Native Windows 8 on a Mac mini: first impressions

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.

TOPICS: Windows 8, Apple

Last week, the old gaming laptop that my wife and I had repurposed for a media center PC decided to overheat and fry. I chose to replace it with a late 2012-edition Mac mini server I bought last week from Apple. I had highlighted the Mac mini in my recent gift guide and it does have a heck of a lot of bang for both the buck and space.

In a future article, I’ll talk more about my reasoning for the choice and steps to set the system up. For now, though, I want to share with you my first impressions (and some questions) after spending the weekend installing Windows 8 and migrating or reinstalling all my applications.

How the machine is used

Because we work from home, the PC we use in the media center is as much conference and collaboration system as it is a media center. We use it as a whiteboard when we have planning sessions, I often do my morning reading on it (sitting on the couch, while drinking my first cup of coffee). And I write a lot of articles on it, including this one.

It is not (much) used as a gaming PC, because we have Xboxen and a PS3 that do a great job. I might want to play some World of Warcraft on it (if I ever get back into the game), but that’s the extent of the gaming needs. However, we do watch a lot of video on this, especially YouTube videos (I watch a lot of technical videos and conferences), and so video performance is important.

Of particular note is that this PC supports two keyboards and two mice. My wife and I long ago figured that coordinating who had the keyboard was a royal pain, so we each keep our own personal keyboard and mouse on our own side of the couch. This also works well, because she likes different sized keyboards and mice than I do, and – apparently – there’s also “boy crud” from time-to-time on my gear.

Mac as BIOS

I’m still trying to get a handle on the relationship of the Mac environment and its Bootcamp Windows loader. I bought the Mac mini server, which comes with two drives and configured the machine to dual-boot.

I left Mac OS X Mountain Lion on one drive and dedicated the second drive to Windows 8. After installing, I set (from the Mac OS X side) the machine to use the Windows drive for startup, and so the machine boots directly into Windows on power-up.

During initial setup, I bound the Logitech K810 Bluetooth keyboard to OS X and when I installed Windows, I didn’t set up Bluetooth, but I still had access to the keyboard. This gave me the impression the keyboard (and probably a lot of what we would have once-called BIOS-level components) was being driven by either Mac OS X, or at least from the Mac’s firmware.

However, once I finished setting everything up, and I put the machine in the rack by our big screen TV, I ran into some problems. I added my wife’s keyboard and mouse, and suddenly the original keyboard wouldn’t work when I booted Windows.

Topics: Windows 8, Apple


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Oh

    Buying a Mac to run Windows... hmmm. I once have seen a friend of mine installing windows in a 2011 mac book pro with 4Gb of ram and Bootcamp only giving 1.5Gb of ram on the windows side. He was using Win 7 32bit. Extremely odd. at least 3gb would appear as the ram size right? I always thought using windows in a mac a very problematic affair. Drivers are appalling, i.e. you could not install catalyst from AMD, you had to use a more than year old version from Apple that was buried in an almost impossible to find page. and i could go on. I don't say Apple gear is not excelent tech. It is but buying it just to run windows as the main os don't think it's wise choice, because of the little quirks that are experienced in the windows side.
    Amiga Friend
    • I'm actually running pure Intel video drivers

      I thought of that, and while I haven't yet gone to each manufacturer, I did go to Intel and use their configuration tool to find the right drivers. So I'm using the video drivers that are the most current, straight from Intel.

      Big improvement over first iteration, using Apple's stuff. I'm thinking I might do that with Broadcom and see if the straight-from-Broadcom Bluetooth drivers beat the Bootcamp stuff.

      David Gewirtz
      • Logitech

        also have a multitouch trackpad for Windows (T650) and the Mac, the Mac version uses Bluetooth, the Windows their own Unify dongle.

        It make a world of difference to using Windows 8 on the desktop. If you are using the PC on the sofa, it might also be more convinient than using a mouse...

        To be honest, I haven't missed the Start Menu, I find the Start Screen more intuitive, but I find a lot of apps aren't suited to a large HD screen.
      • "baffeled"

        You're baffled by the lack of the old start menu in Windows, yet you claim to be some sort of tech expert? I find Windows 8 far easier to setup and use than even Windows 7. Strange, since even children can use Windows 8, I wonder what that says about your competence....
        • I agree..

