Which Mac Mini to buy?
October 29, 2013 11:37 AM   Subscribe

I am buying a Mac for the first time. For budgetary reasons the Mac Mini is the only option on the table. Having convinced myself that the increased outlay for an Apple device over a generic desktop PC is worth it, I am now stumped on the question of which Mac Mini to buy. Please help me decide which model to choose.

Key details are as follows:

1) I am in the UK.
2) I am choosing between 2.5Ghz dual core with 500Gb storage at £499 vs 2.3Ghz quad core with 1Tb storage at £679.
3) I would characterise my computer use as light to medium. The big draw for me is Garageband which I will be using pretty regularly in tandem with a digital piano. I'll also be using Photoshop regularly and to a lesser extent I'll be using iMovie.
4) In terms of storage I have about 100Gb of music plus about 50Gb of photos. It is likely that these requirements will expand and that I will also be storing a number of movies too.
5) I'm also intending to run Windows on the machine via Boot Camp.
6) There will be no gaming.

In your opinion, which of the two options is the best value? I have seen the speed test results which predictably show that the quad core is quicker, but I'm not sure what this means to me from a practical point of view. Will the cheaper model become obsolete more quickly or will the difference be negligible and I should instead concentrate on my requirements right now?
posted by jonnyploy to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Since you specifically mention Garageband and Photoshop, I would max out the ram before I considered hard drive space. Or, if you feel like you have the skills to do it, price additional ram bought elsewhere (cheaper than Apple charges) into your purchase and install the ram yourself.

Storage of music and movies for soley playback doesn't *need* to be on an internal drive as access speed is not as important in those situations. An external drive would function just fine if you were to run out of internal space. Or, longer term, swap out the internal drive for a newer larger one (again, if you feel like you have the skills for it).

I'd get the 2.5Ghz + 500gb option and use the extra money on ram.
posted by ish__ at 11:53 AM on October 29, 2013

You primary expressed concern is storage, and you're getting 500 gigabytes for 179 pounds. Is that economical? External USB-based storage is more flexible and costs less (here in the US, anyway: you can buy a 2 terabyte USB3 external drive for $100).

You need external storage to do backups, anyway.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:59 AM on October 29, 2013

Just to be clear about the installing yourself - the mini isn't exactly "easy" to do maintenance on, the same way a desktop PC is. It's not impossible, and you don't need any tools beyond a screwdriver and a putty knife that I recall, but go youtube a few "how to install ram" videos of it before hand, if you think you might go the "get extra ram separately" route.
posted by ish__ at 12:00 PM on October 29, 2013

As you are looking to save money, consider a factory refurbished Apple computer. I've had great luck with them and they include a one year warranty.
posted by exogenous at 12:19 PM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I second waiting for the Haswell refresh — you'll get a better graphics adapter in the bargain. Or you can wait for the refresh and get good deals on current inventory.

For the use cases you're describing, you don't need a powerhouse. Get the least powerful Mac mini you need and max out the RAM.

go youtube a few "how to install ram" videos of it before hand, if you think you might go the "get extra ram separately" route.

It's ridiculously easy to install more memory in a Mac mini and cheaper to do it on your own. Like, totally ridiculously easy.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:31 PM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's ridiculously easy

Ok yeah. Wow, they're definitely easier than my late-2009 Mini. Opening that thing up was a beast.
posted by ish__ at 12:47 PM on October 29, 2013

I bought several GB of ram for my Mac Mini and installed it with zero tools in under 2 minutes, it cost me about $40. The same from Apple cost several hundred. I'd be tempted to fo the extra money for the mini with two hard drives in it, so that you have a local backup available at all times.
posted by furtive at 2:41 PM on October 29, 2013

I'm considering a Mini as well but in no rush and waiting for the Haswell refresh.
posted by wcfields at 4:39 PM on October 29, 2013

Buy the bigger one. The quad core processor will be twice as fast and is worth the extra money. It will come in handy if you're doing anything serious in Windows (in a virtual machine) at the same time you're trying to work in OS X.
posted by cnc at 5:29 PM on October 29, 2013

To kinda second what's above, i'd rather have the base model of the new version than the up-spec model of the older one with the quad core.

Even if the new base model does not come with a quad core. I'm willing to bet in all but multi-threaded benchmarks the new dual core will be at the very least equal to or faster than the old quad, and it will likely see a bump at least up to a 1tb drive, and possibly even up to 8gb of ram finally(which honestly, i would not pay to upgrade. 4-8gb yes and you can ebay the old apple cert'd ram. 8>16gb is pointless for all but the poweriest of power users). Even if it doesn't, ram is cheap as hell. Hard drives are cheap, but not so much.

