Mac mini vs. iMac for music production

Discussion in 'Mac mini' started by crenz, Oct 5, 2013.

  1. crenz macrumors 6502a

    crenz

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2003
    Location:
    Shanghai, China
    #1
    I'm looking to replace my 2007 MacBook Pro. The main usage will be music production using Logic, which means the key issues for me will be:

    - High amount of storage (1 TB or more)
    - Performance: Floating point, RAM, seek time (lots of small files to be loaded when using samples)
    - Long term use (5-7 years)

    Since I don't really need a laptop, I am somewhat torn between getting a Mac mini (i7, 8 or 16 GB RAM, Fusion Drive) or an 27" iMac (similar, but not decided on i5 or i7 yet). Assuming the Mac mini gets a similarly modest Haswell update like the iMac at some point soon, I think the i7 CPU in the Mac mini will be a bit slower than the iMac, but much cheaper.

    Are there any other performance issues I need to look out for when comparing the Mac Mini and the iMac? Or is the rest of the system comparable when not looking at CPU and display?
     
  2. Lilleskotte macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2013
    #2
    We're sharing a dilemma, my friend. Except I use Cubase :p

    I've been comparing every model out as of now, and the the current Mac Mini, bumped up to 2,6GHz with 16gb RAM and Fusion Drive is definetly the best bang for the buck.

    But the iMac has the posibility for greater CPU power and a larger SSD.. But it'll cost you half your soul...

    I've been waiting for a few months now for any news about the new mini. If it has a greater cpu and stays at roughly the same price, I'll be first in line to get one!
     
  3. garycactus macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2013
    #3
    I am in the same situation:))

    I've been thinking to get a Mac mini Server with two SSDs.
    Reinstall OS, get rid of server software. And use one drive for OSX/Logic and second drive for the samples.

    Any thoughts?
     
  4. WillFisher macrumors 6502

    WillFisher

    Joined:
    Feb 19, 2011
    #4
    I was in the same boat, but being a student I took the cheaper way out.

    I got a mid 2011 Mac Mini, and put 8GB of RAM in there. It's been running relatively well but starting to slow down, mainly due to lack of storage space.

    Looking at replacing the 500GB HDD with a 750GB SSHD, or trying to get a SATA cable and installing an SSD to create a hybrid style drive.

    Either way, aesthetically I'd rather have had the iMac, but the Mac Mini has done its job well for the last two years.
     
  5. mayuka macrumors 6502a

    mayuka

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2009
    #5
    I don't know what you are using exactly, but I find even a Macbook Air 2013 (hooked up to a monitor) very usable for producing. Music does not need much cpu power nowadays. Occassionally I'm using a Powerbook 12" for music... Since most music producing software still are not using more than one cpu, using a quad-core processor is pretty much useless. Even Logic Pro X does not fully utilise the other cpus.

    It's more a matter of your personal preferences. Do you want an all-in-one machine that is barely upgradeable or do you want a small machine that you can hook up with every accessory you can find? Fusion Drive is not very fast as it only caches the most recent files... You can buy a harddrive upgrade kit from ebay or ifixit and add another drive to your Mac mini. First drive could be a SSD, the second one the harddrive with the sound files. This solution would be much faster.

    Whatever you do, upgrading to 16 GB of RAM is vital.
     
  6. benwiggy macrumors 68020

    Joined:
    Jun 15, 2012
    #6
    TBH, either computer will more than cope with music production. The days where you need a MacPro to do audio work are coming to an end.

    Choose a Mini or iMac solely on what you can afford to spend, and what each offers. But your criteria don't rule out either.

    One other point in the current Mini's favour is that it has a FireWire port, which is useful if you have FW audio interface. The Mini also has audio in, which the iMac does not. (This may change with the 2013 refresh.)
     
