Is the Mac Mini a Nice Ubuntu Desktop Machine?

by chromatic

Related link: http://www.penguinppc.org/



I'm in the market for a new desktop machine. My goal isn't extreme performance. I care more about low noise and lower power consumption. Aside from too-little memory by default, running Ubuntu on a Mac Mini seems like a good option, especially for the price.



Another option is to build my own small form-factor x86 PC. That's a little trickier -- not only is there more research to do, but I have to assemble more pieces myself. Of course, there's a lot more customization there. If I go with the Mac Mini, the first thing to do there is to crack the case and add a Gigabyte of RAM, just to have enough. That's fine; I can handle that.



Still, that's as expandable as the Mac Mini gets. With the SFF PC, I have the option of adding or replacing (a few) components. That's a nice thing. I can probably even stick with the quiet and low power consumption goals with a processor faster than the 1.25 GHz G4.



There's also the issue of paying for a copy of Mac OS X I'm not going to use. (Sorry Apple fans, but I'm not trying to start a debate here. I used Mac OS X for several months and prefer Linux. That's just how it is.) I could put that $100 to better use with a decent video card.



Still, the price and the fact that it's already built makes the Mac Mini compelling.... Am I overlooking something hardware-wise? Does anyone else have Linux PPC running on it? How's the hardware support? How's the performance?



This isn't about Mac OS X versus Linux PPC. It's about hardware and suitability!


6 Comments

dbrick
2005-11-09 18:57:56
Mac Minis and SFF PCs
Well, your blog got me movtivated to actually try Linux on my Mac Mini. I bought the cute little box in February, and after opening it up to see how everything fit, I stuck it on a shelf where it sat for the last 9 months. I kept thinking I would make a car PC out of it, but just haven't gotten around to it.


This is the original base mini and I haven't added more RAM to it, so 1.25 Ghz and 256MB.


So, I downloaded a copy of the latest Ubuntu for PPC and installed it on the mini. The installation was almost identical to an x86 install, took about 35 minutes, and ran flawlessly.


Upon completion I everything worked, which really just means video, sound, wired networking, USB, and FireWire. Doing a little bit of research it appears that what doesn't work is the Broadcom based wireless in the higher end models. Bluetooth should work, but I don't know if the bluez installation is automatic or not.


The video is accelerated using the free ati driver, not the binary fglrx ones. It looks the graphics card used in the mini is right at the highest end for which the free drivers will provided 3D. Tuxracer runs nice, but sound didn't work in it.


The Mac Mini is very quiet, and certainly speedy enough for use as an Internet station or business computer. What I was shocked at was how small it was. I've been a SFF guy for several years, but this thing is unbelievably tiny, and it is almost 50% of the size of my mini-itx computer and several times smaller than my Shuttle system.


Speaking of my Shuttle, that is probably what you mean by SFF x86. I've bought two, and had one as a desktop and one as a MythTV system (I've since replaced the MythTV system). You may have seen this system at Foo Camp a couple of years ago. Anyway, I really like my Shuttle systems. They are not as quiet as I would like, the power supply fan can be noisy even in the SilentX version, but the noise is really no greater than many regular desktop systems.


Though you have your choice of hard drive, graphics card, PCI card, and optical drive, you can't actually pack a lot in the box. That is one reason why I switched to a larger system for MythTV, for more hard drive space and the ability to add additional tuners.


Both the Shuttle's and the mini look great sitting on top of your desk. However, the mini takes up no more space than a paperback, the Shuttle still takes up a footprint not much smaller than a mini-tower (it's size savings is a little in depth and a lot in height). So, if you have a small desk, the mini is the better bet. The Shuttle looks very silly sitting on a floor, and its lackof height makes using the optical drive annoying. The mini is small enough to be mounted almost anywhere, such as hanging from the underside of your desktop, tucked behind an LCD panel, or attached to the side of a desk. The Shuttle is too large for this.


