Decision Help: 27" 5K iMac for $3k or Mac Mini for $2k

Discussion in 'iMac' started by dgalvan123, Apr 11, 2016.

  1. dgalvan123 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 16, 2008
    Replacing our family computer (a 2009 MBP 17", which died when the RAM controller on the motherboard bit the dust. Lasted 6.5 years, not bad.).

    I'm deciding between replacing with a near-maxed out iMac 27" 5K (4 GHz quad core i7, 1 TB SSD) for ~$3k or a maxed out Mac Mini (3 GHz dual core i7, 1 TB SSD) for ~$2k.

    The main reason I'm even considering the iMac is because I have a bunch of HD home videos sitting on a hard drive that I have been waiting to edit because our old mac didn't have the horsepower to do video editing without frustratingly having spinning beachballs and otherwise being slow. I'm interested in future-proofing as much as I can here, and enabling fast processing for editing our HD home videos, and of course our gargantuan (500GB) Photos library.

    So, at issue: would the Mac Mini be sufficient for that kind of home movie (iMovie, not FCP) video editing? I'm leaning toward the iMac since I figure that machine will serve our needs for longer than the Mac Mini would. But curious what you all think?
  2. colodane macrumors 6502a


    Nov 11, 2012
    My first reaction was surprise about even being able to spend $2K on a Mac Mini. Then I saw your 1 TB SSD spec.

    My second reaction was putting 1 TB SSD into a dual core CPU. That seems unwise to me.

    A couple of questions: Do you plan on continuing to have an external HDD for bulk storage of your movies? What kind of screen are you planning on with the Mac Mini? Can a mini drive a large 4K or 5K display at 60 Hz? (it has been a long time since I've looked at them).

    Offhand, I think you would be better served by an iMac, but perhaps not as maxed out as you are contemplating. Perhaps 256 or 500 GB SSD plus external HDD.

    Others here with more video editing experience will no doubt chime in and steer you in the right direction.
  3. off_piste macrumors 6502a

    Oct 25, 2015
    With an iMac if I purchase one again I'd get max cpu and GPU and not worry about ram or storage. You can upgrade both for cheaper than buying from Apple. No easy way to upgrade GPU.
  4. jmiddel macrumors regular

    Mar 3, 2010
    Land of Enchantment
    The current minis do not even compete with a quad core iMac.
  5. varian55zx macrumors 6502a


    May 10, 2012
    San Francisco
    The iMac.

    Didn't read it. Don't need to.

    I'd say get the iMac over the mini. The 5K iMac is better.
  6. dgalvan123 thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Feb 16, 2008
    Thanks for your responses!

    Yes on the external storage. I have a couple 3 TB external drives that currently store my photos, home movies, and commercial movies etc. However, my main goal for having a 1 TB SSD internal is that I have a Photos library that is about 500GB on its own, and I would love to get that onto the internal SSD storage to make the photo editing/browsing process as fast as possible. We have a ton of photos of our kids, and are likely to produce a ton more (photos. . . not kids. . . I hope).

    We actually have a Dell monitor lying around that we could use for the Mini. It's not 4K, but it works fine. According to this the Mac Mini (2014) can drive a 4K display, but just. Hadn't thought of that before, but I suppose I ought to be as by the time we upgrade our iPhones this or next year they will probably taking 4K video.

    Thanks. The SSD size is driven by my 500 GB Photos library, so I don't think I'd want to go with a smaller internal SSD. I did contemplate a 3TB Fusion drive, but I liked the idea of never having to hear the mac "whir" the drive ever again. :) Plus I am just ready to remove all slowing from my photo / video editing.
  7. Nunyabinez macrumors 68000


    Apr 27, 2010
    Provo, UT
    I would ask "have you spent any time on the 5K display?"

    Once you use that display and work with the quality, any thing else looks like crap. If you buy a Mini and pair it with a 4K display it would be OK assuming that you utilize it in HiDPI mode, but adding a 4K display and you are again almost at the same cost.

    I have two 5K iMacs, one with the 256GB SSD and one with 2TB Fusion. In real-world I see no difference. And on the one with the SSD, I have an external SSD that is Thunderbolt and also has USB 3.0 and it is fast enough that I would never spend the money to get a big SSD from Apple.

