Don’t Underestimate the Mac Mini

21 April 2008

Last year I upgraded my G5 to improve iTunes performance. As noted in that post, I achieved only moderate performance gains. The G5 was always pretty good at encoding with Handbrake, but now that I have added a number of tweaks to get better quality output, it was taking a very long time to encode video (about 18 hours for a 22-minute TV episode). That’s a little non-viable.

I was impressed that my MacBook Air was ripping video slightly faster than the G5. It’s Apple’s slowest machine, at 1.6GHz. I started to think that a Mac Mini would give me modest improvements on that, and because I appeared to have some hardware issues on the G5 with USB ports going offline, system lock-ups, etc., I decided to replace it now with a Mac Mini rather than wait for the next update to the line.

Given that I have plenty of external storage and an external DVD drive, I decided to save a little money and bought the entry-level 1.83GHz model, with 80Gb hard drive and combo optical. This is the slowest desktop Apple currently produces, so I wasn’t expecting it to be much better than the G5. It turns out that with most operations (opening windows, navigating through iTunes, etc.) it isn’t much different. I was starting to get a little buyer’s remorse when I ripped a TV episode to test it.

I had to check very carefully that it had produced a playable file of the entire episode because it ripped it about 5 times as fast as the G5! I was astonished at the difference, so impressed in fact that I considered buying another one just to rip video. It turns out that the MacBook Air was turning off one of its cores under the load of ripping, thus accounting for the lacklustre performance compared to the only slightly faster Mini.

Of course it comes five years of development time after the G5, so that dampens the surprise a little, but I think this proves that the Mac Mini is a pretty good performer despite its position in the product hierarchy, and you should consider it.


I Just Bought My First Song on Apple TV!

5 April 2008

Fly Me Away

I was excited about this possibility when 2.0 came around but could not buy anything from the iTunes Store. I would get to the point where the Apple TV should be buying the item and I would get an error saying the iTunes Store could not be contacted. I gave up after strenuous effort.

It turns out that 2.0.1 appears to have fixed it and I’m now the proud owner of this Goldfrapp track. I think I’ll be spreading my purchases among my computers, iPod Touch and my beloved Apple TV, just for fun.

Apple TV 2.0.1: Small But Nice Enhancement

5 April 2008

Do you pause a video while playing just to see how much time has elapsed or how much time is remaining? I just noticed with 2.0.1, if you click the up button while playing, it displays the progress bar with the aforementioned times without interrupting playback. Small but nice enhancement.

Of course, I would prefer that the up and down buttons would change volume because my stereo remote is huge. I know why it doesn’t, though: it would require a variable line-out and volume is supposed to handled by the amp.

Update: I should have mentioned that if you’ve encoded your video with chapters using Handbrake, this tip will allow you to see the chapter titles, in addition to the times. It’s a small feature that DVD can’t match.

How Often Do You Sync Your iPods?

3 April 2008

I am aware that many users don’t sync for days or weeks. I recommend to these users that they sync more frequently. Personally, due to the daily changes to my iTunes library (mostly new podcasts), I sync daily, or to be precise, twice daily.

I run three iPods each day. My “road” iPod is a 3rd-Gen Nano, which is my main podcast iPod, so it has every unplayed podcast and the rest is filled by the last-added music and unplayed audiobooks. I have all my music on a 160Gb Classic that I use to store absolutely everything music-wise (no podcasts and the only video is music video) and I play anything I want from this at work. Finally, I have a 16Gb Touch that I use for the video and sometimes internet activity.

First sync occurs when I get home from work. I run all three through the process, then force a sync on the Apple TV to remove any played podcasts from it. I then play content on the Apple TV during the evening. I don’t use my iPods at home. At the end of the evening, all three iPods are synced again to pick up any changes that occurred during the night (new podcasts, removal of played podcasts, music with altered tags and artwork, new music and video, etc.). In this way all the iPods are always ready with the right content, charged and ready to go.

Too many times have I seen iPodders run out of juice during the day, have content that they’ve played over and over until they’re sick of it and with out-of-date iPods. Frequent syncing is the answer!