  7. crenz thread starter macrumors 6502a

    crenz

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2003
    Location:
    Shanghai, China
    #7
    Thanks for all the thoughts. I'm still leaning towards the Mini, although I am still not clear about the differences between the Mini and the iMac beyond the CPU. I agree that not a lot of CPU power is needed these days for basic music production, but especially if you work with 3rd-party plugings (Waves, Kontakt, Reaktor, orchestra plugins, ...) the performance demands rise rather quickly.

    mayuka, thanks for the reminder regarding 16 GB of RAM. I saw some discussions in other forums mentioning Logic Pro X is rather memory hungry. This is maybe another issue for my comparison - chances are slim that Apple redesigns the Mac mini with 4 memory slots (which would make it more easy to upgrade to 32 GB in future).

    WillFisher, garycactus, I am thinking of going a similar route: When the Mac mini 2013 comes out, buy a refurbished 2012 model, upgrade it by myself to 16 GB RAM and 2 HDD, and do my own fusion drive. If there is a Haswell upgrade for the Mini soon, chances are the performance gains are in the 6-8% area, just like with the MacBook Air.
     
  8. mayuka macrumors 6502a

    mayuka

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2009
    #8
    This won't happen. Period. The only thing is that you could wait until 16 GB modules are available and upgrade them in a year or so. Upgrading RAM in the iMac is a pain in the ***. See iFixit for details. But I'm not sure if either the iMac or the mini have RAM limits...

    I really cannot recommend Fusion Drive for a lot of reasons. For example: You have a 128 GB SSD + 2 TB HDD. OS X caches about 60-80 GB of operating system content and about 10-20 GB of your home folder. That leaves about 10-20 GB of your music stuff. Chances are good that when opening an older project or some files you have accessed some days ago you end up with slower performance. Thus, performance will vary and you will notice it.

    However, NOT using Fusion Drive by installing OS X to the SSD and leaving all the music files on the HDD will be faster. You could even put the most recent projects on your SSD for best performance. Of course, this is possible on both the iMac and the mini. The iMac variant however will be pricey...
     
  9. garycactus macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2013
    #9
    Go with SSD.
    Fusion drive is a temporary solution while SSDs are still expensive and limited in size. Soon SSDs will be bigger in size and cheaper and Fusion drive will be a thing of the past.
     
  10. ipsychedelic macrumors 6502a

    ipsychedelic

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2012
    #10
    Yeah or something like Diva.
    They are pretty much the same, sans the "included" screen and keyboard/mouse.
    The ports might come and go but with a descent USB-powered audio interface which would be a "must", then fireware or not, audio in or not, go the bin.

    I personally went mini because I could justify wasting more money than that on a Mac (they are too expensive for what they really have backstage), and I already had the keyboard/mouse combo from a nice hackintosh experiment, plus I connect the mini to my HDTV, so I never required a screen to start with.
     
  11. mayuka macrumors 6502a

    mayuka

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2009
    #11
    It's all a matter of personal preference and setup. Lots of home-only musicians use an iMac only, because of the screen size and easier setup (probably less external devices needed). In some home studios space is rather limited too. You can't generalise.
     
  12. ipsychedelic macrumors 6502a

    ipsychedelic

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2012
    #12
    I said 'personally', so I wasn't generalizing.
    I think if you don't need the screen per se (i.e you already have a HDTV you can and wanna connect a Mac to) then the Mini makes for a great little unobtrusive device to play along with.
    Of course high end iMacs will beat the horse power of the mini, shall that power be required, making the mini the less preferred option.

    As for external devices, well, maybe some built-in ports might be a 'relieve' but it's almost a must for even hobbyist to grab an audio interface, even if one of those cheap $100 USD ones in order to get a more fluent and serious work done (unless we're talking pure mouse and keyboard job)
    Mouse and keyboard come 'free' on the iMac (but not like you can not purchase em along the mini) and the rest of what you need more or less would be the same (midi keyboard, control surface, so on).

    So that's why in my case (and not only requiring the Mac for music production btw, but all around computer) the choice went down to $$$ and the lesser space required by the mini.
     
