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Maxed-Out Mini

macminithumb.jpgThe size and stackability of the Mac Mini and the griping on forums about missing features and perceived slights got me thinking about what additional devices would be needed to really make everyone happy.

And so, with a little Photoshop magic, I've managed to put together a tricked-out version of the Mini with just about every feature anyone could want. Some of these are a bit tongue-in-cheek, and others are actually additions I would like to see. A larger version of the image is located here.


The “Slices” From Top To Bottom

  1. The Mini itself, stacked on top per Apple guidelines. I wonder if this is actually a ploy to keep their logo on top and visible?
  2. This is a tuner/receiver/interface box. It contains:
    • AM/FM tuner
    • infrared receiver for remote operation
    • Clickwheel (this wheel's in brushed aluminum, to match). Actually, in this orientation a clickable, weighted knob is probably a better solution (think a horizontally-mounted PowerMate) but I couldn't bring myself to have it sticking out of the front. I'm assuming that you can rest your fingers on the side of the enclosure and still use your thumb to make those little circles. I'm also assuming that you'll use a remote most often. Compared to the rudimentary (or nonexistent) controls on most consumer electronics boxes these days, a clickwheel is overkill.
    • Dolby 5.1 outputs on the back
    • A application-switching button (lower right) which acts like a command-tab for specific applications. The idea is that you could operate some applications (audio most obviously) without turning on your display (60-inch plasma, right?). This would require a system prefs control panel to mark certain apps to go in the cycle. Note “iTunes” on the display.
    • A display with an iPod-inspired interface. It could also be a clock, a stock ticker, whatever.
    • Room inside for a hard drive for all those AAC files.
  3. A hard drive enclosure with FireWire and power connections, so you can add all the storage you want in a nice form factor.
  4. Media reader, with dual PC/MCIA slots on the back. The plastic on the front isn't the loveliest, but I was trying to stay within the bounds of manufacturing reality. There's likely also room in this one for a laptop drive, if you need another drive.
  5. A battery, configurable as an uninterruptable power supply as well. Stack up as many of these as you'll need and you can take it on the road.
  6. A USB/FireWire hub, with front-side access. On the back are more ports: 4 of each. This unit also contains a supplementary power supply for the hub. While I was at it, I also included a headphone jack and a front-side power switch that operates through USB. You're probably gonna want to power down up front, because the back of the Mini is gonna have a lot of cables in the way.
  7. In the larger image, you can see the matching stereo speakers I whipped up, in case you want to use your Mini as a bookcase stereo.

Optical drives are an obvious one I skipped, but they would basically look like the top half of the Mini itself. An iPod dock would be another nice feature, but with all the different sizes, it's probably not terribly practical. You could also put a broadband modem or a network router into a slice. FM transmitter? Home automation controller? And let's face it—a cupholder would be pretty nice...

I'm curious what devices third parties will come up with...I just hope they try to emulate the build quality and look of the Mini.


Here's my (admittedly quickie) take on how the stack would actually stack: full size, and an annotated version on Flickr.

From Engadget, an article on how to turn your Mac Mini into a media center.

From Studio 2F, Less Is More, speculation about Apple's rumored “Asteroid” product release and its connection to HD video.

Discussion on PVR Blog on the Mini as a potential personal video recorder component.

Links to others' concepts here.

January 29, 2005 in Apple, Gadgets | Permalink


Dang. That's nice.

Posted by: Zachary Jones | Jan 29, 2005 10:48:36 PM

Just buy a powermac.

Posted by: Dan | Jan 30, 2005 2:49:41 PM

I've got a PowerMac. I'm not actually suggesting that anyone would need all these components at once—if they did they should spring for the G5. I'm theorizing on how some of the I/O shortcomings of the Mini could be addressed while keeping the set-top-friendly form factor.

Posted by: Jay | Jan 30, 2005 3:10:11 PM

The Mac Mini has sent me dreaming of home theater heaven. Some things I hope for. That LaCie puts their terabyte drive in a drive enclosure similar to the one you have illustrated. That Elgato puts an EyeTV in a similar enclosure. That Apple adds an optical audio out.

I hook video out to an inexpensive projector. I hook audio out to my spiffy stereo, and voila, home entertainment heaven.

Except for controlling everything, so a couple more wishes. I've read on some rumor sites that Apple might be working on some kind of wireless tablet. If that is true, I'd like three things. A small IR peripheral to plug-into the Mac Mini so it can broadcast IR commands, the wireless tablet, and a new app called iRemote or something like that. With my iRemote-tablet-Mac Mini I could control my home entertainment universe.

Posted by: Steve | Feb 1, 2005 4:53:26 PM

Will it come with an iBand for portability? What would be cool is a firewire type base connector, so stacking the units would make sense, and leave the back less cluttered. Anywho, I think the 6.5 square form factor will be utilized by third party people often in the future. There's an enclosure out there called SOHOTANK that looks similar to the Mac mini, maybe they'll make a small version.

Posted by: Bjorn Watland | Feb 1, 2005 7:16:26 PM

I'd hit it.

Posted by: Mattsoft | Feb 16, 2005 5:00:15 PM

Hey.. No disrespect but isn't it called a Mini for a reason. Why go making it bigger ?

Posted by: Andy | Feb 16, 2005 5:27:51 PM

Stacking units vertically doesn't make the whole setup take up more room on a desk.

Sure, the volume gets bigger, but not the desktop area needed.

