The 10 feet interface

Okay, well, one of the reasons I’ve been quiet for the last two weeks is because I got myself one of those intel Mac Minis…

The bottom line is: I love that thing!

But here’s a little more details… including answers I coouldn’t find anywhere on the net before (so I just had to buy it to check it out by myself). (My configuration is a Duo Core with 512 MB of RAM and 100 GB of hard disk. Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. DVI to PAL adapter for TV.)

  • The mac mini is insanely easy to install...
  • ...but it would have been even easier if Apple didn't state in the manual that "if you have bluetooth devices refer to the device doc" which in turn says "install the OS update disc" except you can't because you haven't booted the mac yet. All crap. All you need to do is put the batteries into the keyboard and the mouse, plug the power into the Mini and boot up. Everything gets detected nicely.
  • The Mini IS quiet! Even with a double core! Even when moving videos all around while watching one. I was really surprised by how quiet it is. It is the most quiet fan equipped appliance I have ever seen (I cannot even say "I heard").
  • The Mac Mini Core Duo boots up in 22 seconds. It goes to sleep in 2 seconds. It wakes up in 1 second! Niiiice!
  • The Rosetta Power PC emulation stuff is... errr... working as long as you don't intend to use it seriously. Firefox is a nightmare to emulate with Rosetta. Make sure your apps are released in "Universal" (Intel compiled) format or you're screwed. (Note: FireFox should be released shortly in Universal format.
  • Even if you can't fill a 60 GB iPod, you'll fill up a 100 GB Mac Mini in no time. Get a bigger drive!
  • The iLife'06 suite of applications is a treat! You'll never want to manage you music, photos or videos on a PC again!
  • The Front Row 10 feet interface with the remote is fun too... but mostly for showing it off! It doesn't cut it on day to day use. You can't sort your podcasts. You can't organize your content as you wish. You have to listen to playslists in random order. Fast forwarding or rewinding is a nightmare! The only way you'll be able to bear the clogged remote operation is if you've hurt yourself trying to remote control an iPod before. In that respect, it's good. Otherwise, I can only hope Apple will improve the system in the future.
  • For day to day use, the bluetooth keyboard (which can emulate the remote) and the bluettoth mouse will work better.
  • The mouse however sucks big time! It will move erratically. I haven't figured out yet if it's because of bluettoth interference with the keyboard, because of a bad optical sensor, because of a lousy driver or something else. Btw, you should know that the bluetooth mouse from Apple has only one button with no hidden right click like the Mighty Mouse and worse: the mouse driver had absolutely NO PROVISION for adjusting acceleration. This is to me the biggest concern for a Windows user like me. The mouse doesn't move as I expect it to (even with my PC USB mouse) and I constantly over or under shoot the target. It makes me want to tear my eyes off... and there's just nothing you can do! ... So, well, mouse operation sucks, but since remote control operation sucks too, I maintain that the bluettoth solution is better for everyday use, even from the couch! :P
  • Video output: The driver has an "optimize for video" setting which seems to do just nothing. Otherwise than that, when using the DVI/PAL adapter the image was not centered on my screen. There is an "overscan" checkbox which when used will: a) fill the TV screen nicely, b) hide the menu bar and the dock and make the mac mini useless if not used with the remote (good luck for setting it back) and c) make any DVD play in a corner of the screen instead of full screen. Totally ridiculous. Make sure you can adjust screen size and position on your TV like you can on a monitor... or you're screwed. Well, of course if you connect to a flat panel via DVI (or HDMI) you have no problem. For the rest of us... hunt the "Service Menu" on your TV!
  • Digital audio output: The mini can connect to a Digital Amplifier in order to render full 5.1 surround sound. I connected it to my Denon AVR, then tried a couple of DVDs and all I could get was stereo sound. The AVR was only receiving a stereo digital stream. I called up Apple Care and they made me go through half a dozen setup screen (nice tour of the Mac Utilities folder) and finally came to the conclusion that my Mac was not able to output 5.1 sound. Excuse me? Was Steve jobs lying during the keynote? ... Well I later found how to enable it: remove any DVD from the drive, then launch the DVD player app (not Front Row), then go to Settings, then tell it to output the DVD sound directly to the digital output instead of using the Mac Mini sound processing system... which actually turns out to be only stereo. So you can watch DVDs in 5.1, but if you try to rip a DVD to a 5.1 DivX, I fear you're screwed. Bleh!
  • Finally, when using the digital out the Mac doesn't control the volume any more. You have to use the AVR remote. Those nice volume keys on the keybord, as well as 2 of the 6 remote buttons are useless...

