Is the new Mac Mini worth it?
January 12, 2015 12:13 PM   Subscribe

Is the new Mac Mini worth it? Or should I build a hackintosh?

My old Mac Mini (circa 2007) is finally giving up the ghost. I've got it maxed out at 4GB of RAM and it bogs down doing anything strenuous. Should I buy a new Mac Mini? Or should I build a hackintosh? It seems the hackintosh is not very much cheaper than buying a Mini, but I assume the hackinstosh would be much easier to upgrade, while you cannot upgrade the new Minis. Is that true?
posted by subtlemel to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Hackintoshes are fine for fucking around, but I wouldn't use one as my main computer, especially if I absolutely need to get any work done on it. The mac mini is basically a joke at this point, be pre-retina iMacs are a fairly safe bet.
posted by Oktober at 12:24 PM on January 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I already have a monitor, keyboard and mouse, so it seems silly to spend 2x the price on an iMac.
posted by subtlemel at 12:30 PM on January 12, 2015

What do you need it to do? The new Mac Mini is good but not the fantastic machine that the last gen Mini was when it was introduced. And given the very long gap in Mini releases, it's hard to justify buying an old Mini for serious work. But if you just need to serve files or something, buying a used last gen Mini is a better bet (in my opinion) than a Hackintosh.

For serious work, the new Mini is not bad I guess? (I've always used laptops with plug-in keyboard/monitor/mouse because then when I need to go, my desktop can go with me. If that's your use case, maybe consider a Macbook Air.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 12:39 PM on January 12, 2015

Response by poster: Mostly I need it for running Adobe Creative (Illustrator and Photoshop) and general web stuff, with occasional video streaming.
posted by subtlemel at 12:42 PM on January 12, 2015

Let me rephrase: don't buy the $499 mac mini. Yosemite runs like garbage on 4GB of RAM doing regular desktop tasks, not to mention Illustrator/Photoshop, and the 1.4Ghz i5 is pretty anemic. You can't upgrade RAM/HD after you buy it, so you're probably looking at $700-1000 for a system with a decent CPU, 8-16Gb of RAM and 1Tb of storage.
posted by Oktober at 12:49 PM on January 12, 2015

Just note that on the new mac mini the ram is soldered, and increasing internal storage is trickier than the previous gen. Although I've had a hackintosh in the past, I've now reached the point where I need my technology to work so I would recommend against the hackintosh route unless you're willing to troubleshoot problems that may arise with updates.

The new mac mini is an incremental release and really only adds improved graphics (no 4k60 support) and more responsiveness. If you can get a good deal on an older model, throw in 16gb and add an appropriately sized SSD. I have sandy bridge (2011) and haswell (2014) core i5s, and in day to day and dev usage, the difference between a core i5 vs i7 is more significant than the same processor across generations.
posted by palionex at 12:55 PM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you need Apple, then buy Apple, not a hackintosh. They're buggy and unreliable. If you don't actually need apple to work and want to save money, then just buy a windows 8 box. I used to be an avoid-windows-at-all-costs person, but Windows 8 isn't quite satan incarnate, so might be worth a look.
posted by empath at 1:29 PM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

My 2008 Macbook Pro was awful with Yosemite, 10.10 so I downgraded back to 10.8. My computer, though still slow, is a lot faster for it. 10.9 and 10.10 just don't do as well with only 4gb of RAM.

It's easy to downgrade if you've got a recent time machine back-up.
posted by just.good.enough at 1:41 PM on January 12, 2015

Mostly I need it for running Adobe Creative (Illustrator and Photoshop) and general web stuff, with occasional video streaming.

What's your time worth? Do you want to spend it working in the above programs or fucking around trying get everything to run? Be frugal, not cheap.

I already have a monitor, keyboard and mouse, so it seems silly to spend 2x the price on an iMac.

Not if you get a much faster machine with oodles of RAM.

Keep an eye on Apple's refurbished store, things are usually cheaper there.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:23 PM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How much effort are you willing to go to for running a hackintosh? With the right motherboard, they require much less work than they used to as they're virtually identical to real mac hardware nowadays. Mine is based on an near inaudible cheap haswell i3, gigabyte board, integrated GPU, has 16GB ram and a PC-class SSD, and runs better than my 2012 (work) iMac for anything that's not GPU intensive, and cost well under half the price. I could give it more grunt with a supported addon GPU, but I have my beefy (louder) windows gaming rig for that sort of thing. I'm cautious when applying OSX updates, making sure I always take a carbon-clone, but I've not needed it - the only thing I need to do is reinstall the sound card drivers, and I could avoid even that with a USB sound card.

They're not AS simple to run as a real mac, even with ideal hardware, but I do support quite a lot of macs at work - and the real things have plenty of problems too, not least issues with Mail, Bootcamp and Spotlight for starters, and I've seen a surprising amount of installs that won't boot at all any more or have hardware fail.

Here's the recommended build list for a customac for various price points. With one of those, it's basically creating a modified OSX install drive (you need an existing mac for that part), install with a possible couple of boot options, then run the multibeast installer to add any particular drivers you need (usually realtek network and sound chip) and setup the custom bootloader, and well, you're done. OSX point release? Re-run the latest copy of multibeast with the same config after updating. Major releases can require a little more work, but mainly if you use oddball hardware.

