MBA + Mac Mini or MBA + iMac ?

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by dukee101, Dec 26, 2012.

  1. dukee101, Dec 26, 2012
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2012

    dukee101 macrumors member


    Jan 17, 2009
    I've had an MBP since the first unibody model in 2008. I've since upgraded to a fully-specced Early 2011 15" MBP (Sandy Bridge) docked to a 27" Apple Thunderbolt Display. I've upgraded the storage of this MBP to 512GB SSD + 750GB HDD and the RAM to 16GB. This powerful-yet-portable machine has served me well, but I'm looking to transition to a two-computer setup instead.

    Rather than have one device try and be a jack-of-all-trades and compromise on both portability and power, I want two different machines at both extremes of the spectrum with no compromises (perfectly synced through Dropbox, iCloud, and Google cloud services).

    I just recently bought a base-model 2012 MacBook Air (Ivy Bridge) and I've been absolutely loving this machine. It's very underspeced compared to my MBP juggernaut, but it actually hasn't been much of a problem. 4GB of RAM instead of 16? Whatever, page files have been working out just fine. 128GB instead of the 1.5TB of space? Hardly a problem; I'm streaming music instead and I can view my photo collection once in a blue moon. 1.8GHz dual-core i5 instead of 2.2GHz quad-core i7? No worries; I'm hardly pushing the i5 on the Air these days.

    So it turns out, through my recent experience with the MBA, I don't even need a desktop that's that powerful in the first place. In fact, most of the time on my MBP I'd hope the dedicated GPU would not turn on so I could have a cooler-temperature machine with longer battery life. 99% of the time, those factors are more important than whatever the GPU can help me process.

    And this is how I arrive at my current dilemma: what desktop machine should I get to replace my MBP? And wait--should I even replace this MBP? Should I just keep it docked to my ATD forever?

    I was initially very excited about the brand-new Late-2012 27" iMacs, but I'm not really happy with the configuration options. It just comes out to something that's really pricey and a bit overkill. I also have reservations about the Fusion Drive. I haven't seen much evidence about FD performance with lots of data on them. I'm pretty sure my current SSD+HDD setup is faster.

    So it's either that iMac which costs too much and can't be configured exactly the way I want, or the Mac Mini which came out earlier this year. With the MM, I can still get a desktop-worthy 2.7GHz quad-core Ivy Bridge i7 CPU and 16GB of RAM, but I'll be shedding the dedicated GPU I currently have in my MBP (which is un-desktoplike).

    So... should I just keep my MBP? Should I get the iMac? Should I get the Mac Mini? What should I do?

    I don't game at all. I rarely do any photo/video/audio editing. I'm mostly web browsing, word processing, and manipulating spreadsheets and annotating PDFs and the like. But I do tend to have literally about 40-60 browser tabs open at any time and I really do push my browser. I'll have maybe 100 text files and 20 PDFs open, and another 15 Finder windows, all open at the same time (not to mention my to-do, email, and calendar apps open at all times). This is my use-case. What's the appropriate machine to buy?

    The Mini seems like a cool choice: powerful, affordable, can still bring my old SSD+HDD setup into it, but it doesn't have a dedicated GPU (which I don't really use that much anyway).

    But the iMac has the awesome screen, really powerful CPU and GPU, but is very pricey, availability is constrained, and storage upgradeability is severely lacking.

    And I don't want my 15" MBP anymore because owning 2 laptops is just weird, even if one is much heavier and always docked versus the other.
  2. mtmcgavock macrumors newbie

    Sep 12, 2012
    North West, UK
    I wasn't in exact the same situation, but similar. I do the same type of work you mention on my machines.

    I had a early 2011 Macbook Pro, i5 2.3Ghz, 4GB Ram always having the intention to upgrade it. Being an IT technician I need something portable but didn't want to always be switching between two machines. When working i'd have it docked, then when I needed it on site (very occasionally) i'd just take the machine.

    Just recently though I decided I needed to make the move and upgrade the Macbook. However in the process I decided it might be a good idea to get a Mac Desktop. Looked at the iMac, however in my line of work I wanted a screen I could plug additional PC's in rather than having two to three monitors on my desk. So I went with last years Mac Mini when it was reduced.

