Thursday, March 24, 2011

Intel Mac mini: How slow can you go?

I picked up a second-hand 2007 Mac mini over the weekend, my first Intel-based Mac. I would have preferred the 2008 version with nVidia graphics, but the whole package listed on Craigslist was too tempting:
  • 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo Mac mini with 1 GB of RAM, 120 GB hard drive, SuperDrive, Intel GMA 950 graphics, and OS X 10.6.6 Snow Leopard - also 10.4.6 Tiger installer
  • 23" Apple ADC Cinema HD Display
  • Apple's DVI-to-ADC connector so the display works with the Mac mini
  • Apple's aluminum USB keyboard, the one with the numeric keypad
  • Bluetooth Mighty Mouse
  • 80 GB external bus-powered USB drive
  • speakers with subwoofer
I paid just a bit more for this whole setup than I did for my dual 1 GHz MDD Power Mac G4 about six years ago.

It's going to be a long, slow process making the transition. 1 GB of memory is inadequate, the stock hard drive is slow, and the external USB drive is even slower. When finances permit, I'm planning to max out RAM to 3 G and install a WD Scorpio Black hard drive, which is the fastest conventional hard drive on the market. Debating whether 320 GB will be enough or if I should go for the 500 GB drive - 400 GB is more than enough on my G4 Power Macs. My plan is seperate partitions for Tiger, Leopard, and Snow Leopard plus a "work" partition and a spare partition where I'll be able to try Lion when it becomes available.

Right now I have 10.6.7 on the internal 5400 rpm Hitachi Travelstar (8 MB buffer) and have simply cloned the Leopard partition from my Power Mac to the external USB drive with an unknown mechanism. So right now I have the option of running Snow Leopard from a relatively poky internal SATA drive or using Leopard on a drive connected to USB 2.0, which means a maximum transfer speed of about 320 Mbps - about 1/5 of what SATA offers.

Next project: Finding a 7200 rpm 3.5" drive (I have several 80 GB from upgrading) to put in one of my NewerTech miniStack enclosures, which will let me use FireWire 400 - that's a bit better than 1/4 of SATA bandwidth. Then I'll be able to pick between a fast drive on a slow bus (FireWire) or a slow drive on a fast bus (SATA) and won't have to deal with a slow drive on a really slow bus (USB 2.0).

Unfortunately, the Cinema Display's native resolution is only 1600 x 1024 - a bit less than the 1680 x 1050 my 20" Cinema Display (on a Power Mac) offers. I'll probably end up putting the 20" on the Mini and the 23" on the Power Mac when I finally make the migration. At that point I'll have a dual 1.0 GHz MDD Power Mac with 2 GB of RAM and three 7200 rpm hard drives (one 80 GB plus two 400 GB) capable of booting into Tiger or Leopard and the Mini (with RAM and hard drive upgrades) able to boot Tiger, Leopard, and Snow Leopard. They'll be side-by-side using Teleport so one keyboard and mouse can control both - the same thing I'm doing now with my pair of production Power Macs.

More on Low End Mac when I have enough speed to be able to work comfortably on the Mini....