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June 04,2010 - Mac mini temperature control ...

Last August we posted a possible reason and a temporary fix to our Mac mini's WiFi problem. Our solution worked only if we kept the Mac mini in front of a fan. Obviously, it was not practical to have the computer in front of a fan during the New England Winter. So, our Mac mini's WiFi worked until the machine got warmed up, which typically was around five minutes. This was not a huge problem as we mostly used the Mac mini to burn DVDs, convert movies for playing on the iPod, and other such tasks. However, now that we have a large screen LCD in the office, we want to use the Mac mini as a media server for our new LCD TV. As part of its media serving function, we want to be able to access Hulu, Netflix, and other video streaming sites. To do that we needed to REALLY find a solution for the Mac mini's spotty WiFi problem. So, over Memorial Day weekend, we decided to revisit the problem, work through some possible solutions, and see if we could come up with a more permanent fix.

The first thing we did was to move the Mac mini from its current location underneath the table to the top of the desk. It was mounted below to save desktop space, but we thought the better air circulation on top may be helpful. Next we increased the gap between the Mac mini and the Belkin USB hub by putting some silicone feet underneath. Again, this was an attempt to facilitate air flow and to increase the heat exchange.

The last thing we did was to download a few pieces of software (FanControl, CoreDuoTemp) to enable us to fine-tune how the Mac mini regulated its internal temperature. We were not able to get CoreDuoTemp to work on our Mac Mini running OSX 10.6, but FanControl ran with no problems.

We spent a few hours experimenting with various combinations of lower/upper bounds for the internal temperature and fan speed. We found a few combinations which kept the Mac mini sufficiently cooled and prevented the WiFi from cutting out. When we max'ed out the internal fan's RPM, we were able to keep the WiFi connection indefinitely. The higher speed made the machine a bit noisier and it may shorten the life of the fan, but it was great to finally be able to download all of the latest OSX and Semantec Antivirus updates for the Mac mini!

Note: the FanControl app only works with Intel-based Macs.

It appears that the combination of all of the things we did worked. The new setup has enabled the Mac mini to maintain a stable WiFi connection for almost a week now. We may play around some with the fan's setting to see if we can find the minimum RPM so as not to stress the fan unnecessarily. We may also try to increase the minimum temperature before the fan kicks in. These are all just small optimizations, but the big news is that it appears we have finally got past the Mac mini's WiFi problem. Now if we can only find an elegant solution for switching the Mac mini's video signal between the two displays. Apparently a 1:2 video switcher is not as common as the normal n:1 KVMs. If anyone knows of an inexpensive solution, we would love to hear about it. [Permalink] -Mac mini temperature control


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