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Mac mini and SSD configuration suggestions?


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I decided it would be better to start a new thread than to hijack someone else's with a somewhat similar title and take it in a different direction, so ...

 

I currently have a mac mini as my music server, and it is connected via USB to a 1.5 TB Seagate that gets absolutely terrible reviews, so at the very least I need a more reliable external drive.

 

Currently, OS X is installed on the main (only) internal drive, and my iTunes and other music libraries sit on the external drive. I haven't noticed any problems with music, but when watching movies via iTunes (eg Avatar a week or two ago) I noticed the playback was a bit glitchy at times. So I am thinking this is a bottleneck.

 

The easiest thing would be to buy an external SATA SSD drive and copy my music library onto that.

 

But I wonder if I might not get a performance boost if OS X was on this and it was my root drive, in addition (possibly) to housing the library. If the SSD is the root drive, is there a significant advantage to putting it in the place of the current internal drive (minis are not easy to open up) vs. keeping it external?

 

So I am trying to solve the PITA/cost/benefit multi-dimensional trade-off matrix. Which of these is (a) best and (b) good enough in the sense that any further performance boost is marginal?

 

(a) SSD SATA external drive with music library, current internal drive with OS X on it.

 

(b) SSD SATA external drive as root drive with OS X and music on it.

 

© SSD SATA external drive as root drive with OS X on it and music on the original internal drive

 

(d) SSD internal drive as root drive with OS X on it and music on it

[i am guessing this is best, but if it is only trivially better than b, I would probably want to do b.]

 

(e) SSD internal drive as root drive with OS X on it and music on a conventional external drive.

 

(f) Configuration I have overlooked?

 

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The usual compromise people make is to use an internal SSD for OS and apps, then use external (USB/FireWire or a NAS) drive for the music files.

 

The "best" option is to store your music files on an internal SSD as well - but that is uneconomic unless you have a small music collection.

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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I wonder if that is the best configuration?

 

It seems having the OS on the SSD would make booting faster, but it isn't so clear once the system is up and running. The kernel etc loads into memory, so the SSD won't help with that after booting.

 

I'm currently at 167 GB for music, movies and TV shows.

 

NAS/NSF is actually quite slow BTW ( I use it at work ).

 

 

I guess the main thing I really want to know is if having an SSD/SATA root drive as an external drive would be significantly worse than having it be the internal drive.

 

 

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The benefits of SSD are speed and quietness, but if you're not using a fanless system, then the absolute silence of an SSD isn't a great benefit over modern hard drives.

 

Much more significantly, the speed issues you're seeing will most likely be down to the USB connection. That is a major bottleneck, so a faster drive won't help. Putting your OS on a drive connected via USB will not be good for OS responsiveness - it's a bad idea.

 

SSD as an internal drive is a great idea. Gigabit ethernet or firewire 800 (popular on macs, I believe) connectivity is the way to go for external storage, not USB. The data rate achieved by any modern hard drive (say 50MB/s), which includes your 1.5TB drive, is more than ample for media streaming. Meanwhile a good SSD will be limited by the max throughput of Firewire 800 (theoretical 100MB/s, not sure what the real-world speed is), or gigabit ethernet (theoretical 125MB/s, real-world 80-90MB/s). You'd perhaps see the extra speed of an SSD if you were backing up from one SSD to another, but I think most blu-ray movies have a data rate of 25MB/s, so hopefully that puts in context that there's no need for SSDs for media playback.

 

Not sure about USB throughput, but have used USB drives on PCs and been disappointed. I read that you get 2/3 of the headline 60MB/s, but I think that's very optimistic. USB uses a fair bit of CPU power on PCs, so if the same is true on Macs, and your mac mini has to play a movie at the same time as heavily running the USB port, bingo - glitches. Firewire and ethernet don't eat up cpu.

 

Edit: There is also the question of latency - I have the impression that USB, as a general-purpose serial interface, isn't as well optimised for file transfer as firewire. And a direct Sata connection (either an internal drive, or eSata for external Sata) will be better.

 

Note B = bytes, not bits

 

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When I posted I thought the mini had a SATA port, but I looked and I must be remembering it on some other mac (between work and home I have over a dozen). I agree about the USB. So internal is clearly the way to go I think.

 

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Since you are optical out to the dac, get an external hard drive with a FW800 port. This will speed up the data transfer enough to end your video glitches.

I have an internal SSD with OP and applications loaded to it. But honestly, did not hear any improvement over the internal Mini spinning drive when it was installed.

All I have loaded right now are 44.1/16 AIFF files. It may be more audible with 176.4/24 or other HiRes files.

