Maxed out Mac Mini vs. saving for Mac Pro

Discussion in 'Mac mini' started by phone5g, Feb 9, 2016.

  1. phone5g macrumors newbie

    Jan 29, 2013
    I am looking into get a desktop mac and already have a new 34 inch ultrawide monitor so I am looking for something headless. I am also considering a second ultrawide and know the 2014 mini can power it but it would really be pushing it. Is it worth spending ~1100 on a maxed out 2014 mac mini or just saving and getting a mac pro and having something that will last a while. What about an older mac pro? Any suggestions are appreciated.
  2. Micky Do macrumors 68000

    Micky Do

    Aug 31, 2012
    An island in the Andaman Sea.
    If you reckon you need a Mac Pro, bite the bullet and get a Mac Pro. A mate of mine replaced his 7 year-old iMac with one (and a pair of Apple displays) a couple of years ago. He is happy with what he has as his main machine, and will likely remain so for several years. He also has a couple of Mac Minis and a MacBook Pro, which he takes when he goes to work abroad, five weeks at a time.

    If you merely desire bragging rights to the hottest maxed out tech on the block, go for the Mini. It will be cheaper to upgrade when something more desirable turns up.
  3. phone5g thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jan 29, 2013
    I see where you're coming from, my gripe with the mini is that id be shelling out ~1000 for something quite out of data. An updated mini with more powerful graphics would be perfect. A pro would be nice due to its upgradeability and fact I could probably use it for the better end of a decade.
  4. cmm macrumors 6502a

    Apr 30, 2006
    How is the Mac Pro upgradeable? Oh, you mean all the I/O connections that allow you to spend thousands on 10GbE, TB2, etc enclosures? All those specialized tech (10 GbE, PCIe cards, fibre adapter, etc) are available by using TB2, which is not unique to the Mac Pro.

    I would highly suspect your experience won't be seamless with 2 displays (especially when one is an ultrawide) and a Mac Mini...the GPU *will* have issues.

    The Mac Pro is also several years out of date.

    My sincere recommendation is to get a 5k iMac with the more expensive GPU and add 16gb of RAM later for 24gb total (unless you really need 32GB, then bite the bullet at time of order). If you want another screen, add a 4k or even use the ultrawide (your ultrawide will retain most of its value if you sell used...I would recommend selling through Amazon and of course putting an ad on Craigslist and hope that you sell on CL before Amazon) if you prefer it over a HiDPi display. The 5k iMac is a newer machine than the Mac Pro and the Mac Mini.

    Buy two 5k iMacs (which is what I did and I delegate specific tasks to it--I have a 24GB NAS and a 1x4tb ssd NAS for storage that both machines are connected to so I keep the bare minimum on the iMac boot drives) and it'll still be cheaper than a Mac Pro and you'll have a newer machine with lots of ram and more flexibility than a Mac Pro (while odd, you could take a 27 iMac to a coffee shop and work, doing the same with a Mac Pro I don't think would work as well and I haven't seen done). And you can still take advantage of the Thunderbolt ports and the expansion it offers in the 5k iMac.
  5. Fishrrman macrumors G5


    Feb 20, 2009
    Both the current Mini and Mac Pro models are due for updates before much longer.

    If you are able to hold out a few months more, something to consider.

    Then again, you could buy an iMac and just plug in your external display...
  6. phone5g thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jan 29, 2013
    I meant that the Mac Pro has upgradable CPU and ram which would effectively make it last much longer. Thank you for your input.

    Yes, I believe waiting might be my best bet. Thank you.
  7. ActionableMango, Feb 10, 2016
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2016

    ActionableMango macrumors G3


    Sep 21, 2010
    OP, if you decide to go with an older Mac Pro, I recommend the 4,1 or 5,1 if you want a single-CPU model, or the 5,1 if you want a dual-CPU model. The 4,1 is every bit as capable and upgradable as the 5,1 model once you've flashed the firmware. I only recommend the 5,1 for dual-CPU models because the 4,1 dual CPU models use a special lidless processor that is an extra hassle for those wanting to upgrade.

    I also use a 34" ultrawide monitor as you are intending to do. The Mac Pro will have zero problems pushing pixels on two of those, and if you want (and could afford it) you could always throw a Titan X at it.

    So far I have:
    • Upgraded to a faster quadcore CPU
    • Upgraded later to an even faster hexacore CPU
    • Increased memory
    • Upgraded to an EVGA GTX 680 4GB FTW
    • Upgraded later to an EVGA GTX 980 4GB SC ACX2.0
    • Added a USB 3.0 card
    • Upgraded to Bluetooth LE 4.0
    • Upgraded to 802.11AC Wi-Fi
    • Added two SSDs for fast, dedicated boot drives for OS X and Windows
    • Added two large HDDs for significant storage
    • Added a blu-ray burner
    Every single one of these was internal, meaning no rat's nest of boxes, data cables, and power supplies. And when a newer Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPU, USB 3.1, etc. become available, I expect I'll upgrade again.
  8. cmm, Feb 10, 2016
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2016

    cmm macrumors 6502a

    Apr 30, 2006
    I assume the OP wasn't interested in the classic Mac Pro. I've considered the 5,1 as well but unfortunately, it is short one hard drive for me...if I were going to go with a 5,1 I would need 6 3.5" HDDs (I can run the SSD RAID array via PCI-E 2.0 expansion but I'd want the HDDs internally. Oh well. The issue of TB2 doesn't matter since you have PCI-E 2.0. I guess when you upgrade to the Titan GPU, running 1 or 2 4ks isn't an issue? Has anybody run more than 2 4ks?

