Mac Mini: Yes or No?
April 1, 2009 7:24 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I are Apple noobs and can't get a straight answer from any sales people: is the Mini adequate for our needs?

My husband and I work as advertising copywriters, an industry that exclusively uses Apple computers. Over the years our employers have always loaned us Apple laptops, thus negating our need to actually purchase one. Without getting into a Mac vs. PC debate, our home computers have always been PCs, and we're comfortable with that.

However! Since we're going freelance soon, we finally admitted we need to just buy the damn Apple already, and quickly discovered that everyone in the Apple store is convinced we'll be miserable with anything less than a $3,000 machine (which isn't an option: we're as financially fragile as everyone else these days). It just seems so absurd and wasteful to buy so much computer when we already have expensive, beloved monitors, keyboards and meeces. When we read about the Mac Mini we thought, well, that seems perfectly fine, until, of course, we consulted people.

Everyone seems shocked and weirded out that we want to attach a Mac of some kind to a preexisting monitor and keyboard, as though it limits the operating system in some way. And in fact, that is the implication: that by not using everything Apple we are limiting our purchase not just in aesthetics, but in function. To make things worse, when we tell them we are going to use the Mini primarily for Photoshop and InDesign, their heads explode.

So I guess my question is: are we being silly by thinking we can just get a Mini and nothing else and happily generate massive image files?
posted by Subspace to Computers & Internet (36 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Make sure you have enough RAM, and you'll be fine.
posted by anildash at 7:27 PM on April 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is really going to depend on the software you need to run. If you could elaborate, folks will have an easier time answering this question.
posted by HuronBob at 7:28 PM on April 1, 2009

Don't listen to the Apple snobs who insist on you sharing the full experience, i.e., shelling out the big bucks.

I bought a Mac Mini, and plugged in my existing monitor and keyboard and mouse (with two buttons, so you can right-click). It is awesome. I could not be happier. I customized it with an extra-large hard drive, for my music and photos.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:29 PM on April 1, 2009

You don't need a $3000 machine. You'd be fine with the low-end iMac, which is $1200 or something.

As for the mini, it will depend how much ram can go in it. The drive is only 120gb so you'll have to buy another driver anyway, so you're already expanding a computer you just bought. Seems silly... a Mini may be fine but why have you completely ignored the middle-ground.

You can also go to Adobe's web site and find out what the recommended system requirements are for the software you want. If the mini meets them, it'll work.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 7:32 PM on April 1, 2009

If you are going freelance can't you just use the computers you already have? Who will you be exchanging files with and what types of files will you need to be able to read/send?
posted by Tixylix at 7:32 PM on April 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

As anildash says, be sure to max out the RAM.
posted by whiskeyspider at 7:32 PM on April 1, 2009

With massive image files you're going to hit a performance wall with the mini pretty quickly. I guess it depends on your idea of massive also. Are we talking 50 megs or 2 Gig files? You may want to look into getting a refurbished machine from either Apple directly or somewhere else. I've gotten a machine from in the past (although they sell used not refurb).
posted by eatcake at 7:33 PM on April 1, 2009

Everything's relative. The mini is low-end when compared to the other offerings in Apple's lineup. But, compare it to a G4 Powerbook, and it's a great step up.

Back when the Powerbook was new, the creatives I support happily used Adobe Creative Suite to produce great content on them. You're looking at a machine that's a whole generation newer than that.

As anlidash says- just feed it all the RAM you can. I now consider 4 gigs to be a good start.
posted by Steve3 at 7:33 PM on April 1, 2009

You should do fine. You'll want to max out the RAM, though, and you may need some cable adapting for the monitors, keyboards and rodents.
posted by holgate at 7:34 PM on April 1, 2009

Everyone seems shocked and weirded out that we want to attach a Mac of some kind to a preexisting monitor and keyboard, as though it limits the operating system in some way.

Wasn't this the entire point of the mini? It will run fine with whichever generic usb keyboard and mouse you have sitting around.

This is really going to depend on the software you need to run.