          The new Windows 8 start screen after about 30 seconds is... so much easier to use than the old start menu. I am "baffled" as to how anyone has trouble with it.
          • So, in your opinion, people aren't allowed to have

            a choice, for something they prefer, or liked with a different version. "This is What MS has told you is better so just deal with it!" - This sounds like the same argument you people use to complain about Apple; but when MS does it, it's just better? Or more intuitive?

            Interesting, very interesting......They name streets after some of you, and as NZ used to say.."Cue the double standards"- LOL...

          • They do have choice

            There are several after-market things that you can put on there to put the start menu back on.
            Michael Alan Goff
      • I am using Parallels 8..

        To Run Windows 8 on my Latest Edition Macbook Air. It is perfect. No mouse issues, even the OSX gestures work in Windows 8. Also, Setup was seamless, I had no special configuration issues. Of course, Windows 8 boots in 3 seconds or less from the time I start it... plus I can easily switch back and forth.

        Performance is OBSCENE. I have never had a machine run Windows this fast.

        David... a question.. Why Use Chrome in Windows 8? I have been using IE 10 and I gotta say nothing compares to it. The IE 10 engine is super fast, and every thing works with IE. I never have sites that don't function with it...I have hit a few older ones where I had to use compatibility mode... but they still rendered so quickly, I am not sure what Chrome would accomplish.

        Obviously, back when IE 6 was the only choice for years, it sucked and firefox came along and provided innovation and speed... and Chrome later did the same... but Microsoft has fixed all those issues in IE10 inside Windows 8. SUPER FAST BROWSER.
        • Thought about Parallels

          How does it perform for full screen HD video in a virtual window? Have you tried any PC games or 3D graphics in it?

          As for Chrome, go back a few articles and you'll see my story. I haven't run IE as a primary browser since 2002 or so. I moved from Firefox to Chrome, and like it pretty well. I like Chrome (and Firefox, to some degree, before it) because all my bookmarks are available on all platforms. IE is limited in that regard.
          David Gewirtz
  • I can sympathise, and your story highlights why PC sales are down.

    It's that FRUSTRATION factor.

    When what should be a simple 30 minute job, turns into a 3 day ordeal and requires several "bodges" to get things going. (often not 100% as you'd like them to).

    I've stopped taking "troubleshooting" calls from my family and friends. Often because when it comes to PC's and their issues, again, a 30 minute job because a full nights work.

    You can see why tablets are taking off. For the most part, people use their PC's to consume, be that TV, games, videos, pictures, music, Facebook, Amazon, Youtube. All of which are easily achieved on a tablet.

    But not any old tablet, as Microsoft is about to find out. You buy an iPad, and you're getting a dedicated tablet OS. Likewise with Android.

    But with Windows 8, all you have is a very thin veneer with MetroUI, scratch away that and all the same frustrating issues with Windows reappear. Except this time, they are magnified by having to use a touch screen, often on a non-touch screen optimised control panel...

    I do believe Microsoft has totally failed with Windows 8. Don't get me wrong, I've installed it. But not because it has MetroUI. But because it was £25 and I felt the features offered in the desktop were worth that. I would certainly not pay the £189 that Microsoft are now asking for it. Nor would I have bought it soley for the MetroUI. I too installed Start8.

    The reason they have failed is because, they have tried to put a square peg in a round hole. It just doesn't fit properly. They have alienated a good number of desktop users by refusing to allow them to use the old start menu (for no good reason, other than they want to push their APP store on people). Their MetroUI apps are absolutely shocking compared to whats available on iOS. And I do mean abysmal. (take the music app, it doesn't show me MY music, it shows adverts for music I can buy of them. I have to navigate back to MY music each and every time, worst of all it has ADVERTS!! Seriously....)

    Microsoft seriously needed to do a separate tablet/touch OS. Just as Apple has. From what I have experienced, and from the feedback from other users, Windows8 is going to be a disaster of epic proportions for Microsoft.

    If I were on the board at either Android or iOS, I would not see Windows 8 as a serious competitor as it stands at the moment....