    So, I would say, the iMac for sure. Max out the things you can't easily update (CPU and GPU) and skimp on the things you can (RAM and Drive).
  8. aidanpendragon macrumors 6502a

    Jul 26, 2005
    An AASP ought to be able to put an affordable aftermarket SSD in a Mini without voiding the warranty, which could get your cost down substantially from the Apple premium, if money's a consideration.
  9. iceman42 macrumors regular

    Nov 12, 2012
    i would get a mac mini the mac mini can handle what he wants to can put any size monitor or tv on the mac mini and you can't do that with a iMac.i have a 34 inch ultra wide curved samsung monitor and i think its better that the 27 inch iMac.
  10. maflynn Moderator


    Staff Member

    May 3, 2009
    I think cost wise, it makes no sense to spend 2,000 on a Mac Mini. It's a great computer, don't get me wrong but if you're configuring it in such a way that the price is driven up to 2k then its a poor fit.

    I'd go with the iMac, but I'd also swap out the 1TB SSD, that's just so over priced I cannot really justify that expense in my book. Why not use external TB drives?
  11. Samuelsan2001 macrumors 604

    Oct 24, 2013
    The iMac if those are your choices by far a better computer for the cost.
  12. dgalvan123 thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Feb 16, 2008
    Thanks everyone for your responses!

    I decided to get the iMac. Got it refurbished for $2920, with sales tax (CA) it came to $3196. (Interestingly, the one I ordered was supposed to be spec'd with a Radeon 395 graphics card with 2 GB RAM, but when I turned on the machine it was actually loaded with a Radeon 395x card with 4 GB RAM. Bonus! (don't tell Apple!))

    I went ahead and got the 1 TB internal SSD. I appreciate everyone's comments pointing out it might be more economical to get an external SSD and sticking with a Fusion drive internally, but I looked into it and those external SSDs I was finding (and I wanted at least 1 TB in size to handle our growing photo library) were not all THAT much less expensive (couldn't find anything below $379 for USB3, or below ~$600+ for thunderbolt), and from what I could tell the transfer rate over USB 3 would have been significantly slower than the internal "blade" style PCIe SSD (though I'm unclear if it would have been noticeable or not). Still I admit getting the internal was a bit of a splurge, but we try to hold off on getting new computers for at least 6 years at a time, and I'm planning on this machine lasting at least until my oldest child (now 6) is a teenager. Which means lots of photos and HD video are going to hit this machine, and I want to not worry about speed.

    Also I learned that, because the SSD is PCIe "blade" style, that means this machine has a big open SATA space inside where a 3.5" internal hard drive would have been had I ordered it with a fusion drive. To me, that means a few years down the road when I'm out of warranty and when SSDs come down in price, I can open it up and put a second, hopefully even bigger, SSD inside, in the SATA slot. (Or, if I don't find it necessary, a mondo Hard Disk so I can have a lot of internal storage.) Either way, with a Fusion drive, you only get max 128 GB of SSD in the PCIe slot, and from what I've seen at iFixit it is a much bigger pain to mess with that PCIe slot vs. the SATA slot. So I'm happy to have "maxed out" that PCIe slot with 1 TB instead of 128 GB, and any further upgrades should be less of a pain.

    One last thing: I was only really ever after the specs (processor, SSD, primarily), and didn't think much about the 5K display. Naively, had I been able to spec out a 21.5 inch iMac or a Mac Mini this way, I probably wouldn't have sprung for a 5K monitor.

    But now that I've sat in front of this thing. . . I mean. . .

    Holy Crap.

    The 5K display really is amazing. I am ruined now for other displays. I managed to get my Photos Library onto the internal SSD last night, and spend a good half-hour this morning just flicking through our best photos in full-screen on that 5K display. Absolutely no delays whatsoever picking at any photos in my 500GB library (there better not be for $3k!), and the photos look absolutely gorgeous thanks to that display. It makes you want to look again at every picture you've ever taken, because it really feels like you can see more detail even in older photos (got an SLR 6 years ago. .. finally appreciating the full detail of those hi-res pics!).

