Mac Mini

Oh yes.

My new Mac Mini

Update (late, late in the evening): Oh no.

What’s good:

  • It works.
  • It’s beautiful.
  • Q: whereis ruby? A: /usr/bin/ruby. Yum.

What’s bad:

  • My shiny new 21″ flat panel monitor has died on me. Well, partly died. It’s not accepting any signals over DVI any more, only VGA. Crap. Fortunately, it’s still well within its warranty period.
  • The Mini isn’t automatically detecting the monitor’s native resolution of 1680 x 1050, and I don’t know enough about OS X to change the resolution to something non-standard. So I’m running in crappy 1400 x 1050 fuzz-o-vision right now.
  • Actually, I don’t know enough about OS X, period. (How does this dock thing really work? What’s the right way to install applications?) Anyone with Mac experience care to recommend a decent book?
  • I got myself a new Apple Pro keyboard aaaaand….mmmm…not convinced yet. I like the keyboard action, but I don’t like not having anythere to rest my right hand’s fingers nearby the arrow keys without them getting caught in the grooves.
  • And what the hell’s up with putting the @ sign over the number 2 key? Yuck. (Again, anyone with Mac experience…please point me in the direction of a keyboard remapping utility.)
  • And the mental gymnastics of getting used to a different set of command keys… Yurkle.

Preparing for a Mac Mini

With apologies to those of you who think I should just SHUT UP AND BUY THE DAMN THING ALREADY, it’s much more complicated than that. For a start, there’s the whole issue of peripheral devices: keyboards, mice, monitors, external drives, iPods, printers, etc. It struck me the other day that the Mac Mini only has two USB ports, and one firewire port. It also only has an audio out jack, with no way to simply connect a 3.5mm-plug microphone. Given that I’m aiming for a dual PC/Mac setup, this is going to require some thought and planning.

My current plan involves the acquisition of three new items:

  • 4-port USB switching hub. There are several models on the market, and they’re substantially cheaper than a decent KVM switch. Also, my monitor is a widescreen LCD panel running at 1680 x 1050. Most analog KVM switches will handle a video signal of that resolution, but analog KVM switches also make your picture look like shit. And reasonably priced digital switches currently don’t do more than 1600 x 1200.
  • Either a PS2-to-USB adapter for my current (PS2) keyboard, or a new USB keyboard. The adapters aren’t cheap, and buying a new keyboard might even cost less. The problem with this is finding a keyboard I like. (Also, the question of whether to get a Mac or a PC keyboard comes into play. because they use different command and option keys to the left and right of the keyboard. Which option will be less confusing?)
  • A USB microphone. The Labtec mike I bought last month is a 3.5mm job, and that’s not gonna fly any more.

And they all fit together thusly:

  • Big (300GB) external hard drive: stays connected to PC via FireWire. PC will act as a file server over the network.
  • Printer: stays connected to PC via USB. PC will also act as a print server.
  • Audio out: I run the stereo output from my PC to an amp under my desk which drives my desk speakers. The Mac’s audio output will just go to another set of inputs on the amp. Switching audio between machines will require changing the dial on the amp.

  • External DVD writer (LG GSA-5163D): this has one FireWire connector, and two USB connectors. I think I can have this connected to the Mac and the PC at the same time. It’ll go to a free FW port on the PC, and directly to one of the Mac Mini’s two USB ports. Burning DVDs reliably requires good data throughput, and I don’t want any it to hiccup on any USB hubs in the middle.
  • USB switching hub connects to a free USB port on the PC, and the second USB port on the Mini.
  • Mouse, keyboard, and microphone: these all connect directly to the USB switching hub, so they flip back and forth between the Mac and PC.
  • Monitor: the Dell 2005 FPW has lots of different inputs, so it’s going to get a VGA cable from the PC, and a DVI cable from the Mini. (This may change depending on the signal quality from each machine, and which one I end up using more often.) Switching between video signals will be a matter of toggling a button on the monitor. The monitor is also a 4-port USB hub, so its upstream eand gets plugged into the remaining port on the USB switch. That way everything connected to the monitor can also flip between Mac and PC.
  • Media card reader, USB flash memory hard drives, and phone: will all plug into a USB port on the monitor when needed.
  • iPod: will connect to the FireWire port on the Mac Mini. For some reason, my iPod refuses to charge from a USB cable. And before you say it, yes, it’s definitely a powered USB cable I’ve been trying. I’ve tried it on several different machines, in fact, and it barfed on all of them. This is doubly annoying because (for noise reduction reasons) my PC is in a different room than my desk, and the FireWire cable that comes with an iPod doesn’t stretch that far. The Mini, however, will sit on my desk, and the iPod can snuggle up to it when it’s feeling lonesome.

…And all of this is before I’ve even got started on the new software I’ll need…