  13. barkmonster, Oct 7, 2013
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2013

    barkmonster macrumors 68020

    barkmonster

    Joined:
    Dec 3, 2001
    Location:
    Lancashire
    #13
    With DAW software there's several things that make the Mac Mini a great system if you opt for the fastest one you can get as a BTO option:

    1) It still has Firewire. This is vital for higher end audio interfaces which a lot of people have mentioned on Apple's support forums don't play nice with the Thunderbolt to Firewire adapter you'd need with an iMac.

    2) It has a user upgradable hard drive bay you can add a second drive to for recording purposes. You could also use an external Firewire drive if need be.

    3) The raw CPU power of the i7 Mac Mini may be to slower than the iMac but it's not half the speed and you'd be paying double or more for an iMac just for the screen and input devices but only gain 15-20% more CPU power.

    4) They're very compact and there's plenty of third party options for rackmounting etc... This really comes into it's own with software like Logic or Reaper because you can add a second system to some of the rackmount systems available and use it for extra processing power.

    5) By opting for an SSD (or adding your own), you can put all your software synth patches on the system drive and everything will be faster from booting to application loading, patch loading/searching. There's nothing an SSD doesn't improve. I have all my audio library and patches on my SSD and record to a HDD, it screams and yet my Mac has a third of the CPU power an i7 Mac Mini offers.

    There's no such thing as too much CPU power when it comes to audio work. If you're just tracking a few mono instruments with basic dynamics processing, you could do it on a G3 but for software synthesis and dozens of audio/instrument tracks, the more CPU the better. Even if the CPU isn't pinned running a heavy session, you can always use the extra power to lower the buffer sizes and reduce latency. Not everyone making music is tracking miked up guitars and drums. The number of tracks you record isn't restricted by the number of inputs on your audio interface.
     
  14. propower, Oct 7, 2013
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2013

    propower macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2010
    #14
    In my opinion you must first look at what your requirements are: Specifically -

    1) How much total cpu load will you tpypically/maximum use
    2) How quiet do you need the machine to be at that load
    3) What is more important? Low latency performance or sheer number of tracks.

    My answers:
    1 - I use about 15%/30% loading on an i7 2.6 -- at these loads even an i5 would be more than sufficient!

    2 - I hate fans and will do just about anything not to ever hear them. Thermal management on the imac is miles beyond the mini. I can use 70% of an imacs cpu power and never hear the fan!!!!! I bought a Late 2013 27" 3.4G i5 imac and proved it to myself (will return this when my BTO imac listed in my sig comes in). I have owned a fullly tricked out 2012 mini 2.6 i7 dual SSD and 16G ram for a year. 20% load = 95degC processor and 4000+ rpm fans. Same load on imac = 50degC CPU !!!

    3 - Low latency for recording vocals and acoustic instruments is way more important than tracks to me. - Clock speed is a major player in low latency performance. Low latency performance (96kHz/64buffer) for the mini using ProTools 11 HDN was always a little spikey. Even with the i5 imac - running 50% load extra - spiking was minimal an no issue.

    Pricewise lets compare dual drive 768GB systems:
    Mini i7 2.6 256SSD internal + 512 ext USB3 840 pro + 16G + decent 1080p monitor ~ $1100+$400+$175+$350 = $2025 + tax

    2013 imac 3.5GHz i7, 256PCIe SSD, 512 ext + 8G (to total 16) ~ $2400 + $400 +80 = $2880 + tax

    Yep the i7 imac is more - but for me I can use 80% of the machine whereas with the mini I can use 25%.

    As a last point though I must admit that if I were on a budget - performance wise the $1999 imac I am demoing lacks for nothing! Total CPU load for my sessions is just a little higher on the i5 (maybe 20% or so) vs the i7. I have the $$ so for me I already ordered the imac listed below.

    Happy hunting
     
  15. barkmonster, Oct 7, 2013
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2013

    barkmonster macrumors 68020

    barkmonster

    Joined:
    Dec 3, 2001
    Location:
    Lancashire
    #15
    I'm not meaning to pick holes in your advice but why would anyone using a DAW resort to a USB external drive, not a Firewire one if they're knowledgable enough about the system requirements of Pro Tools (or any other DAW) and the reasons why USB is completely unsuitable?

