Maxed-Out iMac vs Maxed-Out Mac Mini

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by dukee101, Jan 8, 2013.


iMac vs. Mac Mini

  1. Maxed-Out iMac

    15 vote(s)
  2. Maxed-Out Mac Mini

    28 vote(s)
  1. dukee101, Jan 8, 2013
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2013

    dukee101 macrumors member


    Jan 17, 2009
    Looking for a powerful desktop Mac. Already have a Thunderbolt Display (TBD) but will gladly sell it and use the money toward the 2012 iMac (and its gorgeous display).

    Mac Mini (Late 2012)
    2.6 GHz Intel Core i7 Quad-Core
    16 GB RAM
    1 TB Fusion Drive (optional: 512 GB SSD x 2 RAID 0 setup)
    Intel HD Graphics 4000
    Apple 27" Thunderbolt Display (already purchased/not part of final price below)
    ~12,800 GeekBench Score
    $1,300 (with education discount + 3rd party RAM upgrade)


    iMac 27" (Late 2012)
    3.4 GHz Intel Core i7 Quad-Core
    16 GB
    1 TB Fusion Drive
    NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680MX 2 GB
    27" LED / IPS Display
    ~14,000 GeekBench Score
    $2,700 (with education discount + 3rd party RAM upgrade)

    There's a $1,400 difference between these two machines but that's not a fair comparison. If I buy the iMac, I'll sell my TBD for ~$800, making the difference really closer to $600.

    The question then becomes: is the powerful desktop CPU, bleeding-edge GPU, and beautiful new LED display worth an extra $600 over the fully-loaded Mac Mini?

    You might also be asking: Why such a stark comparison? Why not get a cheaper iMac? Well, to me, it's only worth comparing apples-to-apples (no pun intended). Why get the i5 iMac that scores a weaker GeekBench than the little i7 Mac Mini? If I could have an i7 at $1,300, I should have one at $2,000... but Apple doesn't offer that. And I've got to get a 27" because that's what I'm used to with my current TBD plus I find the lack of RAM upgradability on the 21.5" preposterous.

    Another important thing to note is that very soon, FirmTek will be offering a uniquely fast USB 3 external drive enclosure that's actually faster than Thunderbolt! This makes the internal drive upgradeability of both machines moot. I can just add whatever SSD I want and enjoy its top speed by simply plugging in a USB device.

    I don't do any heavy work at all, nor do I ever expect to:
    • no photo/video editing
    • no gaming
    • no hardcore data-crunching

    But I do push my system around:
    • large media libraries I like to browse very quickly (300 GB of personal photos and videos and 500 GB of music)
    • aggressive document work
    • typically have 40-60 browser tabs open
    • 10-15 documents and spreadsheets open
    • 10-12 Mission Control desktops
    • tons of Finder windows
    • at least 15 little applets running in the background (Menu Bar apps, etc.)
    • often only have 5-6 GB free of 16 GB RAM

    What does the community think I need?

    Footnote: If you were buying the Mac Mini setup from zero, as in you had to include the price of a new TBD (~$960) and keyboard+mouse (~$140), then you'd be at $2,400 for the Mac Mini, which is just $300 less than the iMac. Now for $300 it seems like a no-brainer to just get the iMac, right?
  2. maflynn Moderator


    Staff Member

    May 3, 2009
    I like the idea of the iMac but to be honest, it being so expensive the mini may be a better use for your money. The only major difference I see is the iMac has a better GPU and faster processor.
  3. aerok macrumors 65816


    Oct 29, 2011
    Mac Mini all the way! But I'm also a new iMac hater so my opinion is heavily biased towards the Mini.

    Also seems like you don't game on your Mac so makes the Mini a lot sweeter.
  4. Mr Lightning macrumors newbie

    Mr Lightning

    Oct 28, 2012
    Based upon the fact you don't have the expectation to do any of the things I'd generally spring for an iMac over a Mac Mini for, I would say Mac Mini all the way. I'm not sure how open you are to the idea of some D.I.Y but for the purpose of this thread I'll suggest it. If you were to get your RAM from a 3rd party vendor and purchase your own SSD drive, you could save even more therefore bridging the gap wider between the iMac and Mac Mini and in my opinion making the Mac Mini the no-brainer.

    Just my two cents!
  5. JayJayAbels macrumors 6502


    May 15, 2012
    For the tasks you'll be doing... max out the Mini and you'll be just fine. Plus you'll save a little cash in the process.

    However if you want to "future proof" your purchase a little bit more... then a maxed out iMac would be the way to go. I would just get 8 gigs of RAM and then upgrade it as you need it. Save a bit of money there too.
  6. theluggage macrumors 68040

    Jul 29, 2011
    Or, given your stated predilection for huge numbers of desktops and open documents, you could keep it and hook it up to the iMac as a second screen... Personally, on a desktop, I'd prefer 2 x 24" screens than 1 x 27", so 2 x 27" should be perfect!

