Forcibly Test-Driving A Mac mini

by Tom Bridge

Related link: http://www.apple.com/macmini



When I came home from the office on Tuesday night and found myself with a dead Powerbook on my hands, panic initially gripped me, "My email! My music! My photos! Good God, my life is on this thing." A glass or two of scotch later, I rememebered that Puck, my faithful Mac mini TV-top server was a full computer in its own right, and not just a conveniently-sized, and very network aware, storage device. I packed it up in my bag and headed for the office, undeterred.

Setting up the Mini at the office was just as expected, plug it in, power it up, get moving. The first thing I had to do was fill it full of all those applications I needed to make life a bit more tolerable. Office, Adium, SubEthaEdit, the office email client and a few other goodies that make my Mac Life a lot more manageable. Then it was time to stress test my little friend. Nine open applications later, Puck was still handling the load, incoming email, playing iTunes, instant messaging, word processing and some simple database work be damned. Not so bad for a computer with an desk footprint smaller than my Powerbook.

Almost a week later now, I have but one complaint, but I have a feeling that's more to do with iPhoto rather than my mini: when iPhoto is open, it just doesn't share nicely with others. iTunes bogs down during uploads, causing tracks to skip, but granted, this is with about half a dozen applications open.

All of this causes me to wonder, if given a faster HD, and a goodly sized chunk of RAM, how well could the mini run OS X Server? We shall find out, for that's exactly what I intend to do next. Just as soon as Apple returns my Powerbook.

Is the mini your primary computer? What do you think of its abilities?


8 Comments

sanchonevesgraca
2005-03-14 11:03:49
Mac mini is similar in power to other PowerPC G4 options
I don't understand the surprise of finding that Mac mini can run a bunch of modern applications concurrently, since it was designed with that in mind. It's not much different than a iBook G4. A slower hard drive is hardly an important factor for this market segment. It is indeed a beatiful work of design, but why assume that by being small and quiet it has to have poor performance? It's not even being marketed as a multimedia server (since it's not one) so it does not follow that it is just a fancy device to place on top of a TV. As for running Mac OS X Server, sure, you can run it even on a five year old PowerMac G4 effectively. But the Mac mini was not designed for that. Mac OS X Server is great for many server functions, but on a server environment one assumes a large data storage size, several NICs, system management sensors, secure case, etc. For a modest, home-based server, the client version Mac OS X has good enough services already (e.g. Apache, SSH, FTP, AppleTalk) and can be augmented by open source applications, many of which build fine for Darwin (e.g. Postfix, Tomcat, JBoss). Is it not a bit silly to install an operating system on a machine that costs less than the operating system?
tbridge777
2005-03-14 11:18:53
Mac mini is similar in power to other PowerPC G4 options
If what I am looking for is a small POP/IMAP/SMTP gateway, with filesharing capabilities, a 10 user license of OS X Server, costing $499, may be exactly what a small business would need to make a fairly effective primary internet email gateway machine. Most small companies don't need an Xserve to handle their email because it's overkill. However, slap Panther or Tiger server and a faster drive into a Mini and you have a small, very capable package that can run their email server quite nicely. All for $1300 or so, less than half the price of an Xserve.
clarus
2005-03-14 12:49:41
Mac mini is similar in power to other PowerPC G4 options
I have to agree. I've been reacting the same way to all the crazy media comments like "it's so unbelievably tiny, how did they do that?" while ignoring the tried and tested 12" iBook G4 that is essentially the same machine. The Mini is not a tiny desktop computer. It's laptop engineering in a desktop case, e.g., you can only use laptop hard drives in it. Removing the laptop's screen and battery-optimized hardware lowers the cost.
sanchonevesgraca
2005-03-15 01:25:24
Mac mini is similar in power to other PowerPC G4 options
Not really. That small business will want to share the Internet connection with all its clients, with its own private network separated from the Internet, and for that you need a PowerPC computer with at least two Ethernet ports (see manual 'Mac OS X Server Getting Started', Appendix B) . The PowerMac G5 is the only sensible alternative to a XServe G5, and it is cheaper than the XServe, while being very capable as a server machine (including expandability) except that it does not have sensors for system management of temperature, enclosure opening, etc. but which is not a must, nor does it have a serial port, which again is not a necessity. It would be very poor advice to suggest to a client to replace even an aging PowerMac G4 with a Mac mini. For the mail gateway you reffer, you can install Postfix for free on Mac OS X (that is what Mac OS X Server ships with, but you are not paying $499 just for that).
tbridge777
2005-03-15 04:43:08
Mac mini is similar in power to other PowerPC G4 options
You can absolutely do network segregation with a VPN Router, and I would definitely suggest going that route, as it takes load off your server. The Router, or the mini, at that point can provide segregated DHCP for the new network. I love the Xserve, but often time you simply just don't need to spend the $, because you just don't need the firepower that it can bring to bear. For very small clients (think 10 users) you can definitely get away with a mini if they're on a tight budget.
k95dl01
2005-03-15 06:58:55
Mac mini is similar in power to other PowerPC G4 options
Doesn't Panther (not just the server version) ship with postfix installed but by default not set to run?


One shareware solution to turning postfix on is available at http://www.cutedgesystems.com/weblog/Tutorials/PostfixEnabler.html

Bill_Davis
2005-08-25 20:26:44
Mac mini is similar in power to other PowerPC G4 options

SO host the mini somplace else:


http://www.macminicolo.net



Full performance specs are here: http://www.macminicolo.net/results.html

John
2006-06-01 19:31:23
I recently bought a mini (dual core intel), and have migrated accounts from my 5-year old G4 to it so that I can use it as the primary household computer. I'm finding that it crashes a lot, and to my untrained eye the crashes seem to be random in nature. I'm disappointed, but am hoping to figure this out on line and uninstall or fix whatever is causing my problem. Any similar unexplained problems among other users?


Thanks--John