Blog Post

At Home With the New Mac Mini: My Setup and Impressions

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!


I recently received my brand new Mac mini in the mail, and, as it always is when I get a package from Apple (s aapl), it was a joyous occasion. For once, I didn’t have to find someplace to cram a huge box, since the packaging is size-appropriate for such a small desktop.

My afternoon the day it arrived was spent going through the extremely satisfying computer-lover’s ritual of setting up a new machine. I didn’t do an automatic set-up using one of my existing machines, because the mini was going to be used primarily as an HTPC, and as such I wanted it specially tailored for such a narrow focus. I wanted to devote as much of the 4 GB of RAM, 2.26GHz processor, and 120 GB HD to media playback as was possible, so I skipped a lot of my usual software installs and went with the basics.

Essential Software

The basics included the latest version of Perian, the all-in-one codec solution for Quicktime, and VLC for when that wasn’t enough; Firefox for browsing and YouTube viewing; LineIn, for audio pass-through from my TV to my speakers; and Rowmote Helper, for use with Rowmote for the iPhone, a great supplementary remote application for the Mac. I also installed Logitech Harmony remote software to go with the brand new Logitech Harmony 550 universal remote bought specifically to compliment the new mini. I’m still debating whether or not to also put Hotspot Shield on the machine so that I can watch Hulu outside of the U.S.

Media Storage

I decided to make my iTunes library resident on the Mac mini’s own internal HD, since I don’t like waiting for the drive to spin for music to start up. I also don’t like the extra time it takes to add music from another source, owing to the extra copy time to the USB-attached drive. My extensive video library, however (all backups of DVDs I own, honest) would be impossible to fit on the measly 120 GB HD, so that would have to stay on the external drive. I may yet invest in a drive with Firewire 800 connectivity to make this an even more practical solution and cut down on playback hiccups.

Connectivity and Calibration

For connection, I was forced to use the included Mini-DVI to DVI adapter, in combination with a DVI-D to HDMI cable. My audio goes out to speakers, so luckily no audio connection to the TV was required. I still think it’s pretty ridiculous that no HDMI out is included in a machine otherwise so perfectly suited to the HTPC role. As mentioned in my earlier post on why I was buying a Mac mini in the first place, I also run TOSLiNK to mini-TOSLiNK cable from my TV to the mini’s mic/input port. I still have four empty USB slots since I use Bluetooth-connected control devices.

It took some fiddling with the display settings, but now I’m more than satisfied with the playback of both standard and high definition video files via the Mac mini. Blacks are still not as crisp or clear as I would like them to be, but that’s probably more of a problem with my somewhat older Samsung 32-inch LCD flatscreen than with the computer.


Video playback, both streaming and downloaded, offered no problems, and the GeForce 9400M has no problems with full 1080p video, although my TV technically only supports a max resolution of 1360×768, so 1080p is downscaled. Even gaming performance (I briefly installed Lego Star Wars: The Original Trilogy for testing purposes) seems to compare favorably with my iMac (20-inch, mid-2008 with 4GB of RAM and an ATI Radeon 2600 HD).


I wouldn’t use it as my primary DVD player, because the mini’s drive produces a lot of noise when it spins, but my Xbox 360 or PS3 can easily fulfill that role. Other than that one minor complaint, and the lack of a true HDMI-out solution, I’m already very much attached to my new piece of Apple hardware. In fact, I’m not sure how I got by without it in the first place. I just hope my iMac doesn’t languish in neglect while I lavish attention on its new younger brother.

19 Responses to “At Home With the New Mac Mini: My Setup and Impressions”

  1. Martin de Ruiter

    Having used the 1.8Ghz C2D Mini with the lineIn app i noticed that using optical input gives a huge delay! Using analog it’s much better, though still not perfect.

    I use this to hear the digital sound from the digital tv tuner, which sounds much crisper this way. Speakers are connected to my mini.

    Does anyone have a solution for this?

  2. C. C. Spencer Beggs

    Just a quick follow-up: LineIn let’s me passthrough audio from a PS3 into my mac mini via optical input and output optical from the mac mini to a Bose system. The only caveat is that the output from the PS3 can’t be in 5.1. It has to be stereo.

  3. snewoce

    I’ve been trying to build the same system around the new Mini, but have been unable to access the iTunes rented movies with Front Row. This seems to be a known issue, except to me when I bought the mini. I’m going to try Plex to see if it has the same limitation. What I really don’t want is to have a keyboard and mouse in the living room, and without complete access to iTunes from one of these media server front ends, that’s what your stuck with to watch rented videos.

    Has anyone have found a solution?

  4. MarceloR

    With the new Mac Mini with the Nvidea GPU I am on my second Intel Mini and both of them have been disappointing to me as an HTPC because the machine will crash within fifteen minutes to an hour of watching a movie (DVD Player or Front Row.) I want people to be aware that this may occur to you if you are planning on getting 5.1 audio via toslink.
    Read on if you want the details of the problem.

    In my setup I have the Mini hooked up to an HDTV and a Sony receiver (amp) with built-in DTS decoder. Thus I am using the optical output ( a.k.a. digital out, toslink, etc.) to the receiver. The purpose of this setup is to play my DVD collection that has been ripped as video_ts residing either locally on the Mini or on my 3TB server. The machine also crashes while playing a DVD from the built-in DVD drive. My investigation of the matter has lead me to believe that this is not a hardware matter limited to the Mini but also occurs on G5’s, Mac Pro and Mac Books. All indications point to a long standing driver problem in Leopard that provokes a kernel panic when playing DVD’s with audio through the optical output. The specific message from the Kernel Panic Reporter is something that contains the following lines:

    Backtrace terminated-invalid frame pointer 0xb073fb58
    Kernel loadable modules in backtrace (with dependencies):>0x1a416fff

    Beware that this may accur to you too!!

  5. What app will you be using for media playback? might I recommend which is a port of XBMC thats been more integrated to the mac operating system.

    Also, the macmini’s dvd drive is silent for me when watching a DVD, although I have the last generation a couple of months before it was replaced.. but aren’t the drives the same? its replaced my DVD player when I actually play a dvd and don’t just rip the damned thing to the hard drive and watch it in plex and put the DVD away.

  6. Ivan Stora

    “I wouldn’t use it as my primary DVD player, because the mini’s drive produces a lot of noise when it spins,…” – you could try a small utility (exactly PrefPane) called DiscRotate, which allows you to set a maximum speed of the optical drive from 1x to maximum. It’s settings are accordingly named Breathe/Whisper/Mumble/Scream…

  7. “I wouldn’t use it as my primary DVD player, because the mini’s drive produces a lot of noise when it spins,”

    OK, that blows.

    I just recently entered the 21st century for TVs, having purchased a 52″ Samsung a couple months ago. I’m waiting for an Apple TV update to see about getting one, but was interested in your experiment here.

    Problem is, one item in the “advantage” column for the mini was the ability to get rid of my DVD player. Looks like that’s not an advantage after all.