    I'm curious how much that setup cost you, sans storage. And have you had any difficulties upgrading OS X beyond needing to flash firmware (and why do you have to do that)? Did you upgrade your PSU? What PSU comes with the 4,1 and 5,1?
  9. ActionableMango macrumors G3


    Sep 21, 2010
    Oh my bad, I obviously didn't understand that at all. Yes, you are absolutely right when it comes to the 6,1.

    You could mount six 3.5" HDDs internally, but only if you are willing to use the optical bays.

    Yes, MacVidCards has run at least three 4K displays, maybe more.

    The firmware flash isn't related to OS X upgrades. The firmware flash upgrades a 4,1 into a 5,1 with the main point being that Westmere CPUs are enabled. It basically takes the Apple official 5,1 firmware update file (that you download yourself) and applies it to the non-approved but totally compatible 4,1. There are some other minor side benefits too.

    The PSUs cannot be upgraded but do not need to be. I think it is 950 watts or something. There are people running 12 cores, 8 sticks of RAM, and dual GTX 970 video cards.

    I'm not really sure what it cost me. I bought the 5,1 new (refurb) in 2010 and slowly added upgrades over time.

    Looking at Ebay, you can get a basic single core 4,1 for about $450. Firmware flash free. RAM is fairly cheap. The CPU will run $200 for the top of the line 3.46GHz hexacore (W3690) or $70 for the quadcore equivalent (x5677). CPU price falls very fast for each step down in speed (seriously a W3680 is only 130MHz slower but $40 cheaper). GPU depends, but GTX 680 minimum for 4K, and all the way up to Titan X. USB 3.0 about $30-$170.

    It will never have Thunderbolt though.

    If you want to know more, it's best to ask in the Mac Pro forum. My knowledge is limited.
  10. cmm macrumors 6502a

    Apr 30, 2006
    Thanks. This is really fascinating. Forgot about the optical bay existing... It would be nice, from a minimalist standpoint and saving space standpoint to move my 6x4tb RAID z1 array inside a Mac Pro and use the Mac Pro (4,1 or 5,1) as my main machine, rather than my current setup and just keep an updated rMBP around (I cannot wait for Skylake 15 rMBPs as it'll have better 4k support and better battery).

    The only downside of doing the RAID array of my 6x4tb z1 array is that I wouldn't have access to ZFS since OS X isn't FreeBSD and I assume the ZFS on Linux pacakge won't work on OS X either. So I'd have to give up the benefits of ZFS. I can deal with that since

    Anyway really interesting. I see no point in having Thunderbolt especially when you have PCI-E 2.0 extendability. I constantly bemoan the pricing for Thunderbolt HDD enclosures for an SSD array so another good reason to go this route.

    The SSDs you use, are they PCIe SSDs? I haven't even checked prices on these.

    This is intriguing.

    You have no issues with running OS X?

    Any other downfalls to be aware of?

    As for CPU, I am not worried about having a 12 core CPU (anything I do that requires real computational complexity, I have access to clusters, but I need to make sure whichever Xeon I get supports AES (I am pretty sure all Xeons do)...can you pick *anyb yy'

    Mac Pros came with ECC RAM by default right? What is the max ram of a 4,1 or 5,1?

    This is soooo interesting!
  11. ActionableMango macrumors G3


    Sep 21, 2010
    I use standard, 2.5" SATA SSDs which means I'm stuck at SATA-II speeds. It's fast enough and it's cheap and easy.

    Typical PCIe SSDs, are faster of course. Then there are the PCIe adapters for Apple/Samsung blades, which are much, much faster than that (up to 1500MB/s). And if you want to get ridiculous you have the Amfeltec which can do about 5900MB/s. That's more than 10x faster than my SATA 2 SSD--it's a monster. Way out of my budget though.

    OS X runs fine on 5,1 Mac Pros. These were sold by Apple as new all the way until the end of 2013, so we have years of official support left. Technically I have one issue, but that's because I purchased a card (GTX 980) that has no built-in drivers in OS X. It means I have to download GPU drivers from Nvidia's website. It's not a big burden.

    Yes they come with ECC ram. The max RAM depends on your CPU configuration:
    128GB Dual processor machine
    64GB Dual processor in a single processor machine
    56GB Single processor in a single processor machine

    Downfalls: No Thunderbolt. No new ones available, so no warranty. Physically much larger. Need to be careful with GPU choices. I think it is important to have a GPU with Mac EFI, but plenty of others disagree.

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