I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks the Mac mini is an absolute bargain.
Compared to nearly any PC or any Mac, Apple’s diminutive Mac mini packs both power (relative, of course), ease-of-use, and plenty of features. Does the Mac mini compare to top of the line PowerMac G5s? Yes.
Will a Mac mini out perform a new dual 2.7 ghz PowerMac G5? No. Depending on your needs, the Mac mini will hold its own, though it won’t slay the G5 Goliath.
The Mac mini is a credible performer as a limited use server. Why? How? Mac OS X Tiger.
Consider this a fun comparison between using a top-of-the-line PowerMac G5 equipped with Tiger Server, and a lowly Mac mini equipped with, well, Mac OS X Tiger.
First, the cost. A 2.7ghz PowerMac G5 in base configuration sports 512 megs of RAM, an 80 gig hard drive, and a SuperDrive. There’s also gigabit ethernet and extra space for an internal hard drive. Base cost is $2,999.
Add $499 for Mac OS X Tiger Server (10 license version). Why? Because it’s a comparison of power, ease-of-use, and extra expense, vs. a Mac mini. Money vs. cheap.
The PowerMac G5 now boasts a nearly $3,500 price tag. Let’s leave off monitor costs as they’d be about the same for each, server environment not withstanding.
The Mac mini weighs in at $499. No Server version, though OS X Tiger Server will run on the Mac mini (and all other new Macs except iBooks and PowerBooks). We’re trying to compare cheap against not-so-cheap.
The server environment consists of log in accounts, email accounts (POP and SMTP), Apache web server, MySQL database, and a handful of PHP applications.
For remote administration of our David and Goliath server combo, there’s a number of choices. SSH and the command line. Same price for each. Server Admin and WorkGroup manager which comes with Mac OS X Tiger Server and is not available for the Mac mini (though there are limitations to file set up, etc.).
To keep the playing field even, let’s use Apple’s Remote Desktop (ARD) at $299 for the 10-user version. That gives an administrator excellent remote admin capabilities at a low price. ARD works great when connecting to a Mac mini, and works great with OS X Tiger Server.
As an alternative, you could use a combination of SSH CLI or just connecting via Apple File Share (AFP). Your mileage may vary.
Mac OS X Tiger Server comes with Server Administration for handling all the services: Postfix email (POP, IMAP, SMTP etc.), iChat Server, AFP, Firewall, Domain Name Services, Application Services, MySQL database, PHP, WebObjects (though not the license), Open Directory, FTP, Access Control Lists (ACL) and many more. WorkGroup Manager lets you set up users, assign privileges, Home directories, and Groups.
Make no mistake. Tiger Server is a very competent, complete package. Our needs for this comparison are basic. Web server. User access. MySQL database. PHP applications. And $3,500 vs. $499.
Tiger Server needs to be installed on the PowerMac. That takes less than an hour and walks you through implementation of the services mentioned above.
Then there’s the need to set up MySQL, make sure it talks with PHP (it doesn’t in Tiger server’s default setup), and set up initial users. Server Admin makes quick work of setting up the built-in and capable IP Firewall and Access Control Lists (even more security).
When you’re done (about an hour or so later), you should have a very credible, powerful, secure PowerMac G5 server with remote access capability. It’s a breeze to set up users, assign privileges, create web sites with sub-domains, secure access to web pages. Tiger Server even comes with a built-in SSL certificate (and certificate management system) so you can have secure web access, secure mail, right out of the box.
In about an hour. It’s the LensCrafters of server setups.
What about the $499 Mac mini as a server setup?
“Apple’s high end products, the dual CPU PowerMac G5 and Xserves, provide remarkable server power and capability in an easy to setup and manage environment.”First, Mac OS X Tiger. It’s pre-installed on the Mac mini. The Apache web server can be installed via System Preferences’ Sharing application.
I prefer Marc Liyanage’s PHP version for Mac OS X to Apple’s default PHP (turned off in Tiger). It’s a free download and installs like a normal Mac application and you don’t need to do anything to make it work.
MySQL database is a different matter. It’s also a free download and installs like a normal Mac application (can you say “double click?”). However, there are some config files which must be set up in a few directories to allow the latest versions of PHP and MySQL to talk to each other. If you know what you’re doing it’ll take all of two minutes.
The Mac mini’s Firewall is not as extensive as that found in Tiger Server’s ServerAdmin Utility. It works the same way, though. Turn everything off. Enable “stealth mode.” Only turn on those ports you need (POP, SMTP, Apache etc.).
Both machines are relatively secure at this point and both took about an hour for initial setup. Both can be accessed remotely using various applications, SSH and CLI (command line via the Terminal application), and via Apple File Sharing.
User accounts. Ahhhhh. There’s a big difference in capability between Tiger Server’s ServerAdmin and WorkGroup Manager tools vs. setting up users in the Mac mini’s version of Tiger.
Let’s assume you’re going to have about 10 users, they all need incoming and outgoing email access. You can do that on both the Mac mini and the PowerMac G5 running Tiger Server.
That’s where the level playing field ends.
For Tiger, I use Postfix Enabler to set up Tiger’s built-in Postfix and Cyrus email system. In about two minutes you can have POP, SMTP, and IMAP mail on vanilla Tiger. You can also do the same thing via the Terminal, though it takes longer. Click Here for Postfix Enabler. It’s $10 well spent. Mac mini now totals $509.99.
Once that’s done, setting up users is easy. Use System Preferences’ Accounts and enter users accordingly. Each gets their own email accounts automatically.
Tiger Server’s version of Mail access carries you to new heights of power and security, though. Server boasts built-in virus protection, built-in spam protection. Both will help reduce mail problems.
However, using Terminal to setup Postfix’s built-in filters could reduce incoming spam (not viruses) by an order of magnitude. No cost. The Postfix web site offers plenty of details and examples.
What do we have so far? A powerful PowerMac G5 with Tiger Server. It’s fast, easy to manage, and relatively secure.
The Mac mini? It’s not as fast, but it’s rather easy to manage, and relatively secure, though not quite as proficient in each category as the PowerMac G5 with Tiger Server.
Still, If you want to save about $3,000 and have a decent, powerful, very small server, a Mac mini and a few tools will do the job.
The PowerMac G5 is probably 3-4 times as fast as the Mac mini in raw throughput and disk IO. For the basic tasks in my criteria list, it’s also easier to manage using Tiger Server. But you pay $3,000 more for the extra speed and ease-of-use.
The Mac mini, on the other hand, is a credible, useful, attractive package that can be used for many purposes. No, don’t run an e-commerce site on a Mac mini. You could. But don’t.
With Mac OS X Tiger Server, Apple’s high end products, the dual CPU PowerMac G5 and Xserves, provide remarkable server power and capability in an easy to setup and manage environment.
With Mac OS X Tiger, Apple’s Mac mini boasts a remarkable range of capability for the low, low end.