    I've bought the iFixit kit, added a Kingston HyperX 120GB SSD with the Standard 500GB drive, and upped the RAM to 16GB 1600Mhz. Regarding the graphics, with upping the ram it's increased the shared memory to 512mb. In regards to speed it's really quick with booting, having multiple tabs in Chrome, Word, Excel, iTunes etc. I've not seen any problems in regards to using Photoshop etc. Now if you tried to edit HD video etc I think you might have a problem.

    In the process i've also upgraded my Macbook to an SSD and 8GB Ram.

    In my case the Mac Mini and a 27inch Screen was the best solution due to the flexibility with the screen and hardware upgrades. In all it's cost me £1000 less than buying an iMac with the fusion drive, 27inch screen and 16GB ram. Fair enough the processor in the iMac is much quicker but you really don't need it.

    In regards to keeping the Macbook Pro it's whether you'd rather have a proper desktop machine rather than a make do one. In my opinion having the Macbook docked is never the same as having something like the iMac or Mac Mini. However it's everyone to their own.
  3. RedCroissant Suspended

    Aug 13, 2011
    I know you said that you didn't want your 15" anymore because having two laptops is weird, but if you get the right dock and set it up behind your TBD with proper cable maintenance, then you'll have what can be considered an iMac-like setup and then just keep what you have with the MBA.

    You have two great computers and a display that's better than the iMac's anyway, so why lose money on your MBP just to spend money on a machine that you think is overpriced?
  4. caligomez macrumors regular


    Feb 8, 2011
    San Juan, PR
    I think you are fine with your current set up..

    Making the change seems to be based on eccentricities I think.. Which is totally fine if you have the time and money to spend on the buying and selling of the MBP, display, memory and storage upgrades, etc.. I don't think there is really anything significant a "proper desktop" can offer you (that you don't already have).
  5. dukee101, Dec 26, 2012
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2012

    dukee101 thread starter macrumors member


    Jan 17, 2009
    For the most part, you're right. It would be annoying to have to sell everything and lose value on the MBP.

    But on the other hand, the MBP isn't a proper desktop because of two things:

    1. Power Switch: I keep it in clamshell mode so if I ever turn it off, I have to disconnect it, open it, power it on, wait for booting, close it up, and reconnect. It sounds trivial but in practice, this is pretty annoying. Solution: just don't ever turn it off. That makes sense too.

    2. Ventilation: Because the MBP is in clamshell mode, a lot of the hot air is not being pushed out through the surface area of the keyboard. Remember, this is a Sandy Bridge MBP with a quad-core that may have been prematurely put in it. It gets hot and noisy often, especially with the lid closed (and I've got it elevated a bit too). A 'real' desktop wouldn't do that.

    I definitely hear what you're saying @caligomez, but I also think this particular MBP has its drawbacks as a desktop. At this point, I'm leaning towards buying a new 2012 Mac Mini (instead of the 2012 iMac), because:

    1. Selling is annoying: As you said, buying a new iMac would mean I'd have to sell the display too, and that's even more value lost (and time wasted). Besides, if I can keep this ATD for another year or two, I'll just upgrade to an eventual Retina Thunderbolt Display. Sure, the new iMacs have really nice screens, but that RTD would blow it out of the water.

    2. CPU power is meaningful: The Mac Mini's Ivy Bridge quad-cores are a good step-up from my current MBP. I'm comfortable making an upgrade to my CPU power in a 2-year timeframe, and frankly, I'm OK with not having a dedicated GPU. I disagree with Apple's decision to eliminate the option entirely from the MM line-up, but for me personally, I like that I don't have to constantly monitor which apps are ticking off the GPU, causing the system to heat up and get noisy. Lastly, most computing tasks can always benefit from faster clock speeds and more cores. Not as many benefit from a dedicated GPU (not the ones I'm performing).

    3. Fusion Drive may be O.K.: I'm going to get the MM with Fusion Drive at first. I'm going to load it up with my ~800 GB of data and really give it a whirl during the 14-day return window. If I see that it's actually pretty close to my existing SSD+HDD combo, I'll keep the machine. If I see that it's not, I'll return it, get a base 1TB config and do the custom storage upgrade through either OWC or iFixIt (very annoying on this machine).

    4. Swapping machines is easy: When Intel releases Haswell chips next year, the Mac Minis which now rely on integrated GPUs will get a big boost. Since it's just the square little box I'd have to sell, it's fairly easy to resell the MM and just spend another $150-300 on a new one with better specs. That's way more convenient than the hoopla of the iMac and its crappy upgrade paths and unpredictable resale values.

