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Old January 24th, 2005, 02:19 PM   #1
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** Mac Mini Review ** (includes purchasing short story, FCP use, pics)

Hello all, well here is the review I promised. First off, let it be known that I am not a mac veteran but rather a mac newb. I've been forced to edit several projects on FCP 3 and 4 on mostly powerbooks the past year including a feature length 16mm film but as a mac user, this is the extent of my experience so I don't have other macs to really compare with but I did my best to objectively evaluate this thing.

GETTING THE lil' MAC:
As we all know, these things are in pretty high demand (or there's a shortage of supply) , either way they're hard to get and my online order was listed to ship on Feb 14th. I couldn't wait this long so I decided to post out the morning of the 22nd to wait in line at my local mac store (20 minute drive). That morning it was around 23 degrees and I arrived 35 minutes before opening time to see around 7 people in line waiting. They were all male of varying ages but were engaged in flaming their windows using friends, spitting out mac jargon left and right.

At this point, I began to question what kind of person I was to be standing around with these people, hung over I might add in 23 deg. weather. Within 15 minutes a horde of people had arrived adding to the line. Right before the doors were finally opened at 9, I would estimate around 40 people were in a line that stretched as far as I could see and around the corner, I was feeling a little better now :) . I had brought a digital camera in case it was a spectacle but by this point there was already a guy with an SLR taking a million pictures and looking like a tool so I decided against joining in.

We flooded in the double glass front doors @ 9 on the dot and strangely, everyone paused at the front checkout desk waiting to formally ask a store clerk for a mac mini (they (mini macs) were not in plain site to purchase) but all the clerks were busy setting up other stuff. After 30 seconds or so, I decided to shuffle my way to the closest clerk who was near the back corner of the store. "Uh, hey man could I get a mac mini?" I mumbled. He said sure, asked which variety and went into a back room and emerged with the little box. I said thanks and walked to the front of the store. Literally, all 40 people or so in this huge mass at the front of the store stared at me as I walked back towards them. I heard whispering "he's got one", "there it is", "look at that" (seriously, I heard this). I couldn't get back to the front of the horde where I was originally to check out because the people were so densely packed so I just kinda paused towards the front off to the side. Finally someone spoke to me from the now silent and still staring crowd: "man, how did you do that?" to which I replied: "uh, I just asked that guy back there for one". Just then a clerk realized what was going on, alerted the crowd that they hadn't recieved a lot of minis and no ipod shuffles and started asking people in pairs which mini they wanted. Then they would walk to the back and pull out a pair and check out that person. It was a very slow process. So I had to get to the back of the line which meant I checked out last but I was still the first to hold the mini and I don't believe everyone was able to get one so it was ok. Final cost was $587.43 because those with student ID's received $50 off the 1.4 version and $25 off the 1.2, nice! The clerks also informed us that we were not supposed to install our own memory upgrades and that they hadn't received the official mini mac upgrade "tools" yet and didn't know when they would. I sort of smirked and knew my crucial.com 1 gig memory upgrade would hopefully be in there shortly.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS:
Wow, this thing is really small. The box is tiny but until you actually hold this lil' dude and physically feel its dimensions, you can't understand. We obviously live in the future. Anyways, hooking up the connections were very straightforward as we all know. I wanted to make sure my mini wasn't DOA before tackling the memory upgrade so I powered her up and was greeted with the classic mac startup sound played from the tiny internal speaker. Other than that, this thing is silent, I literally couldn't hear a sound from it (I have a quiet pc fan running fairly close by though). Then I installed iLife 05' which includes the fun little garage band 2 program which I mettled in a bit before moving around the system. I must say, this thing felt smooth. I really enjoyed the Mac interface and everything seemed to just work well.

I had read using Garage Band with low ram (256 in my case) produced bad results but I had no problems with it and tried to add many tracks to choke up the system. Performance wasn't ground breaking but it seemed to handle it ok with some lag when previewing samples etc. The image quality was very good on my 19inch Sony hs94p LCD. My Sony has two inputs in the back, one for DVI and one for RGB monitors so I kept my pc on the DVI and the mac on the RGB port (adapter supplied) and toggle between the two with my input select. I was excited to own a new operating system and its presentation and slickness was almost worth the price alone but I really wanted this system to become adept in FCP HD so what about the function side?

