Mac Mini and Front Row Reviewed

March 08, 2006

My new Intel Duo Core Mac Mini
I sometimes grief Apple for what I perceive as marketing ploys or overpriced crap and the fact that it sometimes seems to be helmed by an irrational hegemon who dresses like a flood victim, but I dollaz speak louder than blogposts, and I recently purchased the Intel Duo Core Mac Mini. As I've used the little device for about a week now, I figured it was time for the inevitable review (and plus, I've been pretty light on the blog content this week, so what the hell).

While my 12" Powerbook is only about a year and a half old, my headless linux server was pushing 6 years (which is like a hundred in computer years), and after my last move, I think I jostled it to the point that I couldn't rely on it for basic operations like serving web pages, acting as an ftp server, etcetera. I'd been planning to replace it since November or so, but I put on the brakes expecting Jobs to announce an update to the line shortly. When he announced the new Mac Minis, I was pretty happy with the announced specs, save for the crappy graphics card; and as I was primarily planning to use this for non-graphics intensive operations, I went ahead and ordered the diminutive box within the first hour of its announcement. It arrived much faster than I expected; not only did it ship the same day that I ordered it, but it was delivered in 2 days despite the fact that I selected 5 day shipping. I've heard that this is a common experience among people who order in-stock products the same day they are announced.

First off, I found the Rosetta performance to be acceptable. Even before I installed the 1GB of RAM I ordered separately, I found the performance of most apps to be responsive if run by themselves. Non-Universal binary applications like Photoshop were not noticeably slow, and were certainly usable even with the translation hit.

Frontrow Tunes
Though I didn't think much of it from Steve's original announcement, I really took to Front Row. The interface is very clean, and just animated enough to let you know that it is being responsive. Before I installed the extra RAM, though, the performance was abhorrent, so you definitely need at least 1 GB of RAM to be using this without a noticeable lag. Once I had the extra RAM it ran great, and it was a ton of fun to browse through my music, photos, and video files in this way. I'm definitely going to be using this as my fullscreen music player of choice, and I plan on using it to view downloaded tv shows, and the like.

My main criticisms of the system as a whole are:
  1. iTunes must be used to organize movie files in Front Row, and there is no clean way of labeling movie files as "tv shows" or "music videos"

  2. Movie files must be playable in Quicktime, which leaves out a lot of the good bittorrentable files that require obscure codecs.

  3. Front Row's interface is just similar enough to the iPod to really irritate a heavy user of both. Aside from the wheel differences, the fact that you can't rate songs while listening to the songs in FrontRow is really annoying.

All in all though, the Mac Mini has restored my faith in Steve Jobs' ability to pour our Kool-Aid. Drink up, Mac whores!

Set the cover aside
UPDATE: I've uploaded the pictures of the RAM install job to Flickr. It gets pretty gory...


Written by Will who lives and works in New York. You should follow him on Twitter.