I have blindly followed advice or connectivity. At first all devices were on FW buss. FW800 from HD to Mini, and FW400 out to dac. Keep reading that data storage devices need to be on a separate interface than dac, so put all my external drives on USB 2.0.

Using a FW800 to 4 pin cable, and a 4F/6M adapter to feed the dac. Can not say for sure I hear any difference from having all devices on FW, and the storage on USB. But it does not hurt the file transfers, and sounds at least as good.

Since I am using memory, RAM playback with Pure Music, the FW or USB connection to the drives may not make any difference in the data being sent to the dac. Either way, it works awesome.

 

George

 

 

2012 Mac Mini, i5 - 2.5 GHz, 16 GB RAM. SSD,  PM/PV software, Focusrite Clarett 4Pre 4 channel interface. Daysequerra M4.0X Broadcast monitor., My_Ref Evolution rev a , Klipsch La Scala II, Blue Sky Sub 12

Clarett used as ADC for vinyl rips.

Corning Optical Thunderbolt cable used to connect computer to 4Pre. Dac fed by iFi iPower and Noise Trapper isolation transformer. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

I set up a Mac Mini server about a month ago, going into a Bel Canto e.3 DAC via Toslink. The sound is pretty awesome. Plays HD Tracks well at 24/96. Probably the best sound I've ever gotten out of the system without spinning vinyl.

 

A nice surprise was that the external Apple superdrive for the Mac Air also works on the Mini, and that it can handle two disks for import at a time. I just put a couple of CDs in each time I walk by, and was able to quickly fill up all 300G of free space on the Mini. It's tempting to go for three.

 

To cure the space issue, I connected a QNAP TS-439 NAS which had been used on a PC network. Lots of problems - the copy of the iTunes folder was a different size than the original. Sometimes failed, using either SMB or AFP to connect the server. Finally, a firmware update did the trick.

 

Switched from a 10/100 switch to 10/100/1000 for better disk speed.

 

Now I have plenty of room for the 2000 CDs on the shelf.

 

The Bel Canto sounds much better going direct to the power amp than through the pre-amp, so I have a decent RCA switch to select source. I'm tempted by the Benchmark HDR, but will wait for something with more than one analog in, and more than one out, for wireless headphones, subwoofer etc.

 

The hifi hobby had gotten kind of boring. It's nice to have new gadgets to mess with and listen to.

 

 

 

 

Duke Weber

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One limitation of the Bel Canto e.3 via Toslink from the Mini is that it only goes up to 24/96. Using a Toslink->Coax converter would solve this. Has anyone tried this? If so, with which devices?

 

I think the Benchmark HDR will go to 192/24 using Toslink, so it may be better to wait for a DAC upgrade than start hanging all sorts of adapters on.

 

 

 

 

Duke Weber

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@Duke: The TOSLINK on the mac mini is limited to 24/96. The only way to get higher is to use Firewire.

 

@WGSmith: The best performance will be from an internal HDD. SSD will give you faster read performance, but writing to SSD is slower than to HDD so total improvement is limited: "YMMV". You also get a lot less GB/$ with SSD. I'd recommend to get the largest possible HDD inside your mac mini; WD has a 750G that gets good reviews. Note there is also a 1TB but it's a 4 platter drive that is 12.5 mm thick and won't fit inside the mini.

 

If you're into hacking, you can add an e-SATA interface to your mini and use much faster external disks.

http://www.123macmini.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=9092

 

 

Cinematic[br]__________[br]Mac Mini/Meridian 588/Weiss DAC2/Transrotor Fat Bob+SME 3500+ZYX RS100+Pass Labs XONO/Pass Labs X2.5+X250.5/Martin Logan Summit

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Cinematic commented... "I'd recommend to get the largest possible HDD inside your mac mini; WD has a 750G that gets good reviews."

 

I would disagree - don't upgrade the internal HDD of a MacMini (for computer audio use) except to replace it with an SSD. Larger disks often are both physically noisier and run hotter, increasing the likelihood of the MacMini's fan running and therefore crating additional noise in the listening room. An external USB or FireWire disk, or NAS (whichever way you find easier to get outside the listening room) is ideal.

 

and Duke asked... "One limitation of the Bel Canto e.3 via Toslink from the Mini is that it only goes up to 24/96. Using a Toslink->Coax converter would solve this. Has anyone tried this? If so, with which devices?"

 

The ideal device to get would be the M2Tech HiFace. This is USB to SPDIF adapter and supports upto 24/192. As Cinematic said, you wont get more than 96k out of the MacMini's TOSLink connection.

