MBA owner looking for a desktop photography workstation, get a Mac mini?

Discussion in 'Mac mini' started by earthbound, Sep 17, 2013.

  1. earthbound macrumors member

    Oct 12, 2007
    Hi guys,

    I own a 2011 Macbook Air (1.7 dual core, 128gb ssd, 8gb ram) that I've been really happy with except for 2 things:

    • it's a pain to unplug and replug monitor, external hard drives, card reader, etc
    • I'd like a faster, dedicated photography workstation for Photoshop CS6 and Lightroom 5

    Photography is a hobby I might grow into a side business. I had a paid assignment recently where my Macbook Air was struggling with editing Canon 6D raw files in Lightroom 5, e.g. Previews are really blurry and took a a couple of seconds to get less blurry, then wait a couple more seconds again to see the actual sharp photo (if this doesn't happen then I have to zoom in to 100% and zoom back out again). The blurry - less blurry - sharp transition that happens to every single photo I edit is really messing up my eyes and giving me headaches.

    So I'm thinking of getting a desktop to serve as my photography workstation. I'm interested in the Mac mini with 2.6 quad core, 256gb ssd, 16gb ram. Is the difference in power between my current Air and Mac mini makes Mac mini a worthy purchase? Or are they too similar that it's not worth having both?

    My budget is $1400 max. I even considered buying the following desktop PC for $800 and upgrading the RAM myself:

    3.4 GHz Intel Core i7-3770 Quad Core
    4GB 1600 MHz DDR3 RAM
    AMD Radeon HD 7450 Graphics (1GB)
    1TB Hard Drive, 7200 rpm

    Any thoughts and comments on the MBA/Mac mini combo, or if desktop PC/MBA combo, or any other suggestions would be appreciated.

    Thank you in advance!

    A few notes: I really like Macbook Air's portability, so I've ruled out retina Macbook Pro as a one-computer solution. Plus rMBP is expensive, and I don't need all that power and weight when I travel. iMac is out of my budget and I don't have the heart to upgrade its internal components on my own.
  2. fa8362 macrumors 65816

    Jul 7, 2008
    If you buy a PC, won't you have to buy PC software?

    The 2.3 i7 mini is more than enough for photoshop and lightroom. Just get lots of RAM.
  3. Oujmik macrumors member

    Oct 23, 2012
    I would have thought even the stock mini would be substantially faster for Photoshop and lightroom as you get a much faster processor. However, for it to feel snappy like your Air, you'll need an SSD or Fusion Drive.

    The best value option would probably be to buy a stock mini and add your own SSD and 8 or 16GB of RAM. If you don't fancy fitting the SSD (you may as well fit the RAM as it's super easy and you can save a chunk of $$) then you have to order the i7 anyway. I have the top spec i7 with Fusion Drive and it's pretty quick for photo work -certainly got rid of the 'fuzzy to sharp' effect in Aperture so I assume it will have a similar effect in Lightroom.
  4. Fishrrman macrumors G5


    Feb 20, 2009
    My suggestions:

    - Get either the i7 2.3ghz, or spend $100 more and get the i7 2.6ghz. (the CPU is the only thing you can't upgrade later on)

    - Get the "base configuration" RAM and HD. Then...

    - Add RAM yourself (very easy, but be careful with the retainer tabs that hold the RAM boards in place)

    - Add an SSD yourself. If you don't wish to disassemble the Mini -- some connections are VERY fragile and breakable -- you can put the SSD into a USB3/SATA "dock" alongside the Mini, and it will boot and run as fast as if it were installed internally. A USB3/SATA dock costs only about $25 (I recommend, NFI, just a satisfied paying customer), and will become one of the most useful pieces of hardware you can own.
  5. fig macrumors 6502a


    Jun 13, 2012
    Austin, TX
    I'm a designer and my 2.6 i7 with a Fusion drive can handle anything I can throw at it, great little machine.

    I'd recommend the Fusion drive over the SSD personally, speed is similar but it's a bit cheaper and gives you way more space.
  6. alphaod macrumors Core


    Feb 9, 2008
    That computer should be fine (the one you posted, not the Mac mini).

    Lightroom and Photoshop are cross platform, so you should have no issues going back and forth between Windows and Mac.

    The only drawback I see is you would need to buy two separate licenses to use between OS X and Windows, unless you have CC.
  7. CausticPuppy macrumors 65816

    May 1, 2012

    Here's a site that might be relevant....

    If you can hold out for a few weeks, the next generation Mac Mini should be available with a PCIe SSD. A quad core i7 with PCIe storage would handle your needs fantastically.
  8. earthbound thread starter macrumors member

    Oct 12, 2007
    Thanks for all the thoughts and suggestions, everyone! I think I'll be getting a Mac mini :)

    Thanks for this information. I didn't know about the PCIe SSD. I will definitely hold out until the next refresh!
  9. comatory macrumors 6502a


    Apr 10, 2012
    I think this computer in that config will be fine. However I wouldnt call a mini "workstation" class computer. Unfortunately Apple does not offer anything in-between.
    On the other hand, for that kind of money you could get a used 2010 8-core Mac Pro, since you live in US and theyre cheap there. That will allow you to have lots of drives, huge amounts of RAM and any GPU you want. There are already PCI SSD solutions for Mac Pro but probably not as good as PCIe Apple based cards.

    Just an idea. But yeah, Quad Mac mini is good.
  10. blanka macrumors 68000

    Jul 30, 2012
    Get a Mini 2.3/2.6 quad
    Buy 16 Gb RAM yourself
    Buy a good 7mm SSD, preferably a Samsung 840pro or OZC Vector around 256Gb.

    You can add both yourself. Because the mini has a 9,5mm lower bay that is accessible after only removing the airport antenna, you can slide in a 7mm SSD with ease. Just be sure you get a SSD cable for the LOWER bay on Ebay (they often sell cables for the upper bay, but Apple swapped the empty bay with the 2012 mini).
    DONT REMOVE LOGIC BOARD! It is only needed if you want to screw the drive in place with 4 screws. Without screws it works just as good. If it shakes in the bay, just slide in the spacer too you get with most SSD's.
  11. CausticPuppy macrumors 65816

    May 1, 2012
    There's no guarantee that it will have PCIe, but it's probably a safe assumption based on the latest Macbook Air refresh.
  12. noludsns macrumors newbie

    Sep 25, 2013
    I've had my Mini for a few months now and so far it's perfect for my needs. Have an i7 2.3ghz with 16GB RAM and a 128GB SSD as my main drive and the speed is brilliant. I am a Graphics Designer so handles everything very well.
  13. blanka macrumors 68000

    Jul 30, 2012
    What is the benefit of PCI-SSD? I have 4GB of RAM as scratch disk for the first fast access, and that really outperforms any SSD anyway. Maybe you can fusion 4Gb of RAM with your SSD :)

    And I prefer the option to buy an SSD drive in the market, which delivers twice the space for the same speed and makes me know what I get.
    For example: Apple might put Samsung 840 chips on their SSD and manage a 1.2GB/S read spead and say it is twice as fast, but it still sucks big time at write. I don't know what Apple buys. With a 512GB OZC Vector at the price of a 256GB Apple PCI SSD at least I know what to expect.

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