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February 14, 2005

Hot Mac mini love, now online

46 pounds of Mac mini
The response to the Mac mini has been even more insane than I thought it could be. I've had mine a little over a week now, and I almost feel like there's nothing more to be said about this awesome little box. Of course, I've never let that stop me before, so here goes...

There were a few people who didn't believe me when I said I was going to buy a mini with my spare change, so the evidence is at right: $586 in rolled change, that's been laying in an undisclosed location for at least a year, gradually building up. I weighed it, and it's 46 lbs. of change, converted into just under 3 lbs. of Mac-y goodness.

As of tonight, the mini is my new internet-facing server. It's taken over for a 450 mhz K6-2 Linux box that's 17 x 15 x 9 with a 230-watt power supply (I have no idea what it actually draws, but newer boxes have much beefier power supplies than even that). For comparison, the mini is 6.5" x 6.5" x 2", and has an 85-watt external power supply, so in no circumstances will it draw as much power or generate as much heat as the box it's replacing. It will also stay up longer when pulling power off a UPS.

iServe at homeThat's it at left. The iPod box is for scale only; Apple says not to block the top of the mini. Also, don't eat Mac mini.

I bought a second mini for work; we've been looking for a project box we could quickly set up and tear down, and the mini looks like just the thing. The work machine is a 1.42/80/256, where my home mini is 1.25/40/512. They might also replace small-form-factor PCs in some of our field installs; we've piloted using a Cappuccino PC, but they're slightly larger and significantly more expensive than the mini. I just configured a Cappuccino EZ3 with Pentium III, 1 gHz, with Bluetooth, only 256 megs of memory, a 40 gig hard drive, and a combo drive, and it priced at $814. My mini with all that and twice the memory was $624. Their Mocha system offers a Pentium IV at 2 gigahertz and 512 megs of RAM for $1,035.

Some early buyers are reporting video issues when using VGA connectors, but I can't really see them on mine. I'm generally working the mini through my G5 and VNC, but it's also (for now, at least) running a 17" Sony CRT, and I've been able to get the CRT looking very good -- the whites are noticeably whiter than my LCD.

Software setup has been a breeze. The primary duties of that Linux box were to filter outbound web requests by the kids, serve images and redirects from my old weblog, pre-TypePad, serve some ads from Amazon, and manage my dynamic DNS address at DynDNS. None of what I'm doing here is unique to the Mac mini in any way. All of this will run on any Mac that will run OS X.

The Linux box was running DansGuardian and Squid to filter the kids' web requests. Instead of a pure POSIX install, I found the OS X-targeted distribution at Dave Lopata's website. It includes Squid, DansGuardian, and an AppleScript-driven management interface. The POSIX bits run as daemons, but you can do basic configuration and monitoring through the interface. And the Lopatas live just up the road in Buford, to boot.

I found a similar solution for DynDNS: DNSUpdate. It installs as a background daemon, but you can add users and hosts through a Cocoa front end.

And that's also how the latest version of OSXvnc (1.5) works. I fired it up, had it install the daemon, and rebooted. Later, I fired it up again, and it wagged its finger at me: "OSXvnc can't listen on the specified port. Probably because the OSXvnc server is already running as a startup item." I've connected through several different clients without a hitch.

MovableType installed almost without a hitch. I took the opportunity to install MT 3.15, where the old box had 2.63, because I never figured out how to delete unwanted pingbacks in 2.63, and 3.15 has a control for that. I used the directions at Lawver.net. I transferred all those redirects and images using Panic's Transmit. I still don't have outbound e-mail working -- I tried Adriaan's suggestions for enabling Postfix under Panther, but Earthlink blocks outbound requests on port 25. Their status message suggests they may open relays on a case-by-case basis, but I guess I'll wait another day or two for that.

On the Unix/BSD side, I've decided to use DarwinPorts to manage downloading and installing applications. So far, I've fully installed Webalizer, and downloaded Apache 2.0.52. I'm still pondering if I want to migrate to Apache 2; I did almost 2 years ago on the Linux box, but on the Mac, I don't want to give up the integration with user accounts, Rendezvous, and so on that Apple has baked in, so I'm going to tiptoe through that upgrade.

February 14, 2005 in Apple - Mac mini, iServe and home servers | Permalink


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If I got one, I would be too busy playing with it on the inside of the firewall to use *as* the firewall.

Alas, mini love will be slow to come to my house: I foresee a replacement for ye olde G3 iMac coming before that. I will be reading over the links you reference I haven't used, though.

So no interest in trying WordPress, eh?

Posted by: paul at Feb 14, 2005 8:39:59 AM

Re: email out over an Earthlink broadband connection: I'm currently running an iServe-y machine (which got help and inspiration from your blog here - thanks!). I've found that using a home machine as a Postfix SMTP server is asking for trouble. I got it working, but lots and lots of email services blocked the messages and it caused me no end of trouble for a couple weeks (including some real bad miscommunications with an ex-girlfriend). I find that a better, if somewhat less practical solution, it to open an ssh port-forwarding tunnel from a remote machine to the iServe, and thereby use Earthlink's own SMTP server from anywhere on the planet. Some info I used to set up the tunnels is here:

And tunnels are more convenient if you forego passwords and use ssh with an RSA key pair. Some info here:

Posted by: silas at Feb 24, 2005 3:24:14 AM

I am curious if there is any difference in the noise levels between the 1.25 and 1.42 models.

I've just bought a 1.42 GHz model and find that the fan does remain on all the time (albeit quietly). When the fan does crank up to full, it is a catastrophe as Russell Beattie notes. So far in my case that seems to be qutie rare. I am more interested in just the idling sound. If the 1.25 GHz doesn't run a fan at all in idle that would be interesting and possibly worth the trouble of an exchange.

What is your experience owning both?

Posted by: Alec at Feb 26, 2005 7:50:11 PM