Which Mac mini works best as a media server?

“The Mac mini is versatile enough to use as a home media server or small business workgroup server — you just want to make sure you’re getting the right Mac mini for the task,” Peter Cohen reports for iMore.

“Aim too low, and you might not get the higher performance you need,” Cohen reports. “Aim too high, and you may be spending more money than you need to spend.”

“Apple introduced a new $499 price point with the most recent refresh to the Mac mini — a price point not seen since the mini’s original 2005 release. This new model comes equipped with a 1.4 GHz dual-core Core i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM, and a 500 GB hard drive,” Cohen reports. “I’ve been using this machine since last October to serve up media and files on my home network, and it gets the job done. It’s a versatile machine that’s good for general use, but it’s really not a heavy-duty system.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: If you’re using a Mac mini as a media server, which model are your using and how is it working for you? Any specific issues, especially with the current models?


    1. I agree. I have two of the latest and discontinued Mac mini server models and I upgraded both with dual 500 gb SSDs.
      I use one as a Mac OS X media server and installed ESXi on the other which I use as a lab for various Unix, Linux, and Win VMs.
      Quad core is the way to go too bad Apple got rid of em with the latest revs

    2. Exactly how do you make use of the ‘excess power’ you believe is in a quad core processor. You sound like one of those Samsung weenies who are totally absorbed with specs but know nothing about programming or hardware utilization.

        1. Gee, I guess I am! Perhaps you can tell me how software that is written to access only 1 or 2 of those processors can make use of the 3rd and 4th? When the software we run for a media server only needs 1 or 2 Gig of RAM, how does the extra 14 Gig of RAM get used? How powerful does the graphics processor have to be to run a single display (if any) for a media server? Inquiring minds want to know.

  1. I have a 2009 Mac mini that I upgraded with an SSD and an external 3.5″ hard disk. Use it for TimeMachine backups, DVR (using Elgato connected to an antenna for OTA HD content), web server for two small websites, and watching TV/movies via websites/iTunes (that I don’t get OTA). Been working great for nearly six years. I tried out a newer Mac mini for a while, but it really comes down to the hard drive – make sure to get an SSD (or hybrid) as that will make all the difference (especially compared to a 5400 RPM drive).

  2. If I were to recommend one it would be the 2012 model maxed out as much as you can find/afford.

    On the cheaper side the Late 2009 can be had for less than $300 and still has enough power and versatility for a starter.

    Three years ago I bought a used 2.4 GHz 2010 320 GB hard drive and maxed out the RAM (16 GBs). It has two 1 TB Firewire 800 externals, one for my iTunes library and one for Time Machine/SuperDuper. I have next to no apps on this machine and use it headless for music via Audirvana, USB out to a coax switch attached to a PeachTree Audio Nova DAC/Preamp/Headphone amp connected to a Pioneer A/V receiver.

    For video, I have an HDMI out to the Pioneer then out to a Samsung plasma, mainly for Netflix, Prime and iTunes movies/shows. I can also use it for DVDs save for the fact I have a Sony Blue-ray for video/SACD disc. Now that I have an AppleTV, Prime is about the only video I use the Mini for. Browsers are a pain.

    If I decide to keep this setup I will eventually replace the internal with a small SSD since it is basically just the OS. On the other hand, I may just give it to a grandson….

  3. I have a 5 year old Mac mini. Upgraded the ram and the HD.
    Last year added a drobo and have 10tb of space. My iTunes library is on that plus time machine backups for all macs. iTunes has over 3 Tb of media.
    The mini is getting slow but still an excellent iTunes server for an Mac or iOS device. Works great.

  4. I had an older Mac Mini, I think it was a Early 2009 model with 4GB of ram with a 500GB drive in it that I upgraded too. I forget the processor, I want to say 2GHZ. But it was slow and I was very tired of lag and so fourth. I just purchased a new model about a week ago running at 3.0Ghz, 16GB Ram, 2TB Fusion from the Apple refurb store and have been very pleased with it. I can have things downloading on it and still be able to login to it with ARD and not have to deal with lag. I chose to do 16GB as I always plan for the future (soldered Ram, Yuck!) along with the fusion drive to get both connectors inside, just incase I want to upgrade later on. Maybe get rid of the platter hd and just upgrade the PCIe storage if anyone has them at the time, etc. I also use Kodi (xbmc), I started with Plex and it was too buggy for me. Moved to using Kodi and I like it alot better and on this new machine its faster than heck. I also use the mini for DVR for my security cams and downloading stuff. Its probably overkill for what I am using it for, but I hate running into bottle necks, this will hopefully last me for many years!

