The New Mini

It’s just over one year since I saw the Mac Mini in the flesh and I made the statement…if I had a plasma I would buy one without hesitation. Well I’ve got the LCD and a new version of the Mini has just been announced. The mouse has been hovering over the buy now button but I just can’t click it. Doubts have crept in.

The first one is the amount of duplication in gadgets – just what do I really need? The Mini would ideally replace XBMC and also allow so much more. At the same time I’m looking at the 360 which is more powerful than the Mini and the PS3 will be on the shelf in the next year – do I really need another box with similar specs to deliver slightly different functionality?

Second is cost. $799 does not equal £599. That’s £140 above the pound dollar conversion rate. A DVI cable from Apple is £60. Why don’t I bend over and take a humping at the same time. Thanks Apple.

So I will bide my time yet again, but hopefully for only another 3 or 4 months. By then I should know what the PS3 really will deliver and also just how good the small form factor pc’s from Intel will be like. Maybe I should just go with the laptop, scrap having a player at the TV and plug in the laptop when required. Anyone else have a good idea?


xbmcI’ve mentioned Xbox Media Center (XBMC) before but the new updates are top smart. First up is a new web radio interface. Makes browsing through hundreds of Internet radio stations a breeze. Second is a link into Apple’s movie trailer site which means you can stream and watch trailers on the TV with ease. Finally there’s a link to game trailers at Microsoft.

Linking into the pc is easy and means I can browse the all my music (and album art finally works well) and select play lists at will. Can then easily switch to movies stored on the media server pc, the Xbox itself or slap in a dvd. If you are into home entertainment in any way, a chipped Xbox and XBMC really are worth investigating.



Well, 13 hours after starting we finally managed to mod 3 xbox’s yesterday. And it was FAR harder than we had imagined. Stripping the boxes apart was pretty straightforward. Even the first solder was not too bad, just very time consuming. This involved de-soldering 12 pin points (although we managed to do 16), pushing a plug into the holes and re-soldering – took about an hour. However the final solder task was one solder point on the xbox motherboard – d0. What a bitch.

Graham’s board was the first victim and after an hour of trying the two points one of the tracks was lifted off the board. When I say lifted, more like burnt away! A combination of lack of tools and lack of skill. An hour after realising the damage we took the first sensible decision of the day – call for help. One of Grahams friends was a spark with electronics experience. 20 mins later he had arrived, but said we didn’t have the right tools. So one trip to Maplin later (3rd time in the space of 24 hours but thats a whole other post) and we had a good soldering iron.

John then did his magic, repairing the track and soldering the chip on. We tested the box – woo-hoo – it worked. We then set-up a production line Henry Ford would be proud off and we rattled through the other 2 boxes. This cannot be underestimated – get someone who knows what they are doing when it comes to soldering, especially motherboard stuff. What took us an hour, John did in 5 mins. Very impressive.

So I left last tired but pleased. Checked at home and it worked really well. Until this morning, where the day just got worse and worse.

Firstly, got FTP working and fired over a copy of XBMC. Cool – that worked. Then started playing with some of the emulators – Rick Dangerous for the xbox :-). I then ripped GTA 3 with ease. This was going to be good. Switched off for a while as a sore head was developing. But then wanted to try the shoutcast streaming so switched on again. Oops. Screen was flicking between wide and 4:3 and flickering slightly. A bit of investigation and it turned out the box thought it was NTSC and Japanese. Strange. And I couldn’t change the setting. Bugger.

A bit of panic searching lead me nowhere. I stopped for a bit as the head was getting worse. Roll on 6 hours and a short nap later. Find a setting in Smartxx to change region – no effect. Then try Avalaunch which was the worst thing I could do. Changed regions in there and switched off and on. Bugger. Smartxx would load but no matter which bios I loaded, I would get no graphics. The xbox looked knackered. Tried the backup flash in Smartxx – no difference!!

After a couple of hours I found that Avalaunch is buggy. Changing the region settings in their can screw your xbox. I eventually found a recovery bios which I could flash to Smartxx via the pc web front end. Thanks goodness we chose Smartxx as other chips don’t let you do this. I ran the fix, and switched off and on. Thankfully the machine now works. Took a backup of the eeprom just in case this happens again. Phew. An eventful weekend, but now have a really great gadget. Ok, it’s a toy, but a very cool one!

Crystal XBOX

So I’ve made the first purchase of my next gadgeting odyssey (wanky words a go-go). The crystal xbox. Exactly the same kit as the one I’ve got, but see-thru. Now – I’ve not gone completely mad – the old one isn’t going to waste or to the great console graveyard that is my attic. Firstly, the disk drive is getting repaired by Microsoft as after 2 years of hammering it’s not the most reliable.

Once I get the old one back I’ll then be adding a SmartXX chip and a 120Gb Maxtor drive. Why? Why not! Firstly it will let me play copied games, not that I’m some sort of dirty games pirate, but broadband will be my friend. Secondly, I can runs loads of emulators from the xbox – some arcade classics and maybe even Head Over Heels if I can find the rom. Thirdly, stream mp3’s from the pc and also internet radio. So killing lots of birds with the one stone. The reason for the new xbox is:

a) Mod will be done solo so who knows what may happen when random soldering is required
b) The crystal xbox will be live only games, so no chance of my xbox being banned.

Top smart.