Newest Mac Mini a worthwhile upgrade?
May 6, 2009 10:38 PM   Subscribe

Would a new 2.26GHz Mac Mini be a worthwhile upgrade from my 2 year old Macbook Pro?

I've got a 15" Macbook Pro that I bought in early 2007. It still runs fine, but it's starting to show its age. It's literally falling apart, needs a new battery, etc. I was considering spending the cash to get it fixed up, but then a friend of mine bought a new Mac Mini and it got me thinking...

I know it'll be faster than my Macbook Pro, at least I'd hope so, but I'm wondering if the difference is enough to make the upgrade worth it. The only resource-intensive things I use are Photoshop, sometimes Final Cut Pro, but mostly Nikon's Capture NX2 for editing RAW files.

Out of the box my friend's Mini seems really smooth, and one thing I noticed right away was that the newer video hardware handles Leopard's 3D dock better than my laptop's does, but I'm wondering how big the difference in overall performance will be once he's installed and running a bunch of applications.

I've also been considering just putting together an OSX-compatible machine of my own, but the convenience of just being able to go to the store and pick up a Mac Mini might just be enough to make me forget that idea. I don't know though. Help me out here, folks.
posted by Venadium to Computers & Internet (17 answers total)
I really like my 2.0 dual mac mini - it's zippy with the latest adobe stuff (2 gigs RAM), nice tiny footprint & best of all, it's super quiet! You need a monitor and a keyboard & mouse separately, of course.
posted by Aquaman at 10:59 PM on May 6, 2009

I've got a first-generation MacBook in the kitchen and a latest generation 2.8Ghz MBP in my office.

I can't tell any difference between them for websurfing or general 10.5 usage.

You can just run the MBP clamshell closed and you won't have to worry about the battery or it falling apart.

In general it's always best putting off buying decisions until you absolutely NEED a new machine.

I'd wait a bit. . .
posted by mrt at 11:02 PM on May 6, 2009

Best answer: It won't really be an upgrade. The GPU in your Macbook Pro is probably better than the onboard in the Mini, I doubt you'll even notice a speed difference as the Mini also uses a mobile CPU and notebook hard drive.

Why don't you just get an external monitor for your Macbook Pro and possibly a FW800 drive?
posted by wongcorgi at 11:34 PM on May 6, 2009

Best answer: Looking at the specs, it seems like a 15" MacBook Pro from that era ("Late 2006" model) would have either a 2.16GHz or 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo. In that case, I don't see how the performance of the mini is really going to be any better. The graphics chip, maybe, but the thing is, almost nothing really uses the GPU except for games (and things like the 3D dock animations, as you point out, but how important is that?) But games are kind of nonexistent on the Mac, and the mini's graphics chip isn't all that hot anyway. Snow Leopard will add more support for using the GPU for other purposes, but I tend to believe in buying things based on how they work now, not how they might get better with software updates, etc.

The mini also has faster memory timings but that's not really something you're going to notice.

Basically I think just running your current machine in clamshell mode would be almost equivalent to the mini. In that case it doesn't matter that the case is falling apart and it has a bad battery.

The only reason I would consider the mini would be not as an upgrade, but if you just want to have two computers instead of one, in case one breaks (assuming your laptop is your only computer right now).
posted by dixie flatline at 11:43 PM on May 6, 2009

almost nothing really uses the GPU except for games

This is wrong. A great deal of work is done on the GPU in Mac OS X. Core Image is accelerated, and Core Animation layers are GPU-composited for extremely high performance. Quartz also leverages the GPU where possible. Here's just one example.

Basically, if it's drawn on the screen in Mac OS X, there's a big chance your GPU is doing the heavy lifting.
posted by Mikey-San at 3:40 AM on May 7, 2009

Have you exhausted software solutions?

If it's getting laggy, and you've tried everything else, a re-install of Leopard is not the worst idea in the world. I was forced to do one recently and my computer is much quicker now.
posted by Magnakai at 5:03 AM on May 7, 2009

Oh yeah, how much memory do you have? I'd have at least 2GB for anything in OSX.
posted by Magnakai at 5:07 AM on May 7, 2009

This is wrong. A great deal of work is done on the GPU in Mac OS X.

Well, I feel like we're getting into a semantic distinction here. It's not that the GPU is not used at all, it's just that in most situations, such a tiny fraction of its overall capacity is being used that there's not much visible difference in performance between different GPU models (with the exception of eye-candy like Dock animations). People tend to think that the GPU is going to improve the performance of applications like Photoshop and Final Cut Pro just because they're graphics-related, but that's not really the case (with the exception of specifically GPU-accelerated plugins for Final Cut Pro, for example). These chips are designed essentially for 3D rendering; when very little of that is being done, they're just sitting there idle.

In any case, the performance difference between the GPUs in question here is probably a wash anyway, assuming the MBP's isn't actually faster.
posted by dixie flatline at 7:27 AM on May 7, 2009

Best answer: If you need a new computer then get a new computer but I don't think the new mini is a significant upgrade.

