2011 Mac Mini 2.5 GHz i5 vs 2011 27” iMac 2.7GHz i5 – a Photographer’s perspective

Discussion in 'Mac mini' started by eoren1, Jul 29, 2011.

  1. eoren1 macrumors 6502

    Aug 17, 2007
    I had been using a 2007 Macbook attached to a 20” IPS monitor for working in Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS5 but was finding significant slow downs with local adjustments in LR and panorama creation or filter use in CS5 not to mention a general slowness to the system as a whole.

    I started off by purchasing the Mini and found significant benefit but ended up running into some problems with use of graduated filters in LR and, again, panorama creation in CS5 taking longer than expected. This did not change after upgrading to 8 gigs RAM.

    I decided to return the Mini and purchase an iMac instead. I have now had a chance to use LR3 and CS5 and found them to be markedly faster on this machine compared to the Mini. Specific benchmarks are below:


    I calibrated the iMac with the Monaco Optix DTP94 and Coloreyes Display pro. I did this on the iMac with Snow Leopard since the software has not been upgraded to work on Lion yet. The average and max delta E astonished me at 0.25 and 0.47 at a luminance of 110. Compared an image on the calibrated monitor to a print and they matched up very nicely. I also see no real reflections but my office is set so the two windows are on either side of the desk it sits on and the light is at an angle away from the screen. No issues compared to the NEC Multisync IPS monitor I used before.

    Have to say that I was happy with the Mini initially but quickly hit its limitations. It’s a fantastic device for the form factor but the iMac handily beats it. As the megapixels on SLRs increase, I think the iMac offers more assurance of being able to keep up with these file sizes and handling the complex renderings of LR and CS5.

    Hope this helps anyone else specifically in this situation and looking at these two models.


    -note: posted in iMac and Mini forums as seemed most appropriate
  2. philipma1957, Jul 29, 2011
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2011

    philipma1957 macrumors 603


    Apr 13, 2010
    Howell, New Jersey
    It is nice info to post. IT looks like the mini had the standard 5400 rpm hdd and the imac has a 7200 rpm hdd.
    That really boosted your iMac's black magic score hdd score 65MB/s vs 120MB/s. I have no idea if your other scores are affected by the slow mac mini hdd.

    I would love to test my 2.5 mini with a 256gb ssd in it against your iMac I know my black magic disk score will be over 200MB/s but the imac still has the better cpu , gpu and that may be the key to the other scores.

    The copy and import of the CF card is also colored by the mini's slow drive.
    But not the render. Also putting in 16gb ram in your imac is low cost 120 bucks in the mini it is about 900 bucks.
    A pair of 8gb sticks go in the mini.
    while four 4gb sticks go in the imac at a cost of 120 or so.

    I think for you work you made the SMART CHOICE.

    duh you can burn discs for you customers! I almost forgot that.
  3. eoren1 thread starter macrumors 6502

    Aug 17, 2007
    Thanks Philip
    Forgot to add that the iMac now has 12 gigs RAM (took the 8gig Crucial upgrade for the mini and used it in the extra slots on the iMac)
    You're right about the HDD. I was quite surprised to see the 7200 double the speed of the 5400. I only expected a 25% boost.
    I'm not sure copy/import was drive limited. Lightroom creates an xmp file on import and adds keywords. It does use a fair amount of CPU time for that. I did a straight copy on the mini and got 45MB/sec transfer outside of LR. However, the effective transfer speed for the copy/import part calculated out to 11 MB/s vs the iMacs 17 MB/s. Since the actual transfer rate was the same, I think we are seeing a CPU difference.
    Can't remember if you are on the Mac mini server. Wondering how the quad in that would do on the Photoshop speed test and Lightroom import/render.
    At the end of the day though, the screen really is amazing and I think gets blasted too much for being 'glossy'
  4. indg macrumors 6502

    Feb 7, 2007
    nothing against your imac, but based on the title of this post alone, the comparison is going to be lopsided. you're pitting an $800 mac with a dual-core mobile processor against a $1700 mac with a quad-core desktop processor. it's obvious which one will perform better.

    a closer comparison might be against a mini server, which has a mobile quad i7. mine scores 9660 on geekbench and raid0 1tb read/write of 184MB/s.

