Which MacMini model should I get?
June 22, 2017 11:15 AM   Subscribe

We have an ancient MacMini that's our family computer. I made the mistake of upgrading it to Sierra and now it runs sooooo slooooooowly it's super-tedious to use. Guess it's time to upgrade to a new one? But which one? Pretend I'm your great-aunt and explain this to me using little words.

The most important function of our Mini -- our sole desktop -- is for photo storage. (We use Time Machine + BackBlaze as backup, as we really, really don't want to lose these photos.)

Other uses:
-- The main repository of our digital music. We've got a decent amount of music on there, but not some crazy amount.
-- Web surfing.
-- Kid doing homework in MS Word, and a tiny bit of me using Word for some basic docs.

That's it. So which model should I get? Is it better to splash out on the biggest/most expensive? How can I discover how much data I'm currently storing on this machine?

I bet someone will say it's a lot cheaper to go non-Mac here, but Mr. BlahLaLa is seriously awkward with tech, and I think it's worth the extra $ to keep him on a system he understands how to use.

Lastly, because Reasons (okay, because $$) I might want to wait a few months. Is there any specific reason I should or should not, in this scenario?
posted by BlahLaLa to Computers & Internet (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
For what you're using it for, the most expensive model would be overkill. The mid-range model with the 2.6GHz processor, 8GB of RAM, and 1TB of storage is your best bet. You might be able to scrape by with the slower 1.4GHz model but it doesn't come with much memory by default, and adding more brings the cost to just $100 less than the 2.6GHz model.
posted by Venadium at 11:29 AM on June 22, 2017

Not sure it's a good idea to go for a Mini quite now. MacRumors has a good buying guide, and their guidance now is don't buy. It hasn't been updated since 2014. There's a possibility it may be updated soon, but probably the same probability that it's been basically killed off. If I were you, I'd probably buy the same amount of MacBook Air, which was just updated, and still has all the ports.
posted by General Malaise at 11:29 AM on June 22, 2017

If you click on the hard-drive icon and hit command-I (get info) it will show you your drive's capacity and how much is used. That should help guide your decision about how much capacity you need in your next machine.

You don't say how old your old mini is. In theory you could keep it and install a solid-state drive in the one you've got, which would give you a big speed bump. But if it is that old, you're probably better off buying new.

If you get another Mini, I'd probably go with the mid-range model and then bump the storage to a 1-TB fusion drive (which combines a small solid-state drive with a regular rotating hard drive). That gets you up to $899. For $1199, you could get a base-model iMac and bump its storage to a 1-TB fusion drive; that's a more modern computer (with a nice screen), and for the difference in price, is probably worth it

The Mini has never gotten a lot of love from Apple; the company recently updated a bunch of their computers, but not that. There's probably no reason in terms of product-release schedules to wait.
posted by adamrice at 11:38 AM on June 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Here's what it says when I follow adamrice's instruction:
Capacity: 319.21 GB
Available: 160.09 GB (2.48 GB purgeable)
Used: 159,126,127,178 bytes (159.13 GB on disk)

It's a mid-2010 Mac Mini. 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo.

So...what does that mean? I can see I'm only using half the capacity but it's soooo sloooooow.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:46 AM on June 22, 2017

Don't get a Mini right now. If it doesn't have an SSD, that would be a worthy upgrade (I did it in my old one), but it's also a bit of a project. Unless you have a really nice monitor hooked up to your Mini and specifically don't want to go dual-screen, get an iMac. It just came out so waiting a few months won't gain you a refresh cycle or put you imminently close to the next one.
posted by supercres at 11:47 AM on June 22, 2017

Response by poster: The current monitor is serviceable but nothing special. I have no need to go dual-screen. (But the iMac is significantly more expensive.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:49 AM on June 22, 2017

Have you looked at Apple's refurbished page for iMacs?

This store is really the only way to buy Apple stuff for a decent price AND get the full 1-year AppleCare warranty like new items do. Inventory changes constantly so keep checking.

