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Old Oct 28, 2012, 08:09 PM   #1
Columbian
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How limiting is HD4000? (Mac Mini vs. iMac decision)

I know this has been mentioned in several threads, but I haven't seen a decisive answer for my specific needs.

I am deciding between
(a) a refurbished 2011 27" iMac with i7 and
(b) a new 2012 Mac Mini with quad-core i7 and a refurbished 27" Thunderbolt Display.

(Not considering the 2012 iMac because I need something rather urgently and the price of a similarly powerful configuration is likely to be a few hundred dollars higher. The only advantage would be a better (less glare) screen, but my computer room lighting is good for my old iMac, so glare is not a problem.)

The price is roughly the same. Processor performance very similar according to both Passmark and Geekbench scores. I would immediately upgrade either computer to 12-16 GB of third-party RAM. I have a spare keyboard and mouse, and the cost of an external DVD I'd need for the Mini is insignificant.

The advantages of Mini are USB3, modularity (I'd probably want to replace the rest of the computer well before the display) and easier HD upgradeability. (Having seen all the videos, I would be comfortable installing an SSD myself in the Mini, but not in the iMac. That may tip the cost in Mini's favor.) The advantages of the iMac are the ability to upgrade RAM to 32 GB (I don't need that much now, but may well need it in 2 years or so) and a much more powerful GPU...

...Which brings me to my main question: How important is the difference in graphics capabilities of the two computers for someone with my needs (described in the next paragraph)?

I don't care about gaming at all. I'd like to be able to watch movies without compromises in quality. I do moderate photo editing - for now in Aperture and Photoshop Elements, but I can imagine getting more serious, and using Photoshop during the life of the computer. (Also, haven't shot any RAW yet, but may try soon.) I don't do any serious video editing. I occasionally do some amateur art, and may try some animation, but nothing serious. Other tasks I use the computer for are not graphics-intensive at all.

Is Intel HD4000 capable of driving the ATD competently for everything I need? Would I notice a significant difference in graphics? Or would the iMac's superior Radeon 6970 be a waste for me?

Also, is there anything I am missing in my comparison? Thanks for reading this and for all thoughtful responses.

Last edited by Columbian; Oct 29, 2012 at 01:17 PM.
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Old Oct 28, 2012, 08:32 PM   #2
KylePowers
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You'll be fine with the HD4000. If you're not happy with it (and I don't see that happening), just return it. But in my opinion, it'll suit your needs just fine. The HD4000 is plenty powerful.

//I'm considering selling my 2011 27in and going with a Mac Mini + TBD setup myself. Modularity is worth it to me.
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Old Oct 28, 2012, 09:00 PM   #3
phoenixsan
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I think....

it is very limiting if you are a serious gamer and/or do work with heavy animation/render.Also in heavy photo editing/management. So, maybe you are good with the mac Mini, based in the description of your work
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Old Oct 28, 2012, 09:35 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Columbian View Post
The advantages of the iMac are the ability to upgrade RAM to 32 GB (I don't need that much now, but may well need it in 2 years or so) and a much more powerful GPU...
So why not just have the iMac so you don't need to upgrade for the next 5 years or so? Mini's HD4000 < iMac's dedicated graphics. Also, mini's maximum RAM is only 8GB I guess.
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Old Oct 29, 2012, 08:44 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by technowar View Post
So why not just have the iMac so you don't need to upgrade for the next 5 years or so? Mini's HD4000 < iMac's dedicated graphics. Also, mini's maximum RAM is only 8GB I guess.
The Mini can take 16GB RAM.
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Old Oct 29, 2012, 09:54 AM   #6
Columbian
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Thanks for the responses so far. Keep them coming! Would be especially interested in hearing from those who have been running an ATD or similar display with a MBA or 13" MBP.
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Old Oct 29, 2012, 09:57 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by phoenixsan View Post
it is very limiting if you are a serious gamer ...
It always amuses me when people combine the words "serious" and "gamer".
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Old Oct 29, 2012, 12:41 PM   #8
skyking20
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More questions on graphics

The reviews I read elsewhere are not big on the HD 4000 but are on the imac 675MX. So as a gamer what is the break point. Where does the HD fail to keep up?

Also, are there any video inputs on an iMac (HDML) for hooking up serious game boxes like XBOX or PS3?

sky
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Old Oct 29, 2012, 01:33 PM   #9
iRCL
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Columbian View Post
I know this has been mentioned in several threads, but I haven't seen a decisive answer for my specific needs.