    The frustration factor is still there, if not worse. And if you're going to compete in today's PC market, you have to do everything in your power to make your OS as slick and as user friendly as possible...

    From your own experience, it has been a total and utter failure.

    If I were you, I would simply buy a smart TV that has DLNA. Then you can stream all your media to your TV off your PC (which has no become just a server). You can watch your Youtube and Netflix directly from the TV.

    And buy yourself a decent laptop for doing your word processing (given windows 8 tablet/hybrid pricing, I would have to recommend a macbook), or simply purchase a chromebook, and do your word processing on that instead.

    You will have FAR less frustration than what you have just had to go to.

    Microsoft have gone the wrong way. They're not "doomed", but they are going to pay heavily for it.
    • Good points

      Sadly, I/we use this machine for far more than consuming and Word processing. It's also the central hub/conferencing machine for work, and so we often use everything from development tools to editing tools in a collaborative fashion. We have 10 other machines here, but this is the big screen we can see together device. Also, most DNLA devices (I have two already on the rack), can't play DVD .ISO files, even from my own unencrypted DVDs.

      But, I'm not your typical user. But you are right. It is this configuration pain that makes tablets so appealing. The gotcha, for epic power users, is that if you have to do more than the basics, you definitely run afoul of configuration hassles.

      David Gewirtz
      • The stuff you have talked about doesn't seem to be

        all that processor intensive. Are there reasons you can't just use a virtual environment under OS X for your Windows needs?
        • I thought about that

          Video, mostly. But also my wife hasn't used a Mac in a long time and is comfortable with "normal" Windows. The integration of the two might not be something she is happy with. But, mostly, I had no idea how HD video would fare in a VM, and I while I don't intend to do much gaming, I'm also not sure how gaming would work out.

          I do a TON of work in VMs on my laptop. I bought a 32GB RAM laptop recently just so I could run a network of VMs on my laptop for development and REST testing.
          David Gewirtz
    • Gamling is easily achieved on a tablet ?

      Did you just seriously state that in your message ? Is this really the generation that thinks "gaming" is all about angry birds or some other casual "game".

      I sometimes play some casual stuff on the train on my lumia 920 or older iphone 4s but to say that replaces any form of dedicated gaming is just false. You just cannot "game" seriously on a Phone or tablet UNLESS all you play are toch/tilt based casual games. Yes they try to port stuff like FIFA or Call of duty to phones and tablets but it just doesn't work for multiple reasons...

      A: To small screen..
      When you are used to fragging people in 1920x1200 27" screen on Unreal Tournament then those tiny Phone screens and still very small tablet screens just don't give you the immersion.

      B: Bad controls..
      Both touch and tilt are a novelty for me in the gaming arena. Granted it has some use in controlling the device outside gaming. But ingame.. it just doesn't work very well... tilting is slow and inaccurate and touching makes sure I block part of the area with my fingers to view... neither method comes even remotely close to keyboard/mouse controls..

      No, there is no way you can state that "gaming is easily achieved on a tablet" if you mean any form of serious gaming.
    • ?

      I have a Windows 8 tablet and love the modern UI. Windows 8 really comes together when you add touch. Is it flawed in some places...Yes but this was a major facelift for Windows so as time goes on updates will be released to fine-tune it.
      • Ya

        But did you install the OS? Nope.
    • "ordeal"?

      It takes you three days to set up Windows 8? What, are you guys in kindergarten, or just not very bright?
    • Hmmmm

      Take a "normal" computer with a "normal" BIOS and probably Windows 8 [or 7] can install properly. There is obviously some hardware that has no Windows drivers because it wasn't made for windows.
  • 720p resolution

    I'm not sure what you mean by "Windows 8, as it turns out, doesn’t like anything less than 768". I have Windows 8 as my desktop and have set my monitor to low resolutions. While the main Screen Resolution page in Win8 doesn't show them, they can be selected by going under the Advanced settings page and clicking List All Modes. All the resolutions that the display driver will allow are show and you can be select the one you want.
    • The issue is that Metro apps will not open unless Metro ...

      ... has a 1024x768 screen. You need 1366x768 to use the Metro "snap" feature. Desktop apps behave as they always did.
      M Wagner