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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I agree with Eloise that noise and heat are important considerations. But there are large differences between HDDs beyond GB and rpm. Larger drives can run hotter and get noisier when they contain lots of platters, especially at higher rpm. The HDD I recommend has only 2 high-capacity platters, dissipates 3W max and has a noise level of ±2.5 dB. The high GB/platter density also improves the drive's read/write performance, more so than higher rpm.

 

The much hyped SSD is potentially faster, but at a cost. The really fast drives have limited capacity, cost a fortune and are more interesting for high-end servers, IMO.

 

Interesting comparative test:

http://www.pcworld.idg.com.au/review/servers_storage/western-digital/scorpio_blue_wd7500bpvt/348483

 

For audio, reading files off an external drive should be fine. For HD video, you can expect much better performance when you store your movies on a good internal drive. (Also: upgrade your RAM and remember to shut down other processes to free up processor capacity & memory)

 

Cinematic[br]__________[br]Mac Mini/Meridian 588/Weiss DAC2/Transrotor Fat Bob+SME 3500+ZYX RS100+Pass Labs XONO/Pass Labs X2.5+X250.5/Martin Logan Summit

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Thanks, everyone, for the input.

 

I have yet to get a new external drive (current one works, I have a cold, spending too much money, etc.) so I am still open to suggestions.

 

I think I will leave the current internal hard drive alone for the moment. If I get an internal SSD, I think it will be for my macbook air. Maybe it won't take keynote six years to open a presentation.

 

Anyway, back to audio/video:

 

As far as I can tell, my audio works fine on the USB2 external drive. I moved my most-recent and most-watched videos back to the main drive, and made symbolic links to the iTunes Movie and TV directories, so they can be found. That seems adequate to get rid of the playback glitchiness, and the solution was free.

 

Now for USB vs. Firewire:

 

My initial impression was that firewire is better, but I did some reading, and it sounds like Firewire 800 > USB2 > Firewire 400, which tells me they are all fairly comparable.

 

Most of my firewire drives are old and small, so I've been on the lookout for new ones. I have two TB sized firewire drives I use for backups for other computers, but these I have noticed have a very irritating tendency to take awhile to spin up, causing Finder hangs, and so on, so I am reluctant to use them for audio (they are called MyBook or something stupid like that).

 

It is very hard to find firewire drives now, sadly. Plus I need one that is snappy.

 

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have you considered buying the drive and the enclosure separately?

 

I'd definitely go FW800 and would avoid USB, but have all three:

 

http://www.scan.co.uk/Products/Icy-Box-IB-326StUSE2-Ext-Case-for-35-SATA-HDD-to-USB-20-eSATA-1394a-2x1394b-interface

 

alternatively (excellent for back-ups):

 

http://www.expansys.com/d.aspx?i=183971

 

And if you're not reassured by high prices:

 

http://www.expansys.com/d.aspx?i=189769

 

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Recently (Saturday) I installed 4GB of ram and an 80GB Intel SSD in my Mac Mini. The advantages of having the SSD in the Mac Mini are numerous. Faster boot times, faster application launches and no noise. Normally the sound is not much different coming from the SSD or a 320 GB USB 2.5" WD Passport drive, except that when the buffer runs out you can hear a little "confusion" in the music for a second or two while the external drive is reloading the buffer. I'm not sure if that issue can be fixed by increasing the buffer size on the Mac or not. Overall I like the music server concept and the sound (I've had mine running for a day now) but I'm sure that I don't have all of the variables worked out.

______________________________________________________________

Mac Mini 2.0Ghz 80GB Intel SSD 4GB ram OS X 10.6.2 running Songbird -> M2Tech Hiface -> Cary CD-306 used as a DAC -> Pass Labs Aleph P -> Pass Labs x350.5 -> Apogee Divas

______________________________________________________________

Kevin Burke

audiopath

 

2010 Mach2 Music Mac mini 2.4Ghz 40GB SSD 4GB ram OS X 10.6.5 Amarra-> M2Tech Hiface -> Cary CD-306 used as a DAC -> Pass Labs Aleph P -> Pass Labs x350.5 -> Apogee Divas[br]Kevin Burke[br]audiopath

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Hi, I'm new here so bear with me.

 

I'm thinking along the same lines, i.e. I've sold my CD player and had a mac mini (as a dedicated music server) on order for weeks which I guess means I now have a new Mac mini on order (at a premium of $150AUD. drat). What I'm envisioning is replacing the 320GB internal HDD with a 32GB SSD just for Snow Leopard and apps, putting all my music (about 650GB worth) on a 1TB external FW drive and having the whole thing backed up by the time capsule (I know, I'm a mac tragic). I suppose my questions are: Is it worth replacing the internal with an SSD? I ddefinitely don't need 320GB just for the OS. Will FW be that much better than USB2.0? In what way? And what's the best way (USB/Toslink/bel canto USB link) to connect it to my Benchmark DAC1 Pre HDR when it arrives?