    Thanks again for the advice. I'm still on the just-bought-high, obviously, but I'm doubtful that I'll be regretting this decision!
    --- Post Merged, Apr 13, 2016 ---
    Oh one other thing: I have never liked Apple mice, and have always gone with a cheap two-button scroll-wheel mouse instead of the non-ergonomic things Apple has put out since the original hockey-puck iMac mouse. Had I gone with the Mini, I would have happily continued to use my ergonomic logitech two-button wireless mouse, even though it didn't track very well on my glossy desk surface, necessitating a mouse pad. With the iMac, I was expecting I'd re-sell or just store the magic mouse 2 that came with the machine.

    That said, I'm amazed to say that I actually really do like the "magic mouse 2" that came with this machine. I like that I can just plug it in to charge instead of dealing with removable batteries; I like that I can just drag a single finger sideways across the mouse to flip through my photos, like a track pad or iPhone screen. Seems to combine some of the best aspects of a trackpad and a mouse. I also like that its bluetooth and doesn't take up a USB slot like my other wireless mouse does. Also, somehow this mouse is superior to my logitech wireless laser mouse in working on my slick white desk. (Always had to use a piece of paper or mouse pad with the logitech. . . the Magic Mouse works on the glossy white desk surface with no problem though.) Wish it were more ergonomic, and wish there were a quick "zoom in" gesture similar to the two-finger zoom on trackpads. But overall I'm impressed.
  13. hfg macrumors 68040


    Dec 1, 2006
    Cedar Rapids, IA. USA

    Attached Files:

  14. dgalvan123, Apr 13, 2016
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2016

    dgalvan123 thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Feb 16, 2008
    Thanks. Good idea regarding the external storage. I have an existing external 3 TB disk for storage, plus another for Time Machine backup. Although one is USB 3 and another is USB 2 so they will feel even slower now that I have that SSD.

    For anyone else thinking about read/write speeds in the future for external or internal storage, I found this video very interesting: copying a 3GB file using various means (thunderbolt, USB 3, USB2, and internal SATA) and storage types (7200 rpm HDD and SSD).

    If you skip to time 4:34 and 4:47 you get the results (lower numbers are better!)

    Read (s) Write (s)
    Internal SATA HDD 33.4 30.4
    Thunderbolt SSD 14.4 32.1
    Thunderbolt HDD 33.6 35.1
    USB 3.0 SSD 32.9 36.3
    USB 3.0 HDD 33.1 36.7
    USB 2.0 SSD 76.3 89.2
    USB 2.0 HDD 74.4 89.9

    My conclusions, based on the above (please chime in if there is nuance I'm missing):

    - There is no reason to buy an external SSD if you can only connect it via USB 3.0. A 7200 RPM external hard disk works just as well as an SSD in terms of read/write speeds when bottlenecked by USB 3.0, and costs FAR less. (So, while I appreciate the good intention of those recommending it, it looks like it would have been a bad move for me to buy an external SSD with USB 3.0. I would have been paying 3-6x times the cost of an external HDD with USB 3.0, with no discernible benefit.)

    - There is essentially no benefit to a Thunderbolt HDD over a USB 3.0 HDD.

    - A Thunderbolt SSD is more than twice as fast as a USB 3.0 SSD for reading, only roughly 11-12% faster for writing.

    The only question I have left is: What is faster, an internal SATA SSD, or an external Thunderbolt SSD?
  15. \-V-/ Suspended


    May 3, 2012
    From personal experience, this is absolutely 100% incorrect. There's a lot more to the speed of SSDs than simply read/write speeds. Also, I don't know what's up with that test, but I always exceed HDD speeds (by a lot) when benchmarking an externally connected SSD that I've booted into. Booting from an external SSD via USB 3 is much faster than booting from an HDD.
  16. dgalvan123 thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Feb 16, 2008
    Interesting. I wonder if there is some other bottleneck involved in that test that's not obvious?
    --- Post Merged, Apr 13, 2016 ---
    Thanks. Do you have that drive? Do you find storing videos/photos on it is fast enough for video editing or Photos library management/editing?