Posted by: Nobody | Feb 17, 2005 8:12:39 AM

I love what you did with the components. I think the mini is the beginning of a new way of computer expansion. Instead of starting with a large empty tower, you start small and build it up as you needs grow. I just hope the companies out there who can build these components are busy working on them.

Posted by: James | Feb 19, 2005 10:47:40 AM

Yes. I think some people are missing a point here. Instead of looking at it as expanding the Mini (one of whose great virtues is its size, I agree), I'm looking at it from the other perspective: you could build a system with the features you want that's as small as possible because you only buy the slices you need. No big empty box.

Posted by: Jay Robinson | Feb 19, 2005 5:31:42 PM

You know, I don't like it.
It's too easy to make something look like a Sony product even if it's Apple styling with brushed steel etc.
I hate Sony styling. Sony products looks cheap and rickety.
The only thing sorta cool would be the hub.
Anyway, my 2¢

Posted by: Boris714 | Feb 20, 2005 1:34:37 PM

Damn -- A friend and myself came up with almost the same idea: "the iStack" in last May while having a few beer -- I knew I should have patented the idea :) Ours was more cylindrical -- but then again, it was 8 months before the mini was announced so we were just speculating. One of our key ideas was a hot seat on the bottom/top of the components that would pass firewire 800 and power through each of the components. All the other protocols (eg USB) would be encapsulated in firewire packets. Consequently there would be no external cabling in the back (and of course the cpu would be the top unit) - much cleaner. -- In any case -- several of the comments above miss the point. --- This is a living room device -- not a desktop device -- The ability for the average home user to add a extra HD as a unit without cracking a box or having cabling or added footprint should not be underestimated. Imagine if your grandmother/mother could go to the apple store, by a 80GB HD unit, and an audio unit, come home and 1) plunk them underneath the mini cpu and -- there is no step 2. No mess, no fuss.

Posted by: smorr | Feb 20, 2005 3:02:17 PM

I came up with a design like this in 1994 and showed some friends after complaining that computers looked dull. I had a lego like back plane that could be extended for power, and at the time ISA, PCI & SCSI links. The idea also included the ability to upgrade your RAM, Video, HDD, etc. just by swapping out easily unpluggable components. This turned out to be a bit over amibious as the distance from the processor caused difficulties due to lattency and would be even more problematic now days. I originally had the idea back in school in the mid 1980's and used it for my GCSE exam coursework (so it should be on official record somewhere).

I remember seeing a design in an Apple design book and an Atari one dated from the early to mid 1980's also, so I don't think you could get a patent on it whoever thought they should have.

Don't forget the power requirements for each 'slice'. At the moment I'm using a Powerbook with two LaCie external firewire 800 (250GB) drives and need to have a separate power supply plugged in for each, which is a pain in the ass. Also the Mac Mini power supply brick is huge compared to the powerbook and ibook versions.

The amount of power carried over FireWire is insufficient for driving 3.5" drives with controllers (also true for optical drives), but it will manage a 2.5" hard disk drive.

I'd suggest having the bottom brick as an elegant power supply unit, with a small UPS if possible (say 5 mins supply) and/or a hook for being powered by a battery like a notebook. It would have power out sockets for the low voltage requirements of the components, including the Mac Mini. Pick a standard power connector for all the components and then you could standardise the cables and connectors. I'd also recommend that the power cables come in a retractable package so that you don't have wires hanging all over the place at the back. I/O between units can be adequately handled by FireWire 400, USB & Ethernet so no exotic requirements there.

Having the mini UPS/battery unit would mean that you could unplug the whole stack and move it whilst on the go to another room, or not have to worry when reorganising the power plugs under your desk or at the back of your TV for example. It would also protect against losing any work if there is a power cut or spike. I'm so happy that when we lost power at work for a few seconds my laptop didn't die and I was the only one who didn't lose anything. I think it's about time that a personal desktop UPS unit was popularised to give this type of protection to everyone (although it won't keep your monitor running as well, but could trigger a sleep or shutdown cycle safely saving your work).

Posted by: Matt Bland, UK | Feb 25, 2005 7:26:12 AM

Now this is cool. Apple started out in the right direction, and you've taken it even further down the road. My mini should be arriving in the coming week, but I wish I was gonna be taking your version out of the packing case. I'll be linking to this from my blog.

See if you can sell this idea to Apple!

Posted by: Guy | Mar 20, 2005 3:16:36 PM

i am surprised no one has said anything about the blue tooth that is built into the mac mini.
i am setting up a media center mac mini and i will be using a 3rd party blue tooth keyboard to quick launch and control volume switch applications etc from anywhere in the room.

Posted by: andrew | May 17, 2005 6:44:33 PM

Come on you gotta see this, new mac mini is so sexy that you should buy this, this new mac mini has got all the pimped filling, you know Apple is the best, but Sony is alright.
Unless you want to add the criminal explosively pimped more, bet you could add the 3 loudest wireless PA speakers to add to the pimped experience

Posted by: Jeffrey Wong | Jan 16, 2006 1:57:26 PM

Come on you gotta see this, new mac mini is so sexy that you should buy this, this new mac mini has got all the pimped filling, you know Apple is the best, but Sony is alright.
Unless you want to add the criminal explosively pimped more, bet you could add the 3 loudest wireless PA speakers to add to the pimped experience, have it as a pimped Hi-Fi.

Posted by: Jeffrey Wong [The Edited Version] | Jan 16, 2006 2:00:32 PM

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