College student looking to switch from PC to Mac. Mini?

Discussion in 'Mac mini' started by erforbush, Feb 23, 2013.

  1. erforbush macrumors newbie

    Feb 23, 2013
    Hey. I am a college student in Michigan. I am looking for some advice from some other Mac owners.
    I have owned an HP Pavilion G7 for about 3 years now. It was a good computer when new (graduation gift from my parents) but I have since bogged it down like crazy. I am a Mechanical Engineering Major so I work a lot with 2-D and 3-D Modeling software (I use AutoCAD 2012, NX 7.5, and SolidWorks all for different classes) as well as I play a few games (Mostly just Minecraft).
    I have been looking for an alternative to my current laptop. While it is still in halfway decent working order, I can tell it's time is coming to an end and I have decided that I would like my next computer to be a reliable, efficient machine. I'm not opposed to laptops. I have several friends with either MacBook Air's or Pro's and they all say the same thing; that they would rather work by pen and paper than by anything other than their current machines. I have recently become more (self) educated about computer hardware and software. I'm no expert but I have done some research so I'm not a complete novice.
    My searching brought me to the Mac Mini and after a little bit of digging (and a rather generous tax refund that I forgot was coming) I think I've found my new machine. But I don't want to just jump in and buy until I know that I've made the right choice.
    The Mini that I have found has a 2.6 Ghz Quad Core Intel Core i7 Processor, 16 GB (2x8GB) DDR3 1600 MHz RAM and 1TB Serial ATA Drive. (I get a relatively effective discount for being a student) bringing the total for the entire machine (the Mini itself plus an external DVD/CD Drive) to about $1300.
    Of course money is somewhat of an issue as I do have tuition and rent and food to pay for yet so I'm wondering if this would be an good purchase.
    The other option I am interested in is the potential of building my own PC desktop. Like I said earlier, I'm not opposed to a MAC laptop but I do not want an iMac or any form of PC Laptop because I have never known any engineers who did not have complaints about PC Laptops.
    My first thought is that, if I get a Mac, I might keep my current laptop as a backup and use it STRICTLY for drafting and modeling purposes and wipe the rest off of it. That way I can keep the Mac as my primary machine for homework, writing, gaming ect.
    If I do go the route of building I will be saving up and building a NICE desktop that will be able to handle everything I could need it to do but that will cost me closer to $2000.
    Any advise would be appreciated. I would really like to know what some people with more knowledge and experience than me have to say and what they think might be appropriate for my needs.
    Thanks in advance for the help!
  2. phoenixsan macrumors 65816


    Oct 19, 2012

    an engineer and Mac user myself, I would say the mini is not a viable machine, let alone the loss of dedicated graphic processor, that complicates the things in detailed/big renders. So, in my case, I always use a iMac (minimum) to a Mac Pro (current personal machine). I understand this can be out of your budget, but you can have choices:

    a)-used iMac
    b)-used Mac Pro
    c)-As you have envisioned, built your own PC. As you had said, almost every engineer finds some fault in the software/hardware used. In this way, you have plenty of control about RAM, HDD, GPU, CPU and so on. And maybe you saves a buck. Upside of this approach is not guarantee....:(

    And going with the Mac approach, you have to do your homework to check thorougfully the compatibility of the software (native OS X or Windows)

    Good luck!

  3. erforbush thread starter macrumors newbie

    Feb 23, 2013
    That's what I was afraid of.... Thank you for the input. I will be keeping this in mind over the next few weeks before i make the final decision.
  4. Omnius macrumors 6502a

    Jul 23, 2012
    based on your needs, an imac is probably best. An older mac pro may be a viable option.
  5. Fishrrman macrumors G5


    Feb 20, 2009
    "…the Mini itself plus an external DVD/CD Drive) to about $1300."

    It shouldn't cost you that much.

    DON'T buy 16gb of RAM from Apple! Instead, get the "base configuration" (4gb), and then buy and add the RAM yourself.

    I think you should look for the Mini i7/2.6ghz, 4mb RAM (list price 899). Then decide if you want a factory-installed fusion drive setup (250 more). 16gb of RAM will run you $80-100.

    An alternative would be to skip the factory-installed fusion setup, and pick up an SSD yourself. If you're technically inclined you can install it inside the Mini (many small connections that can be all-too-easily broken), or, get a USB3 enclosure for about $30 and create an "external boot drive" (will run only a shade slower than if it were installed internally).