(Protip: if you see anything over 15% off it's a steal and will probably not be around much longer. If you see 20-30%, that's a signal that a refresh is coming for that item)
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:58 AM on June 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have the same Mac Mini as you. I found installing more memory and doing a clean wipe and install of Sierra to help a lot with slowness.
posted by girlmightlive at 11:58 AM on June 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

The way you say so slow makes me wonder if you're just running out of RAM. It's pretty easy to add RAM and not very expensive. Can you use System Information and tell us how much RAM you have? A mid-2010 MAC can have up to 8GB of RAM; if you have 4 (or 2) I bet RAM is the problem. New RAM is $65, less if you do your research and buy something that is not specifically labelled "for Apple".
posted by Nelson at 11:59 AM on June 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

Don't get a new mac mini. I'm a huge Apple fan, but the Mini is the forgotten, overpriced bastard child of the Apple lineup these days. You can get so much more computer for your money if you buy literally anything else. If you want to stay in the Apple eco-system look for one used. Or look at an iMac if you're willing to put a bit more money into this (but don't go to the lowest end iMac either, you at least want an SSD). Refurbs are awesome as well if you can find one.

Also seconding the idea of adding more memory, which should help as well.
posted by cgg at 12:00 PM on June 22, 2017

You're not a power user. And neither am I. But, the people who usually recommend stuff are and tend to overestimate how much space and power more typical users need. Apple has never really cared much for the Mac mini, but if it works for you, I'd get the mid-range model. The mid-range Mac mini is $699 while the lowest imac is $1099 - that's a $400 difference. It doesn't really seem worth it for your use case.
posted by Aranquis at 12:01 PM on June 22, 2017

Response by poster: Oh, okay, using System Information I see: Memory 2 GB 1067 MHz DDR3. Is this the RAM of which you speak?

Thank you, computer people. Seriously. I'm a word person and this is all so mysterious to me.

Sorry, last question: I would take it to someone to have them do this. I just don't feel comfortable doing it myself, despite that those instructions linked to above seem easy. I know a reputable shop nearby that friends of mine use. Would having someone do this erase what's on there now, and then I'd have to restore from Time Machine? Or would it just add more, um, oomph, to the computer but not erase what's already there?
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:14 PM on June 22, 2017

Given your (and their) level of technical expertise and use case - if you want to buy a Mac buy this one .

Click the button that says fusion drive (+$100) -yes it's a $1400 computer, Apple didn't become the most valuable public company in the world by offering good cheap computers I am afraid. However buying a cheaper desktop Mac than that and you are making a load of crappy compromises that will send them back upgrading in a few years (it's insane apple still puts pure spinning disk HDD's in their cheap desktops).

You could buy a windows computer that would do everything you want for $500. I would never buy a windows computer but in this very specific case I would recommend you think about doing so.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 12:41 PM on June 22, 2017

It's the "2GB" number. That is just barely enough to keep the OS running these days, that's going to be your main reason why it's running slow. (the smallest mini ships with 4GB)

Price out 8GB of new RAM, a 500 GB SSD (replacement hard drive), and the labor at your local Mac dealer (not the Apple store - their SSD prices are ridiculous) and see if it's less than a refurbished mid-range mini with those same specs (8GB RAM / 500 GB SSD). It probably will be - if you're just using it for light word processing, that should be enough to make the system feel like new.

Take your time machine backup drive with you to the shop - they'll transfer the existing system to the new drive.
Also - ask them to check for malware while you're in the shop.

Good luck.
posted by cfraenkel at 12:43 PM on June 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh, okay, using System Information I see: Memory 2 GB 1067 MHz DDR3. Is this the RAM of which you speak?

Yow. There's your problem. 2gb of ram just doesn't cut it anymore (no macbook comes with less than 8gb by default anymore).

Upgrade the RAM (it probably supports up to 8gb) and then Upgrade the drive to an SSD, and it will run a lot faster.
posted by dis_integration at 12:44 PM on June 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you. Do I absolutely need to replace the hard drive? What if I just up the RAM without doing that?
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:49 PM on June 22, 2017

Best answer: I have had great luck buying memory for Macs from Crucial. Just install and run their system scanner and it will show you exactly what memory to buy.
posted by 4ster at 12:51 PM on June 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just upgrading the RAM to 8GB will get you back to about the speed you had before the Sierra update. Upgrading the hard drive to an SSD would make it faster, but would require transferring files and of course more money, probably another $150-$200.