    for those who don't need to buy a new display, keyboard, mouse, and dvd burner, the mac mini still offers good value.
  5. eoren1 thread starter macrumors 6502

    Aug 17, 2007
    That's a very valid point.
    I saw the 799 mini as the best option at the time due to the GPU which I thought would help with PS/LR. The comparison is between what I thought would be a good option for me and what I ended up choosing as the better answer.
    The mini did help me realize that my concerns about being able to upgrade the computer to an SSD myself and the lack of USB3 were not the deal-breakers I thought they were. I also am thrilled to report back on the color fidelity of the monitor and the lack of glare from the glossy screen (at least IMO).
    I am curious to see what types of numbers the server gets on the Photoshop speed test and how it handles a photography workflow.
  6. indg macrumors 6502

    Feb 7, 2007
    if you want me to run some photoshop tests on the mini server, post the files and scripts somewhere and i'll give them a go. i only have cs5 though, not 5.5.
  7. eoren1 thread starter macrumors 6502

    Aug 17, 2007

    I used CS5 as well
  8. Ruahrc macrumors 65816

    Jun 9, 2009
    Thanks for putting up these results but I have to agree that I think the test it not totally without bias.

    In the specific tests run, I think the two big advantages of the iMac are the HD speed and the quad core CPU.

    The slower HDD speed is a bottleneck for example with the importing test, where it must write a lot of data to the disk.

    A bigger issue, however, is the quad core CPU, which should dramatically speed things up when processing. LR/PS depend heavily on CPU speed as many of the functions are multithreaded. Rendering previews, PS filters, etc. typically make good use of 4 cores. This gives a good advantage to the iMac. IIRC the only function the GPU plays in PS is the faster zooming/panning of the image, and faster rotation. LR does not even utilize the GPU I don't think.

    So I wonder how the Mac Mini server with an SSD would compare against the iMac, I am guessing it would be a lot more even. I guess this test shows though that the dual core mac mini is clearly deficient compared to the iMac for photographic tests.

    Also don't forget that the hard disk in the iMac is a full 3.5" internal drive, whereas the hard disks in the Mac Minis are 2.5" laptop drives. So not only does it have lower rpm, it also suffers in transfer rate because of the smaller platters.

  9. eoren1 thread starter macrumors 6502

    Aug 17, 2007
    You make some great points and this was not meant to be a head-to-head benchmarking test. More a review for those that were interested in the high-end mini (nonserver) for photography. As well as my findings of the iMac screen.
    Hadn't thought of the added speed boost from the platter size...makes sense. I had been disappointed in the stock HDD speed and was surprised to see my 3.5" 2 TB 5400 RPM external via FW800 beat it....
    The server may well hold its own for photography. I hadn't even considered it though due to the lack of GPU (though I may have been wrong to dismiss it for that reason alone). I do think that when you get up to the price of the server though, the iMac makes more sense given the added benefit of the 27" screen (it really is beautiful)
  10. fa8362 macrumors 65816

    Jul 7, 2008
    No disrespect intended, but virtually everyone already knew an iMac was faster. Speed is not why I use a Mini. I use it because it's fast enough, it's tiny, it draws next to no power, it's portable, it costs much less, it's nearly silent, and an iMac/Mac Pro are unacceptable to me. BTW, an iMac is more than fast enough for my Photoshop and Lightroom needs.
  11. D*I*S_Frontman macrumors 6502

    May 20, 2002
    Lombard, IL
    Are you a professional photographer? Full time? Successfully?

    I ask because if you are one, this would be the first thread I've read in which a digital image professional of any kind didn't whine incessantly about the glossy screen as if Steve Jobs had personally poked them in the eye with a stick by not maintaining a matte screen option for most Apple products.

    If you are saying that you like the color of the display (after proper calibration) and that by placing your computer in a place where glare is minimized has completely solved the "issue", then I vote for your thread being a permanent "sticky" post on MR.

    Regarding the shootout, I would have to echo others. Put 16 GB RAM in both machines and identical SSDs and run those same tests and I bet the Mini would totally close that gap, especially the Mini Server. Of course, I'm not serious about you actually doing it, as 16GB RAM for a Mini is $1400 at the time of this writing, but if you could afford to do it, I think you'd find the differences between the two negligible to the point of irrelevance.

