What to do with an old Mac mini?

by Giles Turnbull

I’ve been asking myself this question for weeks now, and so far I’ve failed to come up with any answer that makes long-term financial or common sense. Maybe you can help me.

It’s one of the earlier Minis, a 1.42GHz G4 PowerPC with 1GB RAM, 80GB disk, and Airport. Various thoughts have occurred to me: music server, household file server, some sort of media thingy for the TV… but I don’t know. I can’t help thinking there’s something I haven’t thought of.

So what would you do?


2007-01-08 12:51:52
Matt Ramos
2007-01-08 12:52:06
I would put AMP on it and throw it in my car!


2007-01-08 12:55:05
Use it to drive a security camera (network or Firewire) with SecuritySpy.
2007-01-08 12:57:18
I am actually planing to buy a mini or something similar and use it as a media-server in my living room. I am planning to connect it to a touch screen and add a cover flow like interface so I have instant access to all my CDs and will have a custom music scheduler that plays different playlist based on what time of the day it is as long as you don't override it by playing something else manually...
And when I get Leopard I'll use it as a storage server for my backups as well.

In addition I'll set up a Ruby on Rails intranet site where I can remote control the music and add messages to the other family members.

2007-01-08 13:12:55
I'd donate it to a deserving young web developer from England, preferably one called Paul.

Nah, eBay. Postage won't cost that much.

I use a G3 iMac with a replaced 80 GB hard drive as a back-up machine. Its plugged into an Airport Express by ethernet. I Synk my MacBook Pro to it once a week over the wireless. Takes a couple of hours overnight, but it's much less effort than plugging it in, so I do it.

2007-01-08 13:15:39
This is such an open-ended question. So much depends on what you "need" to do or even what you want to play with.

IHMO - every home in the near future will need a good central hub for storage. NAS will be king in the next few years and the Mac Mini can be ideal for that. You have wireless for remote access and 1gb LAN for heavy transfers.

With Leopard coming about, this can become even more obvious. I would also consider the idea of running squid, and other networking tools (Router?? Mail?? Family iCal??).

If you are developer, then ideally it would be also a great web/sql box. Setting up the machine to host all your work.. a subversion repository and the lot.

To some extents, depending on how great the use would be... but you really can have it do many of these tasks at the same time without any noticed slowdown. I have 1.5tb of storage that can never be fully connected at one time... so I salivate at the idea of having them as a NAS... especially when over half of that is in ALAC music. :-)

by the way, for those of us who cannot afford to have computers lying around that like... indeed we are envious.

2007-01-08 13:35:16
Why not made a robot out of it?
2007-01-08 13:37:52
I'd personally use it headless on the bookshelf as a kind of development server. Install MAMP, turn on (S)FTP and use it for home projects. Oh, and I'd probably use it for file storage as well.
Jose Marques
2007-01-08 13:39:22
I have a Mac mini with the exact same spec. I bought an iSight camera and DVI to S-Video adapter for it and attached it to the TV set in my Mother's house. I also bought a wireless ADSL router and subscription and a copy of Apple Remote Desktop 3. I now use it to do video conferencing with my Mum. She's 72 and doesn't understand computers so I run everything remotely. I live about 380 miles away so can't visit very frequently (I'm in Scotland, she's in the Midlands.) The video conferencing really cheers her up. The only bug is that I have to telephone my Mum to ask her to switch the AV inputs on the TV. It would be nice if I could get the Mac mini to make some sort of noise via its internal speaker but that doesn't seem possible with an audio cable plugged in.
2007-01-08 13:41:37
I use a lesser spec mini (1.25ghz, 512MB, 40GB) to run mail and web for 6 domains without and issues.

Another option would be to turn it into a MAME cabinet - see: http://www.mameintosh.com.

Good luck.


2007-01-08 13:59:14
Buy a nice 22" Viewsonic widescreen from Costco and set up the Mac mini for someone's grandmother.
Sylvan von Stuppe
2007-01-08 14:00:28
There are lots of Mac Mini mods out there - like old NES with a Mac Mini board. Maybe you could turn the Mac Mini into a Mac Mainframe - put the board on a fridge?