    It wouldn't make any difference how fast a USB 3.0 drive is with an SSD fitted, it still has the CPU overhead, it still doesn't offer full duplex operation like a Firewire drive or secondary internal SATA recording drive. Those spikes with the Mac Mini could have been entirely USB related.

    Your price list for the Mac Mini in needlessly inflated as a result too.

    For recording, an SSD and a 2.5" Firewire 800/USB 3.0 (Firewire being the important bit) is £120 at most for a 120Gb Samsung 840 SSD at around £75 and an Oxford Semiconductor based Icybox enclosure at £43. You don't technically need an SSD for recording when a 7200rpm drive with a fast access time and large cache is fine and in that situation, you could put a 1Tb Hitachi Travelstar in the same case and have change out of £100 or even be brave and fit it internally to the Mac Mini/get an Applestore to do it for you. Eliminating the need for an external recording drive in the first place.

    16Gb RAM from Crucial is £123

    A 256Gb SSD is £160 as a BTO option with the Mac Mini.

    So all in that's £749 + £160 + £123 + at most, £120. Far less than you stated even accounting for VAT etc... and more to the point, suitable for the task of multi-track recording.

    That doesn't include a monitor or keyboard/mouse but over-paying for needlessly high spec screens just to make up some of the price difference between an iMac and a Mac Mini is pointless. dual 23" LEDs from a brand who supply screens to Apple such as LG or Samsung can be had for about £130 each + the cost of a single displayport to DVI adapter for the second one.
     
  16. gavinstubbs09 macrumors 65816

    gavinstubbs09

    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2013
    Location:
    NorCal boonies ~~~by Reno sorta
    #16
    I use Logic X quite often and here's what I did.

    I love using my G5 with my 22" ACD, but... since X came out and PPC support is down the drain... not much I could do. I bought a 2007 iMac which was great, but then I wanted to get a Mac Pro afterwards because the iMac was not really upgradeable unless storage was external. Now I am looking at Mac Pros and am using the MBA for the time being. I'd most likely pick a 27" iMac over the mini just for sake of "all in one." I've used a Mac mini (2012) with a SSD and a i7, thing was a beast. But I'd still go for the iMac at the end of the day.
     
  17. propower, Oct 7, 2013
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2013

    propower macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2010
    #17
    No worries - happy to debate - if you keep it civil :)
    1) I also tried mounting both SSDs in my mac mini using OWC connector - spikes were the same. Using same external drive on imac - spikes gone.
    2) AVID has no prohibition or even advice against USB3. They just say "external" is best although in PT11 even the system drive is OK just not preferred for max track count. Should we take the externals out of the equation to make comparisons simpler??
    3) Is USB3 bad? unstable for this use? Please show references I would like to read that data. Suppose I could do TB to FW if I have to but I got rid of all my FW cases! I would rather just move over to TB drive for audio if USB3 is shown to be a no go.
    4) I only tried to make the systems comparable not as cost optimized as possible - $400 for enclosure and 512SSD - reasonable - $350 for nice 27" ips monitor - I just bought one for that - reasonable. The first $1100 was the mini with i7 and 256GB upgrades. I even left out the keyboard and mouse costs for going the mini route!
    5) The imac was 40% more money for similar spec - did I really needlessly inflate anything?? Sure - use cheaper FW or spinning drives as record drives - brings down the price of both systems.
    6) Even all of the SSD's could be replaced by simple spinners keeping costs even lower - but for me - I hate noise -that includes drive noise --

    I stand behind my conclusions though... (late 2013 imac i7 vs 2012 mini i7)
    For emphasis on best performance for lowest buffer low latency work - imac over mini
    For emphasis on useable bandwidth before fans kick in - imac big time
    For light duty (less than 15% average cpu use) - either one is fine
    For those that care not about fan noise - either one is fine
    For cost - mini all day every day
     
  18. barkmonster, Oct 8, 2013
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2013

    barkmonster macrumors 68020

    barkmonster

    Joined:
    Dec 3, 2001
    Location:
    Lancashire
    #18
    That's obviously related to the raw CPU available of the iMac vs Mac Mini. The raw, single thread clock speed of the iMac is much higher, the Mac Mini is probably choking on maxed out hyper-threading before the i5-based iMac even starts using all of it's 4 physical cores to their maximum.