    Also your usage sounds memory-heavy, and AFAIK the Mini maxes out at 16GB, while the iMac 27 is officially upgradeable to 32GB, making it a bit more future-proof.

    On the flipside, The Mac Mini and the 'classic' MacBook Pros seem like the last generation with easily replaceable hard drives. The Mac Mini and the 'classic' MacBook Pros seem like the last generation with easily replaceable hard drives. Although the iMac 27 has a hatch for RAM upgrades, having to unglue the screen to change the hard drive is a dealbreaker - maybe when the price of a 1TB SSD falls to sensible levels so you could have no moving parts inside I could live with that, but not with a whirly disc.

    Plus, with the iMac, in 3 years time when its time for a new computer, you are forced to buy a new display. Not so bad if you plan to re-sell, but I tend to re-task old computers as servers or testing machines.
  7. shivapashupati macrumors newbie

    Jan 16, 2008
    Just another idea...

    Having had an iMac and having liked it quite a lot I would go for the maxed-out iMac. In your case I would recommend first getting the iMac, then plug wour Thunderbolt screen to it and see if all of this space makes you very unhappy. If your suffering is bearable, just keep both. Sounds expensive at first, but this may be a move you shall never regret. I know I wouldn't! Best of luck!
  8. dukee101 thread starter macrumors member


    Jan 17, 2009
    Thanks for your feedback everyone! Just wanted to clarify a few things:

    The prices I quoted in my original post included 3rd party RAM upgrades, not RAM from Apple (there's no way I'd ever pay for that)!

    Also, some of you have mentioned internal drive upgradeability as a factor. This was up until yesterday an issue. But as BareFeats has just announced, very soon, FirmTek will be offering a uniquely fast USB 3 external drive enclosure that's actually faster than Thunderbolt! This makes the internal drive upgradeability of both machines moot. I can just add whatever SSD I want and enjoy its top speed by simply plugging in a USB device.

    As to the comments about running 2 x 27" displays: whoa there! That's intense! There's three reasons I wouldn't do that:
    • costs a lot more money than I'm comfortable spending
    • the iMac display would be way thinner and sexier than the TBD, which basically kills the niceness of that new iMac display
    • having to look at two different displays is actually annoying to me. I used to run 2 x 24" Dells back in the day and I didn't like that setup. It's much easier to have one big display directly centered with my head instead of having to tilt between them. Also, I have a MacBook Air too which is a great second screen to have on my desk for "the little things."
  9. fiddlestyx macrumors 6502

    Sep 9, 2009
    As others have mentioned, I think the Mac Mini would suit your needs. That's a pretty good price difference to make a case for the iMac.
  10. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    I personally use a Mac Mini for my stuff and it is fine (as it is hooked up to a screen that lends itself to serious calibration - NEC). In your case, I think the iMac is a better deal as you can get 32 gigs of RAM, 1-2 gigs for graphics card and always you can add external drives.

    The one thing you might want to double check is the new USB 3 that you mentioned. I read that though it can be backwards compatible, like Thunderbolt you will need on both ends negotiating hardware. If this is correct, then any of the faster USB 3 will be limited to the typical USB 3 speed on either Mac Mini or iMac. The regular USB 3 is no slouch so again the iMac would be a worthy choice for the RAM and the video. - Just don't expect the beautiful screen to be easy to calibrate if you ever are in a position to need super accurate colour and bit depth.
  11. dukee101 thread starter macrumors member


    Jan 17, 2009
    This is correct, however, the crazy thing about that upcoming FirmTek enclosure that BareFeats covered is that it can maintain ~600 MB/s throughput on all 2012 Macs! So Apple must've built in some really quality USB controller hardware into their Macs as of late and the FirmTek model is among a few (if not the only one at the moment) that can match that quality with its own high-spec controllers.

    It's actually remarkable how much of a difference these controllers make. The usual USB 3 speeds are around 180-220 MB/s if you've got an SSD in an enclosure. But to have the 'pure' speed is just unbelievable. I'd gladly pay up to $200 for this enclosure. The next closest alternative, LaCie's $200 128GB SSD Rugged Thunderbolt portable drive doesn't make sense anymore, since you can't rip out that SSD and you're really overpaying for it (and it's only limited to Thunderbolt ports).
  12. Muscle Master macrumors 6502a

    Muscle Master

    Oct 15, 2010
    Mac Mini.. for sure. you can put two drives in it also
  13. Jedi macrumors regular


    Apr 28, 2008
    What they said ^

    Mac Mini , they are great little power houses !

    Best of luck to U ! :D

    Gary 

    My Mac`s

    Mac Min - 4.1 ( 2010 ) / 15" MacBook Pro - Retina
  14. KonaMacMike macrumors newbie

    Jan 2, 2013
    get the Mini unless you change your mind about gaming.
    one of my systems is a Mini connected to a 70" screen, and it's just the best for sitting back and doing some work in my lazy chair or using it as a media center as well.
  15. mslide macrumors 6502a

    Sep 17, 2007
    There's your answer... Mac Mini.

