Mac Mini or iMac? Help, please.

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by testudoaubreii, Apr 14, 2014.

  1. testudoaubreii macrumors member

    Apr 14, 2014

    After a while of being out of the Mac loop, I am looking to get back in. I am looking at an iMac or a Mac Mini. I have owned an iMac in the past and I like it. However, I would really like to use whatever device I choose to run as my home media streamer/server. I would also like to use it for Garageband and possibly some graphical/web design work. I am leaning heavily to the Mac Mini side, but I am afraid that (1) if I buy one now that a Haswell version will become available and (2) that I will not be able to run Garageband efficiently with the i5 2.5 Ghz dual core of the entry level Mac Mini. That is why I am even condsiderinig an iMac. I am not opposed to the i7 Mac Mini, but again I am afraid that the Haswell version will some out soon.

    I guess my questions are: Will the i5 Mac Mini run programs like XBMC, stream 1080p to other Smart TVs on my network and run Garageband? Would it be worth jumping up to the i7 Mac Mini? Should I hold out for the Haswell version? Or, should I just go for an iMac?

    Thank you in advance for any and all suggestions, advice and help.

  2. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    If there is no real hurry then wait for both the Mini and iMac refresh. From those, you can make an informed choice.
  3. TheGenerous macrumors 6502a


    Nov 14, 2010
    I'm an Austronaut
    Mac Mini, and upgrade it's memory an a a second drive as an SSD for the OS. Then you can choose a cool keyboard like the Moshi Luna an a decent mouse that isn't the magic mouse. AOC displays are cool too.
  4. testudoaubreii thread starter macrumors member

    Apr 14, 2014
    There is no real hurry, but there is really no news on any release date as of yet. I suppose that I am being pretty impatient. I really would like to get something now. I can see where waiting will be beneficial, too.

    I actually have an extra 120 GB SSD from a prior build. I will not be storing much on it and I have a 1TB external HDD (USB 3.0) that I could use for storage if I need to use it. I can certainly upgrade the RAM. In fact, if I went for the Mac Mini I could upgrade it straight away.

    I have everything else, like a display, mouse and keyboard. I will be using my HDTV, though, because it will primarily be used as a home theater machine with Garageband definitely being used.

    That is really the thing...I guess I need to know if I should pick the i5 2.5 Ghz or the i7 2.3 Ghz, if I go with a Mac Mini. Will the i5 be enough to push Garageband and the streaming that I mentioned in the OP?

    Thank you for the replies and for any suggestions!

  5. rei101 macrumors 6502a

    Dec 24, 2011
    Garage band can run on anything, it is just a sampler player, all you need is a fair fast hard drive.
  6. testudoaubreii thread starter macrumors member

    Apr 14, 2014
    Thank you for your response!

    So, the i5 Mac Mini will be powerful enough to run multi-track recordings in Garageband? I can just switch out my HDD for an SSD, maybe upgrade in RAM, and I would be good to go? No need to go with the i7?
  7. ApfelKuchen macrumors 68030

    Aug 28, 2012
    Between the coasts
    GarageBand's not "just" a sampler player - not if you're working with live audio tracks. If you're mostly using Apple Loops? Then yes.

    How much is "enough?" It's all in how hard you drive the app. GarageBand's written to run on anything Apple sells, so for casual/intro-level use, it should run just fine on an i5. When you start pushing towards more advanced use.... Do you expect to be simultaneously streaming separate programming to both TVs while working on a major GarageBand project? There comes a point where a server has to be allowed to serve, while taxing app usage takes place on another machine.

    I'm not sure when an i7 becomes beneficial over an i5. Undoubtedly, 4 cores is going to trump 2, and probably well before you get to 256 tracks. My guts say that, during learning curve, RAM will probably be more beneficial. Keep pushing it and both RAM and cores will likely be needed.

    The problem with iMac is that you can't upgrade RAM in the 21". Since you apparently don't need a 27" display, you'll have more flexibility at a lower initial cost with the Mini.

    Wait for the next model? It's a question as old as manufacturing. All you can do is balance what, if anything, you'd gain by having the product now rather than delay the purchase a bit. If there's little to be lost by waiting, then wait.