    With the improved caching in recent Pro Tools versions so you can use it with NAS drives etc…. and modern systems having massive increases in CPU power since the Core 2 Duo series, it could simply be brute forcing it's way past any CPU overheads USB 3.0 has but make no mistake, it does have a CPU overhead.

    When my own system runs out of CPU power, it's always USB audio related. The following pages show details of USBs flaws:

    http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/io/universal-serial-bus/universal-serial-bus-faq.html

    "SuperSpeed USB 3.0 extends USB by adding a dual-simplex 5 Gbps capability that can be used by devices that need even higher performance than what is already available with High-Speed USB 2.0"

    http://www.diffen.com/difference/FireWire_vs_USB

    "Typical USB PC-hosts rarely exceed sustained transfers of 280 Mbit/s, with 240 Mbit/s being more typical. This is due to USB's reliance on the host-processor to manage low-level USB protocol, whereas FireWire delegates the same tasks to the interface hardware (requiring less or no CPU usage). For example, the FireWire host interface supports memory-mapped devices, which allows high-level protocols to run without loading the host CPU with interrupts and buffer-copy operations."

    Remember, increasing the bandwidth with USB 3.0 isn't going to make this CPU overhead disappear, nor is the improvement to dual simplex operation because it's still USB and "serial" is the clue why. I'm sure this overhead is why USB audio interfaces can be a weak point in a pinned system and USB (any USB) drives would be equally so.

    Both of these points are user preference.

    There's absolutely nothing reasonable whatsoever about spending the kind of prices 512Gb SSDs go for just to use it as recording drive. Hence the "inflated prices" comment. It's a huge and unnecessary waste of money both for the capacity and the cost of the technology because of the modest bandwidth needs of audio recording. I know the advantages of an SSD for a patches drive. You can even run sessions off your system drive with an SSD if you want to and in older versions of Pro Tools where waveform overviews stream off your recording drive, using an SSD as a recording drive has definite advantages. I tried it myself with Pro Tools LE 8 (Mainly because I can neither afford or justify the expense of a new iLok and over £300 for an upgrade just make every plug-in I have obsolete and have features other DAWs like Logic X or Reaper have had for years for a fraction of that price).

    The advantages of a large, expensive SSD as a recording drive quickly diminish when you consider than you could simple archive older sessions and still use a lower capacity SSD in the 60 or 120Gb range with a Firewire 800/USB 3.0 enclosure and spend the remaining $250+ on a couple of high capacity "spinners" in a USB 3.0 RAID 1 enclosure for backup purposes if you were still insisting on using the external drive as a price inflation point. Then you'd need to add that to the cost breakdown of the iMac based setup too. I'm well aware of the other advantages of an SSD, no de-fragging needed, you can drop recording drive cache settings down to the minimum to reserve more RAM for plug-ins and the silence you mentioned but for cost, a smaller SSD coupled with a HDD-based backup system is a far more sensible use of $400.

    When I can afford to update the Vertex 2 SSD on my Mac Mini to a larger capacity HyperX 3K or Samsung 840, I'm going to be putting my current SSD in a Firewire 800/USB 3.0 case and using that as my recording drive because any future Mac I buy will be Haswell Based and not compatible with Sandforce SSDs (Which many PC component shops are already mentioning in their product listing in the UK) and it leaves my options open because any of the current i7 based Macs are 3 x or more faster than my current one. It's simply a matter of affordability which Mac my next one happens to be.

