Monday, October 21, 2013

1st gen G4 Mac mini vs PogoPlug Classic

I took out a G4 Mac mini out of the storage and thought about junking it. It has been in storage for over 5 years now. I googled, "What to do with an old G4 Mac mini" and found some surprising results. People are retiring them into low-powered servers.

Before throwing it out, I figure I find a way to recycle it into my current tech lifestyle.
I have the very first gen G4 with 1GB DDR RAM, 100 GB PATA drive. I also have a GPower USB/Firewire external matching enclosure hub.

The original 1.25 GHz PowerPC G4 first generation Mac mini consumes about 32-85W (Max). At idle, 32W is decent but not what I call low-power.

I found some people debating whether or not an ARM based lightweight device like a PogoPlug would compare. PogoPlugs run at 4-5W and can be hacked into full Linux servers running mySQL, web,FTP,rsync, miniDLNA, torrent boxes, Squeezebox music server,  you name it.
They are often discounted at $15-20.

I personally have 8 of these Pogos running various things. However, I also have a whole closet full of Firewire drives that could be put to good use and shared over the network. Hence, I thought of re-using the Mac Mini.

Before jotting a single word in the blog post, I figured the comparison would tilt in the favor of the more cheaper $15 Pogo alternative. In fact, I have a few and they serve videos to my iPad, stores Linux ISO, provides rsync backups and TimeMachine. They're compact and quiet.

Unfortunately, went I booted the Mac mini for the first time in 3 years, I fell in love again with simplicity of OSX Tiger. On my 100GB drive, my entire OS and all my applications consume a mere 30GB. This includes MS Office 2004, the entire Adobe CS2 Suite with Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Indesign and Flash. I also have Final Cut HD 4.5 with Motion, DVD Studio, and iLife.

All of this took up a 30GB of storage. That is simply amazing. In fact, that takes up a whole lot less disk space than a Windows Surface RT!

I clearly remember editing home DV videos and my very own wedding on this very machine. This was way before the advent of 720/1080p H.264. MiniDV capture and editing was completely competent on this grade of hardware. iDVD is still a pretty slick piece of software. iDVD (version 6) and DVD Studio Pro in 2005 is still better than many other DVD authoring apps on any other platform in 2013.

OSX Tiger boots pretty quick too at around 45 seconds off a PATA IDE drive.
I had to recheck the "About Mac" and I definitely did a lot of things on this machine with only 1GB of RAM! Modern day smartphones and Tablets have more computing power than this! If I ever decide to donate this machine away, I bet some Junior High School kid can put this to good use. Software hasn't gotten remarkably any better in the last decade. This goes to show you could have done some amazing things even back in 2005 from your own bedroom.

I can recollect the endless hours of InDesign layouts and comping.  And when I wasn't in the Mac environment, I remember running Motif,GNOME natively, X11 and working with my SGI/Solaris servers. We now tend to forget OSX has been running a UNIX over a decade now. Back then, it was far more intuitive to use than any Linux distro. OSX was truly advance back in the early 2000s.

You can even run Mac OS 9 apps in Classic mode on the PowerPC Mac minis.

Let me digress from my nostalgia and return to the comparison of an Old Mac mini versus a PogoPlug.

My Mac mini definitely paid for itself for the years I've used it. In fact, I remember doing an video editing job and some applescript work over a Saturday in which it paid for itself. The first generation Mini can be had for $50 to $100 on Craigslist or eBay. Compared to a PogoPlug, they're not cheap. In fact, you can probably get a SFF (Small Form Factor) PC of similar vintage for similar pricing off Craigslist/eBay. In the upper $200, you can probably just get a newer Intel based MacMinis. Those Core 2 Duo Intel Minis are pretty good little boxes.

PogoPlugs come in various flavors and colors.  They're definitely dirt cheap. As I noted earlier, $15-20 is cheap. Depending on the revision model, they come in different configuration with different CPU and RAM. The preferable model is the single core one with the larger RAM footprint.

As you can see from the picture above, the Pogo and Mini is about a similar desktop footprint. Pogos stand up vertically. The great thing about them is they don't require a big power brick. All you need is a simple two prong cable.

Unlike the Mac mini, you run the Pogos completely headless. Either through a webmin like interface or directly in the shell via SSH. I run my Mac mini headless as well via VNC/SSH.

if you've been reading my blog, I've converted my stock Pogos to run ArchLinux (the most popular distro for Pogos). ArchLinux took some time to get used to and at some point, I want to try Debian.

