Article: Recycling a Mac mini

by on June 30, 2009

As many of our regular readers know, a G4-based Mac mini was my primary computer from March 2005 until August 2008. A few months after I got my MacBook Pro, I decided it was time to put the Mac mini out to pasture. Although many would regard it as a “low-end” model, I put in quite a few hours editing video on Final Cut Express and doing everyday computing tasks (including designing/administering SchwarzTech).

Actually, I stopped using it once I got my data transferred off of it, and it sat unused for most of the last year (in my defense, things were a bit busy and I didn’t have time to tinker). About 4 months ago I decided to take it out of its box (yeah, I saved everything) and give it a new lease on life. My “home theater” setup was rather basic at the time — an ancient 27″ SD analog TV, a Sony receiver, a Sony DVD player, a Panasonic DVD recorder, and a Panasonic VCR. The Mac mini connected to this setup with the Apple DVI-to-composite video adapter provided to be quite nice, although a bit blurry. Using a mix of Leopard’s Screen Sharing feature and teleport, I had full control of the Mac mini with my MacBook Pro.

This setup worked well for streaming media over the Internet or my MacBook Pro, but that was about it. As it was a first-generation Mac mini, there was no remote or ability to add an official Apple one (why they didn’t make remotes Bluetooth-based is beyond me). Fortunately, I was able to pick up an old TV tuner (a Plextor model, similar to the model we reviewed, but a PC model that had EyeTV software added later) from a friend. It only had an analog tuner, so would be useless for over-the-air broadcasts by June, but would work fabulously with my analog cable. I could now use the Mac mini to record my favorite shows that I’d want to save, as opposed to my DVD recorder which was more for a watch-and-delete scenario.

Again, the lack of a remote and “large screen” interface kept the Mac mini from being a major player in my living room, but my TV decided to die at the end of May. I decided to take the plunge and pick up a new HDTV (an LG model), so the Mac mini got an upgrade of sorts as well. I could now connect it to the TV with a DVI-to-HDMI cable. The Mac mini was able to output a crystal-clear 1360×768 resolution on the TV, making navigating around the TV a bit easier. Still, it meant that I needed a wired keyboard and mouse to control things, meaning a couple of USB extension cables and an old Apple Pro Keyboard I had lying around.

The Mac mini was pretty good for YouTube, watching and recording TV shows, and streaming music/media from my MacBook, but I wanted to use it for more things. Unfortunately, Hulu had issues, due to the G4 processor and Adobe Flash not agreeing the best (I blame Flash), but was still watchable. One really cool use I found was to use my MLB Gameday Audio subscription mixed with Yahoo GameChannel to create a pretty usable way to follow Cubs games not televised in my area.

Finally, I picked up (reviews to follow eventually?) an Apple Bluetooth Keyboard and a Rocketfish Bluetooth Laser Mouse — it was on sale for $25 — to allow control of my Mac mini from anywhere in my living room. The keyboard is excellent for this use, due to its small size (although I would’ve loved a MacBook-like MultiTouch trackpad in the mix). Programming Front Row to be activated via F5 allowed me to use the keyboard almost like an oversized remote.

Right now, there isn’t much else that I’ve found uses for the Mac mini, but I’m open to suggestions.

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