Whatever you do, g33ks love mods.

Mike Abdullah
2007-01-08 14:03:26
Well seeing as this is MacDevCenter, I'd use it for distributed builds with XCode for a little extra oomph. Admittedly though, that will only work if your main machine is an Intel.

2007-01-08 14:09:16
Mine acts as a mediaserver. I've got an infrant NAS device which could serve most media directly, but it does a very poor job of it, for some reason, resulting in hiccups and delays which my squeezeboxes are not overly tolerant of. Running slimserver on the mini and mounting the NAS over NFS fixes that problem. The NAS has 100 Gbit connection to the mini and the mini connects to the 802.11 network, so it acts as a general fileserver for the NAS, too, which works very well. Going directly to the NAS again results in flakiness of the service. So all backups and media are on the mini, and every other computer in the house is a laptop, so it is nice to have a single machine that is guaranteed to be on the presmises and powered on. If and when I get an ITV, having such a machine will become essential. Honestly, I could do the job for cheaper with x86 hardware and linux or BSD, but I had the mini, so I might as well use it. It also acts as the rendezvois source for my printer, and I've never had much luck getting photo quality results on a printer shared via SAMBA from linux ,so the mini does have some advantages over the cheaper solution. It also acts as the sync point for the various ipods in the household, something which linux/bsd cannot do. Except when working in iTunes or iPhoto, it never gets used via the local keyboard, mouse, and display. I'd love for apple to give me more reasons to need a mini in the house so I can justfy an intel one. I'm tired of geeking out and rolling my own solutions to things by building open source tools or writing my own. I'd love to be able to run the .mac services on a local mini and have all of my computers synchronize and interact with that. I could do it myself, but it would take more effort than I want to put into it.
Gordon Meyer
2007-01-08 14:17:26
The Mac mini makes an excellent home automation server. If you've ever want to try your hand at an automated house, the new version of Indigo supports "Insteon" devices, which seem to have several advantages over the old X10 equipment.
2007-01-08 15:00:49
When I eventually get my Ubuntu box running I'm hoping to use it as a VPN server, and, like everyone else, for NAS over NFS.
2007-01-08 15:22:32
Convert someone. After I upgraded to the Core Duo mini for my HTPC, I gave my G4 1.42 Mini to my parents to replace their Windows box (and decrease my phone support workload). My mom is now an iLife wiz.. photobooks, calendars, etc.

Or, if you've already converted the family members.. You don't need much power for a good media server box. For a long time, I used a G4 Cube as my media server, file server, etc. Throw a big firewire hard drive off the side of it and space is not a problem. I used the file server for storage/streaming of HDTV video recorded on my HTPC, and the old G4 didn't even break a sweat.

2007-01-08 15:48:38
Actually, I just replaced this exact model with an MBP and have been thinking about this, too. I first tried selling the Mini, but who wants a G4 nowadays... It's now sitting next to the stereo and runs iTunes. The girlfriend and I have copied all our music over and use VNC (Apple Remote Desktop plus Chicken of the VNC) to control playback. Works fine so far.
joel n
2007-01-08 17:19:17
Use it as a kitchen computer. I have my Mac Mini connected to a LCD monitor undermounted with an articulating VESA adapter.

My wife just loves it since she follows a couple of podcasts and look up recipes at the same time.

She also uses it to watch the latest DVD we get from Blockbuster Online while she cooks up one of her gourmet meals.