The new mini (Early 2009) has a 2.0 or 2.26 GHz C2D processor, with faster RAM. If your MBP is the Late 2006 it has a 2.16 or 2.33 GHz C2D. Geekbench results for the two computers are here. New mini 2.0 GHz is 2768. Late 2.16 GHz C2D MBP scores 2781. Nearly equal. (Geekbench doesn't take the GPU into account, only CPU and memory.)

The new mini comes with a GeForce 9400M GPU with 128 or 256 MB RAM. The Late 2006 MBP has an ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 with 128 or 256 MB RAM. Here's a discussion comparing the two graphics cards (links to these benchmarks: 9400M and X1600). The 9400M looks to be somewhat faster than the X1600 but not overwhelmingly so. Some current Apple applications have been optimized for the 9400M, at least that's what I understand from discussions of the new unibody MBs/MBPs (I think maybe HD video encoding with Quicktime).

You'd basically be spending $600 for faster video performance in a very few applications. Use the MBP in clamshell mode.
posted by 6550 at 8:14 AM on May 7, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice everybody. I forgot to mention it in the original question, but my Macbook Pro is the 2.33GHz model with 2GB of RAM. I know even the newest Mac Mini has a slower CPU speed, but yeah, what I was really wondering was whether the faster (and higher capacity for) memory and better GPU would really make much of a difference. I guess not. It's not like my laptop is slow, either, it's just that sometimes it feels like it could be faster. Also, I think I really just want a new toy. I think at this point it'd probably be best to save up for a new Macbook Pro, even though I hate the new unibody design, or go with my original idea of building a Hackintosh, which would save me a decent amount of money.
posted by Venadium at 12:32 PM on May 7, 2009

Response by poster: Oh yeah, I also forgot to mention, one major knock against the Mac Mini is that I wouldn't be able to use my eSATA external drive with it. I mean I could, using Firewire 400 or USB, but that defeats the purpose of buying it for the eSATA interface to begin with.
posted by Venadium at 12:36 PM on May 7, 2009

For the apps you have, you should really max out the RAM - 4GB is only $60 or so, and the difference for those apps could be significant.

Also, I assume your working files are on the external eSATA drive most of the time - but if not, you might want to consider upgrading your internal to a 7200RPM drive. That won't help as much as the RAM, but should give you some performance boost. You can grab one for $80 from Newegg, but you'll want to have it installed unless you're fearless when it comes to excessive amounts of tiny screws.
posted by agentmunroe at 1:45 PM on May 7, 2009

Oops, forgot to say - I linked to the 320GB drive, but Newegg also has smaller ones for less, just search for "scorpio black".

At the very least, definitely do the RAM. The hard drive I'd say is optional, based on your usage, if you don't mind spending that for what may be a slight performance boost, and whether or not you already have a 7200RPM drive (if you aren't sure, you likely do not).
posted by agentmunroe at 1:48 PM on May 7, 2009

Response by poster: From what I understand, the chipset in my model Macbook Pro only supports 3GB of RAM, even if 4 is installed, and even then you also lose dual-channel support. That's one of the things that makes me lean more towards the DIY solution; I can easily find a motherboard on Newegg that supports 16GB of RAM.

I'd consider getting the bigger internal drive if I didn't already have the external one, but since I don't really need the storage space right now, the slight performance increase wouldn't really be worth the money. It's definitely something to consider for the future though.

BTW, does anyone know of a cheap and/or reliable source of spare parts for my model Macbook? The things that need fixing or replacing that I can remember off the top of my head are: new keyboard, new upper enclosure (paint is falling off in the area directly under the keyboard), new lower enclosure (it was dropped once and now one of the corners is warped), the LCD hinge is very loose, the LCD itself sometimes emits a weird screeching noise when I awake it from sleeping, the fans seem to be a lot noisier than they used to be, the battery is shot... I think that's about it. I've seen some of these parts on eBay but I'm not sure if they're for my exact model of Macbook Pro. If there's another site I can directly order this stuff from, instead of having to bid on eBay, please let me know. I still would like to fix this thing up, at least to be able to sell it and put the money towards a new one.
posted by Venadium at 3:36 PM on May 7, 2009

I don't think the dual channel makes much difference even in benchmarks. I'm running 3GB in mine, in any case.
posted by 6550 at 5:00 PM on May 7, 2009

By the way, if your Dock is lagging, you can turn off the glass effect. This makes a pretty big difference to Dock performance even on really fast machines.
posted by Caviar at 6:30 PM on May 7, 2009

Oops, you're right, I didn't catch that. I thought my 17" was from the same generation but it turns out it's the one after that.

However, I agree with 6550 - dual channel really only makes a significant difference in benchmarks for on-board graphics - and your MBP has a real graphics card. I think the benefits of an extra GB would easily trounce any slowdown from losing dual-channel - swapping is way, way, *way* slower than RAM.
posted by agentmunroe at 7:00 AM on May 8, 2009

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