    If it were me, I wouldn't consider the TBD because I think it's overpriced and I don't really care about having such a high resolution display. I'd be fine with a 24" 1080p monitor. If I really wanted a high res 27" panel, I'd get a cheaper one. Plus, I really like keeping my monitor and computer separate.
  16. mcsolas macrumors regular

    Jan 4, 2013
    One of the most surprising features I found when researching the mini is that it has Dual Monitor support. I imagine you could use the screen real estate.

    There is a thread in the mac mini forum about this -

    Another surprise for me was the lack of an optical drive. I had never considered purchasing a computer without one. External usb optical drives are cheap though, but its worth noting when comparing the machines in question.
  17. waterskier2007 macrumors 68000


    Jun 19, 2007
    Novi, MI
    Rather than going for the Thunderbolt Display, why not go for a Dual monitor setup. I got two dell 23 inch monitors (you will also need a MiniDisplay to DVI or VGA for the second monitor) on Black Friday at Best Buy for 100 bucks each, but they are normally only 200, so you can get two for 400. I would go for that over one thunderbolt for over twice the price
  18. FreakinEurekan macrumors 68040


    Sep 8, 2011
    Eureka Springs, Arkansas
    Stick with the Mini. Your usage habits won't take advantage of the GPU or increased speed difference relative to the price, and you already have the same 27" display. Save the money now and perhaps in a couple years if there is a Retina iMac or some other substantial difference that substantially improves on your Mini/TBD setup, make the leap then.
  19. mike693 macrumors member

    Jun 24, 2011
    Yes, it is worth getting the iMac for the 2GB video card. This will help ensure smooth scrolling and app/desktop switching with the volume of open windows you describe, especially on a 27" screen.

    I have a 512MB video card in a 27" iMac and it will hesitate between those transitions if I have some dozens of open windows. This all depends on exactly what you are doing; your mileage may vary, etc.

    Plus, you will have the option later to expand to 32GB RAM if you need it.
  20. bt22 macrumors 6502

    Feb 15, 2009
    I opted for a Mac Mini in 2011 for the same reason. I figured it would be easier to just replace the Mini if and when I felt like a newer version justified the change. Then I can use the 2011 Mini as a Media Server or HTPC or pass down to my daughter.
  21. Mike Valmike macrumors 6502a

    Feb 27, 2012
    Chandler, Arizona
    With the Mini, you can go pure SSD (no Fusion) without spending $1300. Just saying.
  22. dukee101 thread starter macrumors member


    Jan 17, 2009
    I've decided to buy the top-spec 2.6 Ghz i7 Mac Mini with stock components everywhere else (4 GB RAM / 1 TB HDD). I paid Apple ~$1,000 for it, pretty good for a machine that eats 2008-2009 Mac Pros for lunch. Hah that feels cool to say!

    I decided that Fusion Drive just isn't worth it. I already have a Crucial M4 512 GB SSD I bought for a miraculous $350 back in June '12 (one of the few electronics purchases I've made where the price actually went UP after I bought it) I was happily using it in a MacBook Pro, so I'm just going to replace the Mini's stock hard drive with the SSD and be on my merry way!

    I plunked down another $90 for 16 GB of RAM and paid another $20 for the iFixIt Bit Driver Kit to do the drive replacement.

    So for ~$1,100 I got myself a tricked out Mini!

    I was at first hesitant about tearing down the Mini for the SSD install, but after some research, I realized that doing an in-place replacement of just the primary storage bay wouldn't require the removal of the logic board. I only have to remove the fan and antenna module, which is simple enough and makes me a lot more comfortable.

    Plus now that it's 2013, the idea of having a spinning mechanical drive in there is just something I'm over. I'll connect external drives via USB 3 and enjoy the extra space on an as-needed basis. Some of these newer USB 3 enclosures are smoking fast and as SSD prices drop, I can add ultra-fast storage whenever I want.

    Thanks everyone for your feedback, you've all been great!
  23. 53x12 macrumors 68000


    Feb 16, 2009
    You paid $1000 for it with shipping and taxes included I assume since the computer itself is $899. Any reason you didn't go with B&H/Macmall/Amazon and save on the sales tax?
  24. LorenK macrumors 6502

    Dec 26, 2007
    I wasn't going to reply, but the thread became more interesting when mention was made of multiple monitors. While you currently may not be interested in multiple monitors, the plus of the mini is that flexibility. When it becomes dated, you can use it as a media server and hook it up to a television. I currently have my mini hooked up to my 50" Vizio and use it for both satellite, watching movies through the mini, internet surfing, and other applications. In my media room, my Mac Pro serves the same purpose but I have it connected optical cable and HDMI to my surround sound receiver and mutiple external drives for my home theater (60" Pioneer monitor as well as a 32" Vizio). Flexibility is good.
  25. dukee101 thread starter macrumors member


    Jan 17, 2009
    A very simple reason: can't custom-order BTO options through those retailers. How else would I get my 2.6 GHz Core i7 CPU upgrade?

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