Steve R.
2007-01-08 17:21:15
Get it going at an XGrid node.
2007-01-08 19:33:14
Asterisk Box...
Christopher Ryan
2007-01-08 20:26:39
Connect it to a radio and record your favorite station using Audio Hijack Pro. If you like sports, you can record your favorite sports team and archive the clips to hear them later.
Richard Willis
2007-01-08 20:29:46
I teach school and I use my mini at school connected to an Infocus projector to do Power Point presentations to my math classes. I have a small Wacom tablet connected to the mini so I can demonstrate problem solutions within Power Point. Much better than lecturing.
2007-01-08 20:56:38
Gave mine to my 7 year old as her first computer. Works perfect with the her first iPod she got for X-Mas.
Kevin S.
2007-01-09 03:27:52
Turn it into a Tor exit node and do your part to speed up the Tor network.
Dave Lentz
2007-01-09 03:36:41
Put it in a basement, or in some secure spot and use it to archive critical backups in the wee hours of the morning -- just a nightly *.tgz'd copy of critical stuff that you would miss following the occasional earthquake, fire, tornado, etc. It's small enough that in a panic, you just grab it on your way out.

What kind of stuff is critical? The spreadsheet that you (should) have containing itemized lists of insured items and various policy numbers, credit card numbers, bank/brokerage/mutual fund account number, tax records, etc. etc. I regularly scan insurance policy declarations pages and file pdf copies of them as well.

Of course you should use it for all the other kinds of server listed here, but the mini's portability makes it an exceptional disaster recovery box as well. If you can grab it on your way out of whatever catastrophe occurs, great, but if not, be sure to place it in a spot that is more secure than most.

2007-01-09 04:57:48
I had, once upon a time, an old computer nearly useless. I installed it with MacOS X Server (I'm a developer) and configured it to handle my backups, emails, nigntly builds, downloads, etc.

Now, I'm seriously thinking about reinstalling this old setup with my not so old Mac mini (Core Duo) in the basement. My priority is to have a secured place for my (critical) backups, but the idea of having a central storage for all the home media files is really interresting. I also have a really old iBook (Dual USB, 500 MHz), perfect as a music center. A 10 Gb HD is pretty small though.

Kevin Buterbaugh
2007-01-09 06:31:03
I'd set it up headless / keyboardless (use VNC to access it), fire up Folding@Home on it, forget about it, and let it sit there helping to make the world a better place...
2007-01-09 06:35:33
I gave mine to a friend who needed a faster Mac.
2007-01-09 07:54:37
I've got mine attached to an LCD HDTV (along with my 360) and use it to watch podcasts, serve iTunes, my printer, and scanner to the house.

If the iTV does most of the processing work, I will hopefully use it to serve media to an iTV on my other TV in the living room.

2007-01-09 11:54:50
I just bought a "core solo" mini. I used to be in marketing but that name just makes me feel very ashamed of that profession. My intended use could match any developers: CVS server and bugzilla host separate from development machine, also SSH gateway for connecting to home when on the move with a laptop.
2007-01-21 06:42:33
I am curious if you, Giles, have come to a decision yet as to how you would use your old mini now that many have made comments. :)
2007-01-21 09:46:23
@Joshua: I've not reached a definite conclusion yet, although the dozens of ideas offered here were hugely helpful. For the time being, the machine is doing some very ordinary music serving, but I might yet put it to use in other ways. When I do, I'll make sure I post an update.

Thanks to everyone who posted an idea here.

2007-02-02 13:09:50
I have a 450MHz G4 I'm using successfully as an Asterisk server, but lately I've been thinking I'd rather have something with a smaller physical footprint. If you've been interested in Asterisk, I think your machine would be a great way for you to try it out.
2007-03-07 03:19:26
All of the above?

I've got a Mac Mini with a 500GB MyBook attached running in my front room as a file server, testing webserver for sites im working on for clients, also running 10.4 server as a testbed for work.. In addition to this its connected to my TV and is used as a home media centre. Going to add in an EyeTV at some point and use it as a full blown PVR..

the DucK
2007-03-30 07:43:22
I currently have 3 mac minis deplyed throughout my house. I have one in my office running osx server and a complete open ldap implementation complete with roaming profiles for our two laptops. Nicely automates backups of our hoem dirs on our lappies. Alos have one in bedroom and one in fam room for playgin games and wathgin movies, for internet radion, adn viewing all of our media (pics and home movies). Really, you can replace all components for your television EXCEPT a good tuner amp to power some very large speakers. This is a necessity when watching h264 in full surround being streamed over your network. I would recommend a wired network though.