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Switcher Hangout The place for switchers to discuss their new machines, and how to work with OS X. General support can be had here for newbie stuff, like "How do I restart my new iMac?" :)

Is a Mac Mini right for me?


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absinthe

 
Member Since: Jan 25, 2010
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Hi all. First-time poster here.

I've always been a PC guy but have been thinking about switching to Mac for about a year now. At first I was looking at an iMac, but then I thought "nah, too pricey" and, because I wasn't ready to buy a whole new PC yet, I bought a new monitor: a 25.5-inch Samsung (very nice!).

I've been running Ubuntu on a 4-yr old Athlon XP 4400+ for about a year now (I had been waiting on Windows 7). But the HP i7 PC w/Blu-ray I'm looking at will set me back a little over $1100. I got to thinking, "Do I really need all this?" "Is it worth the money." I have really lost a lot of my enchantment with replacing hardware and "doing it myself." I keep finding myself wandering into Apple stores ...

Since I already have a monitor, an iMac is out. But I'm starting to really consider the 2.53 GHz Mini. I mean, it looks like almost everything I'll need, and I just want something dependable that works. As life is getting more and more "crowded," the size is also a factor. I've also got some Visa gift cards from Christmas as well as some Amazon credit, so it will only cost me about $500 out of pocket. But before I take the plunge, I wanted to talk to the experts (that's you) and see if it's really right for me. So, here's what I need:

1) Lots of multitasking. I sometimes have 10 to 15 browser tabs going at once.

2) While not exactly a "gamer," I have been waiting a LONG time for Starcraft II to come out. I want to be able to play it on the Mac Mini, should I buy one. Doesn't have to be "maxed out" settings, but decent. Aside from these occasional trips into Blizzard-land, I'm not much into video-intense gaming. I've got a Ps3 and a Wii if I want to play games.

3) There are probably at least a couple of Windows apps I'm going to need. One is Microsoft Money. I understand that there is really nothing equivalent for Mac. Besides, I have *years* of financial records in that format. I know I can dual-boot, but really I'd rather not. I've been hearing about this WineBottler thing. Do you know if it's possible to run MS Money '07 without booting up Windows?

4) Another app would be Newsbin, the binaries downloader. Anyone know if this can run in WineBottler? Also, QuickPar, and maybe WinRar. Alternatively, is there an equivalent for Mac that's as good Newsbin? (keep in mind, Newsbin is *very* good).

5) I used to do a lot of video encoding. Not so much anymore. I might want to encode to DivX/XviD format once in a while. Are there Mac tools for this? Or can the Windows tools be run on Mac? This is really a minor point.

6) I have always tried to get myself a new machine every 3 years. I'm more than a year overdue right now. I'd like to get at *least* 3 years out of this machine without it feeling "dated." Obviously a Mini isn't something I'll be able to pop the top off of and swap out hardware. But then, I'm just not the "semi-power user" I used to be.

7) I assume OS X has no problem reading ntfs drives? I have several external drives I'd be plugging in constantly. Also, SD media cards that I slip into a USB adaptor.

The only thing I guess I'll have to sacrifice for the meantime would be the Blu-Ray. But then ... why do I need that? I've got a PS3 and a standalone player for watching Blu-Ray, and I don't really want to "rip" them or burn them.

Well, I'm sure I have more questions but that's all I can think of for now. It's a big decision. What I really want to hear is "Yeah, man, get a Mini! You'll love it! You can't go wrong!." But don't just tell me what I want to hear!

All advice is appreciated!
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DarkestRitual

 
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1) 4GB of DDR3 RAM... upgadeable to 8 I believe.

2) I would assume SC2 will run, I plan on running it on the same 9400m chip that you'll have, and you have a faster processor than I do...

3) VirtualBox for free to boot into a virtual windows environment (or Parallels/VMWare), or maybe WINE, but I don't know much about that.

4) Again... VM?

5) HandBrake

6) Yea, it'll run pretty nicely for a time to come. My dad bought my little sisters a mini a little over a two years ago, it's only got 1GB of RAM and a 1.83GHz Core Duo (not even Core 2), and it's running surprisingly swiftly. They're nice little machines.

