Native Windows 8 on a Mac mini: first impressions

Summary:ZDNet's David Gewirtz spent the weekend installing Windows 8 on a Mac mini using Bootcamp. His observations and early impressions (along with descriptions of some of the problems he ran into) are described in this helpful article.

Screen resolution

I use this machine from about a 10-foot distance. Because text was way too small at 1080p, I set up my previous media center PC to 720p resolution (which means 720 pixels tall). Windows 8, as it turns out, doesn’t like anything less than 768, and the standard resolutions that are 728 tall are not wide-screen.

More of a challenge, the Intel HD4000 chipset in the Mac mini didn’t really groove on the idea of working at anything other than the TV’s native 1920x1080 resolution. I found the HD4000 configuration panel wouldn’t let me adjust overscan unless I selected the 1080p resolution option.

This results in two problems: seeing the screen, and more work for the video processor. So far, the video processor seems generally up to the task, in that I only noticed a small amount of degradation vs. the performance of the gaming laptop, and that was just subjective (and without tweaking video playback). It helps that the Mac mini has quad-core i7 processors and 16GB of RAM.

I (generally) solved the it’s-too-far-away-to-see problem by upping the text size in the Windows 8 Display control panel to 150%. This uses a snazzy feature called display scaling to make things moderately readable.

There is a gotcha, though. If you set the text size in the Display control panel to 150%, when you watch a video and want to full-screen it, the Windows taskbar shows at the bottom of the screen. There’s a compatibility option that can be set for applications like VLC to turn off display scaling, and that allows full-screen video to display at full screen.

Unfortunately, if you want to watch a full-screen YouTube video, you have to turn off display scaling in your browser, and then all the browser text gets real small. Still digging to find a work-around for this. If anyone out there knows of one, feel free to share.

Intermittent sluggishness

I have noticed that – from time to time – my mouse seems to track less accurately than I’d like. It’s like a car where the tires are slipping. I haven’t yet tracked down what’s causing this, although I have the weird feeling it might be Chrome.

When I first installed Windows 8 and started using it, I noticed that there were a ton of Chrome processes running right after I booted up, even if I hadn’t yet run Chrome in that boot iteration. I also found the PC to sometimes seem quite sluggish. When I disabled Chrome from running on boot, I found that that the PC seemed less sluggish, even with Chrome running after hand-launching it.

A few times, I’ve noticed that when Chrome is running, Windows 8 seems to become a little less responsive. I haven’t been able to objectively verify this, but subjectively, this does seem to be the case. I’ll let you know if I find anything out, and if you’ve noticed anything, please share below.

Another thing I noticed was that the machine seemed tangibly less crisp once I installed Office 2010 and Acrobat 9 Standard on the system. I haven’t had a chance to see what these guys dropped into the background and are running, but I’m sure there’s some detritus I can clean out and might decruft things a little bit.

Topics: Windows 8, Apple

About

In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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