, a Santa Rosa Mac Mini with 4 GB of RAM and 7200rpm Hard Drive attached to a 23″ Cinema Display ist a very, very fine graphics work station.

Really all you need!

Colin

Yeah, my old Mac Mini just died. It smells like burnt toast, and won’t turn on, and I have absolutely no clue why.

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