Photoshop and InDesign, according to the question. This shouldn't be a problem. Max out the RAM if you can afford to.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:34 PM on April 1, 2009

I have a PPC PowerMac from 2005 which serves perfectly well with a preexisting monitor and keyboard. For Photoshop and InDesign, spend your money on RAM where it's going to count, and buy as much of it as you can afford.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:34 PM on April 1, 2009

I think it depends on what kind of Photoshop work you are doing (ie. how big are the files?). Because I do a lot of PS work and I have a Mac Pro, I know people who use Macbook Pros and iMacs, but I don't know anyone who does any kind of serious design work on a Mac Mini. I know they just updated them so maybe it's changed recently.
posted by bradbane at 7:35 PM on April 1, 2009

You will be completely fine with using non-apple monitors, keyboards, mice.
As long as those monitors support the resolution that the mini provides, you're fine.

Part of this Apple "cult/culture" has transformed into: you gotta have this 20 inch
apple display, otherwise you will be miserable....pure crap.

Dont want to start a debate here, I actually own a MacBook, (and a PC as well).
Point is: if you like your non-apple devices, and they work well, use them, by all means.
posted by theKik at 7:38 PM on April 1, 2009

You will be fine. I worked for a newspaper a few years ago that used minis for half of their creative computers. This was a time-sensitive environment with huge file sizes, and everything went pretty much fine. Like everyone else has said, max out the ram. The mini is a great option.
posted by mjcon at 7:39 PM on April 1, 2009

Configured with 3 to 4 GB of memory, you'll be fine.
Not pretty...but fine.
posted by artdrectr at 7:46 PM on April 1, 2009

Ditto most of the above. If you need to buy a monitor, it makes a ton of sense to hit the iMac line instead. If as you say you don't, the mini has a lot going for it.

Secondly -- your usage has presumably been fine on a laptop until now if that's what you were loaned. I'm sure it'll be fine on a mini -- it's just a laptop in a different shaped box.
posted by devbrain at 7:54 PM on April 1, 2009

Or you could *cough* install Mac OS X on cheaper, more powerful PC hardware. I know that's anathema to the Mac believers, but it should at least be an option. Google "Hackintosh" for more info
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:06 PM on April 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Goodness, thanks everyone!

Everyone has addressed the primary issues we had, which is lovely.

To answer the curious:

We can use our existing computers, but they are getting older and less able to handle our crushenating, in addition to the still-rare but nevertheless irritating problems with Apple-to-PC conversions/problems. It makes less and less sense to fight the Apple + advertising combo.

To reiterate: our biggest memory/space hogs are going to be Photoshop and InDesign. I wouldn't call this "serious design work"; we are copywriters, but we still need to open and use big files on occasion.

Really, it's just been weird in that multiple sales people and trusted Apple-loving friends have hesitated when we expressed our preference for the Mini. I think this is borne from simple inexperience, which is why I turned to the Mefites.

Again, thank you all.
posted by Subspace at 8:12 PM on April 1, 2009

The whole marketing of the Mini was that you bring your own monitor/keyboard/mouse....

Either way, you should be fine. Just note that the mini uses laptop components, so your performance will be comparable to the cheapest Macbook. Also, buy the barebones model, ram is easily upgradable.
posted by wongcorgi at 8:14 PM on April 1, 2009

I have a Mac mini that shares a monitor, mouse and keyboard with a PC via a KVS switch. It works fine. The new minis have nVidia graphics and should work fine, although you do want to remember that upgrading it in the future will be difficult, if it's even possible.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:30 PM on April 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

For Photoshop, get a 7200 or 10,000k SATA drive with a 32MB cache and put it in a Firewire 800 case. Make this your Photoshop scratch disk volume.

The Mini is great for all of your listed tasks, but I find that on my Mini (and for that matter, my Macbook Pro) Mac OSX's VM and Photoshop's scratch disk fight for contention of the drive, and give plenty of pinwheels of doom. Once I use my Firewire 800 for the scratch disk, I can multitask between any number of apps without fear of the page-in monster lagging me.
posted by tomierna at 8:56 PM on April 1, 2009 [6 favorites]

The Mac mini is fine. Max out the RAM and add an external FireWire 800 hard drive. If you can afford buying that Adobe application suite, the Mac mini with extras won't be that much more, and you can re-use any existing keyboard, mouse and display. And you won't have to buy an expensive license of Windows in order to worry about the latest worm or virus!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:01 PM on April 1, 2009

also remember that if you currently own the adobe suite for windows you can transfer that license to the mac for free... at which point you may want to upgrade to CS4 if you're not already there. just call Adobe Customer Service (800-833-6687) for assistance.
posted by hummercash at 10:17 PM on April 1, 2009

A Mac Mini will drive a 3rd party 24" monitor (e.g., a Dell) just fine.
posted by dws at 10:27 PM on April 1, 2009