    I'm now second-guessing, thinking maybe it would be better if I return my iMac and get almost the same version but with a 3TB Fusion drive (which is ~$500 less than the one I got with the 1 TB SSD internal), and separately pay $600 for a thunderbolt 1 TB external SSD, as some here have suggested. That way I pay only ~$100 more than I did for the current configuration, but I end up with both the fast 1 TB SSD (external via thunderbolt) AND a 3TB Fusion drive internal. I'm thinking this may be preferable because I'll have more internal storage (3TB) that will have faster read/write speeds via the internal SATA than an external 3 or 4 TB drive via USB 3. . . and the price difference is less than I'd pay if I were to just purchase an external 4 TB drive like the one you suggested (at $180).

    (I guess my main concern is iMovie video editing: I'm thinking it would be less choppy to work with HD video that is sitting on an internal (SATA) 3 TB Fusion drive than if it were sitting on an external USB 3 hard drive? Ideal would be for me to temporarily transfer working video to the internal SSD while I'm editing it, but with the apps and my 500GB Photos library, there's only ~250 GB of headroom on that SSD.)

    I think I have 14 calendar days to decide if I want to return it. Though I have already put stuff on the mac so I guess I'm assuming they would still take the return. . .
  17. hfg, Apr 13, 2016
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2016

    hfg macrumors 68040


    Dec 1, 2006
    Cedar Rapids, IA. USA
    I do have the 4TB Seagate "Fast" drive on the back of my all SSD 5K iMac ... See attached photo. It is pretty fast, being RAID-0 as compared to a single 3.5" drive in a external enclosure ... but doesn't require a power supply! I don't keep my photos on it as my 400GB photo library fits within the internal large SSD, but I suppose I could keep the large RAW files there and have reference files on the SSD if my needs grow (But I more likely would simply add another portable SSD drive for that).

    There are several "video" related threads here discussing the benefits of SSD over Fusion and editing video issues. You might find the Fusion drive is fine for your photos since it would keep the "actively used" photos on the SSD, and the rest would be on the hard disk. But, the SSD is only 128GB, so there is a limit to the fast access. Plus, I didn't want a spinning disk inside my iMac due the difficulty of repair, noise, heat, etc.

    You could also get a smaller internal SSD (512GB), and then hang a cheaper 1TB portable Thunderbolt SSD on the back of the stand for your video and photo work files. On my other iMac (2012) I do that for a bootable Windows installation so it doesn't take up space on the internal 750GB SSD.

    You could also get a Thunderbolt JBOD enclosure (4 or 5 disks) to put under your desk with any combination of hard disks and SSDs you desire. A single TB cable down to the out of sight enclosure.

    Lots of options ...

    Attached Files:

  18. off_piste macrumors 6502a

    Oct 25, 2015
    You have a better GPU in your current iMac, right? Those are damn near impossible to upgrade and I'd place a big emphasis on that, personally.
  19. dgalvan123 thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Feb 16, 2008

    Thanks again for all your advice. Really appreciate it.

    I shared the desire to avoid the noise/heat of a mechanical drive in the iMac, and my #1 priority was optimizing the speed of managing/editing our photos library, so I really want that to be on a pure SSD. #2 priority was improving speed of HD home video editing/exporting. (the exporting part is where the CPU/GPU comes in, so that's taken care of. . . but I don't want to be constantly waiting for the iMac to talk to a single 3TB USB 3 external drive every time I edit a vid).

    Maybe there's a way I can manage the home video storage in iMovie such that I gather all the video I want to edit onto the SSD, then move the project off to the external when I'm done. . . hmmm . ..
  20. sasasule macrumors member


    Feb 25, 2011
  21. MrGimper macrumors 603


    Sep 22, 2012
    Andover, UK
    UASP on an external USB3 enclosure with an SSD is on par with thunderbolt in my experience.
  22. aidanpendragon macrumors 6502a

    Jul 26, 2005
    If you get the Seagate external HDD, just avoid the optional Paragon HFS+ and NFTS drivers that they give you like the plague. Screws up your Bootcamp and OS X partitions in a way that makes you unable to boot from them.
  23. dgalvan123 thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Feb 16, 2008
    From what I have seen from Black Magic tests on YouTube, there doesn't appear to be a significant difference in Read/Write speeds between external SSDs using USB3 vs. thunderbolt. See here, for example, where he shows 300-400 MBps read/write speeds for both the thunderbolt and USB3 connections on the same SSD drive (go to time stamp 1:52):

    --- Post Merged, Apr 15, 2016 ---
    Just an update: I think I'll be sticking with the 1 TB SSD iMac, even though I'm convinced I probably would have been just about as satisfied with the 3TB Fusion Drive iMac. Some more speed and experience details below.

