Mini-me?

My PC at home had been a bit noisy for the last several months. Whenever I would turn it on, it would make this nice grinding noise that would continue for about 5 or 10 minutes before it would finally get quiet. It was a bit annoying but since it eventually quieted down, it was tolerable.

As of late though, it started to just stay noisy from poweron until poweroff. Well, maybe it didn't really get worse, but I noticed it more. This was probably due to being used to having a nice, silent SunRay in my home office as well as in the Sun office. In any case, I was able to rule out the harddrives as being a problem and it came down to the fan on my video card.

My PC is an old 800MHz Athlon from at least 5 years ago. It chuggs along pretty well under Solaris 10 for x86, JDS 2 and Win2k. Actually, Solaris 10 and JDS work quite well on it. Win2k was starting to give me problems.

Along the lines of "Everything worked until I upgraded" I picked up a copy of Roller Coaster Tycoon 3. I figured I was good to go because my hardware was a bit more than the minimum requirements. I found out that the hardware was OK, but the software wasn't. Loading RCT3, I had to update DirectX. Firing up RCT3 after that, I found that it complained that DirectX wouldn't work with my video card? No good.

My video card was a Nvdia GEForce2 GTS based card. That chip is supposed to work with the latest DirectX. So, I downloaded the latest Nvidia drivers and things magically work. This is good.

However, the new problem is that I get static on my sound now. iTunes gets static when I change window focus. Even Quicken's few startup sounds have static on them. This is no good. Good old plug-and-pray again. No way of assigning interrupts that I can find under Windows.

Solaris and JDS again have no problems. The last time I had a sound issue under Windows, I wound up re-loading the OS.

Hardware problems plus a software issue plus a 5+ year old machine means go buy a new computer.

I was going to go buy a computer for my grandmother anyways. (She broke her printer and the crufty old PC that she had doesn't have any USB ports on it and there aren't any printers that I can find with parallel ports anymore anyways.) Also, when your grandmother complains that her computer is slow you know that its time to get a new one.

Those that work with me in the Sun Office know that I've become quite a Mac advocate lately when it comes to home machines. In the year and a half since my wife and I bought her 15" Powerbook G4, I have yet to see it lock-up or crash. It just kinda works. Also, the ease of use of iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, and iDVD which are bundled make it simple and powerful to use. I compare this to trying to figure out how to get my mother-in-law's digital camera to behave correctly on their PC using the bundled software that came with the camera.

In any case, I've been looking at Macs for a while. Sun gets a nice discount on Macs. (For Sun internal people, go take a look at http://webhome.central/sunmacusers ) I was surprised to find that the discount is, in several cases, as good if not better than the educational discount. I wonder if Sun gives Apple a discount as well?

Since we already had a good monitor for my grandmother and she has limited space where her computer sits and I wanted something inexpensive, the Mac mini seemed like a very good fit. Going with the 1.25GHz with 512MB of memory was good. I got one of those.

For myself, I was torn between buying a new PC or going with the Mac. Running an x86 box would be nice because I could put Solaris 10 on it. Unfortunately, no iTunes or Quicken for Solaris. I'd be tempted by the dark side and would likely wind up putting that on too. No good there.

I decided to get me a Mac. I was debating about going with one of the PowerMac G5's. The problem with that was when I was done with what I wanted with a gig of memory I was looking at about $2500. I had a hard time justifying that to myself. (My wife, on the other hand, was saying go for it, which was strange.) It would have been really cool to have that much horsepower, but I though of the power drain. It would spend most of its life playing iTunes. I guess that I've been listening to Jonathan too much and the Sun Grid (The picture in the Sun Grid banner is of downtown Minneapolis by the way.)

One of the iMac's would have been neat too. I just bought a new LCD monitor and that didn't make much sense. I was thinking cheap. I've got lots of projects to do around the house so saving money would be a good idea.

So I convinced myself that the Mac mini would be good. I waited until after Tiger released on Friday, April 29th and went the next day. I picked up a maxed out mini. 1.42GHz, 1GB memory, SuperDrive, 80GB harddrive, Wireless and Bluetooth.

I plugged it into my Sun USB keyboard from a SunRay and hooked up the wireless mouse that I had on my PC and life is good. I was hoping it would be a bit larger than it is. I figured I could set my LCD flatpanel on it, but its smaller than the base! It does fit on top of the desk under the speakers and is quite quiet.

I was pleasantly surprised that it came with Quicken 2005 for Mac on it. This wasn't the demo version either. Since Quicken lists for about $70, that's a very good deal along with the whole iLife suite and I'm good to go. I did pick up a copy of the Starcraft Battle Chest and the Warcraft III Battle Chest too. I guess that I'm getting old because I didn't really care that the mini didn't meet the Doom III requirements.

Comments:

I bought a mac mini(or as I like to call it, minimac!) the day after they went on sale. This was the first mac I've purchased (due partly to no budget as I'm just out of college and having a hard time finding a job in my area) and after using it since it arrived at my house, I wonder why I bought a new PC back in November at all. I use it for just about anything ranging from Netbeans for my home projects to Python for fun stuff to World of Warcraft(which runs fine on it!).

Funny thing to me is I live in a house where everyone loves computers and we have 3 CS majors and 1 Philosophy type major, and they all come and use my mac. In fact, one of my roommates comes in and plays World of Warcraft with me and trys to get me to use my PC cause he likes to play on the MiniMac better, not sure why as the PC toasts it in visual quality due to more ram & a far superior video card, but I do agree with him as I kick him off it usually! No explination for it, just happens that way.

As for the size, everyone who's heard I have a mac scuffs at me and doubts that it is as small as it is, yet whenever they see it its almost jaw dropping to them due to the simplicity and clean looking design, not to mention that it fits under the edge of my lcd's. My next laptop will most likely be a powerbook, but not until I get a good job... Which seems all to rare now days.

One thing I found lately was that there is a free program called Adium (I think thats correct, at work currently), which allows you to connect to all IM systems. Pretty nifty little thing, and the duck icon for it is pretty spiffy too! Now to just get Tiger(OSX) & Tiger(J2SE) on it.

Posted by Jeff on May 04, 2005 at 05:27 AM CDT #

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About

Phil is an Area Technical Engineer in the Central Area of Oracle's Field Service in North America. He has 15 years of experience supporting Sun's entire product line.

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