I took delivery of an I5 Mac Mini on Friday, January 11. The next night I finally called it quits with my problematic iMac, the iLemon. I opened my new Mac Mini’s box and began a strange journey. You can read a summary of my challenges setting up the Mac Mini on readwrite at "Mac Mini Tale of Woe Part Deux."
I actually think the Mac Mini is one of the best designed pieces of Apple hardware that I’ve seen in a while. In one respect that is great. It is good to know that Apple still knows how to design really good computers.
Unfortunately the process of setting up the Mac Mini and the software on the Mac Mini are not as good as the hardware deserves. It makes me question the current direction of Apple. Still I hope that some of the recent management changes will fix these problems. I would like to see Apple get back to the point where we can say, "Buy a Mac because it just works."
The crux of the matter is that Apple who is trying to convince us to throw away our CDs and DVDs has some bugs to work out in their new world of on-line software downloads.
Once I got my Mac Mini fully updated at the Apple App Store and it was not an automatic process, I wanted to download a copy of the Mac OS Lion 10.8.2 that the Apple App Store had just finished installing on my computer. That turned out to be impossible. The App Store insisted that the Mountain Lion it had just finished installing on my computer was not compatible and could not be downloaded.
Since the linked readwrite article was written a few days ago, I have continued to bang away at this technical issue. While I now have a very usable Mac Mini, I still do not have a downloaded copy of the version of Mac OS X 10.8.2 (build number 12C3104) which runs my Mac Mini.
I tried again to get a copy of Mt. Lion with the Mac Mini but I was still unable to download a copy of Mt. Lion. I then tried downloading a copy using my Mountain Lion external drive hooked to my iMac. Unfortunately the version that I got was the same version that was already on the external drive, build number 12C60. It took an amazing ten hours to download on our cable modem. I can usually download a full Linux ISO image in under ten minutes.
I got the suggestion from a knowledgeable friend at Apple to try forcing a restore to the external drive. That actually looked pretty promising for a while since it indicated that it was downloading some additional components. Unfortunately once it was finished it was still the same old build and the external drive still would not boot my Mac Mini.
Since then I have created a “Restore” USB drive and after buying another hard drive and using SuperDuper, I have cloned the hard drive that is the boot drive for the Mac Mini. I could not use SuperDuper just to clone the system to my old external drive since it formats the whole drive first. I also believe that the cloned drive has a “Restore” partition. When I get a chance I’ll have a look at it in terminal. I am beyond tired of fooling with it at this point. You cannot see the “Restore” partition using disktools. I am also using Time Capsule with the new external drive. In theory I should be fine.
Of more worry to me now that I have sort of solved the backup booting issue is that I have seen a few software errors and one iPhoto crash already with Mountain Lion. The most recent problem was a Time Capsule one. I have seen it three or four times while I was writing this article. Just after I set up the new Mac Mini, I also got an inconsistency warning for the new iPhone library that I created. The library only had a couple of days of photos. I made no attempt to bring most of my photos over.
None of these are huge issues individually, but they are things that I hoped to not see on a brand new computer which does not have any software that should cause problems. The disappointment started the moment the “UPDATE ALL” button did NOT work at the App Store. I had to go through the updates one after the other making sure that the iPhoto update was done last.
Updating the Mac Mini required my presence while, the two Windows 8 computers that I have brought up recently all magically did the updates by themselves.
Based on this experience I know there are some warts on the App Store. If you cannot download the software that you just installed on a computer, that is a serious problem. Maybe I’ll never have to deal with it, but my whole career at Apple which spanned nearly twenty years, I carried some sort of recovery disks with me.
I cannot believe this is saving Apple any money, and I would gladly pay $15 for a DVD with my OS on it. I think that is how much I paid for the last set that I got from HP. I actually don’t care if they are the latest and greatest disks as long as they will boot my computer. I would rather have a set of disks with 90% of the latest software than nothing at all. Surely downloading the 10% of new components would be more efficient than the ten hour download that I endured. I’ve been in a lot of hotels where there is no way you could get a long download done.
Anyway I still love my Mac Mini, and I hope Apple will solve this problem sooner rather than later. I don’t mind waiting for 10.8.3 to boot my Firewire External Drive now that I could boot via my USB drive if necessary. For those following the issue of iDVD (the reason I bought the Mac Mini) disappearing. I dug out my iLife 11 disks and installed iDVD on the new USB disk. I got strange warnings about an expired certificate, but I installed it anyway. I booted up with the USB drive and iDVD works fine which means I expect it will work fine when I can boot from my Firewire 800 drive which has my iDVD projects. How long iDVD will work is another question, but I should get at least another year out of it once my Firewire Drive gets updated. When I find an update that breaks iDVD, I just won't apply it to the Firewire drive. I will start evaluating replacements for iDVD as soon as I get a chance.
My Mac Mini is now front and center on my desk. You might have a hard time finding it, but it is driving the center screen (Xubuntu) and the Apple cinema display (OSX) to the right of it. The Mac Mini now sports 16 GBs of ram, 2 TB of external storage, and a Samsung DVD burner.
Given the challenges that I’ve had with Mountain Lion, I’m now doing most of my work on Xubuntu running on VMware’s Fusion product. As you can see from my desk, I have all the hardware that I need with an I5 Windows 8 tower to the left of me and an I7 Windows 7 Lenovo laptop to the right of me. My trusty old G5 is also hooked to the monitor of the Windows 8 tower so I can easily access it if need be. There also is another Linux box hiding on one of the tables under my Epson all in one ink jet printer. I can drive the old Pentium III Linux box from the center monitor if I need to, but I hope to donate it soon to an aspiring young programmer.
The Mac Mini didn’t end up being particularly cheap since I had to buy another external drive that I didn’t really need, but hopefully the investment which includes a Samsung DVD drive will be well worth it over time. I added a new LG LCD monitor but it took me a while to figure out that you can use a mini display port to DVI connector in the Thunderbolt port. Just that adapter from Apple was another $30 dollars.
If you are really, really interested in the gory technical details of Apple’s restore, Dan Frakes has an excellent MacWorld article, Hands on with Mountain Lion’s OS X Recovery and Internet Recovery. I actually think Dan deserves a medal for writing the article.
I will leave everyone with one question. We now have four Windows computers in the house and one Mac Mini running Moutain Lion. My wife’s Windows 7 laptop and my Windows 8 Lenovo Yoga machine both have just 4 GBs of RAM and are I5 powered. I haven’t even considering upgrading the ram in either one of them because they are both very responsive. I am sometimes amazed by how much stuff I have open on the Yoga.
When I got the Mac Mini, it also just had 4 GBs of ram. I found it almost unusable. I am curious if anyone else has noticed that Mountain Lion seems to take a lot of ram compared to either Windows 7 or 8? I noticed the same thing on my iMac since it had 8 GBs of RAM which is the same that I have in my other Lenovo laptop. I blammed that on the flaky iMac. However, the Mac Mini has no excuse and wasn't much fun until it got some serious RAM.