  5. Honest question: is there an advantage to having storage hung off a Mac Mini over having it hanging off Time Capsule? I have 8TB on TC with video, audio, images, and documents. Our iMac houses the iTunes library, but the data resides on the 8TB, and every computer, iPad, iPhone, etc., can access those shared disks for documents and images. How would MM enhance the situation?

  6. I’m using an early 2009 Mac Mini (8TB Ram) hooked up to a 50″ TV, and using Plex program via Google Chrome as an organizer. I store all media on a NAS server. Works like a charm, but you have to remember that early Mini provides stereo only (no 5.1) through the earphone jack.

  7. It’s not a “media server,” but I bought an Apple-certified refurb of the “Mid 2011” model. Purchased in late 2013. So the design was already two years old when I got it, and now it’s approaching two years later.

    I picked it because it is reasonably fast (2.5 GHz dual core i5) with NOT integrated graphics (Radeon 6630M 256 MB). It has Thunderbolt AND FireWire 800. The RAM is easily upgradable (now has 16GB). And I added a second internal drive (128GB SSD) and created a DIY Fusion Drive with the stock 500GB HD.

    It’s been an excellent Mac, and it should be fine as my primary Mac for a few more years. I seem to be good at picking Macs that remain usable (as my day-to-day machine) for a LONG time. My previous Mac was a “Late 2006” (white) iMac, 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo 17-inch (also a refurb).

    My Mac mini will probably become my “headless data server” (eventually).

    1. I have bought several 2006/2007 17″ iMacs (6?) to give to grandkids and such. Very durable machines.

      However, my very first Mac was a 2006 20″ Core Duo and burned out the video board…TWICE! Seems the larger screen had heat issues.

      Odd thing is I bought my lady-friend a 2006 20″ with more video RAM (256 vs 128 MBs) and hers lasted much longer but in the end still died the same distorted screen death as my beloved original.

  8. BTW, if you ever hook your computer up to your stereo and get that annoying buzz, pick up a ground loop isolator. It will safely kill the buzz. My mini had this issue and the full explanation is complicated (uneven electrical potentials) but that is the fix.

  9. Mac Mini (Mid 2010)
    8GB RAM

    • HDMI connection to Epson PowerLite 1925W (12′ x 7′ projection viewing area)
    • optical connect to 7-channel surround system
    • Elgato EyeTV (antenna in attic, no montly cable $ 🙂
    • High Speed Internet
    • Blue Tooth Keyboard & Touch Pad

    No television set in the house. The mini has been rock solid as a media server for us.

  10. The midrange Mac mini at $699 is very good as a media server.

    I still use my 2011 Mac mini with 2.5 GHz i5. I have maxed out its RAM at 16 GB (via OtherWorldComputing). Tossing an SSD in there or attaching one externally would be ideal! But it streams 1080p nicely with just its (aging) hard drive. You might want to optimize the HD once in a while if you fill it up or swap media files often.

  11. I use a Mid 2011 MacMini with Core i7, 8 GB RAM dedicated AMD Radeon HD 6630 GPU. For games I use BootCamp and moved the Steam library to an external drive. Outputs via HDMI to an Onkyo amplifier with Aaron 7.1 speakers and an LG plasma TV.

    Record FreeView via EyeTV dual tuners to record two shows at once and watch a third. Great for skipping commercials which BBC iPlayer and ITV catchup cannot.

    Wireless keyboard and mouse for TV controls, but wired keyboard and mouse for games.

  12. Is a Mac required for a media server? Wouldn’t a Windows box running iTunes and something like Parrot be sufficient? Apple lobotomized the Mac Minis and with the soldered-in RAM and lack of Quad core i7s knocked themselves out of the running. A fusion drive wouldn’t be needed because only often used files wind up on the SSD and movie files would probably stay on the HDD. Wouldn’t one of the new mini Intel systems or even a small homebrew system work?

  13. I’ve been interested in moving my external iTunes library off my MacBook/Time Capsule for a while and it sounds like this will be the perfect solution, connecting a Time Machine RAID to a mini server.

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