Decision Help: iMac 27 for $3k, or Mac Mini for $2k

Discussion in 'Mac mini' started by dgalvan123, Apr 11, 2016.

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  1. dgalvan123 macrumors 6502a

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    #1
    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. jpietrzak8 macrumors 6502a

    jpietrzak8

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    #2
    Honestly, both the current Mini and iMac are several hardware generations beyond your previous Macbook Pro. I doubt you would have any speed issues with either option.

    Also, just getting your entire Photos library onto an SSD will provide an amazing speed improvement (assuming you hadn't already upgraded your MBP with an SSD).

    In terms of future-proofing, however, the 27" iMac right now definitely has the edge. It is using a more recent generation of Intel processor than the Mini, it has a quad-core cpu rather than a dual-core, and it has the discrete Radeon GPU rather than the integrated Intel GPU. It may be possible that Apple will update the Mini lineup at some point in the next few months (although they've shown no sign of it yet), but for now, the iMac hardware is both more powerful and more up-to-date than the Mini hardware...
     
  3. MRrainer macrumors 6502a

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    #3
    Current iMac RAM is user-upgradable. Apple's official max is 32GB, but the latest iMacs even run 64GB.
    Current MacMini RAM isn't user-upgradable and BTO-max is 16GB.
    As for future-proofing: if the iMac display goes to the happy hunting ground after Apple Care has run out, it's a piece of e-waste. Repair is prohibitively expensive...
    Wouldn't spend 2k on a Mini, though. That's just too much "ouch".
     
  4. dgalvan123 thread starter macrumors 6502a

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    #4
    Thanks for your response!

    If the difference in speed in HD video editing and using Photos is not noticeable, I'd think this should push me toward the mini, as I could save ~$1k. (I'm not on a tight budget, but if the extra $1k isn't going to make a noticeable difference I don't see a need to spend it.)

    Agreed, that's why I am making the 1 TB SSD a must-have. (This actually led me to eliminate the 21.5 inch iMac, since you can only get that with a 500GB SSD as far as I know, and that's not big enough for my photo library. I've also heard those 21.5 inch iMacs have earlier versions of the CPUs compared to the 27" as well ("broad well" vs. "skylake"), but I don't know whether I'd be able to notice that difference.) I was surprised they offer a 1TB SSD for the mini but not the 21.5" iMac. *shrug*

    Thanks. Yeah all that is playing into my decision. Obviously the "real" decision is whether all the ways in which the iMac is superior to the mac mini worth the ~$950 premium. Hard for me to judge.
    One way I thought about it: If the iMac lasts me at least 6 years before I feel like I might want to replace, that's $3k / 6 = $500/year. If the Mac Mini only lasts me, say, 4 years before I feel like I might want to replace it (due to it being slower and non-upgradeable), that's $2k / 4 years = $500/year as well. So same annual cost (sort of), but the iMac is a more capable machine, which would tend to push me towards the iMac.
    I dunno.

    I had been waiting hoping Apple would update the mini at the March event, but they didn't. The mac Mini was last updated back in October 2014, while the iMac was updated October 2015. So it "feels" better to get the more up-to-date machine.
    --- Post Merged, Apr 11, 2016 ---
    Is that a common problem with iMacs?

    Thanks for your response!
     
  5. treekram, Apr 11, 2016
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2016

    treekram macrumors 6502a

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    #5
    I don't keep up much with the iMac line and am surprised sometimes when I dig into the details.

    For the mid and high 27" iMac options, the processor upgrade to the i7 4.0Ghz is, unusually for Apple, a great deal. For $250/$300 (mid/high), you get a processor that is 2 generations ahead of both the base and what the Mini has (Skylake vs. Haswell) and you get over 2X increase in processing power if your application can take advantage of the multiple cores. The base mid/high iMacs, if my research is correct, have a quad-core non-hyperthreading processor which can support 4 threads. The 4.0GHz i7 can support 8 threads. Video processing and editing applications can typically make use of the 8 threads (when transcoding, not typically when editing). (The 4.0Ghz iMac would be, at least 2.5x faster than the fastest 2014 Mini, probably even a bit faster, I haven't looked at benchmarks.)

    In contrast, the $200 upgrade on the Mini is a bad deal - they're trying to fool people by saying it's "i7" but the extra processing power you get is not that significant.

    As mentioned earlier, the 4.0Ghz iMac has user-upgradeable memory. You can get the base 8GB and if you find you need more, you can upgrade later. You can't do that with the Mini.