    If you live outside California, take a look at "" as a source. No financial interest with them, just a satisfied customer here. Nice discount, fast service, custom configurations available, no tax charged outside of CA.
  6. benwiggy macrumors 68020

    Jun 15, 2012
    I would respectfully disagree that a 2012 Mini is unsuitable for this kind of work. If you are on a budget, then the Mini is very capable. Sure, it may take you slightly longer to render stuff than a MacPro or iMac, but it's not going to be "unviable".
    It's certainly going to be much more capable than a three-year-old HP.

    It's not "not going to work". The CPU is crazy fast -- faster than many MacPros that you might be able to get secondhand on your budget. The GPU is not made of cheese, despite claims to the contrary.

    I've run a number of 3D modelling apps, plus OpenGL games, with absolutely no problems. With two monitors.

    If you're doing hardcore 3D modelling, and you're happy that you might have to wait for the odd second here and there: I say go for it.
  7. troy14 macrumors 6502a

    Mar 25, 2008
    Las Vegas (Summerlin), NV
    I'm from Michigan too! Was studying at Kettering University but now i'm at Oakland University. Where do you study?

    As far as your question - are you factoring in the price of a mouse, keyboard, speakers, and monitor into the mac mini price? I don't think you mentioned if you had those or not but they will be needed as the mini comes with nothing. Adding high quality parts will increase the price.

    Personally, I use a Macbook Pro (would probably recommend the 15" for a dedicated card) and an external monitor for extra real estate when needed (when i'm at home). The portability is something I couldn't live without. Yes, you do need to buy extra components but I did that over time and I love the set up now.
  8. mellofello macrumors 65816

    Feb 1, 2011
    If I was still in school, and limited to one Mac I personally would save up for a 15 inch retina Mac book pro. It is more then fast enough to burn through anything, and is portable enough to take to class, without breaking your back. Plus it will make a excellent desk top plugged into a monitor and keyboard. They are on the refurbished section of the apple store for $18xx.

    If you need a dedicated desktop for 3d modeling Go iMac. worth it for the GPU, and included high end monitor/accessories. At first glance the mini seems like the best value but the iMac ekes it out as there is value in the sum of its parts. Just make sure to get apple care.
  9. erforbush thread starter macrumors newbie

    Feb 23, 2013
    wow thanks for all the input! To answer all of your questions (I hope)
    I study Mechanical Engineering at Michigan Tech in Houghton
    I DO have all the extra components (I have a nice wireless mouse/keyboard set that I love as well as a 19" HDTV that I use as my primary monitor plus some spare computer speakers that I am currently not using but will prob set up on the mac for some better sound in my apartment)
    I'm not doing any "Hardcore" 3-D Modeling. Just assignments mostly. Nothing super extensive. Whenever I have a large modeling project I always go to the labs on campus anyway. The home computer will mostly be for the small stuff.
    Yes I found the RAM solution the other day. (16GB DDR3 RAM from Newegg for $75)
    I didn't see a real need for the fusion drive so I think I will just stick with the SATA drive for now but maybe I'll upgrade later. I do also have a 500GB external from New Buffalo that I LOVE so I will also be using that for transport. I have also become very accustomed to not having a portable laptop because my HP has a bad battery so I have just left it as a desktop setup. I kind of like not taking a computer to class because I know that if I have one in front of me, I won't be able to pay attention. as for doing homework or anything on the go, I have 24 hour access to 8 different computer labs on campus that have all the software I could possibly need. I also run remote access software so I have access to my home machine anywhere that I have an internet connection (No more worrying about emailing huge files to myself or others)

    The more I look at my options, the more I like the Mini Idea. and with the money I will be saving on the RAM I am considering a second Monitor (Found a nice Dell on Amazon)

    The total I have come up with for the machine I want is $1032 which is right where I want it to be. I CAN go as high as $13-1400 but I do have other bills to pay so it would be nice to keep a bit more in pocket for things like rent and tuition.

    Thanks again for all the input! It's good to hear from people who know more than I do!
  10. MJL macrumors 6502a

    Jun 25, 2011
    reinstall windows 7 and put it on an SSD. You'll be giving the machine a new lease of life. Often when you do not reinstall windows and do a lot of stuff then the registry gets fragmented. If your disk is pretty full then the data may be fragmented as well - it may even be that your drive is on the way out.

