Returning mini for an iMac (FWIW)

Discussion in 'Mac mini' started by eoren1, Jul 26, 2011.

  1. eoren1 macrumors 6502

    Aug 17, 2007
    Not sure how much interest there is in one person's struggle with the mini vs the iMac but, as it is the title of at least one thread, I figured I would post my experience in hopes that it'll help someone else's decision-making.

    My setup was a 2007 Macbook as the main computer that my wife and I shared. I used it for processing photos using Lightroom/Photoshop. It was becoming painfully slow and a new computer was in order.

    I initially wanted to get the 27" iMac but was concerned about:
    Inability to upgrade to an SSD on my own
    Lack of USB3 (and concern about price for TB peripherals vs USB3 equivalent)
    That both of the above would be fixed in the 2012 Ivy Bridge model
    Glossy screen

    So I decided to get the 2011 Mac Mini (799 version) and use my current 20" IPS monitor that had served me well. Bought it the day it was available in stores for $950 (including trackpad and tax). Hooked it up and was immediately thrilled with the purchase. Lightroom was at least 2-3 times faster and I could power through 500 photos of my kids in no time. Lion worked well and I really had no complaints.

    I started to wonder about the utility of an SSD and found a great article showing it was not helpful with Lightroom (link). Also ran some HDD benchmarks and realized the baseline 5400rpm drive was a bit slower than the 2TB external hooked up via FW800. Bought RAM to upgrade and then started seeing threads about prices on Amazon, etc being $80 less than what I paid giving me a bit of buyer's remorse.

    Had two issues yesterday that started the ball rolling toward reconsidering my purchase. Was working on a 4 image panorama and found that Photoshop took a fair amount of time to render it even with 8 gigs RAM. Then worked on that image with filters and later in Lightroom and saw some of the same 'Loading' messages pop up repeatedly as I used the graduated filter tools (this had been the final straw with the Macbook). I also had two episodes of screen flickering (only fixed with restart) that made me wonder if my 5 year old monitor might be failing. [Turns out others had the same issues and I started to worry about HDMI out but this likely will end up being fixed with a software update.]

    I then took a step back and reassessed what it was about the iMac that bothered me:
    -no longer felt the need to upgrade to an SSD for my needs
    -Transferring images from my CF card maxes out at the cards' 45MB/sec which is well below FW800 speeds.
    -External via FW800 was faster than the HDD on the mini so saw less reason to pursue a USB3 option until I had external SSDs to use that higher throughput
    -Realized I could adjust lighting in my office to essentially remove all reflections from the glossy screen

    So now I had removed the obstacles that had kept me from buying the iMac and was finding some limitations with the Mini. I also realized that I would likely still want to buy the 2012 version of the iMac and then would have ended up spending more over two years to get both than if I waited to purchase a lower powered mini or other HTPC replacement when my current computer pulling those duties died.

    Just purchased the 1699 27" iMac from BHphoto with AppleCare and Trackpad for $1782 shipped. Cost ended up only $70 more than the refurb option as no tax charged. After looking at my situation and the specs, the $725 difference between the mac mini and iMac didn't seem to be an obstacle anymore.

    This is very, very long winded and may not be helpful to anyone in the end but, if you've made it this far, I appreciate your time.
  2. Mr.C macrumors 601

    Apr 3, 2011
    London, UK.
    No need to be hesitant about posting. Whilst it probably won't change my mind about getting the new Mini as my uses are somewhat different it was interesting to read your reasoning to switch to an all be it more expensive iMac. I'm sure it will give food for thought to some here. Personally I would prefer a Mac with the specs of the iMacs but I neither need nor want the built in display. Until Apple decides to offer a Mac of a similar configuration to the iMacs without the display I will most likely stick with a Mini.
  3. martinm0 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 27, 2010
    If it helps, I believe I will be returning my Mac Mini Server I just picked up for an iMac as well.

    I do a lot of Handbrake encoding and really needed to update an older Hackintosh I built a few years ago. I didn't want to spend a ton (i.e $2,000), but really wanted an i7 to power through the encoding process. Having a 2011 MBP 2.0 i7, I felt the power this chip offered was worthy of being a dedicated encoding box. And overall, its a powerful little beast.

    The issue I have is that from what I'm gathering, GPU's seem to assist somewhat with the encodes process on Handbrake. My MBP did the Big Buck Bunny encode in 6:20, while the mini server did it in 6:51. Some have suggested that the CPU's might be tweaked differently, but I assume the GPU is also helping out. In either case, other benchmarks put the base 2011 iMac 21.5" on par with the MBP for encoding (iMac being an 2.5 i5 while the MBP and mini are 2.0 i7). With a screen, keyboard and mouse and AMD GPU (all for the same price), I'm thinking the iMac might be better overall for my needs. (Not to mention I do need a new monitor as well...)