    You can also get much cheaper external SSD's than what Apple offers. From what I see, the SSD's in the iMac are 4-lane PCIe, which is extremely fast, but expensive. A good compromise is to buy the 250GB SSD for the iMac (a no-cost upgrade for the high-end iMac) and then augment that with an external USB3 SSD. You can get a good-quality 1TB SSD for $250-$300, vs. the $700 that Apple charges for the upgrade in the high-end model. The Mini only supports 2-lane PCIe SSD.

    If the monitor dies after AppleCare is done, you should be able to hook up an external monitor. That's something you should research.

    EDIT: Geekbench says (Geekbench 3, 64-bit all cores) the 4.0Ghz iMac is 2.4x faster than the 3.0Ghz Mini.
     
  6. jpietrzak8 macrumors 6502a

    jpietrzak8

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    #6
    Let me throw one more complicating factor into your calculations. :) Would you be averse to the idea of using an external SSD? Connecting an SSD by Thunderbolt (or even USB 3) provides most of the same benefit as hosting one internally, and you can get an external 1TB SSD for about half the price you'd pay for an Apple upgrade. Also, it'd work with pretty much any existing model of Mac. So, you could pick a more middle-of-the-road Mac, rather than be forced to the extreme (and more expensive) edge.

    No more so than with any other brand of LCD monitor, I think. It's just that you can't just buy a new monitor and continue on with life if it happens; you pretty much lose the whole shebang (or pay a ridiculous price for repairs).
     
  7. dgalvan123 thread starter macrumors 6502a

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    Thanks very much for this very detailed info! To me this sounds like the transcoding (and rendering, exporting) of edited video in iMovie should be much faster on the iMac than the Mac Mini. That sounds worthwhile to me.

    Interesting. I hadn't thought of using an external SSD before. Guess I wasn't aware those were going mainstream/lower-cost yet. I did a quick search on Amazon for 1 TB external SSDs and saw them ranging from $379-$600 for USB 3 (more for Thunderbolt). I suppose I could get the iMac with a 3TB fusion drive, which would be about $500 less than the internal SSD, and use the difference to get an external SSD. . . Roughly same overall price, but end up with an external 1 TB SSD for my photos, and an internal 3TB Fusion for everything else.

    But would an external SSD via USB 3 (or Thunderbolt) really be as fast as an internal SSD?
     
  8. jpietrzak8, Apr 11, 2016
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2016

    jpietrzak8 macrumors 6502a

    jpietrzak8

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    #8
    I think the most important factor here is whether the software you're using is multi-threaded (and can therefore take advantage of multiple CPU cores). If so, having a 4-core CPU is a huge win (far beyond just being a more recent iteration of the i7). BTW, this is the main reason why many people prefer the 2011 and 2012 versions of the Mini over the 2014 design, as those years included an option for a 4-core CPU.

    Generally, an internal connection should be the fastest, but modern external connections are fairly close (better for Thunderbolt than USB 3). (Here's one example of someone running an internal vs. external SSD test.) But the big win for using an SSD over an HD (particularly for retrieving small files such as photos) is the incredibly low latency -- the time it takes to locate and access a specific region of storage -- rather than the total data throughput. This advantage remains the same whether the drive is internal or external...
     
  9. treekram macrumors 6502a

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    #9
    I use Handbrake and Adobe Premiere Elements. Handbrake does transcoding and it will take full advantage of the hyper-threading quad core processor. Premiere Elements also fully uses the quad-core when it saves a file to an export format. You should research to see if the program you intended to use (iMovie?) will take advantage of the hyper-threaded quad core. You can probably ask somebody at Apple since they're both Apple products and I'm sure they'll be willing to help you if you tell them you're considering the high-end iMac. One thing that the dGPU that the 27" iMacs have will probably help is in the creation of thumbnails when you do video editing. That's one area where my 2012 quad Mini lags a little bit (not a big deal for me). So that's another reason to get the higher-end iMac. Actually, it probably would be good for you to visit an Apple Store and ask to try it out. Maybe you should call ahead and see if they have iMovie to try out (I don't think it's as important to them as it used to me). Take a video with you. Maybe you can see the differences between the Mini and the iMac for yourself.

    The internal 4-lane PCIe SSD that Apple has in several current models of Macs is very fast - no USB3 SSD can come close to it. Thunderbolt drives can be very fast as well but they are the expensive ones - not the little portable drives, which may be a little faster than USB3. But the question is can you take advantage of that speed? Photos typically don't take up much disk space and when you're editing them, I think most programs will store them in memory. You might not notice that much difference between the HDD and SSD there. For videos, when editing, you may be able to take advantage of the super-fast speed of the Apple PCIe SSD. But you don't need to have all your videos on there. Move the video to the internal SSD when editing and move them off when you're done. When you view videos, you're not going to notice much difference between an USB3 HDD, external SSD or the Apple PCIe SSD unless you have something more than BluRay-quality videos. I personally prefer not to use a fusion drive because I like to control where my files go. So, let's say you open a video to edit. At what point will the fusion drive decide that it's important enough to move to the PCIe SSD? For the OS files, I think fusion drive knows where to put what files to get good performance - I don't know about the other types of files.