UPGRADE? YUP.
Going against what the store clerk said, I decided I wasn't going to be their monkey and pay $50 for someone to pop in a memory chip ( I don't think they'd install nonmac brand chips anyways). A quick search on the net provided me with great information, pics, and a movie! on what tools are needed to safely pop open the case. You'll need very thin putty knives from Lowe's etc. for this job (1 or 2 depending on your technique). It's rumored that the apple official ones will simply be thin plasticized putty knives but if you're careful, the metal ones are fine and don't scratch anything when used properly. I posted the links at the bottom to the intructions and movie file.

Getting the case off took some time initially. The first time, the little clips are very stiff and it takes a bit more coaxing and repeated attempts without applying to much force. If you're at all ok with your hands, following the video will be easy just stay patient your first time. I finally got the case off and was able to install my new 1 gig memory chip into the densely packed mini mac. Putting the case back on is straight forward though lining up the back correctly might take a few times. It's nothing to tough, I would advise people buy their own memory from Crucial and install themselves. Spend the money on something or actually anything else rather than being a Mac store monkey.

PERFORMANCE:
Well, after getting used to having the mac mini and getting a little bored with garage band (which ran much much more smoothly with the gig of ram) it was time for the real test, FCP HD. This morning I finally had time to capture some footage from my DVX100a onto the 4200 speed internal HD. I have read everywhere that this is not an advised method and that video capturing should go straight to an external 7200 firewire HD (which I don't have yet). So, this was more for testing purposes.

Everything captured correctly on the video side without any dropped frames and I did a capture now for 28 minutes worth of DV footage to give it a real test (ofcourse did scene detection after the fact). Audio wise, the sound was out of sync by around 1 - 2 seconds which after doing a search on our boards, realized is a fairly common problem with 24p footage. I couldn't find a clear answer in my initial searches but I assume this is not a major problem to fix. I then tested how the mac would perform when layering video. A simple dissolve worked perfectly without any rendering. I added a few visual effects to the incoming and outgoing tracks and still no rendering needed for the dissolve or tracks. It took multiple effects on the tracks and a page peel effect for the rendering to be required (and only on the transition).

When I did render, it took a little longer than I expected but I think this was because it was rendering all the effects I had applied even those that were real time previewing for me. which included one extremely long clip I had applied a sephia effect to. Clicking around in the timeline was very smooth and I felt little lag to no noticeable lag which was very nice. Again, I'm coming from using powerbooks with 512 megs of ram and slightly slower processors.

Obviously, longer form projects will require much more than my simple tests but from what I was able to do this morning, the Mac mini performed where I expected it to. This eased my concerns regarding the mini becoming strictly a novelty item rather than a box I could use. I personally have full confidence in this unit for DV projects short or long (i would export a project to my pc for After Effects work after the fact) but anything HD or advanced I think is obviously not suited for this system.

Cont. on next page -------->
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Old January 24th, 2005, 02:20 PM   #2
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DOUBLE DOWN:
Well, I'm not converting to a Mac but I'm coexisting as a Mac and PC user. Therefor, I didn't want to have two keyboards and two mice cluttering up my desk. So, after some research, I purchased the TRENDnet tk209i KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) switch from New Egg.com for $25. This device lets me use my ps2 keyboard and mouse (mine was optical USB but I popped a usb to ps2 converted on it) and share one monitor with two different computers even if one is pc and one is mac. I didn't use the video switch part however because it only supports vga monitor cables (a DVI KVM or DVI monitor selector is VERY expensive) and I wanted to keep the DVI coming from my PC so again, I'm using a toggle input switch built into my monitor. I read many horror stories about usb KVM switches and using them between a pc and mac but this thing has worked like a charm. There's no lag between the switch and the only small down side is the mouse control isn't QUITE as precise or responsive as my optical logitech was before I popped the ps2 adapter on it. You almost can't tell but because I was used to a higher end mouse for a while, I can slightly tell but no big loss unless you're a big gamer. This switch also supports microphone and speaker switching however I don't have any mics for computer use and I wanted to hear the sound from both of my computers so I bought a little audio 2 into 1 adapter from radio shack.

$$$ PRICE $$$
Well I haven't even added this up yet until now so here we go: (all items include tax and shipping if applicable)

$587.43 - 1.4 mini mac
$250.38 - 1 gig Crucial.com Ram
$45.44 - KVM switch from New Egg.com
$10 - dual fem stereo mini to 1 fem stereo mini from Radio Shack.

