Low-end 21.5" imac sufficient for Adobe CS5?
March 26, 2010 4:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering buying an mac mini or 21.5" imac w. 4GB of RAM. Think that they're powerful enough to support upcoming Adobe CS5 (photoshop, bridge, and InDesign open), Windows 7 in a virtual machine, and HD YouTube video similtaneously--and in a timely manner?
posted by doncoyote to Computers & Internet (17 answers total)
Certainly not the mac mini, it typically has a laptop hard drive in it, and only two cores, and probably not the imac.

Running that kind of stuff simultaneously you're going to want large fast disks and more than 2 cpu cores. Running all of that at once I would be running an SSD as the main drive.

IO and CPU is your problem, not RAM.
posted by iamabot at 4:41 PM on March 26, 2010

maybe not all at once.
posted by kenliu at 4:41 PM on March 26, 2010

All signs point to no. Loads of RAM is good but only if stuff is already loaded into it, which is what the hard drive and CPU does. There's nothing you want to run that won't run on a Windows machine, which would be cheaper and upgradier. Buying a Mac just to run Windows 7 in a virtual machine is a strange idea indeed!
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:57 PM on March 26, 2010

I disagree with the above statements. If it can play HD YouTube, then it will probably be fine handling the others running in the background.

YouTube is a CPU hog, while Adobe and Win 7 in a VM are RAM hogs. 4GB RAM with a dual-core should be fine.

Now, this of course wouldn't work if you were doing processing in Adobe while running an active application in a VM and trying to play HD video on YouTube.

That said, I wouldn't go with the mac-mini for these purposes as it may be a little too weak.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 5:05 PM on March 26, 2010

I would guess, based on the performance of the MacBook, that you would be able to run all of these programmes and have all of them in memory. That being said, you probably would see some slowdowns or hiccups if you tried to work on a large image file while video is playing and you are running a game in windows.

Oh, and I respectfully disagree with turgid on the mini being a poor replacement for a windows PC. It is in fact an awesome replacement for a windows PC, either for running similar programmes in a much more useable operating system or if you just use bootcamp to run it 100% as a windows machine.

Your real issue is that the mini is basically a laptop without a screen attached and you are going to get laptop performance, albeit pretty good laptop performance. I would definitely recommend switching out the hard drive for something faster, perhaps an SD.
posted by qwip at 5:20 PM on March 26, 2010

With only 4G of RAM, you're going to be able to do one or two of those things in RAM at a time. The mini is going to be pretty cramped.

The iMac will do pretty well, especially if you put in 8G of RAM.
posted by DaveP at 5:54 PM on March 26, 2010

My 24" iMac at 2.16ghz with 2gb of memory does all that and more, you'll be fine with a new iMac.

The Mini could do any one of those tasks well, but with all three going the Mini would struggle with its slower hard drive and lesser graphics chip.
posted by limited slip at 6:07 PM on March 26, 2010

The answers here are all over the shop, and that's because although it sounds clear-cut, this is actually a very subjective question. The macs will definitely do these things, even at 2gb of memory, but whether or not the way it does them is acceptable to you is another matter entirely.

Are you impatient? Have you been cursing the sight of a progress bar in Photoshop for Too Long Already? Does it bug you if you have to wait when you switch into the VM? Would the video slowing things down be a problem?

If yes to any of them, then no, that set up isn't going to do. RAM is important in this case: both the VM and Photoshop want to carve out great big chunks, and get ornery if they can't get it. I know a lot of people (developers) who virtualize for various reasons, and they're almost unanimous that 8gb is a real minimum to not end up getting pissed off.

CPU-wise the iMac's going to be up to the job, but a Mac Pro (even the top-end late 2008 models) will be even gutsier.
posted by bonaldi at 6:31 PM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have never been thrilled with the performance of any mini I've used. And I've owned two of them (because for my needs, the next step up is a Mac Pro for 4x the price).
posted by smackfu at 6:53 PM on March 26, 2010

As an owner of a 27' inch iMac w/4gb ram. Heck yes!