    I'm never going to be using HDDs for more than media library storage (iTunes etc…) and backup. SSDs are the future and they have so many advantages if my next system doesn't come with an SSD from the outset, I'll be fitting one myself.

    I see your point yet I've had nothing but silent operation from my current system so it is a great leap in cost for something that could yet again, be described as a user preference.

    Back to the USB 3.0 vs Firewire/SATA issue. CPU usage aside, all the performance issues with older USB drives might be a thing of the past with USB 3.0 anyway but again, the CPU usage is only offset by the massive increases in CPU power the Core i7/i5 series CPUs offer:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYybe7QpAaQ&feature=youtu.be&t=8m22s
     
  19. propower, Oct 8, 2013
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2013

    propower macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2010
    #19
    Thanks for the detailed answer above ^^^^^

    In general I think we are in agreement on all points :). Although there is still some CPU overhead for USB3 drives they can be astonishingly fast. I posted about this when I first got my mini!

    Now back to the OP... my first response opened with....

    In my opinion you must first look at what your requirements are: Specifically -

    1) How much total cpu load will you tpypically/maximum use
    2) How quiet do you need the machine to be at that load
    3) What is more important? Low latency performance or sheer number of tracks.
    One could certainly add budget too.

    For my preferences - the answer is clear - I was hoping this thinking could help focus the OP on quantifiable desires that could lead to an obvious system choice.

    I would be curious (Barkmonster) what CPU load in activity monitor do you typically run on your mini. I have always wondered if my mini had a weak thermal bond from Heatsink to proc but since its still under applecare I am not going to disassemble that far to find out!

    Related threads
    http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1483374
    http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1501544 -- and this is only the dual core!

    A better price comparison.... The imac route is absolutely more expensive!! One would also "need" I think Applecare due to the non-repairable nature.
    - Mini 2.6 i7 internal 256G 16G ram + BT Kybd/mouse + 27" monitor
    $800 + $100 +200 +$160 + $100 + $300 = $1660
    - Imac 27" 3.4 i5 + 256 SSD + 8G ram to get to 16G total - $2000 + $200 + $80 = $2280 (37% more than mini)
    - Imac 27" 3.5 i7 + " " - $2000 + $200 + $200 + $80 = $2480 (50% more than mini)
     
  20. stoca01 macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Mar 10, 2011
    #20
    Interesting discussion!
    I also started using Logic Pro X, with a full virtual instruments setup (mostly logic with some Arturias) and no real instruments recording.
    I typically starts from MIDI files and play between 2 to 3 virtual instruments live from USB master keyboards. I have a Presonus Firestudio mobile (FW 400).

    I was using a macmini 2011, i5 2.5Ghz, 8GB Ram, 500GB (as storage) + 256GB SSD (as boot/primary disk).

    LPX was OK, with around 10 tracks with effects but I had the feeling with something more complex it would start chocking (48Khz/256 buff). After an hour or so the fan was spinning at very high speed and CPU temperature in the range of ~90C, to the point that the fan noise started getting annoying.

    I switched to a macmini i7 2.6GHz, 1TB fusion drive, 16GB Ram and while I still have to stress it out, operations seems smoother and while it gets hot the fan
    did not went up much ( I need to do more scientific tests....)

    Now, I also occasionally use Reason 5 and it seems less CPU demanding than LPX, but I never really had any big piece of music, so it is just an impression.

    --stoca
     
  21. propower macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2010
    #21
    For your average and most demanding session you can you please look at activity monitor (under utilities) and post what your cpu load is. From my testing (and I even reran this morning) - ~15% CPU load will get temp up to 93degC and fans somewhere around 3000rpm. If I up that to 25% temp is same but fans will be way up there.

    I am gathering some final data on the 2013 i5 3.4 imac since my BTO i7 imac will be here tomorrow. FWIW - the i5 $1999 machine is smooth - relatively quiet for a spinning HD - with excellent thermal performance. 25% load (my real loading) = 10degC temp rise from ~40degC to 50degC.
     

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