 

Most of my music is red book but I do have some 24/96 stuff that I obviously want to get the most out of. I'm not really fussed about higher than 96khz at the mo. I don't have any and I have (increasingly) limited funds.

 

Appreciate any input.

 

RankStranger

 

 

Standard Mac mini 2010/iTunes (ALAC)/Pure Music & Pro-Ject RPM9.1/Ortofon Rondo Blue/Project PhonoBox SE -> Bel Canto DAC2.5 -> Acurus A200 -> Aphion Argon2 Anniversary/Impact500 & Sennheiser HD650 -> Comfy couch.

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@RankStranger

 

Can't answer about the SSD. Not sure how easy the swap will be with the new MacMini either.

 

If you get the external drive of USB and onto FireWire it will nicely separate them. As much as anything just gets rid of potentials for problems more than improving Sq, etc.

 

Connect you Benchmark either via USB or use a M2Tech HiFace.

 

 

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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In the short term, will the M2tech HiFace sound significantly better than usb to the Benchmark if I'm running max 96khz files? Also to clarify, a FireWire drive over a USB drive is not going to give me any sound quality improvements? What problems might it avoid?

 

Cheers

 

RS

 

Standard Mac mini 2010/iTunes (ALAC)/Pure Music & Pro-Ject RPM9.1/Ortofon Rondo Blue/Project PhonoBox SE -> Bel Canto DAC2.5 -> Acurus A200 -> Aphion Argon2 Anniversary/Impact500 & Sennheiser HD650 -> Comfy couch.

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Given a system without conflicts / shared USB ports there will be no SQ differences with USB vs FireWire drives (though other peoples opinions vary).

 

Sticking with USB to the Benchmark is certainly where I would begin. Though if you can try the HiFace you may find a slight improvement (but I wouldn't bet on it). Certainly the BelCanto won't give any improvement as (IIRC) they use same technology and code.

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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I'm sure as the plan comes together I'll need more help but I'm excited about sharing my experiences here with other users too.

 

Standard Mac mini 2010/iTunes (ALAC)/Pure Music & Pro-Ject RPM9.1/Ortofon Rondo Blue/Project PhonoBox SE -> Bel Canto DAC2.5 -> Acurus A200 -> Aphion Argon2 Anniversary/Impact500 & Sennheiser HD650 -> Comfy couch.

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The Mac mini is very quiet with the standard drive so I suspect there are better places to spend money than replacing it

 

Sorry for being slightly off topic here, but I am having an awful time downloading from HD Tracks. The download starts, then stops after about one cut, so it takes a dozen restarts over a couple of days to get anything. Tech support sent a link to another version of the download manager, which made zero difference. Any one else having this problem?

 

Re the multi room setup comments, those airport express boxes are sweet. I set one up in the office, about 75' from the mini and it worked fine immediately. Screen sharing is much better than shared libraries in iTunes - you get to keep playlists, podcasts etc.

Are there any cheap DACs with a toslink input? The little $99 Nuforce is good, but only does coax and the airport express only does toslink. All the other small DACs seem to get up in the $400+ range, which is overkill for the room

 

Thanks for all the helpful tips so far

 

D

 

Are the any easy ways to get iTunes to play FLAC? I tried a FLAC to iTunes shareware package on version 0.12, and it shows.

 

 

Duke Weber

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@ Duke. If by $ you mean US$ then maybe look into the Pro-Ject DAC Box FL which sells for $399 in Australia and 195 pounds in the UK so it's gotta be somewhere in between for the US market. Has toslink and Coax in.

 

RS

 

Standard Mac mini 2010/iTunes (ALAC)/Pure Music & Pro-Ject RPM9.1/Ortofon Rondo Blue/Project PhonoBox SE -> Bel Canto DAC2.5 -> Acurus A200 -> Aphion Argon2 Anniversary/Impact500 & Sennheiser HD650 -> Comfy couch.

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Duke asked... "Are there any cheap DACs with a toslink input? The little $99 Nuforce is good, but only does coax and the airport express only does toslink. All the other small DACs seem to get up in the $400+ range, which is overkill for the room."

 

Have you considered something old and second hand? Lots of bargains on eBay of older DACs which while not upto modern standards at their original prices will vastly improve something like the Airport Express.

 

From UK eBay, something like this Audio Alchemy DAC-in-a-Box or Arcam Delta BlackBox DAC.

 

The other alternative is something cheep from China. Something like this Zero 24/192 DAC. Again not state of the art, but can give very good results in the context of their price.

 

(Note: these are UK prices/eBay but sure there is similar on US eBay).

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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