What I Did With an Older Mac Mini

intel_mac_miniOne of my brothers gave me his old Apple Mac Mini that he had replaced with a newer version. I thought I could perhaps replace my current web server with the Mac Mini and save some money on electricity. The current server, which runs 24/7, has an Intel Core 2 Duo with 4 GB RAM and 4.5 TB of hard disk storage.

I bought a 3 TB USB disk for $120, and a USB keyboard and mouse for $30. The server needs two Ethernet ports, one to connect to the WAN, and one to connect to the house LAN. The Mac Mini has a single built-in Ethernet port and a wireless Ethernet chip. Using wireless is not really good for a server, so my brother gave me a USB-to-Ethernet adapter to get the second wired Ethernet port. He also put a 750 GB disk inside the Mini to replace the original 60 GB disk. That gave me 3.7 TB of disk storage, which was less than the current sever, but enough.

So, for $150, I had my new low-power server.

The web server hosts

  • five separate websites, of which saveandconquer.com is one
  • a mail server for the five web domains
  • an incremental backup server to backup all computers on our house LAN. (That’s the reason I need so much disk storage.)
  • a streaming music server sending music and podcasts to three stereos in the house.

I installed Ubuntu Linux on the Mini, and cloned all the data from the old server. I wired the Mini in the old server’s place and let it rip. It turns out the load was just too much for the Mini. The Mini is one of the first Mac Minis to have an Intel CPU in it. The computer’s official designation is a Mac Mini 1,1. It contains an Intel Core chip, but it’s not anywhere near as powerful as current Intel CPUs.

So, now the question is what to do with the Mac Mini. It turns out that it does have enough power to feed video streams to our HDTV. I removed of a bunch of server software that I wouldn’t need, like the email server, the web server, the SQL database software, WordPress, and the music server. I then installed XBMC.

From the XBMC website, “XBMC is an award-winning free and open source (GPL) software media player and entertainment hub that can be installed on Linux, OSX, Windows, iOS, and Android. It allows users to play and view most videos, music, podcasts, and other digital media files from local and network storage media and the internet.”

XBMC on the Mac Mini looks great. I have been working to put our collection of DVDs on the Mini, as well as all of our digital photos. (I actually just pointed it at the photos that are stored on our old server.) Now, where’s the popcorn? Mystery Science Theater 3000, anyone?


What do you do with old computers? Have you ever repurposed an old computer?


14 thoughts on “What I Did With an Older Mac Mini

  1. But why load linux onto the Mini? I run a web/mail/media server with six domains on a Mini using the standard Mac OS X – it’s BSD Unix under the pretty face and has Apache, Postfix, MySQL, etc. standard (although I compile and load the latest versions of everything). I’ve added a few extras on it, but none of them are very resource intensive. The Mini handles it with flying colors. The only real problem I have is low bandwidth since I live so far out in the sticks…

    1. Because Max OS X costs money, and Linux is free. I know all about OSX being Unix based. It runs a modified Mach kernel. That was one of the best moves that Jobs and his team of people from Next ever did.

      My main thought was to replace our home server with the Mini, and there are lots of settings files I would have to mess with to work with Mac OS that I just didn’t want to try to redo. Putting Linux on the Mini meant I could just copy all the settings files over with minimal, if any changes (mostly no changes). I really understand the Linux firewall and its settings. I could learn the Mac firewall, but why bother. The trick is to have the firewall block bad stuff from the Internet, but have it act as a network address translator (NAT) and pass-through server for computers on the house LAN. I know this can be set up in Mac OS X, but again, I did not want to have to learn how to redo something I have already configured on our main server.

      And then the Mini just didn’t have the CPU power required to run 1 pretty active website (save and conquer) 4 other websites, the Samba server for file and printer sharing, email serving, backup server, and whatever else I listed in the article. Emily and Dan also like to log onto the box, so they can surf the Web without firing up another computer. That can become a pretty good CPU load. I also log onto the server to do updates and maintenance.

      Of course, now that I have set up the Mini to be a video server for our family room TV, I am worried about backing up the large collection of videos that I just ripped from DVDs. So, I just bought a 4 TB disk to cram into our main server to hold video file backups. Cost of the disk was $150. I couldn’t have done that increase in capacity at that low cost with the Mac Mini. It is a neat little computer, though.

  2. Wow! You got a lot out of that older piece of technology! Being able to rework something you already have available is a great option. Nothing like making money spent long ago keep working for you today. I hope I can be that creative when I find my next piece of old technology.

    1. Hi Wallet Doctor, I appreciate your nice comment. I am still loading videos on the Mini and am working to figure out all the nuances of the XBMC video software. Like I want to lock my 13 year old kid out of being able to see the R-rated movies, and I haven’t figured that out yet.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. I always find it hard to put old technology out to pasture…..I always think of how awesome it seemed when i first got it, and think that there HAS to be a purpose for it somewhere. Looks like you’ve found just such a purpose for your mini. :)

    1. Hi Brock, That’s exactly how I feel. My Mac Mini was awesome in 2006. Of course my brother owned it back then.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  4. Awesome! I’m glad you’ve been able to use it in such a useful way. We don’t have any working older computers kicking around; we use our computers until they kick the bucket, and nobody has ever given us an old computer, but I guess if we had a spare one we’d use it as storage so that our primary computers weren’t the only things that hold all of the important documents and pictures!

    1. Hi Daisy, What do you use for computer backups? I know that many people hook on an external USB disk and run some sort of backup software, but that’s not good enough for me.

      I have all our computers backing up the user files once a day to our main server. The server also backs itself up to an external hard disk every day.

  5. I have a 2010 macbook pro and it’s sitting in a drawer right now. I want to sell it but it would cost me $500 to fix the issue with it, and I’m not sure I’d even get my money back if I tried to sell it for that. Such a shame, it still looks brand new!

    1. Hi Jessica, That’s a bummer about your MacBook Pro. Sometimes we have to just get rid of things that are really broken.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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