I think I might be getting old, but it took me completely by surprise that the Mac Mini we use in our lounge room as our TV was 6 years old. It’s been such a great little machine. It lets us watch content from all over the Internet no matter where it is or what format it’s in. Netflix, YouTube, perfectly legit Open Source documentaries distributed on Bittorrent, iTunes, Amazon Video, catch up TV stations and even regular old terrestrial TV that is being beamed into our house. I know various nerds and geeks out there each have their own preferred setup for how to get this content onto a screen, but this was ours. One Mac Mini, one wireless keyboard and mouse and one 40″ TV. Perfect.
Well, perfect except that six years in this machine is very creaky. It needs a reboot every week or so (otherwise it will refuse to launch anything). The once super stable TV program we use (EyeTV) has started to flake out on us and in general it’s starting to turn into a hassle rather than a joy to watch content on it. No worries you might say, go to Apple and buy a new Mac mini! Except when you do, you quickly realise there’s something up with the Mac Mini:
Yes that’s right, it hasn’t been updated in 813 days…and the last update Apple made to them was mostly a downgrade in terms of performance. No one except the most desperate of people should even consider buying one of these things. The fact that Apple will still happily sell you a 2-3 year old computer for new prices is beyond insulting.
With the above in mind, I asked myself a question I haven’t really considered since switching to macOS (the artist formerly known as OS X) back in the early 2000’s. Do I actually need this computer to run macOS? I quickly realised I don’t. I need Chrome, I need a few basic apps and I need my Elgato EyeTV Diversity USB stick to be supported so I can watch TV. It turns out there’s another OS that has all those: Windows. I’ve had Windows 10 on a gaming PC I built over 6 months ago and I’ve not had a single problem with it. It’s never bothered me, needed rebooting because it was flakey or even broken a sweat doing all the things I’ve asked of it. I’m not a huge fan of the aesthetic or DOS roots of Windows, but none of those really matter for this device. I just need a small, quiet machine that will do all the things the current Mac mini does. But surely Windows PCs are all great big clunking behemoths that have no place in the living room right? Right?
Wrong. I tweeted about my dilemma and the suggestions started pouring in. The most common one seemed to be for something called an ‘Intel NUC’. I’d never heard of this thing before, and a different three letter acronym came to mind when people kept suggesting it. At 115mm x 111mm x 35mm it’s much smaller than my current Mac ‘mini’. With the latest Kaby Lake (7th Gen) Intel Core processors in it, it’s much faster than my current Mac Mini. DDR4 RAM and a M.2 drive slot means I can choose from the wealth of suppliers out there in terms of speeds and sizes. 2 USB’s on the front, 2 more on the back. Thunderbolt 3. HDMI 2.0 with 4K support at 60Hz. 1Gbit Ethernet, AC WiFi and Bluetooth built in. Oh my golly gosh. Is this what I’ve been missing all these years as a dyed in the wool Mac user? While Apple has been trying to flog us a 3 year old giant computer as state of the art, this is what the PC crowd has had access to?
I never thought I’d say this, but, this is my next Mac mini.