    If you get an external SSD, you can also buy the internal drive and the enclosure separately and that may be cheaper, although it may not be as pretty (separately sold enclosures tend to be cheap somewhat clunky items, for some external SSD's they just take the internals of the drive and put it into a nice sleek enclosure).
     
  10. trifid, Apr 11, 2016
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2016

    trifid macrumors 65816

    trifid

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    #10
    No, internal SSD is rated around 1200MB/s and external SSD would be around 500MB/s BUT, external would still be excellent and more than enough for anyone even doing video and pro work.

    Here's what I'd do, get the iMac, because that 5k display is awesome and that alone is worth $1500 if bought separately.

    Order the iMac with 256GB SSD, and use that for just the OS and apps, then configure OSX to store the user folder on the external SSD.

    A 1TB Samsung 850 SSD is around $260-300 and comes with 5-year manufacturer warranty (there is even 2TB SSD option at $600) and get a USB3 enclosure ($10-$40).

    One more thing, don't upgrade ram through apple, upgrade it yourself. There's a ram deal right now, 16GB at $45, you could get 32GB total on the iMac for $90. On the mac mini Apple is forcing you to pay $300 to 16gb which is plain theft, with the iMac you can upgrade it yourself and save big.
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007B5S52C/ref=twister_B00H8JVIKM?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1
    [​IMG]
     
  11. EmlynDewar macrumors member

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    #11
    The Imac is a much better buy, than the current gen Mac Mini!

    Agreed, with the above, don't pay the Apple tax for memory upgrades.
     
  12. Fishrrman macrumors G3

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    #12
    I can't imagine ANYONE spending $2,000 on a Mac Mini (and I'm a Mini fan).

    And I guess anyone who will pay an $800-900 upgrade to a 1tb SSD has money to burn -- more power to 'em.
    Especially if you're just going to use it to store videos, etc.

    My suggestion:
    Get a top-level Mini.-- About $950 if you know where to buy it.
    Get the 16gb RAM upgrade -- $200

    I don't see where the 3.0ghz CPU upgrade will make any noticeable difference, but if you have-to-have it, pay the $200 upgrade.

    Get the 1tb fusion drive. This gives you a 128gb SSD -and- a 1tb HDD inside. This comes standard with the top-level model.

    Total outlay (for the 2.8ghz version will be around $1,150.

    Use the extra cash to buy either a 27" or a 32" display, a good one.

    For a vendor, I'd recommend portableone.com.
    No financial interest, just good prices and good service.
     
  13. MRrainer macrumors 6502a

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    #13
    A coworker got the Fusion-Drive iMac (not the latest one) and was annoyed by its relative slowness.
    He bought the Samsung 2TB SSD and the iFixit-Kit to open-up (and close) the iMac.
    Not for the faint of heart.
     
  14. dgalvan123 thread starter macrumors 6502a

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    #14
    Thanks for all the responses everyone!

    I decided to get a refurbished iMac 27 5K (from October 2015), Quad Core i7, 4.0 GHz, 1 TB SSD, Radeon 395, with 16 GB of RAM (would have taken one with 8 GB of RAM and done a third party easy upgrade, but no refurbished listings with less than 16 GB). This was $2920 on the refurbished listing, with sales tax (CA) it came to $3196. Hefty chunk of change, but I expect this machine to last us a good long while.

    One interesting thought I have moving forward: Since I just got the 1 TB SSD PCie or whatever it's called (the "blade" type, I think) in the machine, I suppose there is probably room inside for a 3.5" drive I could add in the future. . . right? That is, some day in the future when SSD prices come down, I can open up the machine and add another internal SSD via the SATA connection?
     
  15. jbarley macrumors 68030

    jbarley

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    #15
    When you decide to "open it up" be sure to let us know how that goes for you. ;)
     
  16. Crosscreek macrumors 68030

    Crosscreek

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    #16

    iMac best value. Can't imagin anyone pay $2K for a Mini.
     
  17. marioman38 macrumors 6502a

    marioman38

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    #17
    Get the iMac. Don't max it out. Future proofing and computers is an oxymoron.
     
  18. maflynn Moderator

    maflynn

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