Don’t Underestimate the Mac Mini

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.

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