What should I buy? Want: Workhorse for creative work for next 5-7 years.

itsabeautifullife

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Jun 21, 2019
2
0
Hello - thanks in advance for your help as I plan to purchase my dream Mac! :D

So here's the rundown: I'm looking to purchase something to last me the next 5-7 years and have peace of mind. I want it to work at the speed of my creative output and not let technology bottleneck my flow. In the past, I've looked to save money, owning the 2008 (?) Mac mini and now MacBook Air. But I'm tired of my computer holding my design and work flow back after just a few years. I originally thought I could get something really good at $2000, but now realize that's the same thinking that got me my past purchases. So my budget is $2700, but if necessary could consider higher.

My most intensive use currently is photography and graphic design in Pixelmator. I plan to do more video production and 3D modeling in the future.

I actually bought a 2018 Mac Mini (3.0 Ghz i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD) and returned it. Out the box felt it was not sufficient to meet my needs with lagging once my files became in the hundreds of MB or applying more intensive filters.

After much research I came up with a couple options (upgraded Mac mini, Mid and High tier iMac), as summarized here:
Mac Purchasing Analysis 2019 - Sheet1.jpg

Would just really appreciate some second opinions and feedback that I'm thinking through things properly and putting my dollars in the right places, before I pull the trigger to make sure I get the right machine for my needs at the right value. Thank you!
 

iluvmacs99

macrumors regular
Apr 9, 2019
244
114
The best deal from your chart would seem to be the iMac high end build if you amortize it over 5 to 7 years. There are several things I found I need to gain the nice speedup in workflow for my own photography editing and video editing when I added my Mac Pro this year. A lot of ram is a must. 16Gb is the minimum for your needs, but 32Gb or 64Gb and you'll be able to enjoy years of joyful computing without any lag or page swapping back to your hard drive. The second is a GPU. Most latest photography and video editing software utilize a GPU to speed a lot of things up. If you are doing 3D stuff in the future, you need a fast GPU and the option to add a 2nd GPU through Thunderbolt 3. The minimum would be the Radeon RX580 with 8Gb of GDDR5 which I own in my Mac Pro. When I got my used Mac Pro 5,1 this year with dual 8 core CPU with similar performance as the low end Core i3 Mac Mini 2018, the Mac Pro's performance jumped significantly once I added the RX580. Davinci Resolve, Photoshop, DXO PhotoLab 2, EasyHDR (this uses all CPU threads) and Topaz Sharpen AI and Adjust AI all work so fast, so smooth and refreshes in seconds rather than in minutes with my older Mac Mini and Macbook Air. Lastly, most consumer software even iMovie utilizes more than 1 core and a GPU for rendering, so having more cores with a fast single core performance is a good choice. More GDDR5 ram in your GPU helps scrub your video footage buttery smooth in Resolve (you won't get out of GPU memory warning) and even in iMovie (8Gb = buttery smooth scrubbing).

I didn't buy the Mac Mini 2018 is the fact that adding a eGPU is more expensive and the downside of the Mini is the thermal throttle. It's simple; it is hard to design a small computer with good thermal management, so when you push the Mac hard, which I do and you will for photography and video needs in the future, the mini will throttle back often thus negating the speed of the mini that is capable of going and may shorten the lifespan of the computer itself.
 

theluggage

macrumors 601
Jul 29, 2011
4,033
2,714
Just some random thoughts:

I wouldn't try to plan beyond 4-5 years. Sure, I had 6-7 years out of my trusty MBP 17" and it would have gone on if the GPU hadn't packed in for the second time - but it was getting limited at the end due to things like lack of USB 3 (Sierra dropped support for the ExpressCard I had by which time I didn't want to invest money in TB1/2 alternatives) and limited support for 4k (actually, I was impressed that it managed 4k@30Hz - native res only - but that wasn't very useful). Also, circumstances change - when I bought the MBP I was switching from a Mac Pro 1.1 because circumstances changed and I needed a laptop. When it was getting near its end-of-life circumstances changed again and a desktop was better for me. Those examples might not apply to you, but beyond 4-5 years you really can't predict what your needs will be, what new must-have technology won't work on the old machine or what the resale value on Macs will be. If your new Mac lasts 7 years then treat that as a bonus, but I wouldn't 'budget' for it.