I am deciding between
(a) a refurbished 2011 27" iMac with i7 and
(b) a new 2012 Mac Mini with quad-core i7 and a refurbished 27" Thunderbolt Display.

(Not considering the 2012 iMac because I need something rather urgently and the price of a similarly powerful configuration is likely to be a few hundred dollars higher. The only advantage would be a better (less glare) screen, but my computer room lighting is good for my old iMac, so glare is not a problem.)

The price is roughly the same. Processor performance very similar according to both Passmark and Geekbench scores. I would immediately upgrade either computer to 12-16 GB of third-party RAM. I have a spare keyboard and mouse, and the cost of an external DVD I'd need for the Mini is insignificant.

The advantages of Mini are USB3, modularity (I'd probably want to replace the rest of the computer well before the display) and easier HD upgradeability. (Having seen all the videos, I would be comfortable installing an SSD myself in the Mini, but not in the iMac. That may tip the cost in Mini's favor.) The advantages of the iMac are the ability to upgrade RAM to 32 GB (I don't need that much now, but may well need it in 2 years or so) and a much more powerful GPU...

...Which brings me to my main question: How important is the difference in graphics capabilities of the two computers for someone with my needs (described in the next paragraph)?

I don't care about gaming at all. I'd like to be able to watch movies without compromises in quality. I do moderate photo editing - for now in Aperture and Photoshop Elements, but I can imagine getting more serious, and using Photoshop during the life of the computer. (Also, haven't shot any RAW yet, but may try soon.) I don't do any serious video editing. I occasionally do some amateur art, and may try some animation, but nothing serious. Other tasks I use the computer for are not graphics-intensive at all.

Is Intel HD4000 capable of driving the ATD competently for everything I need? Would I notice a significant difference in graphics? Or would the iMac's superior Radeon 6970 be a waste for me?

Also, is there anything I am missing in my comparison? Thanks for reading this and for all thoughtful responses.
Yes it's quite fine and you're going to be able to watch movies quite fine, this was possible with far weaker graphics cards than the HD 4000. Watching movies is actually not any sort of strain on today's hardware, even if most of it is done in the CPU. This was possible 10 years ago and on small ARM devices like Apple TV

Same with the other tasks
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Old Oct 29, 2012, 03:50 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by phoenixsan View Post
it is very limiting if you are a serious gamer and/or do work with heavy animation/render.Also in heavy photo editing/management. So, maybe you are good with the mac Mini, based in the description of your work
Most rendering etc is done on the cpu. Some programs can harness the gpu. Adobe has a limited set of supported gpus - CS6 After Effects requires nVidia for example, which puts the ATI of the 2011 iMac out of the equation.

For Photoshop, both the ATI 6970 and the HD4000 are supported with the new Mercury Graphics Engine in CS6 - I would assume that the iMac would be somewhat faster than the Mac Mini.
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Old Oct 29, 2012, 03:52 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by gnasher729 View Post
It always amuses me when people combine the words "serious" and "gamer".
How do you feel about jumbo shrimps?
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Old Nov 1, 2012, 04:17 AM   #12
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Hi, what about HD 4000 usage in GPU acceleration APIs like OpenGL, OpenCL, CUDA, Mercury engine etc.
I cant find no sources, blog posts about this. What about performance and support in SW which uses these APIs for GPU acceleration?
And I'm not talking only about professional SW from Adobe, but for example every modern web browser use GPU acceleration for rendering web pages...
thanks
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Old Nov 3, 2012, 07:51 AM   #13
k.alexander
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To OP. I am essentially in the same boat as you. 2011 iMac 21.5 or 2012 Mini 2.3 i7 (plus some screen to be determined later).

Primary uses for me are heavy Aperture use (hobby not work, my library is about 50k images), with some addt'l work in PS. I've never used iMovie but can see doing some base stuff going forward. Otherwise it will also be a backup (to the ipads and iphones) web/office apps computer for my wife and I.

I've been rocking my brain for 2 weeks trying to decide. I think I've all but decided to go with the mini. The biggest stumbling block has been the HD4000 vs. dGPU of the iMac. But I believe for the uses that I intend to use this Mac for, the HD 4000 will be sufficient.

I hope it's sufficient going forward too. But I also fear that last gen's Sandy Bridge GPU and no USB3 in the iMac will outdated this pc much sooner than the mini.
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Old Nov 3, 2012, 04:04 PM   #14
Columbian
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Thanks for all the replies. I am now leaning strongly toward the Mini. An additional factor in its favor is that, after some thought, I realized I don't really need a 27" monitor and there are some decent 24" IPS monitors for about $500 less than the TBD. (Now I need to decide on the monitor, but that's a bit off-topic.)