As you can see, you can run a few services.

Both do a good job of file serving SMB/AFP/NFS/SFTP. The Mac definitely has a slightly better advantage in terms of iTunes serving. Your Apple DRM files will work better off real iTunes than any open source colution. It is also for someone who wants to point and click his/her way without digging into the shell.

However, I'd give the Pogo a clear advantage in running newer open source stuff like transmission, sickbeard, sabnzdb,etc. However, it does come at a cost. Running Pogos require a greater level of technical competency that many may be unfamiliar with.

The Mac can also run PPC versions of many Linux Distros and BSD operating systems. It is a full blown computer instead of a hacked NAS box so it will offer more choices. If you want to run FreeBSD on a Mini, an ISO download is only a click away.

Pogos are definitely cool and worth it. $15 and all you need is a USB stick. My only complaint is the fact hard boots get iffy when you have multiple USB drives connected. It sometimes doesn't know which drive to boot off. This is a common known issue.

The common ground is their ability to run as low-powered, light weight servers that you can throw in the basement or garage. However, if electricity costs are your concern, you should look at the two photos below.

The Mac Mini consumes 30W just doing nothing. This is with no drives attached.

The PogoPlugs consume a mere 4.4W. You can run about 6 pogoplugs for one old Mac Mini.

They serve different purposes. If you only care about serving iTunes content, the Mac mini would be my choice. If you want to run a small rsync server, I go with the Pogo. If you are looking for cheap and absolutely want the lowest power consumption, go with the Pogo. If you have an old Mac Mini lying around, there are definitely good reasons not to throw it out. If you have a bunch of Firewire drives like me, you can use it as a light weight NAS file server for other macs and iOS devices.

In the end, I decided to just run the Mac Mini on a per-needed basis instead of 24/7. I have it in a closet and power it on when I need it. I access it remotely through Remote Desktop/VNC. I realize, I don't need to be burning another 0.72 kWh a day which is $65 a year. A single Pogoplug cost $9.63 to run a year 24/7(at $0.25 a kWh).


  1. I had a PogoPlug (the pink one was $15) and just wasn't impressed by Pogo's business model (much like the failed Chumby and Sony Dash). When good intentioned go bad, guess it's a side effect of venture capital.

    I now use a Synology NAS albeit more expensive than a Pogo it's one of my favorite LAMP servers. No hacking or Linux knowledge needed, it just works.

    1. I got burn on a chumby. However, I only paid $30 for mine.
      as for the pogo, I don't really use the pogo service so it doesn't bother me if they go belly-up.
      I do get what you are saying. I happen to like the pogos for the hacking abilities.
      As for NAS, I'm happy with my FreeNAS set-up. Except, it doesn't have those cool apps that Synology has in terms of add-ons. E.G. Plex.
      Works for my needs. However, if a 2 bay Synology is up for sale cheap, I wouldn't mine picking one up to see what the fuss is about.

  2. I went the DIY NAS route for years, including Windows 2000 server, ClarkConnect and FreeNAS. Got a single bay DS110 on sale and it's been Synology ever since.

    I'm amazing Pogo is still around, they charge you a yearly fee for letting you use your own NAS, apparently some units are very hard to install your own Linux on. Synology offers all those features and more for free.

    As for the Chumby... I bought a Sony Dash and returned it. It was a nice bit of hardware with a horribly flawed OS and useless business model made worse by Sony's zero support of the thing (aside from locking you into their awful and broken app store). It was so very close to being a decent product but Chumby and company made sure it died.

  3. No doubt about it , Synology and Qnap both do excellent NAS's but they are quite expensive. I know, I know you get what you pay for. Don't laugh but I bought a Zyxel NSA325 two bay NAS and the stock firmware isn't bad and it is great to tinker. A lot of people install Debian on it. I just use it stock for now but may be if I get a Synology, I will give it a try. I just need it to use right now so I try not play around with it too much.

    There an addon which you get from the German Zyxel repository called Fonz Fun Plug (FFPlug) and you can run a secondary file system on it and add lots of extras like mediatomb, servioo, etc For the money, it is good hardware too. I'm too lazy to write the specs so you can check here:

    It was cheap and I like to tinker!

    In the UK (probably Europe too), one of the telecoms companies called O2 released a thing called an O2 joggler which I run Squeezebox. I think that is like Sony dash and Chumbies. They are made by a company called Openpeak. It's just a cheap tablet running Linux with a Adobe Flash GUI. People have modified them to boot Windows, Linux and Android.