7) Can read NTFS, cannot write NTFS without 3rd party help. For best results, move data and reformat drives to FAT32 so they're readable and writeable by both OS X and Windows.
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CrimsonRequiem

 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by absinthe View Post

7) I assume OS X has no problem reading ntfs drives? I have several external drives I'd be plugging in constantly. Also, SD media cards that I slip into a USB adaptor.
Quote:
Originally Posted by DarkestRitual View Post
7) Can read NTFS, cannot write NTFS without 3rd party help. For best results, move data and reformat drives to FAT32 so they're readable and writeable by both OS X and Windows.
Better alternative would be...

NTFS mounter only works with Snow Leopard.

NTFS-3G you want the one that says "Stable Source Release."

If you don't want to deal with the 4GB limitation.

死神はリンゴしか食べない。
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chas_m

 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by absinthe View Post
Since I already have a monitor, an iMac is out.
I wouldn't be that dismissive. The monitor in today's iMacs is *much* superior to most third-party monitors.

Quote:
1) Lots of multitasking. I sometimes have 10 to 15 browser tabs going at once.
Shouldn't be an issue, particularly if you max out the RAM.

Quote:
2) While not exactly a "gamer," I have been waiting a LONG time for Starcraft II to come out. I want to be able to play it on the Mac Mini, should I buy one. Doesn't have to be "maxed out" settings, but decent. Aside from these occasional trips into Blizzard-land, I'm not much into video-intense gaming. I've got a Ps3 and a Wii if I want to play games.
I want to congratulate you on your refreshing -- and entirely correct -- approach to gaming. I don't anticipate that the 9400M the mini comes with will give you any problems in this regard.

Quote:
3) There are probably at least a couple of Windows apps I'm going to need. One is Microsoft Money. I understand that there is really nothing equivalent for Mac.
There's nothing *quite like it* on the Mac, but there are plenty of good financial programs for the Mac.

You may not be aware of this, but Microsoft discontinued Money on July 1st of last year. So you're going to need a replacement anyway at some point.

I'm no expert on this, but I have several clients who use Moneydance and seem to like it. This is also Quicken for Mac (inferior to the Windows versions, but good enough for most people) and Mint.com (an online, and thus platform-independent, solution) among others.

Quote:
Besides, I have *years* of financial records in that format. I know I can dual-boot, but really I'd rather not. I've been hearing about this WineBottler thing. Do you know if it's possible to run MS Money '07 without booting up Windows?
I'd trust Crossover over WineBottler, only because Crossover has been around for some years now. Check their compatibility list. Also, while I certainly don't intend to run Windows on my Mac either, I've heard from many VMWare Fusion, Parallels and Virtualbox users that it is fairly painless and works well with basically all Windows apps apart from games.

Quote:
Another app would be Newsbin, the binaries downloader. Anyone know if this can run in WineBottler? Also, QuickPar, and maybe WinRar. Alternatively, is there an equivalent for Mac that's as good Newsbin? (keep in mind, Newsbin is *very* good).
Unison blows that crap out of the water. They are having a little "teething trouble" with their just-launched 2.0.x version but overall its just amazing. There are many other highly-regarded Usenet tools for Mac, from Pine to NZB utilities. You won't miss Newsing one bit (and yes, also Par and Rar expanders if needed -- Unison of course has them built in).

Quote:
I used to do a lot of video encoding. Not so much anymore. I might want to encode to DivX/XviD format once in a while. Are there Mac tools for this?
Yes. I use Redux Encoder (free), or VisualHub (now discontinued, but RE is a replacment). There are many more where that came from, most free.

Quote:
I have always tried to get myself a new machine every 3 years. I'm more than a year overdue right now. I'd like to get at *least* 3 years out of this machine without it feeling "dated." Obviously a Mini isn't something I'll be able to pop the top off of and swap out hardware. But then, I'm just not the "semi-power user" I used to be.
Mac owners keep their machines an average of over *5* years, compared to PC owners' average of 3 years. So I don't think you need to worry.

That said, this brings me back to the iMac. At the time of this writing, it's the only Mac with Intel's latest chip, the iCore series, in it. The rest of the Mac line should updated to this at some point, but not as of today. So again if you are interested in future-proofing, you might want to either reconsider the iMac or wait till later in the year.

Quote:
I assume OS X has no problem reading ntfs drives?
Reading? No problem. Writing? Problem. There are some third-party solutions for this, but basically NTFS is not a good format for routine Mac use.