Why i would wait? The onboard graphics in the current mini are starting to show their age. You'll get a big bump there, and all the integrated graphics are now taken advantage of by the apple apps(including, of course, imovie). In addition to this any CPU in the mobile series of chips for haswell similar to the current ones they use is a big bump in clock speed. Yea, yea, MHz isn't everything anymore... but even clock-for-clock haswell is faster. The quad core ones will likely be seriously no joke this time around if you're willing to shell out for that, and likely close to being on par with the retina macbook pros and, by intels SKUs, will be forced to have either iris pro or have crappier graphics than even the macbook airs or the lower end minis will(which obviously, will not happen).

So pretty much the thing to do here is wait a month or so. If you wait that time, you're basically getting the benefits of buying the upper-spec mini PLUS better graphics for the price of the basic one. If you wait and buy the up-spec one you'll have a seriously formidable machine for years to come.

What we're on the cusp of here is similar to when apple suddenly put the nvidia 9400m in the mini. The upgrade from that to the previous generation was ridiculous. The cpus are a big step faster, and the new GPUs are stupidly faster especially what they'll put in the quad core model. If you buy one now you'd be doing yourself a disservice.

On preview, it sucks that the apple.co.uk refurbished shop is empty entirely for macs. Because my other comment was going to be "if you want something now, have you considered looking at refurb 2012 21.5 imacs as well?"... but there are none :(
posted by emptythought at 6:20 PM on October 29, 2013

Is the 2.5 model the one with a dedicated video card? I have a 2011 2.5 ghz Mini which I chose for that reason.
posted by clango at 7:08 PM on October 29, 2013

Chiming in here from a 2.5 GHZ Mini...

This computer works just fine for me. However, I would suggest the extra money for the i7 quad core and extra storage is not a bad decision. Either will work fine for you for years to come. I have an i7 at work, and there's a difference. One thing the i7 may get you is a little bit of future proofing as well, as Apple tends to march along over the years with software and OS updates that won't run on older machines with less power. (My wife has a 2006 MacBook that still runs well, but she can only go up to 10.6 now.) Photoshop runs fine on this machine but compared to my work Mac certain CPU intensive tasks can take more time. If you decide to run Windows in a virtual machine the extra cores can come in very handy. The extra storage can come in handy, as you can always buy an external drive but it likely will not be as fast as an internal.

Again, neither is a bad choice. If it were me and I had it in the budget I would spring for the extra since it's not a massive increase (as in not double or 50% more.) But I'm perfectly happy with this one for home use.
posted by azpenguin at 8:20 PM on October 29, 2013

I have similar use as you and last year (2012 model) I went with the 2.3 GHz Intel Core i7. I got the minimum RAM because RAM is crazy easy to install and Apple charges insane prices for it. I did splurge on the "fusion" hard drive, which is their fancy pants name for a hybrid solid state/platter hard drive, which I'm pretty sure is just them installing both an SSD and a platter drive in the factory but I've opened Mac Minis before and anything other than changing the RAM is a pain and I wasn't particularly looking forward to taking that risk when Apple was just rolling out Fusion support. Darn thing boots so fast that my old habit of powering up and then walking to the kitchen to fetch a glass of water always ends up with the machine having booted and gone to sleep during those few seconds. Windows doesn't utilize the hybrid drive and it boots as slow as you'd expect.

My only regrets are minor: 1) I bought a license of Windows where I had to choose either/or Boot Camp versus virtualization so I'm constantly booting back and forth. 2) The onboard Intel graphics card is a crapshoot whether or not it's supported by my impulse Steam game buys. 3) I use an external wireless HDMI dongle to beam the screen to my living room for use as a media PC but the Bluetooth antenna on the Mac Mini barely reaches that 20 foot radius and is constantly kicking out.
posted by Skwirl at 8:33 PM on October 29, 2013

Do not under any circumstances buy more than the minimum ram from Apple. They charge absurdly high prices for RAM.
posted by empath at 8:44 PM on October 29, 2013

I'd get the cheap one-- you can get a buttload of external storage for the #180 (sorry, no pound key) you're saving, and you can spend some of that on RAM (as noted above-- don't pay the apple premium for something that doesn't require their stamp; RAM is very standardized) and 1-2TB external HDD from Western Digital or the like-- portable or not.

Off the top of my head, GBP180 sounds like about USD$250 and that is far far too much to pay for 500GB and -200MHz. I use a MBP With Windows bootcamp and OSX on a 500GB drive, as a work computer-- I have the partitions set at 300ish for Windows, 200ish for OSX, and have never come close to running out of space as long as I don't keep long videos around. 150GB of files wouldn't make you sweat. As little as I use OSX, I could cut it down to 100.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:04 PM on October 29, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all your answers. It looks like the consensus is to get the cheaper model and upgrade the RAM myself.

I see the sense in waiting for the line to be refreshed, but we are pretty desperate to get some sort of computer up and running in the house as currently we are scraping by on a first generation iPad. I can probably wait until the end of November at the latest. If I knew for certain that the next models were going to be released in the next month then I would delay the purchase, but I don't want to get into a waiting game.
posted by jonnyploy at 2:14 AM on October 30, 2013

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