Mac (Under) the Knife: Small, Silent, Spouse-Sanctioned Follow-On Thoughts
A month and a half back, I told you about our experiences putting a Mac mini in the kitchen. Two weekends ago, I dropped an internal WiFi/Bluetooth module I'd obtained from the nice folks at Other World Computing into the Mac mini, thereby eliminating the need for the external US Robotics CAT5-to-WiFi bridge and the D-Link USB Bluetooth adapter. It worked halfway well; the Broadcom 802.11g transceiver has delivered solid connectivity to my wireless LAN even in the presence of active cordless phones, a running microwave oven, and the like.
My experience with the module's Cambridge Silicon Radio Bluetooth transceiver hasn't been as positive, though it's likely my 'fault' (for lack of a better word). For aesthetic reasons I've got the Mac mini tilted on its side to the right of the display, inside a Plasticsmith enclosure, with the top of the unit pointed to the right (i.e. pointed away from the display, keyboard and mouse). The Bluetooth antenna (and WiFi antenna, for that matter) mount on the top of the Mac mini, inside the case, and therefore I suspect the body of the Mac mini is greatly attenuating the Bluetooth signal strength when communicating with the wireless keyboard and mouse.
Yes, I could tilt the Mac mini the other way, with the top of the system pointing towards the keyboard and mouse, but then the Apple logo wouldn't be clearly visible (and the WiFi connectivity, which is more important, might then be degraded given the locations of our house's wireless access points). The resultant erratic Bluetooth connectivity has motivated us to go back to traditional wired keyboard/mouse combo, which practically speaking isn't a big deal. We've never used the keyboard or mouse at a beyond-cable distance from the system, anyway, and regularly replacing depleted batteries (or, alternatively, remembering to switch off the keyboard and mouse power when not using them) got tiresome after a while.
While on the subject of the Mac mini, I'd also like to respond to some of the speculation I've read in response to Apple's unveiling of Front Row two weeks ago. I agree that a Mac mini-based Media Center-like system is intriguing; many of the links I provided in mid-August reference that application, and it mimics the mini-ITX livingroom PC concept that I explored a year and a half ago. Given that Apple's winding down its PowerPC programs, and that the current Mac mini doesn't have the horsepower or GPU assistance to smoothly display HDTV content, we might not see Front Row on a Media Center Mac mini (aside from hacks, that is) until the platform converts to Intel CPUs.
However, I'm still bullish on my past prediction of a video-enhanced Airport Express as a functional equivalent of Microsoft's partners' Media Center Extenders, outputting video streamed from a Mac-as-media-server elsewhere in the home. Apple was the first large tech company to seriously embrace 802.11b (Airport), followed by 802.11g (Airport Extreme); industry-standard in both cases, i.e. not employing any vendor-specific enhancement modes. I suspect the company will again be a trailblazer once higher- and guaranteed-bandwidth 802.11e and 802.11n standardization wrap up.