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Maxed-Out iMac vs Maxed-Out Mac Mini

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 
Looking for a powerful desktop Mac. Already have a Thunderbolt Display (TBD) but will gladly sell it and use the money toward the 2012 iMac (and its gorgeous display).
 
Mac Mini (Late 2012)
2.6 GHz Intel Core i7 Quad-Core
16 GB RAM
1 TB Fusion Drive (or custom 512 GB SSD x 2 RAID 0 setup)
Intel HD Graphics 4000
Apple 27" Thunderbolt Display (already purchased/not part of final price below)
~12,800 GeekBench Score
---
$1,300 (with education discount + RAM upgrade)
 
--vs--
 
iMac 27" (Late 2012)
3.4 GHz Intel Core i7 Quad-Core
16 GB
1 TB Fusion Drive
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680MX 2 GB
27" LED / IPS Display
~14,000 GeekBench Score
---
$2,700 (with education discount + RAM upgrade)
 
There's a $1,400 difference between these two machines but that's not a fair comparison. If I buy the iMac, I'll sell my TBD for ~$800, making the difference really closer to $600.
 
The question then becomes: is the powerful desktop CPU, bleeding-edge GPU, and beautiful new LED display worth an extra $600 over the fully-loaded Mac Mini?
 
You might also be asking: Why such a stark comparison? Why not get a cheaper iMac? Well, to me, it's only worth comparing apples-to-apples (no pun intended). Why get the i5 iMac that scores a weaker GeekBench than the little i7 Mac Mini? If I could have an i7 at $1,300, I should have one at $2,000... but Apple doesn't offer that. And I've got to get a 27" because that's what I'm used to with my current TBD and find the lack of RAM upgradability on the 21.5" preposterous.
 
I don't do any heavy work at all, nor do I ever expect to:
  • no photo/video editing
  • no gaming
  • no hardcore data-crunching
 
But I do push my system around:
  • large media libraries I like to browse very quickly (300 GB of personal photos and videos and 500 GB of music)
  • aggressive document work
  • typically have 40-60 browser tabs open
  • 10-15 documents and spreadsheets open
  • 10-12 Mission Control desktops
  • tons of Finder windows
  • at least 15 little applets running in the background (Menu Bar apps, etc.)
  • often only have 5-6 GB free of 16 GB RAM
 
So what should I buy?
 
Footnote: If you were buying the Mac Mini setup from zero, as in you had to include the price of a new TBD (~$960) and keyboard+mouse (~$140), then you'd be at $2,400 for the Mac Mini, which is just $300 less than the iMac. Now for $300 it seems like a no-brainer to just get the iMac, right?
post #2 of 3
Quote:
Originally Posted by dukee101 
If you were buying the Mac Mini setup from zero, as in you had to include the price of a new TBD (~$960) and keyboard+mouse (~$140), then you'd be at $2,400 for the Mac Mini, which is just $300 less than the iMac. Now for $300 it seems like a no-brainer to just get the iMac, right?

One advantage the Mini still has is that you can buy a new one before you sell the old one so you can safely migrate data over. When you try and do that with an iMac, you have to have a far higher working capital to buy a new one while keeping the old one. You can clone to an external drive of course but it's nice to have a backup computer to migrate over.
Quote:
Originally Posted by dukee101 
The question then becomes: is the powerful desktop CPU, bleeding-edge GPU, and beautiful new LED display worth an extra $600 over the fully-loaded Mac Mini?

For what you're using it for, I wouldn't say the iMac is worth it. With fast storage and plenty RAM, the Mini will do the job just fine and is much cheaper, especially as you can get two 3rd party SSDs. You can actually get a 256-512GB SSD and a 1-1.5TB drive and it will make a Fusion drive for you - Fusion works with 3rd party drives too. Remember you need another cable to have two drives, which Apple doesn't give you if you only buy a model with one drive in it.

You might not even need the 2.6GHz CPU either. The quad-i7 is definitely better than the dual-i5 in the low-end one but the 2.6GHz upgrade is less than 10% faster. It's quite a cheap upgrade at $100 but I'd go for the 2.3GHz.
post #3 of 3
Thread Starter 
I've decided to buy the top-spec 2.6 Ghz i7 Mac Mini with stock components everywhere else (4 GB RAM / 1 TB HDD). I paid Apple ~$1,000 for it, pretty good for a machine that eats 2008-2009 Mac Pros for lunch. Hah that feels cool to say!
 
I decided that Fusion Drive just isn't worth it. I already have a Crucial M4 512 GB SSD I bought for a miraculous $350 back in June '12 (one of the few electronics purchases I've made where the price actually went UP after I bought it) I was happily using it in a MacBook Pro, so I'm just going to replace the Mini's stock hard drive with the SSD and be on my merry way!
 
I plunked down another $90 for 16 GB of RAM and paid another $20 for the iFixIt Bit Driver Kit to do the drive replacement.
 
So for ~$1,100 I got myself a tricked out Mini!
 
I was at first hesitant about tearing down the Mini for the SSD install, but after some research, I realized that doing an in-place replacement of just the primary storage bay wouldn't require the removal of the logic board. I only have to remove the fan and antenna module, which is simple enough and makes me a lot more comfortable. 
 
Plus now that it's 2013, the idea of having a spinning mechanical drive in there is just something I'm over. I'll connect external drives via USB 3 and enjoy the extra space on an as-needed basis. Some of these newer USB 3 enclosures are smoking fast and as SSD prices drop, I can add ultra-fast storage whenever I want.
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