Meanwhile, I am following the initial experiences people are having with the fusion drive, as that will be another decision to make if I get the Mini. (Again, that's for another thread.)

However, the iMac I had ordered before I started the thread is on its way (was supposed to arrive Thursday, but is lingering in UPS's warehouse for some reason, and the delivery date has been updated to Monday), and I'll at least try it to see how I like it. There is always the possibility that it comes with a 2 TB HDD instead of 1 TB (a factor for me b/c I'll almost certainly outgrow 1 TB) or 2 GB video memory (definitely a waste for me). Also, I may be able to compare the two computers side-by-side before the return period expires.
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Old Nov 4, 2012, 08:01 AM   #15
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If you hook up a Sonnet Echo Express Pro via Thunderbolt with a nice GPU in it, who cares about the HD4000?
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Old Nov 4, 2012, 10:28 AM   #16
Trinite
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Originally Posted by Giuly View Post
If you hook up a Sonnet Echo Express Pro via Thunderbolt with a nice GPU in it, who cares about the HD4000?
Forgive a possibly ignorant question: I've been wondering about this as a possible solution for the GPU problem, too (at least for the future; right now it's still a bit expensive). But from what I've been able to read, people don't seem sure that the connection, even with Thunderbolt, is fast enough to be really effective. Have you tried it? What do you think?

Thanks!
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Old Nov 4, 2012, 10:59 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by Trinite View Post
Forgive a possibly ignorant question: I've been wondering about this as a possible solution for the GPU problem, too (at least for the future; right now it's still a bit expensive). But from what I've been able to read, people don't seem sure that the connection, even with Thunderbolt, is fast enough to be really effective. Have you tried it? What do you think?

Thanks!
Thunderbolt is just a fancy way to say "External PCIe 2.0 x4 plus DisplayPort 1.1a", as that's what it is. The Sonnet enclosure just converts it back to PCIe 2.0 x4, so that should be pretty fast and won't be a big deal for the GPU:


You just have to keep in mind that you still need a Mac GPU, but all cards that work in the Mac Pro will work with the enclosure, as long as they 1) fit the enclosure, which shouldn't be a problem on the Pro version and 2) draw less than 150W under full load.
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Old Nov 4, 2012, 01:50 PM   #18
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Similar situation..primarily use my old mid 2008 iMac 24" for photo editing using Aperture (until recent updates made it unusable due to continuous random unsupported image format error, story for another thread), Lightroom, and Photoshop CS4 (though I can see myself upgrading to CS6 once I get a new machine).

Sold the iMac and was torn between the new iMac and the mini. Ultimately chose a quad core i7 mini with fusion drive for a couple reasons:

Modularity - as you mentioned just a better/more practical solution. I live in NYC with a sometimes ailing at the wrong moment car. Having to lug a 27" CPU in case of malfunction to the apple store no matter how thin is just not practical.

Performance - while my workflow had long since outpaced the capabilities of my old iMac, I do think the mini will be able to handle 99.9% of what I throw at it without problems. I do a lot of work in Aperture/Lightroom, and use photoshop mainly for be conversions, color/curve editing, and occasionally a surface blur. I'm pretty confident given everything I've read the mini will handle fine. Even if I add video to my workflow at some point, I'm pretty confident in Premiere for rendering on the mini. Adobe seems to have done a good job of directing intensive tasks to the CPU.

Display - I like the idea of choosing my own display (and maybe moving to a dual matching monitor setup at some point). I scored a pretty much new TBD on Craigslist for $775, so if I can find another at some point later on than great for me. My main concern would be if the TBD is updated to retina display, from what I read the HD4000 won't be able to power it. But quite frankly the Thunderbolt Display is plenty beautiful on it's own, and a retina one may just make it easier for me to get a non retina version cheaper.

The mini arrives this week. Pretty happy with my decision and think I've got a pretty solid machine for the next 3 years or so. I purchased with 8GB but see that I can easily max out to 16GB for ~$100, so I'll take care of that soon too.
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Old Nov 4, 2012, 02:58 PM   #19
Yebubbleman
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Columbian View Post
I know this has been mentioned in several threads, but I haven't seen a decisive answer for my specific needs.

I am deciding between
(a) a refurbished 2011 27" iMac with i7 and
(b) a new 2012 Mac Mini with quad-core i7 and a refurbished 27" Thunderbolt Display.

