- Nov 11, 2012
- HD 4000
- Classic Mac
- Mobile Phone
bitdoctor's MiniMacPro Build: intel Core i7-3770 - Gigabyte GA-H77N-WIFI - HD 4000 - 16 GB - 256 GB SSD
Intel Core i7-3770 Ivy Bridge CPU (LGA 1155, 3.4 GHz, 8 MB Cache, HD 4000 Intel Integrated Graphics
Gigabyte GA-H77N-WIFI (Mini-ITX, DDR3, SATA III, 2 x USB 3.0, 8 x USB 2.0, DVI, 2 x HDMI, 2 x GbE LAN)
Corsair 16 GB (2 x 8 GB) CML16GX3M2A1600C10 DDR3 1600 MHz Vengeance Unbuffered RAM
Samsung 830 Series 2.5" 256 GB SATA III SSD
Antec ISK110-VESA Mini-ITX Case with 90 Watt External Power Adapter
Kingston 8 GB USB 2.0 Data Traveler
Atheros AR5BHB92 Half-Mini PCI-E Wireless Card
Samsung SyncMaster 2333SWPLUS
Microsoft Comfort Curve Keyboard 2000
Microsoft Optical Mouse (Blue)
Apple Mac OS X 10.8.2 Mountain Lion
The parts for this system were purchased and the system assembled in November 2012. The exception being the wireless card ordered on eBay (Hong Kong) that only arrived two days ago, due to an apparent hold up of international mail from Hong Kong. Hence the final system and write-up is only now complete.
This MiniMacPro was my first attempt at building a CustoMac and was to replace my main workhorse: a dated MacBook Pro (Early 2008 Model). The MacBook Pro spent 90% of its life docked to an external keyboard, mouse and screen, battery removed and power connected. I'm not a huge fan air conditioning, thus operating temperatures and humidity in tropical northern Australia can be high (one reason I prefer to remove the battery when it's not required). Recent Apple "innovations" in the MacBook Pro line don't allow for battery removal.
The build's main requirements can be summarised by:
- low power consumption
- small size for portability
- maximum performance
I recently invested in a solar energy system, a dual grid-connect and off-grid system. Thus, low power consumption was a key requirement. Indirectly replacing a notebook, portability was also an important factor: i.e. something that could occasionally be taken to another office, a friend's house. Finally, performance to comfortably run applications like Office, Photoshop, Xcode, MPLABX, VirtualBox etc. was the final requirement.
Before embarking on this custom build, I considered the latest Mac mini that had only just been released. While it turned out to be hard to source, like the recent MacBook Pro's there were several other recent Apple "innovations" that I did not like on these systems. Finally, cost per performance and the thrill and novelty to build a CustoMac tipped the scales to start the build (I've previously only built Windows and Linux workstations and server systems).
The system components follow, quite closely, the recommended CustoMac Mini 2012 shopping list, with only minor exceptions.
The first deviation is the Antec ISK110-VESA case, which was chosen due to its ultra compact size and very low power consumption, featuring a 90 Watt external power adapter. It ships with both a desktop stand and a VESA mount that can be attached to the back of a computer screen. This Antec case was the smallest and lowest powered case that I could source.
The intel Core i7-3770 (consuming 77 Watt of power) with the GA-H77N-WIFI board were a good match. I did not consider over-clocking (in which case the intel i7-3770k and GA-Z77N-WIFI would have been the choice) due to the low power and heat requirements. Additionally, the chosen intel i7-3770 and GA-H77N-WIFI also support VT-x and VT-d (the intel i7-3770k and GA-Z77N-WIFI only support VT-x) meaning that if the system were in the future decommissioned from serving as a Mac (i.e. if this build was to fail as a CustoMac), it could potentially serve as an excellent virtualisation platform.
With cloud storage and my own personal Synology NAS, excessive storage capacity was not required in this build and a smaller yet faster solid state disk was picked instead. Samsung SSD's are used in the official Mac mini 2012 and MacBook Pro 2012 lineups and this disk was chosen due its increased performance over conventional HDD's. The Samsung 830 Series SSD was readily available in November 2012. Today, I would also consider the revised model Samsung 840 Series SSD.
On 9. November 2012 the bill of materials came to AUD 818.00 (ex. shipping) from my local Umart Online plus AUD 4.39 (ex. shipping) for the wireless card from eBay.
Following the excellent Guide and with UniBeast Mountain Lion 1.5.3 and my old MacBook Pro at hand, media preparation proved to be straight forward. The default UniBeast values were chosen (no Legacy USB Support and no Laptop Support). As mentioned in the UniBeast instructions, the estimated install time was grossly incorrect, actually taking approx. 50 minutes on the old MacBook Pro.
Assembling the parts was fun, yet fairly tight when you're used to working with much larger server cases.