Grand Total for the fastest mini available (currently) and items needed to make things work:
$893.25

CONCLUSION:
Well this comes after only having it for a few days but I really like the mini mac. It performs where I thought it would, it's very high on the novelty value side (which I've never before even considered a product based on novelty but this one hits more on portability than novelty, or so I'd like to say) and it feels solidly built. Expansion as we all knew is a limiting side but I'm happy where it's performing now and don't plan to do much more with it than edit DV in FCP. I also strongly enjoy the feeling of having a computer that isn't connected to the internet. I don't plan on ever connecting it online and want to really keep it "unscathed".

I think that the mini will sell well and shouldn't become obsolete among those who use it for tasks it currently performs well. Editing DV on a computer has reached a point where higher specs are more for convenience and save a little time rather than adding that much additional raw function. Once uncompressed HD or HDV becomes a low budget standard, then current abled systems will become incapable. As long as DV (or HDV) remains the standard for low budget productions however, these machines that function well should stay current.

The mini sure as hell hasn't converted me to a "MAC guy" but I respect the brand and system now, can easily see how pc users will purchase the mini in droves and am happy to coexist in both realms now. VIVA la mini!

PICTURES:

I knew he could read:
http://definingfilms.com/mini/1.JPG

Nooooooo!
http://definingfilms.com/mini/2.JPG

It definintely runs incogneto among the editing suite from a far...
http://definingfilms.com/mini/3.JPG

Who's the jackass who wore white?
http://definingfilms.com/mini/4.JPG

Never thought I'd see this logo in here-
http://definingfilms.com/mini/5.JPG

IMPRESSIVE SIZE:
MAC mini Vs......

- a DVD:
http://definingfilms.com/mini/6.JPG

- Nintendo DS & Paw:
http://definingfilms.com/mini/10.jpg

- DS & Cell Phone:
http://definingfilms.com/mini/11.jpg

- DS [opened] and somethings under it?
http://definingfilms.com/mini/12.jpg

My "mini tools"
http://definingfilms.com/mini/7.JPG

Alternate shot of the mini blending in:
http://definingfilms.com/mini/8.JPG

Final shot of the mini in the mix:
http://definingfilms.com/mini/9.JPG

LINKS:

How to open mini case (text and pictures)
http://www.macworld.com/weblogs/edit...side/index.php

QT movie of how to open case
http://www.smashsworld.com/2005/01/t...ini-how-to.php

Link to TRENDnet's great KVM switch on New Egg.com (they also offer them in usb to usb)
http://www.newegg.com/app/viewProduc...107-251&depa=0

Place to get great memory that isn't sketchy:
http://www.crucial.com/
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Old January 24th, 2005, 03:05 PM   #3
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<<<-- Originally posted by Bryan Roberts : The mini sure as hell hasn't converted me to a "MAC guy" -->>>

Actually, waiting outside in line before the Apple Store opens makes you a "Mac Guy" I think ;-)

Nice write-up Bryan, I like your perspective on things. I pretty much agree with your assessment "Editing DV on a computer has reached a point where higher specs are more for convenience and save a little time than adding that much raw function" since I'm still using several older G4's myself. You have to realize however that Macs with these specs were state of the art more than two years ago.

Nevertheless, I recently needed to help a friend setup a DSL connection on a pretty new 2.4 ghz Windows XP laptop. It really surprised me just how slow this machine was when performing routine desktop things - like opening control panels and changing settings. It also crashed several times in the course of a couple hours. Mac OS X has gotten to the point that it seems very responsive, and even my oldest 733mhz G4 tower "feels" much faster than that new windows machine.

