How Useful is a Mac mini G4?

I purchased a 1.42GHz model off ebay a few months back for less than $40, and at the same time questioning myself why I bought it in the first place.

In the past, I owned a 1.33GHz mini and thought it was the stupidest thing ever. Two USB ports (enough for a keyboard and a mouse) without a hub, no Bluetooth, and no AirPort. Still to this day I would still hate this particular model if I owned it.

The only saving grace for this 1.42 is the fact it has BT (albeit v1.1) and AirPort, if not, I would have never considered bidding on it.

So the specs of this bad boy. You know already it has a 1.42GHz G4, and an AP/BT card. It’s also packing 1GB of DDR, 32MB Radeon 9200, SuperDrive, and a spacey 74.53GB Hitachi (which I would love to replace with a SSD, in the future however). And last but not least, Mac OS X Leopard. To overcome my bitchy attitude towards the USB ports, I am using a Wireless Keyboard and a Magic Mouse. The Intel mac mini ditches the modem and instead has 4 USB ports compared to the lame amount of 2 on the G4. If you’re even more curious about this machine it was made in the last week of January 2005, either in China or the Czech Republic, also was the 1,319th machine to be built that week.

mini

If you are new to the mini, here is an overview of the ports:

15659372-1

  • Power
  • Ethernet
  • Modem
  • DVI out
  • 2x USB 2.0
  • FireWire 400
  • Headphone Jack
  • Kensington Lock

The point of this post is to see if this Mac mini can do enough for me to keep it around, and from here on out I’ll focus on the usability of programs and software categories. I attempt to do my best, and I’m sure people will argue that this is just my opinion, but I can’t judge for everyone! This post is also focused on the Mini G4 line. A G5 would do everything on this list a billion times easier, but I’m not discussing that today!

MUSIC & RADIO:

I constantly listen to music, and at work we listen to KSFO for Rush Limbaugh every day, and sometimes even my local radio station. This category is focused on online radio/services.

Spotify 

Spotify
The Mac mini is actually perfect for this. Plays music without any issues using the Spotify 0.6.6.10 app from 2011. To be honest, so far this is the thing I think the mini does the best! If you have Spotify Premium the ability to save music offline works flawlessly.

Pandora
Pandora does work, however requires Flash player. Attempting to use Pandora under TFF brings me to the page “We need flash player xx or higher to continue”. And using a third party program such as PandoraBoy or PandoraBox do not work whatsoever.

However, we do have some better luck with Safari. Pandora will allow you to sign in and listen to your different playlists, however this uses up your processor and memory resources (saw a max of 91% CPU and 25.74MB free of 1024MB RAM). There is also a weird bug where it will not play the next song unless you open the window again (if you minimized it).

So my conclusion: It’s functional, but the resource requirements and the minimize bug gives it a “functional, with bugs” rating.

Online Radio [KSFO & JDX] ⍰ ❌
Of course online radio uses flash, I attempted to use TFF for streaming with disappointment. With Safari, I was able to listen to KSFO with the iHeartRadio link, but streaming this actually ate up 100% of the CPU and 990MB of RAM. I was also able to listen to my local radio station, again maxing out the Mac mini, and to be honest if I only used the mini for radio streaming I’d rather buy an AM/FM radio since the mini would cut out the radio feed quite often.

I’m giving the online radio category the same rating as Spotify, because some things work, but have bugs.

INTERNET BROWSING & ONLINE VIDEOS:

Web Browsing 
Simple web browsing is not all that great under TenFourFox. With a WordPress and a MacRumors forum tab open, the fan immediately increased speed. The Google homepage lags, loading Gmail takes a 10 or so seconds, Drudge Report takes forever to load (and this website is pretty plain, text and photos), among any other websites I try to view, even with ads blocked and TFF tweaks added.

Safari was not much better unfortunately, and it is not my internet (stable 30Mbps down / 9.5Mbps up) which I had been testing alongside loading web pages on the G4. Wikipedia loaded much better, granted, it is 95% text. Due to the incompatibility with so many other websites I give web browsing on the G4 a fail rating.

Online Videos 

YouTube Safari

I tried YouTube under Safari, and it would act like it was playing, then jump to the 34 second mark then jump 20 seconds, and so on. By default the quality was set to 460p, I changed that to 240p and it was still terrible. 144p? Still wouldn’t play properly.

What about TenFourFox? I still had to stare at a black screen for a minute, then it would skip every 20 seconds or so too, however it would barely, just barely, play the video. Under TFF, you can’t select any other quality other than 360p.

MacTubes

Or MacTubes? Yeah, I gave that a shot too. Impossible to do anything, MacTubes kept giving me errors ruining hopes of playing a video. This category receives a fail rating as well.

MULTIMEDIA (AUDIO & VIDEO):

This category I have hope for, consisting of music and video downloaded on the computer (unlike services such as Spotify or YouTube that use the internet).

Audio 

VLC Audio

I played a test audio file in iTunes and VLC media player, with no lag whatsoever. Once I started messing with audio visualizations in VLC, the audio started to cut out but would come back. I give audio a pass.

Video 

VLC Video

I didn’t have any 1080p videos to test, however the 720p TV show I had played fine, but the audio would lag under VLC. The .avi file wouldn’t load in QuickTime without additional codecs. I give this category a plausible rating, that it could have just been the file I had.

So that is what I think the Mac mini G4 can do, granted I’m bashing the poor little thing. So, in light of things, what is the mini good for outside of what I listed above?

Well, you can plug in external hard drives into the mini using USB or FireWire 400 and then share them on your network if you are okay with 54Mbps over the wifi speeds or 100Mbps LAN speeds. I personally prefer gigabit if I need to move several massive files at once, so the mini is not for me in this category.

Spotify works pretty good! You can’t control the song from another computer or your phone, however if you have a big speaker system in a garage or whatever and need to put the thing to use, the mini will work great for that. Low powered music box.

Typing up documents is doable, and is doable on pretty much any machine (shoot even Office 2003 on a Windows 2000 Pro box is more than capable), and if you go this route there are many different programs available to do just that. iWork 09, Office 2004/08, NeoOffice, LibreOffice, your choice. Hook up a printer and you are good to go.

I personally don’t have a dedicated (or a good) use for the mini, and everything I listed above can be done easier and quicker on a higher clocked G4 or G5 with more processor power and definitely more RAM.

If you are reading this and are considering buying a mini G4, I would recommend finding one with at least a Core 2 Duo running Snow Leopard. Everything, good or bad, that I listed above will perform a hundred times better than the G4. If you own a mini and are reading this, make the most out of what you have!

So what are my plans with the little guy? Honestly I have no idea, it might just end up on ebay since I have nothing I can use this machine for unfortunately! If I do post it to ebay, I’ll share the link with the PowerPC Centre facebook page.

Until next time…

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This entry was posted in G4, Hardware, OS X 10.5 Leopard, Software, Uses for PowerPC and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How Useful is a Mac mini G4?

  1. Patrick Rynhart says:

    Looks like you’ve installed Leopard (10.5) on this G4. I’ve recently downgraded my 1.33GHz PowerBook G4 (1.25GB of RAM) to Tiger (10.4), and have been much happier with the result – i.e. much better performance, at least for general web browsing via TenFourFox.

  2. Caraguapa says:

    Nice article mate, i still use a iBook g4 machine with leopard for recording and podcast production and it works pretty well. I use PPC versions of ableton, reason, reaper.

    I guess a Mac mini would work quite well as a little local file server through Ethernet and managed through vnc and ssh.

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