I plan to do more video production and 3D modeling in the future.
...which is a piece of string, spec-wise. Any of those systems will edit video or do 3D modelling for a given value of "edit video or do 3D modelling". If you want a 5-year plan, you might need to put some meat on that idea. Otherwise, that would tend to push you towards the high-end iMac to be safe.

With the Mini - based on your previous experiences you're probably going to need that RAM upgrade - partly because the standard integrated GPU needs to take its video RAM from main memory, and simply connecting a 4k display needs a fair bit of video RAM, even more if you're going to use 'scaled' modes to get the system text/icon size just so. Personally, I wouldn't choose the UHD 630 to drive a 4k+ display on a Mac (the 'scaled mode' concept doesn't exist in Windows so why would a minimal iGPU designed for Windows machines with PCIe slots have the horesepower to support it?) so I'd take that eGPU as a must-have if you're going to get the fancy monitor and/or do 3D.

Bear in mind that the DIY RAM upgrade on a Mini involves completely dismantling the machine (...maybe on a 'used' Mac but I wouldn't want to do that on a brand-new machine still under warranty/Applecare) and completely replacing the existing RAM. The iMac RAM, by contrast is dead simple, user-upgradeable (and easy to revert in the event of an Apple care quibble) and you can add 16GB to get 24GB, with a clear upgrade route of later replacing the original sticks to get 32GB.

On the other hand, with the Mini you can upgrade piecemeal (esp. if you get an eGPU enclosure with a PCIe card rather than one of the BlackMagic all-in-one eGPUs). Of course, technically, a Thunderbolt eGPU running on 4(?) PCIe lanes has a bottleneck compared with a regular PCIe GPU that uses 16 - might want to do some research on that.

As for the iMac, I'd be inclined to go for the top-tier iMac to get the better GPU (given your use and plans), but would carefully ponder whether to spend $400 to get the i9 over the 3.7GHz hex i5 or spend the money on the Vega GPU - it depends whether your workflow is more CPU bound than GPU bound. AFAIK the iMac CPUs are socketed & standard, whereas the GPU isn't so its not inconceivable that you could upgrade the CPU in the future.

I think a lot comes down to how much you like Apple's 27" 5k display - which will be night and day c.f. your existing 1080p display, but maybe a matter of preference vs. the larger 4k displays you're considering for the Mini. 5k @ 27" is probably the sweet spot for MacOS and there isn't much choice for stand-alone 5k displays (AFAIK the Apple/LG 5k Ultrafine is thunderbolt-only which locks you into the expensive, non-upgradeable Blackmagic eGPUs). If you like the built-in display, the iMac is pretty unassailable value for money, but if you want choice...

Also, I'd suggest that you at least consider the PC alternatives if only to make sure that you have good reasons for rejecting them - a standard PC mini-tower gives you far more future-proofing than any of the current Mac offerings with easily upgradeable SD, RAM and GPU and the option of AMD processors which are currently offering more bang-per-buck than Intel - and if you're confident enough to upgrade the RAM in a Mac Mini and fit a card in a PCIe enclosure, you're capable of building your own PC to spec (or at least getting a bare-bones kit with the CPU and cooler fitted). Of course, in your case, that would mean switching away from Pixelmator (which would be an understandable deal-breaker) but the main competitors, Affinity (and Adobe of course, but...), are available for PC.
 
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velocityg4

macrumors 601
Dec 19, 2004
4,599
1,184
Georgia
That curved monitor is hardly comparable to the iMacs 5K display. Even calling it 4K is misleading. It is an ultrawide 1440P monitor. While the 5K iMac is a widescreen 2880P monitor. The difference in image definition will be huge. The iMac display also has far greater color accuracy (lower near perfect Delta E), higher contrast and covers a wider part of the color spectrum (sRGB, Adobe RGB).

For professional image and video work. You should at least be looking at a high quality real 4K display (3840x2160) for the Mac Mini. Not just for the better picture quality. Just so you have more vertical pixels for photo editing and ability to view true 4K video output. The curved monitor could also affect work quality as you are seeing a distorted image. Most people will be viewing it on a flat screen.

As you are currently using computers from 2008. Any of the iMac options will be a huge upgrade. If you are getting by right now with 11 year old computers. Any of the current iMacs will certainly be better in five years than an eleven year old computer is today. If you never upgrade your OS or software. The iMac will be just as fast in ten years as it is today for the same workflow. Computers don't get slower. Software gets more complex.

