Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Installing Vista on a Mac Mini

Having been bitten by the Mac bug earlier in the year, when I forsook 20 years of building and running Windows-based PCs for the shininess of a MacBook Pro, I've been looking at the possibility of using the diminutive Intel-base Mac Mini as a replacement for the smaller of my two Home Theatre PCs (the more powerful one has a Blu-Ray drive and runs the HD projector in the games room home theatre downstairs). The advantages of the Mini are:
  • size - it's about 20% of the size of the PC it's replacing;
  • noise - I went to a lot of trouble with designing the PC for low noise, but the Mini is silent;
  • power - the Mini mainly uses laptop components, and isn't readily expandable, so the power supply only goes up to 110W.
I've been running Windows XP Media Centre 2005 on the PC for the past three or so years, and thought it was time to upgrade to Vista Premium Media Centre, which is also running on the downstairs HTPC. So my challenge was to get Windows Vista on to a Mac Mini. The Mini came from Ebay with OS X 10.4 (Tiger) on it, and I expended a lot of effort trying to get Vista on, to no avail. It seems only OS X 10.5 (Leopard) had the wherewithals to make this work, so I borrowed the install disc that came with my MacBook Pro, and fired up the install routine. It promptly informed me that I couldn't use my MBP install disk on a Mini, which was OK, because what I really wanted was the Disk Utility program, accessible from the menu bar at the top of the screen. This allowed me to delete the existing OS X partition, and to set Master Boot Record (very important, if you want to boot a Windows OS), and then create a new partition. The utility doesn't allow you to create NTFS partitions, so FAT it was. I then rebooted, and held down the F12 key on my Windows keyboard to eject the OS X disc. I then inserted a full version of Windows Vista Premium (the general consensus on the web is that upgrade versions won't work), and hey presto, it detected the disc and launched the installation routine. Vista complained that it didn't want to be installed on to a FAT partition, but then gave me the option to format it as NTFS, so that was OK. So at this point in time, it's whirring away, extracting files in the hour long snooze-fest that is a Vista install. I'll let you know how it goes. btw: when I was looking for some help on Australian Media Centre Community, someone pointed me in the direction of Plex, which is a port of the XBox Media Centre project to OS X. It looks rather good running on my MacBook Pro, but I'm mindful of it's beta status (I got it to crash within five minutes of loading it). In fact, it looks incredibly pretty, and I would be interested to see it running on an HDTV. It currently only runs on OS X 10.5 (Leopard), but these days I'm not particularly married to any one operating system, so there's definitely a place for it in my home, if they can sort out the stability.


Mark Fletcher said...

How did you go with the install of VMC on the mini? I've been running on that config for more than 6 months quite successfully. Although I did recently do a rebuild to blow away the OSX partition I had.

What do you think of Plex, just had a look on the website, it looks pretty slick, but I imagine how it looks and it's actual operation are two things all together.

David Keaveny said...

Once Vista was installed, pretty smoothly, actually. I bumped up the RAM to 2Gb, and things ran even more smoothly. I won't be playing Dawn of War 2 on it, but now that I've ripped my DVDs to MP4, it's pretty handy. I'm also looking forward to the MyMovies plug-in for Windows Home Server. Plex meanwhile has been through several revisions and is starting to put Media Centre to shame, at least visually.