Why the Mac Mini sucks for MythTV/PVR

9 Comments | This entry was posted on Nov 17 2008

I bought the mac mini for a few reasons:
1. It is very small and very quiet
2. It looks good with my AV equipment
3. There are a lot of accessories that match the looks of the mini
4. It came with good enough specs for video playback and recording

The main problem I had was dealing with the small/slow hard drive. So I wanted to upgrade that but here are some of the things I ran into.

First of all, the Mac Mini had almost everything I wanted (and some things I didn’t care about) built in. I wouldn’t need to add any features to the device unlike other small computers I was looking at. Most other small computers came with almost everything I needed except one or two thing, built in IR for a remote or firewire. These were requirements for me. I know I could have used a USB -> IR adapter but I wanted this computer to look a little less DIY than my last MythTV. And not having firewire seemed too complicated to try and add my own through expensive adapters.

My goal for the Mac Mini was to upgrade the internal hard drive and use an external 1 TB drive. The reason for this was storage and speed. The internal hard drive in the Mac Mini is only 5400 rpm and while that works fine for web pages and word documents, when reading and writing large media files all day it just would not be fast enough for the task. One option was to install the OS on the internal hard drive and use a external hard drive just for storage over USB but the CPU overhead of USB and the read/write speeds would just not cut it (internal SATA II is over 6 times faster than USB 2.0/Firewire 400). There also is no firewire 800 port so that wouldn’t work either. I tried following a walk through that someone else already did with a mini hard drive upgrade but apparently Apple has updated their device since this was done and adding a hard drive the same way is no longer possible. If this worked for you on a post Nov 2007 Mac Mini please let me know in the comments. The problem I had was the Mac Mini would never detect any hard drive outside of the chassis. I tried with multiple cables, hard drives (2.5″ and 3.5″) but never once was able to get OSX or Ubuntu installed on the bigger hard drive.

To break it down, the reasons the Mac Mini actually sucks for building your own PVR are these.
1. Slow (low storage) hard drive
2. Expensive features that are not needed but you don’t have a option but pay for. (OSX, iLife, Apple tax, etc.)
3. Hard to upgrade processor and memory

And these are the reasons I picked the AOpen over the Mac Mini.
Mac Mini uses a older 945GM chipset with 667 Mhz vs. GM45 chipset with 1066 Mhz, it uses a more power hungry 65nm (T5600/T7200) processor vs. 45nm (T8100 or any socket p processor you want), and GMA950 GPU vs. GMA X3100. Not really big deals considering both should have the ability to play back most 1080p content. But having updated specs just make things a little easier, and the ability to upgrade helps make the PVR future proof…well almost.

For anyone interested, here are some pictures of the steps I took to make the Mac Mini NOT work with an external eSATA 1 TB hard drive.

Sata to eSATA adapter. I was sent the wrong adapter and Microbarn would not accept the fact that this was a female SATA to male eSATA cable when I needed male to male. Even after sending them this picture. P.S. don’t order this, order this.
Adapter plugged into the Mac Mini SATA riser card with a male to male sata adapter I had to buy extra thanks to Microbarn. Maybe I just don’t understand male and female connectors. :)
SATA cable run inside the case. This wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. See the picture above for what it looked like coming out of a slightly modified Kensington lock hole.

Let me know how a Mac Mini is working out for you as a PVR or what other machine you bought as a substitute in the comments.

MythTV…another build

0 Comments | This entry was posted on Nov 16 2008

So I have really been missing the ability to record/rewind/pause TV. I haven’t had a full time MythTV box for over a year and a half. I sold my old MythTV computer and had been saving the money till something perfect came out to use as a fast and quiet MythTV computer and samba server. I actually bought a Mac mini about 2 months ago in an effort to get it working with a external hard drive for speed and storage. Needless to say, Apple did a good job of making the Mac mini too annoying to try and get it to work the way I wanted it to. I will post a little on my experience there later.
So I returned the mini and found the AOpen mp45-dr. It is about the same size as the mac mini (technically smaller) and it came bare bones. This is great because I could either get the same specs as the mini for cheaper or I could improve the parts I wanted to improve and not get the “features” I didn’t need (like internal wifi or internal laptop hard drive). Unfortunately, the mp45 had one thing I really needed to complete my HTPC, firewire. I looked around to see if I could get firewire out of the eSATA port or one of the two internal PCIe mini ports but I couldn’t find anything that would work the way I wanted and I needed firewire to record premium HD shows from my cable STB. So I found the mp945-dr which is just the older model of the same computer. It looks almost exactly the same but has a slightly slower video card, no eSATA port, and slower chipset (which included a slower FSB). When I really looked at it though, the parts it came with would be plenty for what I needed and so I used the money from my MythTV sale (and a few other side projects) and bought the AOpen mp965-dr.
Here is my build.
AOpen mp965-dr (from
Intel Core 2 Duo T8100 (from newegg)
2GB Kingston Ram (from newegg)
WinTV-HVR-950 Tuner (from newegg)
1TB ministack v3 (from other world computing)
Sata -> eSATA cable (from mwave)
I also already had a HDHomerun tuner and firewire cable for a tuner from my STB.

I am excited to get this up and running again and will post my build as time goes on. Here is a quick rundown/reference to the sections I will be writing. I will update these later with links.
Part 1: Setting up the hardware
Part 2: Choosing the software
Part 3: Setting up software
Part 4: Using the machine day to day

Funny how that works.

2 Comments | This entry was posted on Jan 22 2008

I am not really trying to mix things up too much but I do find it very interesting that the weeks prior to MacWorld everyone was saying how much they would love to see a Mac Tablet and how great it would be to finally catch up with what the PC world has, without paying $2k+ for the Modbook.

And ever since the MacBook Air was announced everyone just said how awesome it would be to have a incredibly thin and light notebook would be. No more word on the tablet or all the other things they had wished would be there.

I also found it funny with the more powerful processors in the Mac Pro’s and how that would just “get in the way” of all the other amazing things that were going to happen at MacWorld. But really most people, who don’t throw money at Apple, came away very disappointed in the whole thing. If you truly look back and see what Apple did announce, it was actually pretty sad. Updated hardware and movie rentals is all I really saw. That is something that every company does. No company would go on stage and announce a thicker and slower notebook, or a inferior desktop. Every time there is a press release it is because something is faster, thinner, lighter, or just plain better than its predecessor.

Apple is supposed to innovate beyond just making something slightly better. The fact that they don’t do that really just makes them another company.

I really look forward to the coming ~6 months when a couple companies follow suit and build thin driveless machines but they don’t sell well. The really smart companies will watch how the MacBook air does and see that it won’t sell incredibly well, especially at its current price, and they will continue to make thinner, lighter, faster notebooks at a cheaper price.