You really can install the RAM yourself, it takes just a couple of minutes. But if you have a shop you trust call and ask them if they can do it for you, including getting the RAM part for you. I'd expect to pay a total of about $100; $60 for the RAM and $40 for the labor. Maybe up to $150, but not more.
posted by Nelson at 1:02 PM on June 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you want to upgrade your current machine, you can find the RAM you need here. That's $80. Some one above recommended upgrading the hard drive, too, and that's a fine idea because it *will* go out at some point, and it will go out whenever doing so will you and your family the most pain and suffering.

Here's a good solid state drive that will work and increase your storage significantly and remove moving parts that can break down from your setup. That's $160. So for $220 you can get the parts you need to extend the life of your current machine. Add on the labor to install those parts, and you're up to $400-$600, depending on the shop and how much they charge and how long and all that.

Alternatively, you can buy a refurbished Mac Mini from Apple. Here are two models currently available. The first is the slower but cheaper one. It'll do.

The second one is your best deal all around. For not much more than you'll pay to upgrade your current machine, you can get a new(ish) one with a year of Apple Care (that can be extended an additional 2 years for additional $$).

Consider that your current Mini is from 2010, which means you've gotten 7 good years out of it. It's possible you'll get another 7 out of it, but it won't take many more Mac OS upgrades. It should run the new version that comes out in the fall, but I wouldn't expect it to accept upgrades past that one.

You'll save some money by upgrading your current Mini. Or you can future-proof your computer needs for another 7-8 years by going with a refurbed model.

(You can, of course, go with an iMac in anticipation of your future needs growing a lot, but that's something only you can determine.)
posted by malthusan at 1:11 PM on June 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Memory 2 GB 1067 MHz DDR3.

These specs would've been fine in like 2000, but it's 2017 now. I personally wouldn't get anything less than 8GB of RAM, which means you're shelling out at least $700 for a MacMini. I know you say your husband knows Macs, but Windows is easy too and he's probably encountered it his entire life too. Windows would give you much better bang for your buck -- you'd pay less for better specs. You could upgrade the RAM of your MacMini yourself, but you don't sound super knowledgeable about doing this, and if you're going to pay someone else to do something so simple, you might just want to upgrade. So, I would not bother with the 4GB model because it's just not going to last as long or be as efficient -- might as well just get the 8GB one with the faster processor and larger hard drive.
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:13 PM on June 22, 2017

The SSD is the upgrade you want, which will completely transform your Mac Mini and remove the spinning beach ball forever. The RAM upgrade to 8Gb is so cheap you may as well do it at the same time. You are only using 150Gb of disk space so replacing the hard drive with a 250-300Gb SSD will be enough unless you plan on putting a whole lot more stuff on the machine in the near future. This will be a fair bit cheaper than a 500Gb SSD.

Installing it is fiddly but not hard. I've done it on two Mac Minis here, would take just a few minutes, plus then reinstalling macOS and restoring all the data from your existing drive. A local Apple specialist should be able to quote you quite accurately for doing this.
posted by tillsbury at 1:17 PM on June 22, 2017

Note that a lot of the recommended "buy this new/refurbished Mac Mini" links above are referencing hard drives not SSDs. Do not buy a computer of any type with an old-style hard drive. Stick to solid state drives only.
posted by tillsbury at 1:20 PM on June 22, 2017

Response by poster: Okay, you nuts have convinced me that I can install the RAM myself. Just ordered it. Thank you very much.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:24 PM on June 22, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Yay good for you! Let us know how it works out. There's a bunch of videos on YouTube showing the RAM upgrade process; this one looks reasonable. Don't be surprised if it takes a little pushing to get the new modules in, like opening a stubborn jar.
posted by Nelson at 2:47 PM on June 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Holy fracking smoke, I did it, you guys. And I'm going to lay 100% of the credit on Metafilter. I never, ever would have had the guts to even consider doing such a thing -- I might as well attempt brain surgery on myself. But you told me it was doable and economical, and you were totally right. It may not have turned my Mini into a supercomputer but it made it usable again, and I am sincerely grateful.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:42 AM on June 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

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