New Mac mini – any good as a server?

June 29th, 2010 by

A couple of weeks ago, Apple unveiled the latest incarnation of the Mac mini.  Naturally, we dashed out to buy a few to see if they’re going to be any good as servers.  Externally, this is the biggest revision of the Mac Mini yet, with a thinner all-aluminium case.  We always get a bit nervous when Apple unveil a new Mac mini as there’s a chance that they’ll ruin the formula that make it such a great server in the name of creating a fun toy for your living room.

The most noticeable change, aside from the new case, is the removal of the power brick.  The old minis relied on an external power supply that really was the size and shape of a brick.  Getting rid of these will make racking them a lot simpler, as well as saving space.  We reckon we should be able to get 24 machines and 3 APC Masterswitches into 6U of rackspace.  The C7 power connectors should be more secure too.

The next thing that we approve of is the easily accessible RAM slots.  Traditionally, Apple have charged silly money for ordering machines with extra RAM, so we’ve always done the upgrades ourselves.  Upgrading the old minis was a real pain, requiring the cover to be prised off with putty knives, so this is a welcome change.

The most important factor for us, and the thing that lead us to use the original PPC minis, is power consumption, as power is the primary cost when hosting a machine.  There’s good news here too: according to our power meter, power consumption is down from 26W to 12W (idle) and 44W to 40W (max).

Unfortunately, the reduction in hosting cost is offset somewhat by they usual price hike for the newer hardware, but we’re pleased to see that Apple have retained the “server” version of the mini with two hard drives, allowing us to continue to offer machines running software RAID.

Overall, the new Macs seem like a decent improvement on the old ones for our purposes.  Apple make a fuss over the great variety of ports now available on the back of the new mini, but inexplicably they haven’t provided the one thing we’d want: a good old-fashioned serial port.

We still need to make the minis work with our custom net-booting bootloader, but once that is done, we’ll be offering them as dedicated servers.