Quote:
Also, SD media cards that I slip into a USB adaptor.
No issues there. The iMac has a built-in SD slot btw. (sorry I'm not really trying to sell you an iMac, buy a mini if you like that's fine)
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absinthe

 
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Thanks for these responses! A few follow-up questions ...

1) What is the native file format for Mac? I have a WD Media Player (basically a little box with USB input and HDMI output that plays about any file type, including VOBs). I constantly transfer files from my PC to a Passport drive that's formatted NTFS, then hook the Passport up to the WDMP to view/listen to files on TV. I definitely need to go beyond 4 GB, so FAT32 is not really an option.

But you say iMacs have a built-in SD slot? What is the file format used by devices that use these cards. I assume my digital camera is writing files to its SD card in FAT32 or NTFS format? So is file transfer from media like SD to a Mac meant to be one-way, short of 3rd party software?

2) On the same note, what about CD/DVD burning? If I just burn a "data" CD or DVD, as I would in Nero in Windows, to back up files or to burn MP3s for use in a stereo or car, what format will these be in? Can the Mac burning software create discs compatible with most devices?

3) Are there open DIMM slots in the Mini? In other words, if I buy the 4 GB model and decide to upgrade it to 8 GB, can I just buy 4 GB more or do I have to buy the whole 8 GB?

4) If I run Windows in Boot Camp, will it have any trouble configuring the built-in wireless NIC?

5) Should I get an Apple keyboard? If I load Windows, what substitues for the Start key? (and does it really matter)?

6) I have a digital video camera that's about 4 years old with Firewire. Am I going to be able to hook that up the Mini's Firewire port and capture video?

7) And this one has nothing to do with the Mac, but I definitely need to find a solution for financial software. I took a look at Mint.com, and it looks extremely promising. I like the idea of keeping the information online so I don't have to worry about losing it. But it appears, from reading at the Mint site, that basically you set up your accounts and it pulls in all transactions electronically. I am really looking for something more like an electronic check register into which I can enter the transaction info manually and then maybe run some reports or do searches at a later time. I already have online banking. I like to enter my transactions manually so I can keep track of things up-to-the-minute. Do you know if Mint can do this if I should choose not to set up my accounts to automatically pull in the info? If not, is there another site that can? I realize MS Money is going the way of the dodo, so I definitely need to find a replacement.

Thanks!
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geekfreackz

 
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1) Mac's native file format is HFS plus, also known as Mac OS extended (journaled).

File format used by SD Cards is FAT32, I believe.

2) For burning CDs and DVDs, I suggest you use "Burn" -- it's free and works great.

3) I don't think so. Also, you can upgrade it to 8GB, but only 4GBs are supported by Apple.

4) It won't have any trouble configuring the built-in wireless NIC. Windows/Boot Camp drivers are included on the Install DVDs that come with a Mac.

5) Get the Apple Keyboard (Apple Keyboard's are great to use). The Cmd or Apple key substitutes the Start Key.

6) If your camera uses Firewire 400, then you'll need to get an adapter to get it to work with your Mac Mini (The Mini has FireWire 800... So you'll need a FireWire 400 -> FW 800 adapter).

7) No idea
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JeremyZ

 
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I'm not as knowledgable as most of the Mac users here, but I do have one thing to point out. It seems like you're starting to think along the lines of making the Mac work like your PC. That doesn't seem to be the path to happiness here. I think YOU need to learn to work like a Mac.

Since you seem to be kind of a demanding user, I'd plan on getting the iMac, then putting your monitor on fleabay soon after.

If it's worth doing, it's worth OVERdoing.
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harryb2448

 
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Suggest biting the bullet and going the full hog with a Mac Pro as you are a pretty heavy user. Minis and iMacs are nice little glossy toys but you need the real thing where you can beef up the graphics etc.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by harryb2448 View Post
Minis and iMacs are nice little glossy toys but you need the real thing where you can beef up the graphics etc.


Macworld: Core i7 iMacs beat even octo-core Mac Pros | 9 to 5 Mac

iMac Core i7 - 3D Apps at 1920x1200

iMac Core i7 versus other Macs

That's odd -- as I read these specs, the quad-core i7 seems to match the quad-core MP in pretty much all respects, and in some areas exceeds it. Maybe "gamer bois" need something more, but for professionals, the iMac seems to do quite nicely at half the price.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by absinthe View Post
Thanks for these responses! A few follow-up questions ...