    I always thought students have a lack of money so do not waste the little you've got by buying some hyped up fancy machine.
  11. QWERTYMac7 macrumors regular

    Nov 20, 2012
    FYIW -
    Have you looked at the prices of Mac Mini's at B&H Photo?

    They are quite competitive, ship with a free copy of Parallels 8 (which you can use to create a Windows Virtual Operating system - incase you need to operate any Windows based programs [remember you will have to buy a copy of the Windows operating system you would like to use 7 or 8 or XP] or, if you will not need any Windows programs you can sell the Parallels 8 for $50 to $60 --- lowering your out of pocket price.

    If you are thinking of Apple Care B&H sells it for $104 - but if you buy a MM from them and Apple Care at the same time it is discounted to $52.

    I bring this up as you have a limited budget and these are a few money saving tips.

    Good luck!

    P.S. I have a 2011 MM with two 24" HDMI monitors - but I also have a 16" AOC USB monitor that I use when I take my MM with me ($90 @ Amazon). Any time I took my laptop with me I always brought my USB keyboard and mouse (I don't like track pads on any laptop other than MBP's) and plugged in the laptop. The MM is virtually the same in mobile mode - true, it does not have a battery, but I always plugged my laptop when I was mobile. Just an FYI - it can be a fairly mobile computer if you approach it creatively.
  12. erforbush thread starter macrumors newbie

    Feb 23, 2013

    I've already done this. I wiped the entire machine to factory defaults, ran a program that cleared all the data on the machine (not 100% sure of how that worked, I had a CS major friend do it for me) then I re installed Windows through a free download that my school offers. I did that about 3 months ago and it helped a lot at first but now I'm right back where I started.

    thanks for the input tho. It def is a good idea and a good first step but now it's time for the next step. this is also after several months of research and asking around and I've decieded that spending $1000-$1100 now on a computer that (if I treat it right) should last me 6 or 7 or 10 years is better than $400-$500 every 3 or 4 years for a cheaper laptop
  13. fig macrumors 6502a


    Jun 13, 2012
    Austin, TX
    I'm looking at a Mini myself, I do some 3D work am will be getting a maxed out Mini and a Thunderbolt Display. The Mini won't be the fastest thing for 3D but it's more than competent enough for the work I do, and every few years I can cycle it out and double my speed. Not a bad deal.

    It won't be a speed demon for your CAD and 3D work, but if you have faster machines available for any of the hardcore work you have to do I bet the Mini will more than do you.
  14. pine88 macrumors member

    Feb 15, 2013
    The mini is a laptop with no screen. For $1K you can build (or have built) a Windows desktop that would slaughter it during rendering, and by slaughter, I mean vastly faster - 30%+. I wouldn't spring for a mini, it simply isn't fast enough.
  15. erforbush thread starter macrumors newbie

    Feb 23, 2013
    I actually just started my new job today and was immediately given a pay raise so the Mac Mini is def going to happen now.
    I know that I could build a good PC for about $1K but it wouldn't be what I wanted. It might be a little better than the Mini but I doubt it would last as long and perform at that level for the 7-10 years that I would need it to. and at this point, my next PC will be hand built and will be PERFECT. I've done enough with PC's, both my own laptop and working on other peoples machines, that I won't go near one again unless I know I've done it right and I'm not willing to spend a thousand dollars to do something 75% of the way. In 10 years I'm going to put $6-$7000 into it and I'm going to build a really nice, personalized, PC with all the best parts. For now, Apple (for the first time in their existence to my knowledge) is the more cost effective choice for me.

    For the record, I would prefer a PC. But I haven't found a cost or time effective alternative to the Mac Mini for my needs.
  16. B.A.T macrumors 6502a

    Oct 16, 2009
    When you buy the mini you have two weeks to use it and if it doesn't meet your needs just return it and get your money back.
  17. mellofello macrumors 65816

    Feb 1, 2011
    Devils advocate. has some nice pcs. With serious muscle for well under $1,000 and built to you specifications.

    I have been going back and forth on what my computer for 2012 will be and I can't say I havent been tempted.

    Their small factor pc the revolt is fassst.

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