    I ran the Black Magic Disk speed test (available for free on Mac App Store). The read speeds from an external USB3 hard drive (Seagate 3 TB Expansion hard drive, USB3) were ~90 MB/s (megabytes per second), while the read speeds from the internal PCIe SSD were ~1400 MB/s. Roughly 14x faster! (Note that, while USB3 is theoretically capable of speeds up to 625 MB/s, the bottleneck is actually the access speed of the spinning-platter hard disk, which apparently averages around 90-100 MB/s. See here for further corroboration of this point: . Hence, if you are going to use an external hard disk, not much reason to spring for thunderbolt, as USB3 is still faster than what the spinning platter can deliver.

    And check here to see someone else doing the same test I did on the internal SSD in a 5K iMac, also getting ~1500 MB/s read speeds from the internal SSD. Also note they got around 300-400 MB/s read speeds from an EXTERNAL SSD using USB3. So an external SSD with USB3 is about 3-4x faster than an external hard disk with USB3, but still a good 3-4x slower than the internal PCIe SSD in the iMac.

    Finally, an internal 3 TB Fusion Drive apparently yields read speeds of ~580 MB/s. , so, about 50% faster than an external USB3 SSD, and around 6x faster than an external USB3 hard disk, but still less than half the speed of the internal PCIe SSD.

    My conclusions from all this is that, frankly, had I got the 3 TB Fusion drive, with its speeds about half that of the internal SSD but still much faster than the USB3 external hard disk, I probably would have been perfectly happy with it, and would have had 3x more storage space inside the mac, and saved ~ $500. On the other hand, I do feel good that I have "maxed out" the PCIe slot in the iMac, since, if I ever do choose to open it up in the future, accessing the PCIe slot is MUCH more effort than just accessing the SATA bay, and I could conceivably open it up (after warranty expires) and add another SSD in the SATA slot with little effort. Doing this today through OWC would cost about $600 for a 2 TB SSD drive. Hopefully SSD prices will come down further in another couple years. I also like that the iMac is silent, cooler (temperature wise) and that the PCIe SSD is (so I'm told) more robust and less likely to fail than a spinning platter Fusion drive.

    With that Photos library, the system files, documents, and iTunes music library, I only have 210 GB remaining on the internal 1 TB SSD. However, I will probably offload the iTunes library onto the external (audio files aren't big enough for me to notice the difference in access rate over USB3 vs. internal SSD. . . ) and get another 100GB of headroom on the internal.

    Also, having now run iMovie with the library sitting on an external 3TB USB3 hard disk, I’ve decided there is no need to run out and get a faster I/O external for this purpose alone. For some reason, iMovie runs buttery smooth even with the library on the external USB3 Hard disk. This surprised me, because Photos definitely did NOT run buttery smooth from a library on the same external disk: it took seconds to tens-of-seconds for photo thumbnails and videos to appear and then play when the library was on the external USB3 hard drive, and is super fast/smooth when its on the internal SSD. But I guess iMovie is somehow set up more efficiently. . . maybe it pre-loads more stuff into RAM. . . I don’t know, but the result is I experienced no slow editing. I’ve yet to export/transcode something sitting on the external. That’s the next thing to test. But others on Macrumors video editing threads claim that video editing is more CPU/GPU dependent than I/O dependent, surprisingly (to me at least).

    The next external I buy will probably be either that “Fast” 4 TB RAID 0 hard disk drive (for $180), or an external SSD ($600). Probably the former. it could either be used to back up the full 1 TB and 3TB drives, or I could take advantage of its speed to store the iTunes and iMovie libraries, and use the slow 3TB external drive to back up everything until it gets too big. (I don’t think backup needs to be fast.)

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23 April 11, 2016