MiniMacPro 2012: Parts
MiniMacPro 2012: Case
MiniMacPro 2012: Assembly (Top and Bottom)
MiniMacPro 2012: Assembled System
The GA-H77N-WIFI Micro-ITX system board fits neatly inside the Antec ISK110-VESA case, which includes just enough space for the standard CPU cooler. The case has no other system fans. Its top (or side) cover is basically an open mesh though, so a conventional desk fan placed in front of the case could add plenty of external ventilation if the system temperature were to get too high. As previously noted, the 90 Watt external power adapter relocates this potential heat source outside the case, while the chosen intel Core i7-3770 has a max TDP of 77 Watt.
The Samsung SSD was installed underneath the system board, which includes sufficient space for two 2.5" disks. All cables could be routed around the case chassis. Two of the four Antec ISK110-VESA case USB 2.0 slots were connected.
Pressing F7 in the BIOS loads the optimized defaults. The system information was recorded as Model Name: H77N-WIFI, IOS Version: F2, BIOS Date: 08/23/2012 and BIOS ID: 8A31AG0K being the newest BIOS at the time. The following BIOS settings were checked and/or changed:
- xHCI Mode = AUTO (default)
- XHCI Hand-off = Enabled (default)
- EHCI Hand-off = Enabled (default was Disabled)
- High Precision Event Timer = Enabled (default)
- Intel Virtualization Technology = Enabled (default was Disabled)
- VT-d = Disabled (default was Enabled)
It is worth commenting on the VT-d setting that was enabled by default in this GA-H77N-WIFI board (but which is not available on the GA-Z77N-WIFI version). During the initial Mountain Lion installation I forgot to disable this VT-d setting. The installation completed without error and booted into Mountain Lion flawlessly. After installing MultiBeast and removing the boot media, the system would no longer boot. Setting this VT-d to Disabled fixes this issue.
MiniMacPro 2012: Success! About This Mac
MiniMacPro 2012: Success! First Desktop
MiniMacPro 2012: MultiBeast v5.2.1 Configuration
Since the original installation using MultiBeast 5.1.3 I've updated to the current version 5.2.1 shown in the screenshot. I chose the DSDT installation (with DSDT-GA-H77N-WIFI-F2.aml) to support HDMI Audio and added the FakeSMC Plugins to support reading the system board sensors (temperature, fan speed etc.) and PS/2 support (for compatibility and convenience when away from home).
Adding the Wireless Card
The GA-H77N-WIFI system board ships with the Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2230 card installed in its half-mini PCI-E slot. As noted by many posts on this forum, while this wireless card includes both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth functions, it is not fully supported in Mountain Lion and by default just Bluetooth is operational. The solution is to replace the Intel wireless card with an Atheros AR5BHB92 type card, a popular forum solution being the Dell card available "used" from eBay for USD 11.94. For approx. the same (delivered) cost I chose the "new" DW1515 card from eBay out of Hong Kong.
On the first power-up after finally installing the long awaited (8 weeks later) wireless card, the BIOS initiated a reset. Reloading the optimized defaults with the previously noted changes, the system booted as normal. Wi-Fi was immediately available. It was not necessary to install any further drivers. With a Command + Left Click the now dysfunctional Bluetooth icon could be dragged off the menu bar.
I'm very satisfied with the performance of this new MiniMacPro. Needless to say, the performance gain over the old MacBook Pro (Early 2008 model) is incredible. Boot time is under 10 seconds while Apps like Office and even Photoshop CS4 (a long time loading on the old MacBook Pro) open in just seconds. Following are some more objective performance results from Geekbench and Blackmagic Disk Speed.
MiniMacPro 2012: Geekbench 2: 32-bit Score
MiniMacPro 2012: Geekbench 2: 64-bit Score
MiniMacPro 2012: Blackmagic Design Disk Speed Test
The obtained Geekbench scores blow the majority of current iMac, MacBook Pro and Mac mini benchmarks out of the water and even compete with many Mac Pro's: at a fraction of the cost.
Compared to other CustoMac's with similar hardware though, it is surprising to see the score at under 14,000.
After using and testing the new MiniMacPro for the past 6 weeks, all Mountain Lion 10.8.2 functions appear to be fully operational. Mountain Lion ran stable, and no panics or crashes were experienced.
- USB 2.0: 4 x Rear (Board) and 2 x Front (Case) all working
- USB 3.0: 2 x Rear (Board) all working, tested with LaCie P'9220 External HDD
- DVI: Working and connected to Samsung Display
- HDMI: 2 x Rear (Board) all working (incl. Audio), tested with Panasonic Plasma HDTV
- LAN: 2 x Rear (Board) all working (see note below)
- Wi-Fi: Working
- Audio: Front and Rear working, tested Speaker Out and Mic In (tested with Skype and QuickTime Broadcaster)
- PS/2: Working, tested with Gigabyte KM-5000 PS/2 keyboard
There appears to be an issue with connecting LAN cables after booting, or making changes to the LAN interface such as changing from DHCP to Static. This typically requires a reboot. It's a minor annoyance, since the system boots extremely quickly.
Thanks to tonymacx86 and all the contributors at this forum. What a fantastic resource and user group. The guides and software enabled a trouble free build, even for a first time CustoMac builder.
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