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Headless Mac Mini (anyone doing it?)

Aug 23 2011 | 7:49 pm

So I’ve been staying laptop/computer free for my performance setup for many years now.

I’ve pushed it pretty far and it’s been working great.

Lately I’ve been incorporating electronics/hardware into the physical drums themselves.

I’ve been planning/working towards an epic 8-bit sampler/trigger/etc.. setup based around a hardware 8-bit sampler/looper.

In watching a video on DJ Sniff I saw his setup using a headless Mac Mini (I knew that at STEIM they were big on headless mac minis, seeing a few setups while there for an orientation workshop earlier this year). It got me thinking that it might be easier and far more powerful to move my setup towards that kind of headless macmini setup.


Anyone have experience with this? Setting it up seems relatively straight forward but I’m sure there’s ideal combinations of OS version + max/msp version + soundcard driver version + applescript etc….

Aug 23 2011 | 8:46 pm


i´ve been using mac minis headless for installations several years now, they work great. (mostly g4 1.42ghz, lately also an intel based one). pre osx 4.11 one needed a dvi to composite adapter to trick the machine into believing a display was attached, but thats not longer necessary. i am using mildly taxing maxpatches with max5.1.8, started with max runtime. the audiointerface is a echofire12.
when setting them up, i use my laptop conected via vnc (i use
on the laptop) and diverse sharing options enabled on the mini.
that way i don´t have to schlepp around an extra display and keyboard, as the screen of the mini appears on the laptop.
the maxpatches go into startup items with the mandatory 2 second delay for banging the dsp on.
i have had troubles with motu interfaces with hiccups at startup, so personally i wouldn´t want to rely on them too much. but others have different experiences.
otherwise so far happy camper.

hope this helps

Aug 23 2011 | 8:57 pm

Hmm, I was thinking of MOTU hardware as I have experience with them, but definitely a robust setup is more important than comfort.

The VNC is a nice perk but not too integral as I wouldn’t be updating/changing things much, and when I did, I wouldn’t mind busting out a keyboard/mouse/screen (though screen sharing is obviously easier).

Does your intel one have one of those gigantic power supplies or internal?
Do they ever crash on you?
Is the intel one noisy?(internal fan?)
Do settings go wonky if you powerup without the audio card hooked up then plug it in?
Do you just press/hold power to shut it down?

(sorry for the barrage of questions)

Aug 23 2011 | 10:00 pm

as i wrote, don´t take my word as the last verdict on motu…

Does your intel one have one of those gigantic power supplies or internal?
oh yes…

Do they ever crash on you?
i had one running in an installation outdoors (in a wooden box) for 3 or so months powering itself up every morning and shutting itself down in the evening, without reported (!) problems.
to say they would never crash, well show me a computer which never crashes…

Is the intel one noisy?(internal fan?)
the fan may turn on eventually, but rarely, its fairly silent (for installations anyway, when everything is tucked away)

Do settings go wonky if you powerup without the audio card hooked up then plug it in?
this is something to be avoided by all means, especially with motu.

Do you just press/hold power to shut it down?
yes, if operated by hand.

(sorry for the barrage of questions)
you are welcome

Aug 23 2011 | 11:49 pm

HI Rodrigo,

We use Mac Minis for installations quite often. We use Mac Pro when we need more processing power, but my experience with both of them are pretty similar when it comes to headless setup and stability.

We’ve been working with the latest Snow Leopard (10.6.8) and Max (5.1.8) and they have been running somewhat stable as long as memory and CPU usages are reasonable. For an installation that we did at SIGGRAPH 2011, one of our four Max instances had quite a bit of memory (~1GB) and CPU (70%) loads and it would sometime crash either on startup or after running for a few hours. Sometime it was happy for the whole day. Since it was quite a complicated setup, it may well have been just bad coding on our end. On other installations that weren’t as complicated as this, I remember having not having stability issue and we have Mac Minis and Mac Pros that are running for months.

As far as interfaces, I have experience with MOTUs, RMEs, M-Audios and Echos. I’ve seen quite a few MOTUs that had hardware problems, but not with others. YMMV on the MOTUs…

> Do settings go wonky if you powerup without the audio card hooked up then plug it in?

If you don’t have the interface on or plugged in when you start Max, Max will not be able to recognize it. You should always have the interface turned on and plugged in before turning on headless mini. Some interfaces like MOTUs and M-Audios may also break if you don’t have it turned on/plugged it when the computer starts…

> Do you just press/hold power to shut it down?

I typically SSH and call the shutdown command or VNC to use the GUI since I usually have another computer connected over the network. I would advise against holding the power button to shut it down, but since I don’t usually do it, I can’t tell you if it’ll kill the mini or not…

Also, we use AppleScript on startup to setup our demos. It works great especially when we have multiple applications that need to be opened in some specific order.

Aug 24 2011 | 2:36 am

I have been using mac minis for several years,
my first installation computer was a mac mini
ocassonaly I use a laptop. mac minis are great,
easy to carry

Aug 24 2011 | 2:19 pm

Hmm, not very inspiring stories on MOTU stuff. I was looking at the MicroBook ( as it’s 4×2 and tiny.

Aug 24 2011 | 2:50 pm

My bad MOTU experiences have been mostly with 828 and Traveler so you might have a better chance with their other lines. Now that I think about it, we never had problems with their PCI/PCIe stuff…

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