Mac Mini – Getting A Little More Useful


We’re pretty sure Apple decided to implement an IR sensor in their Mac Mini line simply to mock the user. For those who are unaware, the built in sensor only works with the standard Apple Remote; unless you happen to have a programmable PDA or similar you’re SOL. An alternative solution would be to install a USB IR receiver. But then your beautiful Mac Mini is forced to sit alongside an ugly black box. Why not have the best of both worlds? [SqueeZe] wrote an (almost) entirely non invasive tutorial for placing a USB IR receiver inside his Mac Mini. Reminds us of a certain hack a while back, but the objective was to get the IR receiver outside of the unit rather than inside. Different people, different worlds.

[Thanks Kiran]

25 thoughts on “Mac Mini – Getting A Little More Useful

  1. I guess if you made the poor decision to buy this hunk of crap, then yes this is a pretty neat hack. But hackers should avoid violating apple’s IP and just not buy Apple’s products in the first place.

    Same goes with iPhones, jailbreaking an iPhone is is a violation of Apple’s IP unless you replace all of the software with software you actually have rights to (see open source/free software).

    hack ethically ;)

  2. So this is like any other device that has its own remote? Whoa. Grab your torches and pitchforks, Apple haters!

    As others have said, a Harmony – or any other programmable remote – will work just fine.

  3. reason(s) to buy a mac mini;
    1) Small
    2) reasonably powerful (especially the newer ones with the nvidia 9400M in them
    3) much much more open than the apple TV.
    I’m betting a lot of people will say then can build something similar for the same price. I know i can, but I also know that I cannot do it in the same volume. Thats a custom case with a custom heatsink with a custom motherboard. It’s smaller than mini-itx and bigger than nano-itx(good luck finding one that has hardware assisted video decodes of 1080P h264 @>30Mb/sec). SO really it’s the size and power that is interesting.
    The beagleboard with xbmc on it seems very very good, especially once the support for aacs on linux matures. I’d much rather have that.

  4. I’m not impressed at all. If he used a USB hub, soldered it to the motherboard, cut the traces to the built-in plug, then wired the hub out to that, it would have been unnoticable.

  5. The problem has nothing to do with the remote control, but everything to do with the receiver. Even if you have a Harmony remote, you still have to have a receiver that Windows Media Center understands, and the built-in one just isn’t it.

    As for the mac mini, it’s is an awesome machine as a media center. It’s small, powerful and quiet, and works perfectly with Windows Media Center.

    For some people there are more important things than the price.

    Ethical Hacker: what has this hack got to do with Apple’s IP or the iPhone?

  6. Frank, he mentions at the bottom of the post:
    “Ok, so it isn’t completely internal. You could, I suppose, solder it to one of the internal USB ports, but if your warranty wasn’t gone before, it would be then.”

  7. Hah…any time I see mention of the apple remote I think of when my gf first got her apple TV. She buys nothing but macs. And all apple remotes are the same. So she’d be trying to navigate the Apple TV and all of a sudden both of her macbooks would start blasting music out or playing a movie or something….it was actually rather hilarious. She finally did manage to figure out how to disable the remote for the computer…but then the problem becomes that you can’t disable it for the apple TV, so if she wants to use the remote on the computer….well, she can’t.

  8. @Liam, you sir are right on the target.

    An ethical hacker makes what should be personally thought as right, right. What suits him/her is done by the end user for any product is hacked.

    An example is custom rat rods… no top and aren’t drivable in rain. It does not sound ethical but consider them hackers with sheet metal…

  9. Fail , i mean he don’t want a little black box , but he does have a ugly usb cable sticking out his mac mini .
    And aren’t the signals on the original Ir receiver usb ? why he didn’t tapped that signals to the new circuit board ?
    Would have been much neater

  10. I’m pretty sure the actual hardware isn’t locked to the Apple remote,.. Under linux it is possible to use the IR like any other IR transceiver as far as I can remember (I haven’t used the IR on this machine for ages). So there is really no need to take the mac apart.

  11. Sometimes you need to ask yourself, “What would Woz do?” So then you’d throw in a zotac mini itx in there with a core 2 extreme quad core. Stick the cpu heat sink out the top and then mount a physical apple over the sink to hide it (stylishly). After you stick the HD 5850 out the side, then you can start building the SSD RAID 0 array that also acts as feet for the thing. Then throw 8GB ram in it, throw away the superdrive, you now have a perfectly hacked mac. Woz style.

  12. @The_Evil_Machinist, No no no, Woz was all about chip economy and silicon esoterica. He would have used the CPU fan for timing control and routed the IR signals through the keyboard controller during the vertical blanking interrupt. Every 4 microseconds the input would be sent through a barrel shifter to a fifo buffer in the audio chip where it would be read by the CPU during every fourth interrupt.
    It would be hand coded in assembly and take up 350 bytes.

  13. I am going to definitely try this. I got the mini instead of the apple TV as it can serve a dual purpose. Both allowing me to use it as a computer AND a media center.

    Awesome, thanks for the great hacks!

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