Photo editing: You aren't likely to notice much if any difference between the iMac with the i5-9600K or i9-9900K upgrades. As photo editing generally only uses one or a couple cores. So, max speed on one a a few cores matters the most. A few multi-threaded tasks may get a speed boost from hyperthreading and additional cores. Otherwise they are virtually identical. You can save a little there by dropping down one step to the i7. Couldn't say about the GPU. I don't know how well Pixelmator makes use of the GPU. If it's anything like Photoshop. For most tasks it won't matter.

Video Editing/3D: CPU core count and GPU speed matter much more here. The 580x is a worthwhile upgrade. The additional cores and hyperthreading will also make the i9 a worthwhile upgrade.

eGPU (Mac Mini): An eGPU still isn't a perfect solution. They can be buggy and may not work right with all software. I wouldn't want to depend on one in a workstation.

I'd consider the high end iMac option the best for your described uses. Although you may ultimately want more RAM. Depending on the amount of video editing and 3D. Pugetsystems recommends 64GB for 4K video editing and 32GB for 1080p. They assume a heavy workload.
 

phrehdd

macrumors 68040
Oct 25, 2008
3,266
725
In my world, to spec out a system requires knowing how it will be used and then investigating suggested optimal system set ups. You may find this a more helpful way to do things. You have a photo app and can check for the optimal set up, and then you can also compare to a hungrier photo app (Photoshop) to see the difference. I mention this as the duration you expect your system to last may also* include for whatever reason, a change in software. Add to this a couple of established likely video and 3D apps and their optimal hardware demands. This should be your starting point.

I looked at your list and though I am a bigger fan of Mac Mini (the latest ones) than say, iMacs, I would rule out the Mac Mini as an eGPU would sooner or later have to be put into the equation and while it may work brilliantly at some level, you are gambling that it will continue to do so in the future. The one item that is worthwhile about the Mini is that you need to find a good monitor. The monitor portion of the equation (for the type of work you want to do) should be able to handle best quality soft profiles or better yet be truly calibrated and have an excellent colour space(s).

As for the iMacs, again it comes down to the right combination of internals, acceptance of level of ability to create a soft profile for the screen, and understanding workflow. I mention the latter as you have identified, that some files can be rather large. -

Based on your two iMac listings, I think you may want to revisit how you plan to do things. You may start with one set up and need to grow it with time. I can't imagine that you would want less than 32 gigs of RAM (you can do 3rd party after add on I gather for the iMacs listed). As well, SSD of 512 is nice but you'll want additional space to handle files, workspace/scratch and that means investing more into external high speed solution. As for graphics, you will be married to exactly one graphic solution for the entirety of the time unless you opt for say, adding eGPU (akin to what would be done with a Mac Mini) which is doubtful.

Look at what may be universal first based on software demands, bottlenecks and future OS requirements and you may find your baseline to be something of this sort -> 32 gigs RAM, 512-1gig SSD, best vid you can buy given it is now a permanent feature, and external high speed storage via TB or at minimum USB3.x.
 

MRrainer

macrumors 65816
Aug 8, 2008
1,153
621
Zurich, Switzerland
All things considered, the fact that you can choose your own display is probably the biggest advantage of the Mini.
Once you add a decent 4k display (or the 5k LG), the price difference becomes almost negligible.
For me, I'd like to have two 4k displays with very narrow bezels. That's just not possible with the iMac these days.
And most reputable display manufacturers will give you five years warranty (also a "Nope" from Apple, though I do hope they make an exception for the Pro Display XDR - can you imagine having to repair this thing out of warranty?)

Does anybody know how much the replacement of the 27" iMac display costs?

I have a 2008 iMac that still works (not used often these days). But I'm not sure I'd take a bet on a 2019 iMac screen lasting 7 years. I'd put aside some money every year just in case.

Another thing to consider.
AMD's CPUs will drive an unprecedented increase in availability of high-core CPUs to endusers. The Ryzen9 3950x with 16 cores apparently cost just 750 USD.
Because of architectural differences, you can't directly compare that to a 16 core Intel CPU - but the fact remains that what you buy now may be vastly outperformed by what is available in only a couple of years.
Trying to "future-proof" an iMac (of all things) in this age and time might turn out to be the ultimate exercise in futility.
 

itsabeautifullife

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Jun 21, 2019
2
0
Thank you everyone for all the excellent and very helpful info. You are all great.

