Interesting, what release of xp? Thank you for sharing!
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I recently was considering the mac mini but felt the dell zino (insprion 400) at $220 (dent and scratch) was worth trying. It came with win7 and sounds great with the few itunes downloads I have tried. I am satisfied. I had heard the mini at the apple store and did not feel it was worth $300 more. The zino has a fan but I could not hear it. Great machine for video's and music, but not for gamer's. I have streamed video's and they look great on my LCD (Dell) 24 inch monitor. How could something be so good at this price point.
I selected the MAC Book Pro computer because I did not want to deal with Microsoft, their operating system and virus issues. Overall, I believe the MAC is a better platform for what I wanted to do.
My MAC Book Pro computer has 4 GB RAM and the 120GB solid state drive. I am using the Seaport Free Agent Go Pro 500GB external hard drive to store my music files (a 2nd one for backup). My MAC Book Pro computer is connected to the Furman AC-215 power conditioner. The Furman is required so the MAC does not interfere with the audio components. See www.furmansound.com/product.ph. Ayre recommended I use an external drive for better music quality and not the hard drive on the computer. It sounds better if it is on a different controller than the DAC, which means a FireWire hard drive. I used a portable external drive that has a 2.5" drive inside it. The advantage of this over a bigger external hard drive with a 3.5" drive is that it will be much quieter and it will run off the power provided by the bus.
The MAC USB output is connected to my Ayre USB QB-9 DAC. Wow! I was very impressed with the way it sounds. It is better sounding then my Ayre CX-7e CD player. The highs are better and so is the bass. The music is clearer and more engaging. I am using the Transparent USB Cable from the computer to the Ayre DAC. My CD's are stored using the AIFF format.
The major issue was the computer in terms of what model, how much RAM, hard drive and external drives. Ayre was very helpful (www.ayre.com) and so was my audio store, Music Lovers Audio in Berkeley, CA. I checked and double checked everything to ensure I made no mistakes. Everyone I talked said to get the MAC and not a PC.
If you decide to move in this direction, I suggest working with a high quality audio store to help you configure the needed components. I am a PC person and this is my first MAC computer. It is very easy to use and iTunes does a great job of managing the music.
Most do perceive macs to be better (I know I used to). They have a long history in recording studios with pro tools etc. Not many audiophiles have compared though it seems direct a/b.
One word of caution, using a usb external runs on the same bus as your digital output can cause noise and jitter (its pulling off the same +5 supply which is carried on that usb cable to your ayre). Also I have had the worst luck with Seagate drives in my fleet laptops at work. I see many more failures of seagate than any other company.
Your right. Mac is much easier to use. I am writing this post on a mac for those exact reasons, fewer viruses less of a pain. Its also easier to setup with music for non technical users.
Speaking of hardware...I just built an atom based d510mo board which is fan-less fed with a power factor correcting power supply.It has significantly more depth than the mac mini (likely due to the lack of a fan injecting noise into the +5v supply) not to mention that everything shares a common ground with your computer when its connected via usb.
Your right about putting the computer on a filtered jack. That is important. Very important.
how do you like the Ayre btw? Looks like a great dac. have you played at all with USB cables? I'll be dammed if I know why but they sound different.... ironically some of the cheaper cables sound better than the kimber cable silver.... dont ask me why.
I have had no problems with the Seagate FreeAgent GoÂ Pro for Mac (500gb). My computer is connected to the external drive with a firewire cable. I like the Ayre QB-9 USB DAC very much. My DAC is connected to the Ayre AX-7e Integrated amp with balanced cables (using Sonus Faber Auditor M Speakers). My Transparent USB Cable from the computer to the Ayre DAC is fine and I am not looking at other cables. The system sounds great and I find myself listening to CD's more than I did before.