You forgot add playing itunes and downloading a video. I too have Adobe Photoshop and a virtual machine, but it's with Windows XP. With a 27inch, you can even fit 2-3 of those apps on your screen all at once.

I'm not going to lie, everyone who has seen the brightness, quality of my computer is always amazed.
posted by Wanderer7 at 6:59 PM on March 26, 2010

Yeah, you could launch them all and they'd run fine. You might have a hard time doing anything though. VMs really eat up my cycles. How do you plan to do all that simultaneously on one screen anyway?
posted by chairface at 9:32 PM on March 26, 2010

The answers here are all over the shop, and that's because although it sounds clear-cut, this is actually a very subjective question. The macs will definitely do these things, even at 2gb of memory, but whether or not the way it does them is acceptable to you is another matter entirely.

We have an old Mac mini that plays HD video just fine, running its OS and file server off of an external Firewire 400 drive. It would be even faster, if I had a newer mini with the Firewire 800. Today's minis have good video cards, faster processors, more stock memory. If my three-year-old mini can play HD video, then any mini that Apple sells today will handle the task just fine.

As for the performance of Windows 7 in a VM, that will depend largely on the VM software (Parallels, Fusion or VirtualBox, etc.) and the kind of graphics card virtualization support that they provide — each VM environment has its strengths and weaknesses. For a while, Parallels was the go-to package for supporting Windows OpenGL applications, while Fusion would be ideal for Windows DirectX-dependent apps. I don't know if this has been resolved so that they both provide equal support to OpenGL and DirectX APIs, but this is an issue that is less related to the actual hardware specifications of the Mac mini or iMac in question.

As for simultaneity, the OS X kernel is pretty slick about giving CPU to threads that need it. A background app is not going to use too much CPU, unless written poorly. Adobe Flash (used for a lot of HD video) is due for a major performance upgrade that addresses a lot of long-standing inefficiencies in its code (though they've been promising OS X fixes for a while, so who knows).
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:13 PM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would suggest getting a Mac mini and a cheap PC. With the $600 price difference between the mini and the iMac, you could get a powerful PC and a 22+" monitor.
posted by wongcorgi at 11:50 PM on March 26, 2010

I nth the idea of getting both. Virtualized Windows is NOWHERE near as good as people pretend it is.
posted by lakerk at 7:49 AM on March 27, 2010

Apple is due for an upgrade in their macbook pro lineup. You might be better off down the road with a (hopefully) Core i7 processor in one of those.
posted by bravowhiskey at 9:44 AM on March 27, 2010

Thank you for the thoughtful answers. Here are a some more details on my situation. I'm a technical writer who needs to maintain a windows legacy to run good old FrameMaker (hence the interest in virtualization), but I'm no longer thrilled with Windows.

My 6-year-old Dell desktop (w. 4GB of RAM), WinXP SP3) ran adequately the applications described in my initial post--when run one at a time.

I was going to build my own PC, but then a generous relative offered to buy me a low-end Mac; that is, a mac mini or a 21.5" low-end (nVidia shared graphics memory) imac.

I already have a 23" monitor, but the mac mini's costly upgrade to 8GB gives me pause.

I enjoyed using VMware workstation on the PC, so I'm predisposed to VMware Fusion. On a low-end mac, however, am I asking too much to quickly run CPU-intensive YouTube and VMware, and memory-intensive Photoshop similtaneously?
posted by doncoyote at 3:54 PM on March 28, 2010

I really still think you are asking to do a lot.

I have a 3-year old MacBook Pro that is basically on par with the current mac mini. It definitely struggles when doing anything heavy in VMWare or watching HD video. The problem is that Flash video uses the CPU to do all the processing and doesn't take advantage of the video card, and of course VMWare is pretty CPU intensive as well. Flash also seems slower on OS X than comparable hardware on Windows.

More RAM helps when doing stuff with Photoshop, but only to a point - you'll get diminishing returns by adding more RAM.

If your 6-year old PC is still kicking and works well for its purpose, why not keep it around just for Framemaker?
posted by kenliu at 9:13 PM on March 28, 2010

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