Mac mini Frequently Asked Questions... Answered!

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Now that Macworld has a few Mac minis in hand, we’re learning a lot more about Apple’s tiny $499 Mac (see Best Current Price ) than we could glean by making our way through the crowds that surrounded all the minis on display at at Macworld Expo. So once you’ve read “What You Need to Know About the Mac mini”, here are answers to some of the most common questions out there.

I know it’s small, but it’s not that small.

Look, size is relative. It’s small enough that you can stick it under your arm and walk around with it absent-mindedly. We’ve done it.

And that’s not a question.

But when you plug it in, it’s got a gigantic power brick, right?

The Mac mini’s white power brick isn’t small—it measures 6.5-by-2.5-by-1.5 inches and weighs a pound. So it’s roughly a third the size and weight of the Mini itself. Is that gigantic? You be the judge. If you have a place to hide the brick, you probably won’t care.

Do I need more than 256MB of RAM?

We think so. With 256MB of RAM, your Mac mini will run much more slowly than it should, because its main memory will fill up, forcing the system to off-load excess data to the mini’s relatively poky hard drive. 512MB is really the minimum RAM we recommend for any Mac system today, and 1GB is preferable.

So should I buy RAM from Apple or install it myself?

Right now, Apple was charging $75 for 512MB of RAM in the mini, and $425 for 1GB. (The mini only has a single RAM slot, so in essence Apple's charging these prices for individual modules, plus recouping the cost of the 256MB module it doesn’t have to install in your system.)

Meanwhile, you can find 512MB modules from other vendors for $66 or even less, and 1GB modules for $165 or even less. So if you want to save money, you should consider swapping Apple’s 256MB module for a larger one you purchase yourself, especially if you want 1GB of RAM.

I want to save money but I’m not too technical. Should I just buy Apple’s RAM?

Probably. Installing RAM on the Mac mini is the easiest upgrade you can perform on the machine, but it’s not for anyone who hasn't installed RAM in a system before. In order to get into the Mac mini, you've got to use a putty knife to pop off the computer’s top shell. Then it’s a tighter-than-usual squeeze to pull the existing RAM and install the new module.

Mac mini RAM slot

I want to save money and I’ve opened up many a computer. Should I be worried about opening the Mac mini?

Probably not, so long as you've got a putty knife handy. If you’re comfortable pulling RAM and can look at the exposed guts of a computer without feeling faint, you can do it.

Can I use the Mac mini as a headless server?

Hoo boy, there’s a whole article in there. Stay tuned for that one. But yes, you can. You’ll need to attach it to a keyboard, mouse, and display to get it set up the first time, and if your Mac mini has Bluetooth, be sure to uncheck the “Open Bluetooth Setup Assistant at startup when no input device is present” option in the Bluetooth System Preferences, or every time your headless Mac boots it’s going to complain that it doesn’t have a keyboard or mouse. Turning off Sleep in the Energy Saver control panel would be a good idea, too.

Then pay a lengthy visit to the Sharing control panel. At the very least, turn on Apple Remote Desktop, so that you can control you new headless server via a VNC client program (from Mac or PC!) or Apple’s own Remote Desktop software. You can turn on file sharing and other stuff, too, although you can always do that later via remote control.

If you’re planning on putting your new Mac mini server on a wireless network, be sure to connect it to your network and save the password in the keychain—and for safety’s sake, adjust your AirPort preferences (in the Network preference pane) to automatically connect to your wireless network.

Once we managed to do all this, we were able to plug in the tiny Mac mini just about anywhere, press the power button, and within a couple of minutes we had an active, remote-controllable server attached to our network via AirPort. Pretty cool.

Can I add Bluetooth, AirPort, or both to the Mac mini later if I didn’t buy my system with any pre-installed wireless options?

Updated 1/24/05: Not easily. The Mac Mini’s wireless options live on a small daughtercard attached to the system’s motherboard (see photo below). If you order a Mac mini with no wireless options, you don't get a daughtercard or any external antenna. If you ordered a Mac mini with just Bluetooth, you could perform some serious surgery and install an AirPort card later -- but you might need to hack your own antenna for it. It's probably not worth the drama. You can always seek professional help from an authorized Apple specialist or an Apple retail store if you need to install either or both after the fact. The good news is, the wireless options are upgradeable on this model, so you're not stuck tomorrow if you opt out of AirPort today.

Mac mini wireless daughtercard

So the short answer to your question is: sometimes. But even if it is possible, we wouldn’t recommend it for the faint of heart. If you’re planning on using Bluetooth or AirPort on the Mac mini at any point during its life, just order it now and save yourself the trouble.

Did you really take apart a Mac mini all the way down to the bare motherboard?

Yes we did.

Could I rip out the hard drive and install a new one?

Updated 1/24/05: Probably, although it would be a huge amount of work, requiring the removal of the Mini's black plastic drive/fan enclosure, and then some scary removal of items from said enclosure in order to get to the screws on the right side of the drive.

Instead, might we suggest an elegant external FireWire hard drive?

Apple said there were 4200 rpm hard drives in the Mac mini. Is that true?

Updated 1/24/05: Components can vary. For example, the RAM in two of our Mac minis is actually PC3200 running at 333MHz, rather than standard PC2700 RAM. Likewise, the one Mac mini we've deconstructed actually had a 5400 rpm drive inside (a Seagate ST940110A)... but that doesn't mean yours will. Like most computer-makers, Apple doesn't generally talk about the parts it uses and those parts can vary from computer to computer.

Does the Mac mini have an audio-in jack? How about digital audio out?

Updated 1/24/05: No and no. For both, consider an external USB or FireWire device that supports audio input or digital audio output.

Is the Mac mini underpowered?

No, but as our lab tests show, it's also not a G5. It's about as fast as you might expect from a 1.25GHz or 1.42GHz G4 PowerBook, iBook, or eMac. The hard drive is a little poky.

I’ve got a VGA monitor. Will the Mac mini work with it?

Yes. The Mac mini comes with a DVI-to-VGA adapter. It’s a small plastic block you push onto the DVI connector. If you want to attach it tightly, just turn the two plastic wheels on either side of the adapter to turn the screws that will attach it firmly to the back of the Mac mini. Remember, clockwise to tighten, counter-clockwise to loosen.

I’ve got a USB keyboard and mouse from a PC. Will they work with the Mac mini?

Yes indeed. The mouse’s second button (and scroll wheel if it’s got one) are natively supported in Mac OS X. You might want to use uControl to swap the Windows and Alt keys, because otherwise you’ll keep pressing Option when you mean to press Command.

If I buy a Mac mini, do I get iLife ’05?

Yes you do—but at least in these early Mac mini models, iLife ’05 doesn't come preinstalled on the hard drive. (iLife ’04 is on there.) Instead, you get two iLife ’05 discs (one DVD, one CD-ROM) and will need to install it yourself.

Is the Mac mini noisy?

It seems pretty quiet to us. Different people will have different sensitivities to noise, of course. However, the optical drive is a bit noisy, and that when you’re heavily working the Mac mini’s processor, its fan can really crank up. So the noise of a Mac mini may vary quite a bit, depending on how you’re using it.

Isn’t the Mac mini just an eMac without a screen?

That’s not quite fair, but a lot of the specs are similar. Witness:

Wait, wait! I have more questions!

We’d be happy to answer them. Ask them by leaving a comment in this thread in the Macworld Forums.

For more on the Mac mini, visit our Mac mini page.

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