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Mac Mini Video Upgrade

Posted by kernelbob on January 12, 2010

I recently upgraded our Mac Mini media center with a new video decoder board. Surprisingly, it worked.

A couple of weeks ago, an article on Anandtech explained that the XBMC media player now supports a new Broadcom video decoder. They also mentioned that it works on a Mac Mini.

We already had a Mac Mini under our TV. And we were already using XBMC. And we’ve got some high bitrate HD video that the Mini couldn’t decode in real time.

I opened up the Mini and confirmed that it really did have a mini PCIe slot. It does. (This must be the age of the minicomputer.) The slot was occupied by the Wi-Fi card. So I could have either high bitrate HD or Wi-Fi. The house is wired with Cat-5 and the Mini was already plugged in to a gigabit switch, so Wi-Fi isn’t needed.

So I ordered the video decoder. A Broadcom BCM970012 on a mini PCIe card from Logic Supply, as mentioned by Anandtech.

The video card arrived. I took the Mini apart. Slipped the new card in. Put it back together. Found out the audio board had come unplugged. Took it apart again. Plugged in the audio board. Put it back together again. Launched XBMC. Played some video. It works.

The whole thing was so easy it was quite anticlimactic.

I don’t have any idea how XBMC is talking to the video card. It’s not visible in Mac OS’ System Profile. It’s kind of weird to install hardware like this and not know how the operating system interfaces to it. Normal people cope with this kind of ambiguity, so I guess I can too.

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5 Responses to “Mac Mini Video Upgrade”

  1. Aaron said

    I just ordered one of those cards. So it does work in the mini? CPU usage during playback went way down? What version of xbmc are you running?

  2. kernelbob said

    It works. I don’t know of a way to monitor CPU use while XBMC has the screen, so can’t tell you about utilization. I am running XBMC 9.11 “Camelot”.

    Playback is jerky on some 1080i video streams, smooth on others. I’m pretty sure my file server and LAN are not bottlenecks, but the bitrate is much lower than the BCM970012 is rated for. So I don’t know what’s going on.

    • Aaron said

      If you hit the letter “O” on your keyboard it should bring up the cpu usage and dropped frames info while you are watching the video.
      I just tried playing a 1080p sample on my 1.6Ghz Core Duo Mini with the Intel GMA950:

      It pegs the CPU and drops lots of frames.

      • kernelbob said

        I got some time with the TV tonight. Playing a 9 Mb/s H.264 stream on XBMC, I saw a lot of dropped frames. About 700 frames were dropped in 3 minutes, or 3.9 per second on average. CPU utilization was 105 to 110%.

        My Mini has a Core 2 Duo running at 1.83 GHz.

  3. Andrew said

    FWIW, I found this page after I found yours.

    http://code.google.com/p/crystalhd-for-osx/

    What I’m trying to figure out now is if this is really needed for a newer Mac Mini or not.

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