    Or hey, should I just wait until mid-2013 and hope Apple releases a $1,700 Mac Pro with customizations galore? Hah, I wouldn't hold my breath!
  6. glenthompson macrumors 68000


    Apr 27, 2011
    Since you already have the thunderbolt display, the Mac Mini makes more sense than the iMac. I would either keep the MBP or go with the mini.
  7. JimWPVB macrumors member

    Jul 3, 2012
    Scrap Your Plan!

    If you must, I agree with another about going with the Mac Mini, which is a great machine IF you have a TBD. I just sold a late 2012 to a friend due to the lack of adequate performance on a second non-TBD screen. Other than the video output via HDMI or DVI, it was a great machine.

    Your best bet, in my view, is to sell both the MBP and the MBA and get a 2012/2013 MBA with all the RAM it will take (currently 8GB) and an i7 processor. I have such a machine and it works great unless heavy processing is involved. Your description does not include any heavy processing.

    Why only one machine? To simplify your life.

    Keeping 2 machines synced up, unless all your data is in the cloud (especially email if it is POP) is very difficult. Ditto as to documents unless you use Dropbox (or its equivalent) and iCloud seems pretty worthless if you stray from the Apple walled garden of Numbers, Pages, etc. There are also concerns about security with these cloud services, as well as ownership of the data, etc.

    And I speak from experience on this since I am currently juggling 2 Macs and a PC. I have finally found a software solution to the nightmare, but it is not inexpensive and - but for the necessity of my work - is not something I would undertake. But it does keep life interesting!

    Good luck. Note - I would keep your existing MBA or MBP as a backup machine in case the new MBA went down.
  8. dukee101 thread starter macrumors member


    Jan 17, 2009
    I get where you're coming from, but the problem here is that the MBA's max storage capacity is 512 GB. I like having a bigger machine on the desk that can store ALL my data, which is over 800 GB (not to mention that actually upgrading to the 512 GB SSD on the MBA's is expensive compared to third-party alternatives that could be dropped into machines that accept 2.5" drives. Also, the MBA would lack quad-core and the ability to do 16 GB, which are nice to have.

    In truth, when Intel's Haswell chips come out next year, the MBAs will start to look more attractive. If they can cram a quad-core, up to 16 GB RAM, and 1 TB SSD into the size of the MBA, that's my machine right there. Odds are that won't hapapen because the Retina MBPs are currently the machines that get the mobile quad-cores, full RAM and SSD upgrades, and hefty GPUs. The MBAs need to differentiate somehow. Until there's more consolidation in the line-up, I rather stick with two specialized machines.

    I really feel you on this point. Security and data ownership are MAJOR issues with these cloud services, and companies like Dropbox have definitely had their fair share of snafus. It's what kept me really hesitant about uploading files to the service en masse for nearly two years. But since I've been getting more work done on my iPhone and iPad Mini, I recently committed to going "full cloud." Security and privacy issues be damned!

    I've currently got almost all my User sub-folders cloud synced and I couldn't be happier. iCloud takes care of my productivity quadrangle (iCal, Contacts, To-Dos, Notes) and Google takes care of my email (Gmail is IMAP) browser syncing (Chrome Log-in), and some documents (Google Drive/Docs). Pandora and Spotify let me stream music and even apps and iMessages are synced through Apple's cloud services. I couldn't ask for much more. It's all really seamless and is a testament to the world we're heading toward: just a bunch of different glass rectangles, cut to the sizes you prefer, and all presenting themselves as the same machine.

    For now, I'm very happy with this system. When there comes a day that one little MBA-sized laptop could squeeze out truly pro performance, then I'll go to one machine. But we're still 2-3 years away from that happening affordably.
  9. JimWPVB macrumors member

    Jul 3, 2012
    Storage Alternative

    Dukee101 you are right, unless...

    If you want all your data on the machine directly, then I agree with you. But, with a TB or USB 3.0 external drive for storage and a SSD on the MBA you might be set. Unless the 16 GB of RAM are actually needed, which is the amount I am getting in a new iMac. But some of the new external drives with RAID 1 capability at a competitive price and great transfer speeds deserve some thought, in my view.

    My storage needs are modest compared to yours, and you seem to be using the cloud effectively, although without the security my job requires.

    Thanks for your reply. Gave me food for thought! :). Good luck.

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