    Even though people spec-geek out on CPU speeds and GPUs, in the real world fast i/o is as big an issue as any other. Put a 2 SSD raid array in a Mini Server and run a battery of speed tests vs. a stock Mac Pro with a single 7200rpm HDD and the same RAM. That would artificially make the Mini Server look like a competitive, almost miracle product. Then put the same SSD raid in the MP and the Mini Server would get spanked.
  12. eoren1 thread starter macrumors 6502

    Aug 17, 2007
    No, I don't make my living as a photographer. I do sell prints of my landscape photos.

    I had avoided the iMacs like the plague because of the 'incessant whining' about that glossy screen.

    Turns out, in my situation (windows to left and right; light behind me and to the right), I see no significant reflection that would affect my ability to process a photo. In fact, my NEC Multisync that I had relied on for the past 4-5 years shows at least as many reflections and is not a glossy screen.

    Calibration to a luminance of 100 shows the monitor to have amazing color fidelity with average and max delta E's far less than 1.0 (considered 'perfect'). Also, I was quite surprised to find that the color gamut falls closer to aRGB than the sRGB space.

    Again, this was not a 'shoot-out' to match specs. Part of the point is that there is no reason to pay $1400 for 16 gigs of RAM in a Mini.
  13. indg macrumors 6502

    Feb 7, 2007
    here are the results of the photoshp tests on my mini server:
    clubofone: 17.5 sec (more or less)
    retouch pro: 13.5 s

    so they line up fairly close to your numbers. i noticed photoshop has a setting to utilize the gpu's openGL engine. i had mine set to normal mode during the test (and vertical sync and antialias guides both checkmarked). having a fast gpu would most likely assist in some photoshop rendering times. likewise for lightroom.

    for the record, i have no problem with glossy lcds. i'm just not a big fan of all-in-one's, and i don't do professional design work or gaming on the mac that would require a powerful discrete gpu. for your needs though, it sounds like the imac is a better fit.
  14. D*I*S_Frontman macrumors 6502

    May 20, 2002
    Lombard, IL
    Yeah, a lot of FUD out there on that one. That's why I like your OP.
    It is good to know that 16GB can be addressed, anyway. In a year or two when the price plummets Minis will still be useful and worth the upgrade.
  15. throttlemeister macrumors 6502a

    Mar 31, 2009
    Well, people say a glossy screen reflects light when hit by a direct source, which can be very annoying when doing color work. This is very true.

    What they forget however is that a non-glare screen washes out when hit with direct sunlight, which can be very annoying when doing color work.

    Conclusion: when doing color sensitive work, don't position the screen so it catches direct light sources, regardless of what type of screen it is.

    Personally, I find washing out of colors more annoying than reflections. Why? Because the reflections are like a mirror: the reflection is at the same 'depth' as the distance of the source; aka it is not anywhere near the focal plane of your eyes as you look at the screen, so in general you can have quite some reflections before you even start to notice it.
  16. DarwinOSX macrumors 65816

    Nov 3, 2009
    Exactly. There should be no surprise that the iMac will perform much better.

    I know several pro photographs and video editors who have no problems with the iMac glossy display btw. They just don't pout it under direct birth light or in front of a window with the sun streaming through. Imagine that.
  17. D*I*S_Frontman macrumors 6502

    May 20, 2002
    Lombard, IL
    The two posts above are even better choices as permanent stickies for the MR forums.
  18. radek42 macrumors regular

    May 27, 2008
    Here, there, and everywhere
    Very interesting post. Makes my decision which mac (mini, mini server, or 22in iMac) to buy for my photography hobby :)

  19. Mojo1 macrumors 65816

    Jul 26, 2011
    The iMac Glass Display...

    ... reflects everything, not just light sources. Even in a darkened room it acts like a mirror, particularly if the user is wearing light clothes.

    Some people are particular sensitive to reflective displays, suffering from eyestrain and headaches.

    And for critical image editing a matte screen is more accurate, period. It doesn't matter if some people have chosen to accept the inherent limitations of the iMac display...

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