The Mini will be fine. Stuff it full of RAM. I doubt you'll even feel the need for a fast external hard drive if you aren't doing serious graphic design work in Adobe apps.
posted by Good Brain at 11:15 PM on April 1, 2009

Just make sure you buy the RAM from fry's or newegg or crucial or anywhere other than from apple, dell, or whoever makes your computer. Their markup on installed RAM is bananas.
posted by Tacodog at 11:57 PM on April 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

The current Mini is fine for your needs if you bump up the RAM and the hard disk. The previous generation Mini and MacBook had crappy Intel graphics hardware, but all current generation Macs have at least a semi-decent NVidia chip.
Any DVI monitor will work fine, as will any USB wheel mouse.
If I were you I'd use an actual Apple keyboard - the clearly labeled special keys for Command, Eject, etc make life easier.
posted by w0mbat at 12:09 AM on April 2, 2009

Also, Apple has a refurbished store, where you can get the latest or slightly older models for lower price.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:30 AM on April 2, 2009

Or you could *cough* install Mac OS X on cheaper, more powerful PC hardware. I know that's anathema to the Mac believers, but it should at least be an option. Google "Hackintosh" for more info

Except that it's not. Independent hardware sites have generally found that if you compare component by component, Mac base configuration hardware is well within the variance of what you pay for the same hardware with MSWin or Linux preinstalled. Now of course, buying upgrades from the Apple factory is a rip-off, but that's another story.

Just as a note, putting memory in a Mini is a fairly ugly and twiddly DIY process, made a bit more complicated by the plastic airflow ductwork and cable routing. I'd argue that the Mini is the singular exception to the rule of never buying RAM from Apple.

I think some hesitation regarding the Mini is well justified. It's fairly minimal in specification putting it a step closer to obsolescence than it's iMac cousins, it has a history of undepowered graphics, and it's a massive pain in the rear to upgrade. But I use Macintosh computers with Microsoft and Kinsington peripherals at work, and Kenisis and Logitech peripherals at home.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:26 AM on April 2, 2009

If you get an external drive as mentioned above, you might want to eschew firewire in favor of USB 2, as Apple's support for firewire seems to be slipping.
posted by TedW at 7:31 AM on April 2, 2009

Tacodog: the Mini is something of a pain to upgrade the RAM IIRC. Opening it up involves attacking the case with putty knives and much bending of plastic. Besides, with RAM being so cheap these days (at least the vanilla sort in a Mini) the extra cost of buying it from Apple isn't as painful as it used to be.
posted by pharm at 12:42 PM on April 2, 2009

Shoot, I didn't know that pharm. Thanks.
posted by Tacodog at 2:50 PM on April 2, 2009

pharm's right: while the margin on extra RAM for the Mini is much higher now than on easier-to-upgrade laptops (it's basically $50 per GB when you custom-order) the process is sufficiently fiddly that it's probably worth sucking it up and letting Apple do it.
posted by holgate at 3:51 PM on April 2, 2009

The Mini's CPU isn't that much slower than the iMac that I'm using now. In any case, max out (4 gigs) the memory in the Mini and you should be OK. Big files need memeory to load. The CPU speed won't help there.

But, check the price of a Mini with 4 gigs of Apple RAM installed. The price of the faster Mini fitted out with 4 gigs of RAM and the 3200-Gig drive is $1074. The slower Mini with 4 gigs and the 120-Gig drive is $749. The cheapest iMac is $1149. It has a 2.66 GHzchip versus 2.0 GHz in the Mini and comes stock with 2 gigs of RAM and a 320-gig drive.

Head on over to and play with configurations and price.
posted by justcorbly at 4:13 PM on April 2, 2009

Head on over to and play with configurations and price.

And if you have any sort of affiliation with a school, check to see if you qualify for the educational discount. I have bought every Mac I've owned, since 1984, via the education store.
posted by TedW at 7:11 PM on April 2, 2009

Response by poster: Again, thanks to everyone for the sage advice, it's really helped us toward making an informed decision.

We were in fact looking into getting smaller drive already (we don't do video, so anything over 120 gigs is just showing off), so it's good to know that the overall consensus is to just invest in RAM. I've built several of my last PCs, so this process of deciding what Apple needs to put in it is still alien to me. But! We're less worried and confused now.
posted by Subspace at 8:30 PM on April 2, 2009

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