1) What is the native file format for Mac?
If you mean disk format, it's GUID Mac OS X Extended. As far as file formats go, Macs support almost any PC file format as long as there's a Mac version or compatible app that reads the file format.

I have a WD Media Player (basically a little box with USB input and HDMI output that plays about any file type, including VOBs).

According to this page, your device supports Macs, all you have to do is reformat it for HFS+ (aka Mac OS X Extended).

Quote:
But you say iMacs have a built-in SD slot? What is the file format used by devices that use these cards.
FAT32.

Quote:
So is file transfer from media like SD to a Mac meant to be one-way, short of 3rd party software?
No, FAT32 is writeable and readable natively by Macs.

Quote:
2) On the same note, what about CD/DVD burning? If I just burn a "data" CD or DVD, as I would in Nero in Windows, to back up files or to burn MP3s for use in a stereo or car, what format will these be in?
Same. ISO9000 I would expect.

Quote:
Can the Mac burning software create discs compatible with most devices?
Yes.

Quote:
3) Are there open DIMM slots in the Mini? In other words, if I buy the 4 GB model and decide to upgrade it to 8 GB, can I just buy 4 GB more or do I have to buy the whole 8 GB?
Apple tends to fill both slots of the mini, so the answer is probably "you have to buy the whole 8GB." I should caution you that upgrading the RAM in a Mac mini is a PITA, not mechanically that difficult just annoying (and a little tricky). Be sure to download a step-by-step guide and follow it CAREFULLY if you want to do this yourself.

Quote:
4) If I run Windows in Boot Camp, will it have any trouble configuring the built-in wireless NIC?
No more than you would with any other Windows PC. When an Intel iMac is booted via Boot Camp, it *is* a Windows PC.

I would politely suggest you hold off on the Boot Camp idea. Learn the Mac, and once you've done that, THEN decide if you still need anything from the Windows world. Chances are you won't, but you'll still have the option. If you install Boot Camp or an emulator right away, you may end up using it as a "crutch" and not really learn the Mac.

Quote:
5) Should I get an Apple keyboard? If I load Windows, what substitues for the Start key? (and does it really matter)?
You should get an Apple keyboard.

Quote:
6) I have a digital video camera that's about 4 years old with Firewire. Am I going to be able to hook that up the Mini's Firewire port and capture video?
Yes, but you will need an inexpensive FW800-to-400 adapter cable. No big deal.


Quote:
7) And this one has nothing to do with the Mac, but I definitely need to find a solution for financial software.
The most popular solutions for *personal* finance programs on the Mac are Quicken, Moneydance, Cha-Ching, Liquid Ledger, and iBank. And there are lots of others, including one called Money (nothing to do with MS Money, though). MacWorld magazine and others like that have probably got a round-up type article online somewhere that ranks them, and there's free trials abounding. I'm sure you'll find one you like.
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JeremyZ

 
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Look at us. We're like car salesmen. (who mean well) The poor guy walked in, thinking about the entry level machine, and we're talking about top-of-the-line machines.

"Oh, you saw the $13,000 Corolla in the paper? How about this $25,000 Camry? That's a nice car!"

If it's worth doing, it's worth OVERdoing.
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absinthe

 
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Well, it is DONE! I've ordered the 2.53 GHz Mac Mini from Amazon. I even paid an extra $30 to have it delivered *tomorrow* (Saturday). I'm going to run out to the local Best Buy tonight to pick up a Mac keyboard.

I was typing away in Ubuntu today and the whole system just froze up and I lost what I was working on. I think I was downloading upgrades to the new kernel at the time, and I don't know what's happened but now I cannot boot up to a GUI at all. I think my 4-1/2-yr-old hardware has just had enough. It's a shame as there are some good drives in there. I just bought a 500 GB SATA drive a few months ago. Not sure what I'll do with it (besides hook it up to my wife's PC downstairs and rescue all my data).

I think I am finally ready to "cross over." I'm a little nervous ... and a little excited.

Thanks for all your insight and advice!

-abs
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DMG1287

 
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Good on ya for buying what you wanted to even with everyone telling you otherwise. I think you will be happy with it.

Soon to be getting Macbook and 32 GB Ipod touch
(waiting on tax return)
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