    I truly have nothing bad to say about the Mac Mini Server. If it had the AMD GPU as an option, this would probably be a non-issue but I think the iMac is the better purchase for me at the moment.
  4. AVonGauss, Jul 26, 2011
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2011

    AVonGauss macrumors regular

    Oct 6, 2006
    Boynton Beach, FL
    I'm not trying to change anyones opinion about a Mini vs iMac, but as you've posted this in a couple of threads now, I really don't think even the latest version of Handbrake uses the GPU - its all CPU.
  5. gooberlx, Jul 26, 2011
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2011

    gooberlx macrumors newbie

    Jun 16, 2011
    I've been thinking of getting a Mac for a while, and the new mini server seems like a winner.

    Going by geekbench's numbers, if you lump all the 2011 iMacs and minis together, the mini server is the third best performing option, yet still cheaper than the base iMac. Obviously real world performance will vary by the specific application and how well it can use the 4 cores/8 threads of the mini server's CPU vs higher turbo frequencies of the imac CPUs, or if uses GPU acceleration to good effect.

    Still something to think about if you already have a decent display.
  6. kerplunknet macrumors regular

    Oct 8, 2006
    Thanks for your take.

    I had previously owned a 24" iMac since early 2008. The screen glare is why I have chosen to go the Mac mini route.

    That's right, Apple: I am giving you less money because you fail to provide a matte, non-glossy screen on your iMacs.

    Anyway, enjoy your purchase. I wish I had their extra performance in my Mac mini.
  7. martinm0, Jul 27, 2011
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2011

    martinm0 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 27, 2010
    I don't disagree with you here at all. However, what is still puzzling me is why the base iMac bests the Mac Mini Server in handbrake encoding. While it does have a quad 2.5 i5 to the Mini's quad 2.0 i7, I would think the i7 would provide more oomph for Handbrake due to Hyperthreading, but after testing out the base iMac last night on Handbrake encodes, I can definitively say the base iMac encodes faster than the mini server (iMac did the Big Buck Bunny test in ~6:20 -- same as the 2011 2.0 i7 MPB). I also did an encode of a full move to 1080p and the iMac beat the mini by 15 minutes. Additionally, the iMac was silent during the encodes, while the mini's fans were running at nearly 6000rpms.

    I like to consider myself pretty knowledgable on hardware, but I don't know how to properly compare these mobile and desktop core Ix CPUs and what their true power is (especially with all the different GPUs). For example, the Mac Mini Server has a Geekbench score of ~9400 (32bit) and the iMac scored ~7800. Granted these are just synthetic benchmarks, but in most cases these do correlate to faster overall performance.

    At this point, the base iMac seems to be better suited for my needs and I think the Mni Server will be returned (as much as I still love that little bugger, just can't keep both!).
  8. gooberlx, Jul 27, 2011
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2011

    gooberlx macrumors newbie

    Jun 16, 2011
    I think there's a trade-off between threading and speed. While x264 does like threads, it also really likes clock speed -- probably more so, which the base iMac's 2400S CPU is able to provide.

    Why your 15" MBP with the same CPU would encode slightly faster than the mini server is a more interesting question. Could be the difference of a dGPU not using shared system memory/resources, slightly more efficient hardware architecture, other (or lack of) processes happening in the background, etc...
  9. indg macrumors 6502

    Feb 7, 2007
    my mserver did it in 6m35s, so only 15 secs off your mbp time. i guess if you extrapolate that out for the average 100 minute, and it were 1080p like big buck bunny, the encoding would take about 2m30s longer on the mini.

    i don't know who this guy is, but he seems to think the mini is the best value for the money:
  10. eoren1 thread starter macrumors 6502

    Aug 17, 2007
    Wow - iMac screams

    Just a quick update.
    Got the base 27" iMac to replace the 2.5 Mini.
    Finished setting it up at 12:30am
    Haven't put it through too many paces yet and will post a longer review/comparison from a photography standpoint but I did download an 8 gig card and saw an amazing difference:

    Downloaded 8 gig CF card (rated at 45MB/s) via FW800 reader - approx 400 photos - into Lightroom 3. Here are times for the copy/import phase and the rendering part (standard previews - though iMac's were set at larger size)

    Mini - copy/import (11min); render (16.5min) - total 28 minutes
    iMac - copy/import (7.5min); render (6min) - total 13.5 minutes

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