I also have a low-powered mini-itx system that I mostly use as a thin client. It is about twice the size of the mini, but that just means it is the size of a hardback instead of a paperback. It is the lowest powered mini-itx processor and it really isn't suitable for running a modern desktop on (as a thin client it is perfect). I plan on getting the 1.2Ghz model at some point, and that is probably suitable for the same purposes as the mini (well, possibly not quite that good).


To me, the deicision comes down to whether you will ever want to expand this desktop machine or not. The Shuttles give you a little more flexibility as to the processor, amount of memory, video card, and an add-on card, than the mini does. And, the fact you can get SATA 7200 RPM drives in a Shuttle system gives you a little more raw speed over the 2.5" drives you can put in the mini.

frankPPCnux
2005-11-10 01:45:28
Mac Mini & Linux
I'm using the Mac mini with OpenSuSE 10 PPC.
Well, its a perfect little Box for Linux.
Take a look at www.opensuse.org



I use the Box as for wordprocessing (OpenOffice), Music-Box (Amarok), as DVD-Player (Xine), printing (HPijs, cups), Java - Development (IBM Java 1.4.2 for Linux PPC32) with KDE 3.4.



So, in general, the Mac Mini is a nice Linux Box. Not only a nice Ubuntu Box, but also.

BTW, the first Linux Distro that had to say "the Mac Mini got owned" was Gentoo.



But to be honest, first I tried Kubuntu, the Ubuntu that uses KDE as desktop.

And, well, nice. But it belongs to your expectations.

So for example, I don't use Airport, I don't use Bluetooth. I can use "normal" cables without getting strangeled and I don't need to sync my pim with a PDA/MDA or another Gadget ;-D



I have to say, that I use my Mac Mini with OpenSuSE 10 PPC on a daily base and it hits my needs perfectly.


Its enaugh computing power, the box is quiet (the box stands at my living room) and it runs as it should.

It seems, that on some boxes the X.org - Thing was a little bit strange to find a proper configuration when used with a DVI-TFT display.




At PPCNux you will find a user-discussion about it at http://www.ppcnux.de/forum_phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=1542, but in german.




But anyway, if you expect a high-performance linux gaming box, which gan handle to compile, for example, KDE in the background while playing Vegastrike fluently, well, remember, its a <2GHz G4...



But well, OpenSuSE PPC is nice, but I just in the process to think it over to use Gentoo on this Box...

Cheers,
Frank
nick58b
2005-11-10 09:38:35
mac and linux
While I've not put Linux on my mini yet, I have put Ubuntu 5.10 it on a 733 G4. The first thing I noticed was that scrolling in Firefox was much faster on Ubuntu. The second thing I noticed was that there was no official flash plugin. I didn't try gplflash, but from my experience with it on amd64, it's not as good as the x86 macromedia linux flash plugin. May not be a big deal, but to some people it is.


Another computer to watch for is the mac mini clone from Aopen. It's the same size, but for $399 you can buy it preinstalled with Linspire. Here's a link: http://www.theinquirer.net/?article=27406

mariuss
2005-11-11 22:51:20
non-free binaries
One of my main concerns would be the availability of binaries for non-free applications (like Java).


Also, I am wondering how fast a Mini would be for basic web development (running an IDE, rendering web pages, etc.).

MacPhisto
2005-11-26 12:27:22
Newbee need a Linux+MythTV on PPC (MacMini)
Is this possible?


I can find any binaries that says that MythTV is going to work on my PPC system,


Have tried Ubuntu, but can run anything if there is a solution!

gryphon loubier
2006-03-07 14:08:55
I've been trying to install linux on my mac mini for days straight. It's really been a terrible experience. No distirubution has worked yet, including ubuntu, suse, mandrivia, debian, and fedora. I download them all from their sites, and they do install but when booting, i think the graphics card is having problems. I also run a apple 20 inch lcd. Does anyone know what to do? I've also done the install video=of only. also does not work. if anyone could get back to me it'd be really, really appreciated.