    Personally, I'm not overwhelmed by the incremental performance improvement offered by Haswell. The likely upgrade to Thunderbolt 2 may be more meaningful, depending on your needs.
  8. testudoaubreii thread starter macrumors member

    Apr 14, 2014
    Thank you very much for your response!

    I will not be using Garageband at the same time as anything else. I will probably use it when the rest of the family is in bed :p. I am not going to be producing professional quality albums, just some songs that I have some interest in. I couldn't see it going over 20-25 tracks (and that is over exaggerating a bit). I do play live instruments, but it will most likely only be me and it will be record one track at a time, with other samples, loops and recorded tracks playing in the background. I will be using samples, as well, and especially the new drummer feature.

    As far as streaming goes, I would like to be able to stream different files to various points in the house, if I needed to. I would not be playing anything on the Mac Mini if that were to go on. So, my wife and I can watch something in the living room, while our children can watch whatever in the family room.

    That is it. That is the extent of use. I do plan on switching out the HDD with an SSD. I have an 120 GB SSD from an old build. I figured that since I have a 1 TB external USB 3.0 HDD, I could use that for storage. I don't really have anything that I will be storing on the actual internal SSD. I think that I will do that and upgrade the RAM. It is just the i5 or i7 that has me second-guessing. I don't think that I am going to go the iMac route.

    Thanks again for your informative response!
  9. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    Speculation has it that a refresh might happen in June....but who knows with Apple.
  10. mad3inch1na macrumors 6502a

    Oct 21, 2013

    Personally, a lot of what would make the decision for me is what peripherals you have already. Between a monitor, keyboard, and mouse (webcam?), it can easily add over 500$ to the cost of your computer.

    It also depends on how much you care about upgradability. I think the one main difference between the upgradability of the iMac and mac mini is the hard drive. If you really want a third party hard drive, get the mac mini. The 2014 mac mini will almost certainly not be user upgradable, especially with the shift to pcie flash.

    When I look at the current selection of mac minis, including the cost of a third party SSD, the 13" rMBP looks more enticing to me. It doesn't have a quad core processor, and it isn't user upgradable (like I said, unlikely that the 2014 mac mini will be), but it is portable, and can be plugged in to an external display. Especially if you aren't doing serious heavy lifting on your computer, the rMBP isn't a slouch. The 256GB/8GB model can be found on B&H photo for less than 1500$ (No sales tax since they based in NY)

    If you are interested, a used 2012 15" rMBP goes for about 1400$ on ebay, which is the best bang for your buck right now in terms of mobile graphics performance and processing power.

    The best dollar value for an iMac is currently the 2012 refurbished gtx 680mx/i7/1TB fusion/8 GB for 2000$. The 680mx is almost exactly as powerful as the 780m. It will be a powerhouse.

    If you really want a mac mini, don't get a 2012 unless you find it cheap. If you can't wait, I would recommend any of the other options above.

  11. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    Matt, your points seem very logical and well grounded. I would say that even if a new Mini was less addressable for doing drive upgrades, if it had TB2 connectivity, then pretty much adding external TB2 drives would make it a good deal. If they make the RAM non-upgradable, then I would have to go with your thoughts 100 percent.

    I am a big fan of the Mini and hoped that Apple would stop making it the odd man out in the line up. Given that many of us wont be going to the Mac Pro, it would be nice to have a decent alternative.
  12. Sackvillenb macrumors 6502a


    Mar 1, 2011
    Canada! \m/
    This is not correct, Garageband is indeed much more than a sample player.

    For your described use Garageband, the mini will be just fine, although a ram boost wouldn't hurt :) An SSD would be great too, but they are expensive...The 1080 streaming will depend mostly on the graphics card and your network / router, but the mini should be able to handle that as well, as far as I know.

    However, with all that being said, a mini refresh does seem very very imminent, so I would really try and wait for the new mac mini, since it will of course be "better" and faster! But either way I think a mini will suit your needs just fine.
  13. r0k macrumors 68040


    Mar 3, 2008
    I just put an SSD in my wife's 2010 Mac mini this morning. Ifixit lists 19 steps to take the old one out and 19 to put the new one back in. There are fragile little connectors and about a dozen torx screws to deal with. You even have to slide the motherboard slightly out of the chassis to get the drive out and back in. Lastly there are thermal sensors taped to the drive and if you break the little wires your fan runs full blast from now on. If you're buying a Mac mini with the intent to drop in an SSD, just keep in mind that while easier than the original minis (4 putty knives and a LOT of force), putting an SSD in the newer minis is no picnic.

