Posted by: seanmalstrom | October 23, 2012

Email: Don’t underestimate the mac mini

Hello Malstrom

I’m glad you liked my email about the “Mac side” of gaming. There are a few things I want to add.

With a Mac Mini you are not limited to just Warcraft 3, I was running that game on my old PC from 2001. The Mac Mini has an Intel HD 3000, that’s quite a nice GPU; my brother has an Intel HD 2000 in his budget PC and he can run Skyrim on it. Of course it’s choppy, but it’s playable, so you can see that as some sort of upper limit. My early 2009 iMac has an Nvidia 9400 bult in and it runs The Witcher prety well on Windows and even OS X (again, choppy but well playable). You’ll have to look for more precise benchmaks if you want more information, but it has quite some power under the hood, don’t let the lunchbox size fool you. Seriously, you need to see a Mac from the inside, it’s incredible how they fit everything in there. I’ve worked at a retail store where they sold Macs and when the technician opend one it was like looking a clockwork, each tiny part had its own place, no loose cables lying around.

Yes, upgradeability is a major issue with Macs. The only thing you can change on your own without breaking the warranty is the RAM, and you should never let Apple upgrade the RAM for you, they charge absurd prices and you can use any regular RAM you want, thre is no special Mac RAM. My iMac is three years old and sometimes I’d like to have a better graphics card, but I’m stuck with what I have. I don’t really mind, I bought it primarily for work and in that regard it still kicks ass, but I’m stuck with the games I can run now until I replace it (which won’t be in a long time). Sometimes I consider building a PC just for gaming, but I don’t think there would be enough games out there to warrant a completely new machine, plus better graphics cards eat more power, driving the cost even higher. Not to mention the beautiful screen of the iMac which I cannot use as a screen for another machine (the current iMacs can, but not mine).
One solution would be building a “Hackintosh”, making a regular PC that can run OS X. Of course in that case you lose the whole benefit of things just working out of the box, but if you are interested in tinkering and building your own stuff, then ease of use is probably not that high on your priority list. You can’t make any PC into a Hackintosh, only certain components work, but there is enough information online.
You could also buy a Mac Pro, they are upgradable and have a real tower, but honestly that would just be a waste of money if all you want to use that power for is games.

There is also this site called iFixit, they have instructions how to disassemble and repair various electronics, mosty Apple hardware. I like that site, it encourages repairing things instead of just throwing them away and it empowers users by teaching them how to do these things on their own (of course they also sell the tools, but they have to pay the bills somehow). I always try to fix things on my own before I consider throwing them away, I’m not good with electronics, but other things I can repair. When my Wii’s DVD drive started making weird grinding noises I bought a triwing screwdriver for three Euros, opened it and bent a little piece of metal back into its proper position (then I hacked my Wii and set up an external hard drive so I would never have to deal with moving parts anymore)

It would be intersting if Apple released some sort of Mac Pro Mini, a Mac with the power of an iMac but with a tower you can upgrade. On one hand it would be directly competing with every other PC manufacturer in a red ocean, on the other hand not doing so is completely ignoring the market of computer users who want to be able to change components. Is not catering to a market at all better than competing in that market?

I mentioned Boxer very extensively in my last email, now the developer has revealed that it was him who built the standalone Boxer. It’s an interseting read and it explains why some features were removed and what was put in place instead. As always I enjoy reading about his thought process more than the actual news:
(I assume he got payed for his effort, I’m glad all his work to bring the best DOS experience to the Mac is paying off for him)

One topic I was hesitant about mentioning is OpenEmu, an open multisystem emulator for OS X.

Emulation has always been a geek niche and emulators have always been more focused on the tech stuff than the user experience. Sometimes getting the emulator even requires compilig the source yourself. The OpenEmu team saw that and they were not happy, that was not what a product should look like. OpenEmu has one main interface that holds a library of ROMs, very much like how iTunes stores your music. This is just the top layer that’s visible to the user, the emulation itself is handled by “cores”. Cores are the actual emulators and they are plugged into the main program. You can choose which emulator to use, whether you want performance or accuray, and you can change the core while the game is still playing. I could go on, but just look at the screnshots, they speak for themselves.

The reason why I wasn’t sure about mentioning it is because it’s still in development. A few months ago I compiled the source to see what it’s like and it was pretty nice, all the technical stuff was wrapped under a simple interface, all the ROMs were in one place, the save files were stored by the emulator instead of lying wherever the ROM was, but it still wasn’t done.

I see in OpenEmu similar potential as in Boxer. There is DOSBox for Mac, but it’s a pain to use. In the same way, there are console emulators for the Mac, but have fun compiling the source code. Since Nintendo’s Virtual Console is crap it would make sense for companies to sell their retro games on PC and Mac. Imagine if you could buy console classics on a service like GoG and play them on whatever you want and get goodies like manuals, maps, soundtrack… Thanks to software like OpenEmu it would then work all out of the box. You could take your ROMs and play them legally on anything; emulation has always been this illegal mess, but official ROMs would allow the scene to finally expand in popularity. And finally, wouldn’t it be great irony if Nintendo’s Virtual Console got its ass kicked by the Macintosh of all platforms? ^^ Ah, I’m just daydreaming, but if I had the money a Mac Mini connected to the TV running OpenEmu would be the ultimate retro machine.

One final word of advice, if you are ever considering buying anything from Apple always take a look at MacRumor’s guide:

They track when what hardware gets an update and then use that to estimate when the time is best to purchase something or when to wait. Usually iOS devices get one update per year, notebooks and iMacs two (but there is more than six months in between) and Mac Minis and Mac Pros one update per year (more than twelve month in between)

Thanks for the additional Mac info. I won’t be buying anything now since Christmas gifts slam my wallet. So much of my money goes to other essentials (like the car) that I have to fight to give myself fun money. I’ll see if I can squeeze in a joystick since I now own all the Descent games thanks to the Interplay deal on GoG. I miss playing games with a good joystick.

I would be interested in a Mac Mini for research and writing use. I wouldn’t use it for games. There seems to be many compatibility issues still going on with older games. On the computer I am typing this post on, it is (still) using Windows XP but it plays *every* game out there.

I’m someone who is intentionally behind on the mobile computers like ipods and smartphones and all. The first and only ipod I owned was the fat iPod that could play videos with the clickwheel. I’m impressed how well it has held up over the years so Apple’s stuff is certainly well engineered. If I had ten grand to spend, I’d buy a ton of Apple stuff but I don’t. Due to how fast technology is moving in the mobile space, I’m waiting for it to get to a point of ‘won’t get better for my purposes’. You’re right that my info about the mac mini is out of date as that has been upgraded. I’d be very happy with any computer that can at least play Starcraft 2 as the benchmark.

BTW, you can purchase DRM console games for the computer at DotEMU (some French site). Sega has all their games available. In fact, they are on sale for $10 for 40 games DRM free on the site now.

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