Have fun with the new computer, and let us know what you think after you've had a chance to get into some full blown projects on it.
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Old January 24th, 2005, 03:14 PM   #4
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I would hook the Mac up to the internet and disconnect the PC. You'll have a lot less security issues with it.
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Old January 24th, 2005, 03:24 PM   #5
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Boyd - my problem is when a product comes out that I think will be a good purchase and not frivalous, I get a bit excited. As you may recall, I had a post at the beginning of the month searching for an affordable and moderate G4 fcp editing station:
http://www.dvinfo.net/conf/showthrea...threadid=37429
The mac mini just came out at the perfect time for me, or is the fact that I am defensive of the claim a bad sign? :)

Cannon - I have some PC only internet reliant programs (ie. a few games my friends like to suck me into from time to time) and I would rather keep one computer completely clean than having one main internet and one sometimes online but I see the advantages there.
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Old January 24th, 2005, 03:32 PM   #6
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Nice little review, Thanks!

Just an FYI on FCP rendering, the section that is outlined in RED is the part that needs to be rendered. If you select that clip in the timeline and press command (apple)+R it will render JUST that clip instead of all the other one's as well (that are suspended in RT preview). You can also STOP the render at any time by clicking cancel. Everything that has been rendered to that point will stay rendered. I use this trick for effects that I just want to check on quickly but don't want to wait for it to render the entire clip (just need to see a few seconds of it).

Also, I know your idea behind keeping this machine off the internet but remember, this is a Mac. It is MUCH less prone to spyware and virus attacks, as a matter of fact, I've never had a single problem with either on my Mac's and they're always online. If you have a chance pick up a copy of "Carbon Copy Cloner" it's a free program for backing up your entire OS and making a bootable copy that you can later use to restore the hard drive if it get's a little flakey. It's much faster than re-installing everything.

After you have a chance to play a little more it might be nice to see a little something about your workflow from FCP on the Mini to AE on the PC and back. Some people might like to hear your experience with networking this little rig into your workflow from a PC user's perspective. (as a Mac user, my advice falls on deaf ears in the PC world)
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Old January 24th, 2005, 03:41 PM   #7
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I understand the desire to keep your mac in a "clean room." When I was in the middle of a big stressful project a couple years back I did the same with my FCP machine. But that was under MacOS 9 and I really hadn't made the switch to OS X full time.

Now that I have everything running OS X I've gotten a little more cavalier and often have my browser and mail program open along with FCP, Photoshop and a 3d modeller. I really have had very few problems (1.25 GB RAM) and crashes are quite rare. But if I'm on a deadline and editing all day I will mostly run FCP all by itself - maybe with photoshop if I'm doing titles or something.

However I've honestly never had a single problem related to having my Mac on the internet (knocking on formica-covered particle board as I write this :-) The mac is on the other side of a router with NAT so I think it's pretty safe from attack. I very rarely download any software from the net and I don't play computer games at all. It would be a big hassle not to have the machine on my home LAN for file transfer, and I also need to transfer files between servers at work.

Personally I turn off automatic software updates though. These can come around and bite you, especially once your version of FCP is no longer the latest and greatest. After you've had your machine for awhile watch out what you install. This isn't a virus issue or anything, it's just that stuff like new Quicktime versions have been known to break your existing version of FCP.
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Old January 24th, 2005, 05:06 PM   #8
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Rhett - thanks for the tip on rendering, I didn't ever have to really render much on my previous projects so this is nice to know. Regarding workflow, I just finished setting up the Mac to "talk" with my windows systems. I already had a 10/100 autosensing switch which shares an internet connection between two Dells (the other one is the gf's and is to the right of my setup that you can't see in the pictures). I found a great article on how to set things up between mac and pc to share files without buying any additional software:

http://bellsouthpwp2.net/j/o/joelsho...mac/wxpfs.html

Well, it worked like a charm and I already test transferred some mp3 songs which transported very quickly. What I'll be doing is when I'm in need of AE work, I'll export a QT file from FCP to my shared folder on the PC. Then do AE work and pop it right back into the sharing folder. It works almost as if they were on the same system, the only holdup is toggling my monitor between the two computers (~3 seconds) and switching my keyboard and mouse (~2 seconds) so around 5 seconds extra + time to copy the file on the remote HD but between Mac FCP and PC After Effects with that amount of ease really amazes me! I'm pretty excited, I must say.