    Then there's the iMac. I seem to recall that the HDD in the iMac is somewhat non-standard. So be sure to read up on this before you pick up an iMac with the intent of opening it up to upgrade to an SSD.
  14. TheAnvil, Apr 17, 2014
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2014

    TheAnvil macrumors regular

    Nov 25, 2013
    If you get a current gen mini, buy the i7.
    The main benefits if Haswell are for GPU and power consumption, which won't matter to you based on your criteria.

    Putting an SSD is a 30 min job. While it looks and sounds scary, as long as you can follow instructions you'll be fine.

    Wrong. Streaming is CPU, not GPU, dependent.
  15. MrGIS macrumors regular

    Jul 30, 2010
    Ontario Canada
    Wait until June 3 to decide what you want to do...

    That said, the current mini is a great little rig and will run anything you seem to want to throw at it.
  16. brianvictor7 macrumors 65816


    Oct 24, 2013
    United States
    Good things come to those who wait (and either have hoards of money saved up for their Apple addictions or else very good credit!). If you can wait till Black Friday week, you'll get the best deal. I know that sounds like forever, but if you waited this long, you can wait 6 more months. If you have a pressing need, grab another iMac. Minis were last refreshed Oct 2012. Way too old to justify being purchased now by someone who needs their mac to do some heavy lifting. All my humble opinion. Good luck!
  17. Yebubbleman macrumors 68030


    May 20, 2010
    Los Angeles, CA
    A few thoughts:

    1. While Macs are truly awesome at being HTPCs, if you're dual-platform anyway, you might find a PC to be cheaper and more flexible; things like the Gigabyte Brix (which I predict will be what the next generation of Mac mini design takes after) are perfect for it.

    2. Alternatively, it sounds like you want two different machines (which, for your uses, might be a better solution anyway), in which case an Ivy Bridge Mac mini will be more than sufficient for the living room and an entry-level 21.5" iMac (though please, at least max out the RAM ['cause you can't do it later on those!]) will be more than sufficient for your GarageBand-ing. Wham-bam!

    3. If you're not keen on the idea of buying tech that is obviously due to be replaced from Apple, why not buy it from the Apple Certified Refurbished section of the Online Apple Store? That way, you're still getting it at a good discount and you're not buying a product that will be discontinued right away (Hell, it usually takes them a few weeks just to update the pricing on refurbished things as soon as they become one generation older anyway).

    4. Whatever you do, maxing out your RAM will help. Also in the case of the iMac or the Mac mini, Fusion Drive or SSD will be substantially faster for you than the 2.5" 5400RPM drive they toss in there.
  18. MacLC macrumors 6502

    Oct 18, 2013
    Everything in this post sums it up nicely.
    A mac mini (or perhaps, <shudders> Hackintosh) on one machine, then a baseline iMac as the workhorse may be better than trying to split hairs.

    Otherwise, the Mac Mini may not give you all the oomph that you need.

    Applying Yebubbleman's post, you could start with the iMac then see if you want a separate HTPC, and you probably will. As Yebubbleman said, PLEASE upgrade the base iMac's RAM at purchase.
  19. talmy macrumors 601


    Oct 26, 2009
    The two Mac solution is the best way to go if you can swing it. Use the iMac when you need it. Even move it around. Stick the Mac mini in a closet or on a shelf in the corner (that's where mine is).

    The base model mini has more than enough performance for streaming. I use a 4 year old Mac mini server version and it loafs along, never seeing even 50% CPU although I use it for a lot more than streaming. The new base models are faster. Get a refurb. Eventually you will probably want more disk capacity, but that is most inexpensively (and limitlessly) done using external drives.
  20. shaunp macrumors 68000

    Nov 5, 2010
    Unless you need to buy one in the next month or so I'd wait. WWDC is in June, if there is no announcement then you might as well buy the current mini as it gives you choices for your monitor. I'm running a core i7 2.6Ghz mini and use it for everything from Photoshop to VMware. I can't complain over the CPU performance. Graphics performance isn't suitable for gaming, but if you aren't gaming this won't be an issue.

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