(Not considering the 2012 iMac because I need something rather urgently and the price of a similarly powerful configuration is likely to be a few hundred dollars higher. The only advantage would be a better (less glare) screen, but my computer room lighting is good for my old iMac, so glare is not a problem.)

The price is roughly the same. Processor performance very similar according to both Passmark and Geekbench scores. I would immediately upgrade either computer to 12-16 GB of third-party RAM. I have a spare keyboard and mouse, and the cost of an external DVD I'd need for the Mini is insignificant.

The advantages of Mini are USB3, modularity (I'd probably want to replace the rest of the computer well before the display) and easier HD upgradeability. (Having seen all the videos, I would be comfortable installing an SSD myself in the Mini, but not in the iMac. That may tip the cost in Mini's favor.) The advantages of the iMac are the ability to upgrade RAM to 32 GB (I don't need that much now, but may well need it in 2 years or so) and a much more powerful GPU...

...Which brings me to my main question: How important is the difference in graphics capabilities of the two computers for someone with my needs (described in the next paragraph)?

I don't care about gaming at all. I'd like to be able to watch movies without compromises in quality. I do moderate photo editing - for now in Aperture and Photoshop Elements, but I can imagine getting more serious, and using Photoshop during the life of the computer. (Also, haven't shot any RAW yet, but may try soon.) I don't do any serious video editing. I occasionally do some amateur art, and may try some animation, but nothing serious. Other tasks I use the computer for are not graphics-intensive at all.

Is Intel HD4000 capable of driving the ATD competently for everything I need? Would I notice a significant difference in graphics? Or would the iMac's superior Radeon 6970 be a waste for me?

Also, is there anything I am missing in my comparison? Thanks for reading this and for all thoughtful responses.
If you don't do video editing and if you don't do gaming (and I'm assuming you also don't do 3-D modeling and/or CAD work), then the Intel HD 4000 won't be limiting to you at all. You might find that Apple cuts support for it sooner than models with a discrete GPU, but then again, given advancements that Intel has made to their integrated graphics since the HD 3000, that might not necessarily be the case down the road as it was for the Intel GMA graphics of old.

Also, the Mac mini has a history of being a substantially more reliable machine than the iMac. I'm hoping that this changes in the 21.5" given their switch to using more laptop components, but I'm still skeptical. The 27" sadly shouldn't change in this regard.

Given all of that, I'd say go with the Mac mini and the Thunderbolt display. You'll be plenty happy and it'll be plenty fast.
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Old Jan 8, 2013, 09:58 AM   #20
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iMac as monitor

I've been looking at similar options. I do most of my editing in Aperture. I've got a 2010 27" iMac and want something with Thunderbolt access and a faster processor. I believe my best solution is to keep the iMac as a Thunderbolt Display and remote DVD drive. It would also be a hub for many of my older USB 2 peripherals. You can also access the iMac running in the background through screen sharing from a MacMini. I've been doing this with my MacBook Air, but it's way too slow for my liking. I think the MacMini with the I7 processor, 16gb of ram and thunderbolt and USB3 would solve a lot of the problems of speed with a lot less $. And it allows me to keep the older iMac 27" as a processor for background operations like uploading, etc.
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Old Mar 23, 2013, 08:28 AM   #21
output555
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Columbian View Post
I know this has been mentioned in several threads, but I haven't seen a decisive answer for my specific needs.

I am deciding between
(a) a refurbished 2011 27" iMac with i7 and
(b) a new 2012 Mac Mini with quad-core i7 and a refurbished 27" Thunderbolt Display.

(Not considering the 2012 iMac because I need something rather urgently and the price of a similarly powerful configuration is likely to be a few hundred dollars higher. The only advantage would be a better (less glare) screen, but my computer room lighting is good for my old iMac, so glare is not a problem.)
I have been mulling the exact same choices as you. I even ordered both an Apple refurbished 2011 27" iMac i7 AND a refurbed late 2012 Mac Mini i7 to compare, but have yet to receive either. However, since I placed my order and continued my research, I'm pretty sure I'm going with the late-2012 Mac Mini i7. The primary reason is the advantage of the USB 3.0 ports. Although the 2011 iMac i7 scores better processing benchmarks, they're not significant enough to outweigh the benefits of USB 3.0--plus the advantage of being able trade out the Mini in a year or so when a better/faster replacement appears. With the iMac, you're already one year behind and locked into fairly limited upgrades. Everything I've read about the Mini i7 for PS editing has been positive other than its 16GB RAM limit. I expect the next model to have both more RAM capabilities and a discreet GPU, but that'll be about 9 months from now.
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