However - you will need SOME tech nous; it's not significantly worse than installing windows from scratch, but there's plenty of people who can't do that either and it's not for everyone.

If the install process looks more complex than you want to take on, then a non-baseline mac mini, such as the 2.6GHz i5 or better with fusion or flash drive would be a definite upgrade. Just bear in mind they're even less upgradeable than the old models were, and what you get from the factory is largely going to be what it will stay for its lifetime. Or consider a laptop; as an outside observer, they seem to get a lot more lovin' from Apple than the mini and iMac do.
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:06 PM on January 12, 2015

I just bought a refurb 2012 Mac mini. The one I bought would be underpowered for your needs, but the upgraded ones are still available if you're willing to wait. (I had alert me when they were available, and they did sometimes sell out in minutes). The reason I wanted the 2012 model was of course the price difference, but the 2012s are still upgradable in terms of memory and processor. The 2014 model has memory and processor soldered on and is not upgradable.
posted by cgg at 3:23 PM on January 12, 2015

Whatever you do, get 16GB of memory. The 2011-era mini was user upgradable to 16GB, and some of them came with a quad-core I7.
posted by mr vino at 3:51 PM on January 12, 2015

As a related question-- if I want to do some light gaming, is the 2012 model okay? Or should I go for the 2014 model and upgrade the RAM?
posted by gregvr at 4:10 PM on January 12, 2015

There are several people i know of, and many online(including popular youtube channel people, the kind who make 6 figures just talking about stuff on youtube and edit 4k video) who use hackintoshes for serious work. There are people who use them every day for professional photo/video stuff.

I don't think buying one is a stupid choice. If my house burned down and i had to start from scratch, i'd likely buy the cheapest used macbook air i could find and build a hackintosh. They're very reliable once set up.

If someone asked me what mac mini to get, i'd tell them to get a 2012 i7. But in reality, i think the only sane choices are either a used older core I5 imac + upgrades, or a hackintosh. The only good macs under $1000 are either used and probably upgraded, or, well, hackintoshes unless you don't have any serious hardware requirements. And for illustrator/photoshop i'd want lots of ram, and a big SSD. I also noticed a gigantic speed boost in photoshop going from dual core to quad core.

My non-hackintosh build would probably be the cheapest used 2011 i5 21in imac i could find, the biggest SSD i could afford, and maximum ram. Installing those two things vaguely sucks, but that's the best route to a cheap-ish fast Real Mac.

Absolute raw bang for the buck can't be beat by a hackintosh though.

By the way, it's not so much that the mac mini would be super terrible for this as just that it's not a good deal. A 2011 imac will be faster in every way by a gigantic margin for barely more money. Or even less, before the upgrades(and still be faster stock).
posted by emptythought at 4:47 PM on January 12, 2015

Best answer: I ran a Hackintosh as my sole machine for about five years (from OS X 10.4 to 10.8.) Not including the monitor, it cost like $600 and it benchmarked faster than most of the iMacs at the time. When my Hackintosh finally bit the bullet from hardware failure, I replaced it with a late 2012 i7 Mac Mini with 16GB of RAM and a custom Fusion drive (the 1GB hard drive that it came with along with a 256GB flash drive that I picked up) for about $1200. Some points of consideration.

- I bought my Hackintosh components using whatever guide or tutorial online. Once I had the Hackintosh up and running (getting sound and networking was pretty hard in the 10.4 days, but the whole process was much easier by 10.6 or .7), it was rock-solid. It crashed less than my Core2Duo MBP or G5 iMac. Indeed, hearing all the complaints about Yosemite online, a Hackintosh with 10.6 seems to be more stable than the latest whatever with 10.10

- I actually really like my Mac Mini better than my Hackintosh for a couple of reasons. It's super quiet, has a tiny footprint, and uses much less power. The fusion drive is great: the space of a regular hard drive with the speed of a SSD.

- I don't game at all, but I find my system to be very good at photograph editing. It's not blazing fast, but I find working in PS with multiple 5DMKII RAW files to be fine.

- I was very dismayed with the latest Mac Mini release. The fact that I could open it up and install my own memory and second hard drive fairly cheaply and easily was one of the tipping points that led me away from purchasing an iMac.

- With the Retina iMacs out now, I'm not sure I'd ever buy a Mini again. Assuming my Mini runs fine for a couple more years, I'll probably be sucked into getting a second or third generation Retina iMac then and I'd doubt that a Hackintosh + 4K monitor would be worth it then.
posted by alidarbac at 9:59 PM on January 12, 2015

If you're going to go for a hackintosh then I would recommend buying exactly the hardware listed at this page:

Some deviations may not be an issue but others most certainly will. If you copy this slavishly then you'll have the advantage of using a pre-tested and known hardware configuration with plenty of forum based support.

Won't ever be as easy as just buying a Mac though!
posted by mr_silver at 1:11 AM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

I would look into buying a refurb 11" MacBook Air. The SSD makes it pretty fast and the older models are quite reasonably priced. By the time you upgrade a mini to be useful, it ends up being expensive anyways.
posted by smackfu at 5:10 AM on January 13, 2015

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