Boyd - I'll consider the Mac as my primary internet computer (I accidentally connected once when setting up the mac sharing network with my PC) but I think for now I'm going to leave my ethernet chord disconnected unless sharing files :).
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Old January 24th, 2005, 05:48 PM   #9
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If you go to the "GO" menu and select "Connect to Server" then click on "Browse" it should automatically find your PC for you without all the "SMB" hoopla, then you just select the shared folder from the drop-down menu and log in with your user/pass from the PC's account. It's a new feature in 10.3

I am kind of in the same boat as you are with KVM switches. I have a Digital monitor and 3 computers with DVI out but I haven't been able to find a KVM with DVI at all. I didn't pay extra for this monitor to run it as VGA. Besides, the image quality is so much better as DVI.

As far as your workflow, keep in mind that the Mac and PC have different gamma settings for their monitors, so images on one are going to look different on the other. I calibrate my NTSC monitor first and then match my PC's and Mac to it as close as I can. Just something to keep in mind as you do color correcting.

Enjoy your new toy!
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Old January 25th, 2005, 09:52 AM   #10
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thanks Bryan - esp. for the links - I'll second that your mac is the best machine to be online - it really doesn't get "tainted" - kurth
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Old January 25th, 2005, 05:56 PM   #11
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Forbes.com has as nice write up on the Mini which echoes some of the points that Bryan and others have made here: Apple's new Mac mini tempts exasperated Windows users
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Old January 26th, 2005, 08:12 AM   #12
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Rhett - I think the problem with DVI KVMs is that manufacturers for the most part assume that we'd be using them for HDTV sources and can run the prices up. I understand the circuitry is much more advanced than the RGB switches but come on! Way too expensive. Honestly though, with my resolution at 1280X1024, the mini mac with RGB connection looks really nice on my monitor and when switching to my PC which is connected via the DVI port, I can't tell much difference, but I'm sure you'd say otherwise :).

Regarding my mac as the primary online computer: I was considering this more and more but ran into some more snags. My PC is the main internet connector and my cable modem will only work with it as we use a switch and not a hub (the hub lets you just plug the connection into the hub and then split to whatever computer you want to). With the switch I have to run two cable modem cards and run it through my PC into the switch and then out to the other computers. So with the mac mini, I don't have two cards (I guess a solution there would be to buy a linksys hub but that is an extra cost). Also, I update my definingfilms site often using frontpage which obviously isn't on the mac. Is there a way to enable internet connection sharing through my computer but not have it be online? Perhaps toggle it on for my required online pc activities without affecting the other computer's access?

Boyd - That guy didn't really say much new in this review. I had already read quite a few in the past few days, I guess this guy was just required to write one for their loyal Forbes readers.
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Old January 26th, 2005, 10:41 AM   #13
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You really should buy a little switch/router - especially for your Windows box - that would allow you to share several computers. They are really inexpensive now - think I paid $30 or $40. They all support NAT (Network Address Translation) and are a much better firewall/sharing solution than any of the software options under either Windows or MacOS. NAT assigns dummy IP addresses to everything on your side of the firewall such that the outside world can't see it.
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Old January 26th, 2005, 10:57 AM   #14
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Boyd - would this one be ok? :
http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?id=1051384141038&skuId=3697306&productCategoryId=cat01033&type=product

Or do I need the nicer one?:
http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?type=product&skuId=4625347&id=1051384470326&cmp=++

It doesn't seem like the first one has the NAT technology you were talking about - or should I go newegg?
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Old January 26th, 2005, 12:13 PM   #15
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You know, part of the problem might be that I upgraded to this DVI monitor at the same time as I bought my Powerbook and a new graphics card for my PC with DVI out, so the image looks SOOO much better now but I don't know if it is the monitor or the DVI out. My Linux box is VGA out and the monitor has VGA in as well but I can't put my finger on the exact difference between the different looks. My Mac's have been on DVI (ADC) for about 5 or 6 years now so I am used to the image on those.

I just hope the DVI KMS's start making a presence in the affordable market soon. I can't even find an expensive one!

Here are a couple of other routers to look at, the second one even has wireless for a better price but not quite as much security as the first. (in case you ever want to upgrade).

http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage....9&type=product

http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage....9&type=product

I used to have Satellite internet and it wasn't Mac compatible so I ran internet sharing through my PC. It worked ok but was a PITA to set up and it turned out that Earthlink Dial-up was significantly faster so I ditched the expensive satellite until Cable was available in my area.
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