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@iluvmacs99

"A lot of ram is a must. 16Gb is the minimum for your needs, but 32Gb or 64Gb and you'll be able to enjoy years of joyful computing without any lag or page swapping back to your hard drive."

I was planning to add 2x8GB to the existing 8GB for 24GB total. There's much better value and it doesn't cost much more to get 2x16GB kit, so I'll go with that for a total of 40GB.

"The second is a GPU. Most latest photography and video editing software utilize a GPU to speed a lot of things up. If you are doing 3D stuff in the future, you need a fast GPU and the option to add a 2nd GPU through Thunderbolt 3. The minimum would be the Radeon RX580 with 8Gb of GDDR5 which I own in my Mac Pro."

I think I'll go with the Radeon RX580. If I REALLY need to upgrade to a 2nd GPU, it would be because I decide to focus more heavy on 3D/video work, which wouldn't be for several years when I'll have saved money for that.

@theluggage

"I wouldn't try to plan beyond 4-5 years."

Ok, compromising and amortizing over 5.5 years :)

"As for the iMac, I'd be inclined to go for the top-tier iMac to get the better GPU (given your use and plans), but would carefully ponder whether to spend $400 to get the i9 over the 3.7GHz hex i5 or spend the money on the Vega GPU"

Good point. After analyzing things, I think I prefer to invest in my CPU over GPU, putting that upgrade money into the i9 (over i7) vs. Vega GPU (over Radeon RX580). If I need to upgrade GPU, I will in the future with 2nd GPU.

"If you like the built-in display, the iMac is pretty unassailable value for money, but if you want choice..."

I do like the display and think it's a great value. 27" is plenty big and although I've not experienced those 32" curved, I like the 5K aspect and color accuracy of iMac on a 27". See @velocityg4 comment: "That curved monitor is hardly comparable to the iMacs 5K display. Even calling it 4K is misleading. It is an ultrawide 1440P monitor. While the 5K iMac is a widescreen 2880P monitor. The difference in image definition will be huge. The iMac display also has far greater color accuracy (lower near perfect Delta E), higher contrast and covers a wider part of the color spectrum (sRGB, Adobe RGB)."

Re: Researching PC Alternatives - I looked into this a bit, ultimately to realize that I'm happy to pay the Apple premium to stay within the Apple ecosystem. I'm excited by the type of workflows I'll get with my iPad Pro x iMac.

@velocityg4

"Photo editing: You aren't likely to notice much if any difference between the iMac with the i5-9600K or i9-9900K upgrades. As photo editing generally only uses one or a couple cores. So, max speed on one a a few cores matters the most. A few multi-threaded tasks may get a speed boost from hyperthreading and additional cores. Otherwise they are virtually identical. You can save a little there by dropping down one step to the i7. Couldn't say about the GPU."

Good point. Unfortunately, I don't think there is an i7 option.

@MRrainer

Thanks for your perspective. Bottom line - I think my satisfaction derives from having a great computer that smoothly serves my needs for the next 5.5 years. I know it won't be the best/top of line and in 5 years and I could spend the less money for probably a better computer at that point, but that's ok, I'm not trying to keep up the Joneses.


----

So in the end, this is what it's looking like I'll be getting.

Screen Shot 2019-06-27 at 12.47.55 AM.png


I know I probably won't find any deals for Prime Day with my custom build, but I'll just hold out just in case.

Also should I get Apple Care?
 

Kevbasscat

macrumors regular
Oct 10, 2016
207
142
Banning, CA 92220
When adding ram, a little known fact is, the 2x4Gb of Apple ram included is "single sided meaning it has it's ram chips on only one side of the board. If you add any ram larger, say 32Gb, (2x16Gb) these are all "double sided," and therefore do not match. In benchmarks with Apple ram included for a total of 40Gb, that combo is actually slower, than if you remove the Apple ram and use just 32 Gb of ram you purchased for your upgrade. I would recommend keeping the Apple ram in case you need to have it serviced. This is what I have done and my iMac flies, I love it.