Daniel Groves

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The Setup

Published: 17 July 2013 · Tags: hardware

A response to all the people who keep asking about my MacMini, and other kit

Quite a few people have been querying me about the performance and, in general, how I have been getting on with the 2012 MacMini since I bought mine about six months ago. So, rather than continue with repeating myself, I thoughts I’d put something down in words. Doing this properly, I’ll try to cover each part of my setup so save having to do another one of these in a few weeks time.

My main workstation now is a 2012 MacMini Server. It has a 2.6GHz i7, with turbo-boost up to 3.6GHz. On arrival I upped the RAM from the base 4GB to 16GB of crucial stuff from Amazon for about £70. I opted for the server version so I could run two hard–drives, in-particular the two 256GB SSD option Apple offered which I configured on RAID0 (striping) on arrival.

I use a NetGear ReadyNAS for my main storage, this has a pair of Weston Digital 3TB Green drives in on RAID1 for data redundancy. I use a 27” Thunderbolt display.


Starting with the heart of the setup, the MacMini hasn’t missed a beat yet. It’s small, which is great for me as a student who has to move it several times a year; a full tower wouldn’t be too much of an issue but the size of the Mini is very convenient.

It has all of the connectivity I need (1x Gigabit ethernet, Firewire 800, HDMI, SDXC, Audio In/Out, Thunderbolt; 4x USB3), especially as most of my storage is now networked. I do however keep a 1.5TB USB drive connected for Time Machine, my iPad Dock and a lead for my iPhone. The connectivity is also extended further by the Thunderbolt display, but more on that later.

The CPU is more than powerful enough for my needs. It doesn’t struggle at all with what I’m throw at it (DVD encoding, normal a few virtual machines, general web development utilities, the last six weeks of work I’m yet to close). As a rather bad comparison it takes about 20 minutes to encode a DVD that takes over six hours on my 2008 2GHz dual-core MacBook.

Memory is an area that you do not want to pay Apple for. They’ll charge you about £240 for 16GB of RAM, however crucial will do you an upgrade kit for about £70, which takes less than a minute to install thanks to the simple twist-panel bottom on the MacMini which gives you direct access to the memory. The logic board should support 32GB of RAM happily if need in the future, but the 16GB modules are currently ridiculously expensive.

One of the most impressive benchmarks in the MacMini comes from the pair of SSDs. These numbers aren’t as big as the new generation of Macs using PCIe storage, but for SATA drives this is deeply impressive. On testing the Read/Write on the SSDs I bench marked just under 800MB/s for write, and just over 825MB/s read speed, that’s damn quick.

SSDs bench-marking 795.2MB/s write and 826.2MB/s read
Bench-marking the SSDS in Blackmagic Speed Test

The machine runs silent as well (thanks to the only moving part being the very quite fan, unless you push it) and is very power-efficient so I rarely turn it off. Come the end of the day I just sleep the machine, and can pickup where I left off the next day instantly. Even if you shut the machine down though it boots faster than I can walk to the kettle, so it doesn’t make a huge difference to the speed in which you can start working if you do choose to shut it down.

The only real down-side to the machine is the Intel4000 graphics chip. For day to day work this is fine, but it would be useless for gaming. To be fair, it’s not designed with gaming in mind so you have to expect this. Doing very graphics-intensive work on my Thunderbolt display can hit the frame-rates a bit, but it’s generally not too bad; I’m sure this wouldn’t be an issue with a lower-resolution display though. I wouldn’t like to run a second display off the chip alongside the Thunderbolt display though.

Thunderbolt Display

This bit will probably be pretty much the same as what absolutely everyone says about them. The display is simply gorgeous. The colour is spot on, as is the resolution. It may not have the worlds fastest response rates, but why does this matter unless you’re a gamer? It’s a good bright display, and having the ambient light sensor (as all of Apples displays now do) is a nice feature to protect your eyes as the room gets darker late in the day.

The display features a range of additional connectivity (1x gigabit ethernet, Firewire 800, Thunderbolt; 3x USB2) in the back which is automatically hooked up to any machine it is plugged into. It would be nice to see USB3 instead of USB2; I assume these weren’t upgraded as three USB3 ports would require 15GB/s of bandwidth, but the current generation of Thunderbolt is 10GB/s meaning this would create a bottleneck. I’d expect to see these upgraded when the next generation of 20GB/s Thunderbolt connections start to appear on Macs later in the year.

The speakers are surprisingly good for a display as well. This is a 49-watt 2.1 system, although it still doesn’t hold anything to a good-quality external set as would be expected.

Network Attached Storage

For network attached storage I’m using a NetGear ReadyNAS system. I bought this as an enclosure-only and put a pair of 3TB Western Digital ‘Green’ drives in on RAID1 for redundant storage. I don’t use the majority of the features in the ReadyNAS, so this will focus on those that I do.

Set-up was quick and painless, I activated the Samba and AFP share protocols, created one user and set-up three different shares.

  • Media’ — Public read-only, personal user can write to it
  • Dropbox’ — Public write-only, personal user can read from it
  • danielsgroves’ — Only accessible via my user

Transfer speeds seem reasonable, 35MB/s readwrite over gigabit ethernet. I’m aware that some of the Synolgoy units can hit 70MB/s, but they’re also quite a lot more expensive. This unit suit me fine though, and support time machine which I use for backups with my MacBook as this only has a small drive in anyway it doesn’t use up much space.

Other Bits

I use a Apple USB Superdrive for DVDs, this works fine although it could be faster. It is limited by USB though, and is faster than my last one so I won’t complain. Does exactly what it says on the tin.

My primary mouse is a Magic Mouse. I wasn’t too sure how I was going to get on with this as the multi-touch is a bit awkward initially. It’s great once you’ve gotten used to it though, and now I wouldn’t settle for anything else.

I also keep my Magic Trackpad handy. I like to swap mice sometimes when on a computer for long periods of times to help prevent wrist-strain. RSI is bad, and is certainly something that I want to avoid.

My keyboard is an Apple bluetooth one. I wouldn’t change this for the world, I love not having cables cluttering up my desk and it feels gorgeous to type on. Battery life is great to.

I keep my iPad 3 on the official Apple dock next to my Thunderbolt display, and keep a charging cable poking out from under the display for my iPhone. Partly to charge it, but partly to make using the Safari dev tools with it quicker, so I don’t have to go find the charger first.

I also have my trusty 2008 Unibody MacBook, kitted out with 8GB RAM and a 64GB SSD. This is great for when I need to do dev work which Diet Coda doesn’t suffice for on my iPad. Doesn’t get anywhere near the use it did get now though, as would be expected since I’ve got my MacMini and iPad now.

For me this set-up works perfectly. I use Unison to sync files between my MacBook and MacMini over the network and dropbox for more frequently changes small files.

If you’ve got any questions about any of the kit listed here leave a comment, I’ll try to get back to you.

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