Avid readers of this blog (oh, and friends too probably) will know that I fairly recently bought myself a Mac Mini, to replace my G3 Mac. It was all somewhat of a last-minute transfer, with the G3 dying almost without warning and leaving me having to go back to using my PC with Windows XP – not an experience I want to repeat if I can help it. The cause of death turned out to be the processor, which was an upgrade by the previous owner, and which stopped the computer booting up at all. So I ended up buying myself a second-hand Mac Mini on eBay, which was about all I could afford at short notice.
Despite being newer and having a faster processor (1.42Ghz rather than 1Ghz) I have to confess the speed increase wasn’t particularly noticeable. In some ways it was much better – its graphics capabilities were much higher, allowing it to do the funky Quartz stuff – but it still struggled on occasions, especially when running several large programs at the same time. That, sadly, is just the way my work goes though – it’s a rarity if I have less than 10 apps running at once, and that could well include several browsers, Photoshop, e-mails, RSS client, FTP client, calendar, address book, word processor… when I’m in full flow it gets rather crowded! In fact, that’s on reason I’m using a virtual desktops setup, giving me the ability to put different programs on different virtual screens, keeping things a little more organised.
I discovered today (or rather, confirmed) that the likely cause of the sluggishness is the lack of memory. The old G3 had a nice 800Mb of RAM, which was enough for the design work I was doing (it was the processor power that held that computer back most of all). My PPC Mac Mini only has 512Mb, which apparently isn’t enough for what I want to be doing. I checked out the memory usage with vm_stat today, and discovered that a fair amount of effort is going into performing page ins and page outs, where the physical memory is so overloaded that the OS has to swap stuff in and out of hard disk space to keep going. Not only is this an extra strain on the processor and hard disk, but it takes time – hard disks are much slower than RAM.
Upgrading a Mac Mini isn’t going to be easy, but it is possible. The most I can put in is 1Gb apparently, and the hardest part is getting the case off. I’ve found a few tutorials on how to do this, and a new 1Gb RAM chip (it can only hold one at a time, unfortunately) will set me back about £30. So that may be another expense to put through the business accounts soon. I’ll let you all know how it goes. Assuming the computer survives the ordeal…