Got an old Mac mini? Here's how you can repurpose it to make your home smarter

Neeraj Bhateja

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The Mac mini especially the M1 version is a powerful device that can be used for a wide range of purposes in the home. Thanks to its impressive performance and energy efficiency, it quickly became a best seller. But soon the glory came to halt for some power users who upgraded to the 14-inch or 16-inch MacBook Pros. Let’s be honest, those machines are super powerful and portable too.

Since a lot of such M1 or even older Intel-powered Mac minis were retired or pushed to the cupboards, let’s take a closer look at some of the possible uses for the M1 Mac mini and how it can help you transform your home. I’ve been doing this for the past year or so and it has transformed my life in ways I couldn’t imagine.

Plex server

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Have you ever been in a situation where you want to watch something instantly but it is not available on the platforms you’ve subscribed to? Or have you ever wondered what you’re going to do about that large DVD or Bluray collection? I mean you can’t always move the Blu-ray player to every room whenever you want to watch something, right?

Well, this is where Plex comes in. In fact, one of the most popular uses for the M1 Mac mini or even an older Mac mini is a Plex server. Plex is a popular media server app that allows you to store and stream your favorite movies and TV shows to various devices. It’s like your personal Netflix that you manage and own. Yes, you can share your library with users like your family and friends too. No more checking the movie availability on different platforms. The best part is that it is free (except for some advanced features). To be honest, the free plan offers more than enough features for the majority of users. In case you want to go Pro, Plex offers a lifetime plan which is $119 USD. If you stream lots of 4K HDR movies to multiple devices at once, I would recommend that. It’s totally worth the cost. I have been using a Plex server since 2020 and I cannot imagine my life without it now.

You can set up a dedicated Plex server in your home and stream content to your television, laptop, smartphone, tablet, or even your streaming box like Apple TV or even Roku. You just need to ensure that you have a decent internet connection. This can be a great way to transform any room into a home entertainment hub. Here’s the best part, you can even access it when you’re away from home. So, the next time you want to watch anything, you can just download or buy it digitally and move it to the Plex server on your M1 Mac mini. You can also expand your library with an external hard drive or SSD. Throw in a good monitor, and you can still use your Mac mini as a regular desktop workstation for home while using it as a Plex server. It’s a Win-Win situation.

Check out this quick tutorial on how to set up the Plex server on your Mac mini:

Nvidia Cloud Gaming Client

GeForce Now is Nvidia’s cloud gaming platform. It lets you play PC and console games anywhere without a gaming PC. In simple terms, the games run on cloud servers and just stream to your devices. It’s like Netflix but for games. I’ve personally tested this on my 2014 retired Mac mini. After playing Witcher 3 in FullHD @60fps, I have hidden my retired Mac mini in the living room TV console so it is never visible and I can just play cloud games with literally just the tap of a button. Of course, you’ll need a compatible Bluetooth controller to play the games. My personal favorite is the Sony Playstation Dualshock 4 controller. It’s got very good build quality and impressive haptics.

The gaming giant, Nvidia has been optimizing its platform for more and more devices. The list includes tons of devices. In fact, all Macs released after 2009 are compatible as long as you have a good internet connection.

You can learn more about GeForce Now here.

Network-attached storage or a self-hosted Google Photos alternative

The M1 Mac mini can also function as a network-attached storage device. This means that you can add external hard drives to the Mac mini and use it to store and access your files from anywhere in your home or even if you’re away. This can be particularly useful for those who work from home and need access to their files on multiple devices. You can set up your Mac mini as a central storage device for your house or office. In short, you just need to change folder-sharing permissions. All it takes are just tweaking a few settings and you’re good to go.

Furthermore, this guide uses an app called Transmission that turns your Mac mini into a BitTorrent client which can be accessed via a smartphone, tablet, and a web interface. This is super cool if you’re into this stuff.

Or you can self-host your own Google Drive-like storage platform. This means you can back up your pictures and videos shot on your phone to your own server. There are many (both free and paid) softwares that allow you to do that. It is super useful if you want to save costs on cloud storage.

Backup desktop computer

Since hybrid work has become very common post-pandemic, you can use this as a backup desktop machine at your home workstation. As a backup desktop computer, the M1 Mac mini can be an excellent choice. It offers powerful performance for all sorts of tasks. Whatever the task be the M1 Mac mini will cut through anything including 4K video editing. If you’ve got an older Mac mini, you can revive it after installing another operating system on it like ChromeOS. ChromeOS Flex has revived hundreds of thousands of retired devices. It is basically a lightweight version of the Chromebook operating system. This can be particularly useful for households with multiple people who need access to a computer for work or school. Installing it is super easy too. You just need a pen drive and that’s all. Here’s a quick tutorial. I’ve been using it for the past 6 months on my 9-year-old Mac mini. Honestly, it works like this decade-old machine has been blessed with a new engine. It blasts through all my daily tasks i.e. web surfing, YouTube Google Docs, Sheets, etc.). You can install it on any old PC be it a laptop or a Mac.

Web server

If you are interested in setting up your own website or a blog where you want to just document your culinary experiments or your woodwork, then the Mac mini can serve as a web server. This means that you can host your own website on the device and have more control over the hosting and maintenance of your site. This can be a great option for small businesses or individuals who want to have more control over their websites. Please be aware that it is a technical process and requires a good amount of knowledge of how servers work like deploying Apache & more. Roland has demonstrated this with a step-by-step tutorial here. You can also use it to test websites locally. You can learn more on Apple forums.

Conclusion

The M1 Mac mini is a versatile device that can be used for various purposes in the home. Whether you are looking to set up a Plex server, a central backup system for your pictures and videos, a backup desktop computer, or even a web server, the M1 Mac mini offers impressive performance and energy efficiency at an affordable price point. With its small and compact design, it can easily fit anywhere and help you transform the way you use your devices in your daily life. If you are looking to upgrade your home, the M1 Mac mini or reviving an old Mac mini is definitely worth considering.

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Technology nerd with a zest for anything new in tech, cameras, vintage glass, and everything eCommerce.

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