Archive for October 9th, 2006

Firmware update on Mac Mini (Early 2006)

Monday, October 9th, 2006

The first thing I did with my Mac Mini (Intel Solo) was to do the automatic software update, which sounds like a no brainer. However, after rebooting, the system did not come up! I re-installed everything with the DVD media, and tried again. Boom! No luck! Still no boot. This was a blow to me, and I had to sit down and think more carefully before applying all the patches.

The possible reason for the problem may come from the needed firmware update. There might be a conflict between the old firmware and the new 10.4.8 combo update.

Anyway, there are TWO firmware updates that are needed:
SMC 1.0 update and Firmware 1.0.1 update.

Make sure you read the guide. It is not that long! The first update is automatically applied after rebooting and the process is very quick. However, the second one requires you to hold the power button for 10 seconds after the system shuts off. You will see the LED blink and then the update will start.

With these two firmware updates, you can now apply all the software patches with no worry and even try out the Boot Camp (it needs the latest firmware and 10.4.8) to install Windows!

Mac Mini mania

Monday, October 9th, 2006

The UCSD bookstore had a batch of Mac Minis on sale for $299. It was an amazingly hot deal, considering that the bookstore is usually over-priced. The Mac Mini comes with Intel Core Solo (single-core 1.5 GHz) CPU, 512MB DDR2 memory, 60GB 5400rpm hard drive, built-in Gigabit ethernet, bluetooth, airport wireless 802.11g, speaker, optical audio input/output, 1 firewire port and 4 USB2.0 ports. It is super small and compact. The bundled Apple remote for Front Row makes this beauty just irresitible.

However, my plan for this machine is not to use this as a media center, but actually run Windows XP. It is weird, I know, getting a Mac to run Windows! At work, my PowerMac G5 can handle most of the stuff I do, but I still need a small machine to run the occasional tasks that require Windows. With this Intel-based Mac Mini, I managed to install Apple’s Boot Camp software, and successfully dual-booted into Windows XP.

Performance of this little box surprised me. With Windows XP, the user interface is quite responsive even at the highest screen resolution (1900 by 1200 on the 23 inch Apple cinema display). When running Mac OS X, the 512MB memory becomes a bottleneck. The UI runs a bit slow and you can see the memory swallowed by the system quite easily. Upgrading to at least 1GB of memory might be necessary if you are going to run OS X most of the time.
Anyway, my impression so far with the Mini is pretty good. It is not as fast and responsive as the latest models with dual-core intel chips, but for a small browsing machine and a media center for the living room, $299 is a steal. The Front Row, media center software from Apple, is quite cool and definitely the way to go in the future for a multimedia computer.
To conclude, I’d like to share my unofficial performance comparison using Xbench (Mac OS X):

Mac Mini Intel Solo : 72.51
PowerMac G5 Dual 2.5GHz: 82.24

The scores are surprisingly close!

A check into the detailed benchmark comparison (here) indicates that the Intel Solo CPU scored much lower than the dual G5′s. But the integrated graphics card in the Mac Mini turned out quite strong with User Interface performance and OpenGL, when compared to the ATI Radeon 9800 Pro card in the PowerMac G5.

Mac Mini and PowerMac