Conclusion: there are a lot of details that certainly itch the geek inside of me, but at the end of the day I always enjoy to wake up the mini and watch a couple of video podcasts it will download automagically. I admit I even use the remote for that :) (Well, I programmed my AVR remote to mimic the Apple remote ;))

Also, the whole user experience (except that thing with the mouse) is so much smoother than on Windows. The apps are pre-installed and nicely integrated with one another. And most of all: most of it “just works as expected”. (Except the mouse, did I mention that before?)

Finally, on week-ends it takes no longer than 2 minutes to move the Mini to the desk and connect it to a real monitor for a little iLife experience. I gotta come back on this later.

More reviews:

Comments from long ago:

Comment from: Manuel

Ah je vois que tu as switché ! bien bien, moi j’ai le mac mini G4 depuis Octobre 2006. Je lui ai adjoint un disque externe minimax de iomaga (7200 tr/min VS 4200 d’origine) car je trouvais le DD trop lent => je suis pas sur que ça ait amélioré le perfs, mais le disque de iomega chauffe trop et du coup les ventilos sont souvent en marche et on perd le silence du Mini, apres coup je regrette un peu. Je l’ai aussi boosté à 1Go de ram, là je ne regrette pas.

Sinon j’attend activement les nouveaux ibook … les macbook pro me parraissent trop cher.

T’as essayé bootcamp ou tu comptes l’essayer ?

2006-04-16 22-24

Comment from: Manuel

Ah sinon je suis perplexe sur ce MacMini, je le trouve trés séduisant mais en tant que media center pas encore abouti (de toutes façons je pense que le concept de media center est un fantasme irréalisable)…

Ce pourrait être la machine idéale à brancher dans son salon sur un plasma ou une TV LCD, mais ce n’est pas un media center front-row est trop limité. Bref comme un concept qui se cherche, un mega juke box qui permet de surfer et lire ou ecrire des mail.

Sinon le bluetooth c’est quand meme top, je synchronise mon agenda et mon carnet d’adress avec mon moile T610.

2006-04-16 22-31

Comment from: François Planque

Oui Manu j’ai switché: maintenant j’essaye de faire Alt+Q sous Windows pour quitter et je m’énerve parce que ça marche pas! :P

Le disque iomega en dessous du mac mini, moi j’y ai jamais cru. C’est pour ça que j’ai pris un 100 Go interne, mais je regrette déjà de ne pas avoir pris le 120.

En ce qui concerne l’usage media center, pour moi il fait tout ce que je veux sauf la TV sat ou cable ou ADSL et de toutes façon pour ça, pour l’instant il n’y a que des solutions propriétaires. Résultat, je regarde moins la TV et plus les podcasts vidéo.

Dans tous les cas, ce qui est bien avec Front Row, c’est qu’il reconnait tous les fichiers videos contenus dans le répertoire video. Une interface TV peut donc relativement facilement etre ajoutée. Sinon, ce qui est encore mieux c’est qu’en cas de besoin on peut remplacer Front Row par un autre logiciel ;) D’ailleurs, j’attends avec impatience un remplacement évolué de Front Row avec un Fast Forward digne de ce nom!

2006-04-18 15-43

Comment from: François Planque

Sinon pour Bootcamp… plus de place sur mon dique dur! :]

2006-04-20 17-05

Comment from: Eduardo Piovani Dias

I am within a month of use of a Dual Core mini, and I am having the same disappointments you had. Using the digital out was the greatest one; what is the point? By the way, boot in Windows via BootCamp, and the sound works just fine in glorious 5.1 detail, and the volume works too. And while in OS X, try using VLC; the digital out works in 5.1. It is definitely a driver issue. I hope it gets fixed ASAP.

2006-07-03 16-32

Comment from: Ranster

I have tried to edit the settings of DVD player—Preferences—–Disc Setup—-Audio output but the only option I have is Systems Sound Output. Is there any driver I need to install?

2006-11-24 22-46

Comment from: François Planque

No, you need to stop playback before trying to alter the audio settings! ;)

2006-11-25 02-23

Comment from: Ranster

I have the same issue. When I go to DVD player—preferences—disc setup—-audio—-audio output, the only option I get is system sound output! If one is playing a dvd, the option to change audio output is greyed out! I tried changing the ouput when a DVD is inserted and when a DVD is not inserted but I get the same option! Any ideas? This is the last thing I need to fix for my MINI to operate as I planned!

2007-01-03 14-58

Comment from: How To Make Money Blogging

I don’t know about it, but I love my Mac mini and barely used my Apple TV.

2010-06-19 15-20

Comment from: affiliate program

what if the new Mac mini (“the world’s most energy-efficient desktop computer”) is the new Apple TV?

2010-06-19 15-25