Mac mini vs. iMac vs. Mac Pro: Which Apple desktop should you get?

Mac mini vs. iMac vs. Mac Pro: Which Apple desktop should you get?

Mac buyers guide: How to choose the best new Mac desktop - the small but powerful Mac mini, the elegant all-in-one iMac, or the new Mac superpower, the Mac Pro

Not everyone needs or wants the portability a Mac laptop has to offer. For everyone else, Apple makes desktop models, ranging in price from Apple's cheapest system to its most expensive. They run a wide gamut of performance and ability, so let's take a look and see what might be best for you.

Current Mac models and their prices

The Mac desktop line is split into three categories. On the low end there's the Mac mini, a tiny, unassuming desktop computer. Next there's the gorgeous iMac, an all-in-one system than integrates the entire computer into the display. And at the high end, there's the Mac Pro - this diminutive black turbine isn't out yet as we posted this comparison, but it's worth bringing up because despite its small stature, it looms large on the horizon for its coming impact on the Mac market.

The Mac mini occupies the entry level of Mac desktop computers. It's the least expensive way to get a Mac. Both models are exactly the same size and weight - less than eight inches on a side, less than an inch and a half tall, and less than three pounds in weight.

The $599 entry level model sports a dual-core 2.5 GHz Intel Ivy Bridge processor is the CPU, and it comes with a 500 GB SATA hard disk drive and 4 GB of RAM.

The higher end machine, which costs $200 more, incorporates a 2.3 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, like what you might find on last year's 15-inch MacBook Pro (sans Retina display). Storage capacity is doubled to 1 TB.

There's also a server system - it comes equipped with OS X Server and squeezes in a second 1TB hard disk drive, for a total of 2 TB of storage. It costs $999.

The iMac is the next step up. The iMac comes in two variants - a 21.5-inch model and a 27-inch model. The 21.5-inch model starts at $1,099. For that you get a 1.4 GHz dual-core Core i5 processor and 500 GB hard drive. $1299 gets you a 2.7 GHz quad-core processor and twice the storage; a faster 2.9 GHz model costs $1,499. The 27-inch iMac is priced at $1,799 for a 3.2 GHz version, and a 3.4 GHz version costs $200 more.

Up until earlier this year, the Mac Pro was a cyclopean aluminum tower with a cheese grater front, an exterior industrial design that dated back almost a decade, to the PowerPC era and the Power Mac G5. But Apple's completely reinvented the Mac Pro for 2013.

The new Mac Pro is available in two basic configurations - a quad-core system clocked at 3.7 GHz, equipped with 12 GB of RAM and 256 GB of flash storage for $2,999. Another $1,000 will net you a 3.5 GHz six-core system equipped with 16 GB RAM and 256 GB flash storage. You can add up to a 12-core processor and faster graphics, too.

All new Macs include OS X 10.9 "Mavericks" preinstalled. New Macs also get free iLife '13 and iWork '13 apps.

Entry level vs. going all-in: How much can you do with a Mac mini?

Entry level vs. going all-in: How much Mac do you need?

Outwardly the Mac mini is almost laughably small. In another time, it'd be confused for Apple's first-generation Apple TV. But inside beats the heart of a champion - the $599 entry model is very similar in spec to a 13-inch MacBook Pro (without Retina display) - a 2.5 GHz Intel Core i5 processor - last year's Ivy Bridge variety (the Mac mini has yet to be upgraded to the new "Haswell" processors found in current MacBook Airs, MacBook Pros with Retina display and iMacs).

One of the Mac mini's raisons d'être was to provide a gateway for PC users interested in the Mac to make an inexpensive foray onto the platform. To that end, the Mac mini ships with no display, no keyboard and no mouse. But if you're using a desktop PC and you already have those things, plugging them in is all you should need to do to get them to work. Macs, including the Mac mini, have long shipped with software that will recognize PC keyboards; mice are, for the most part, universal and driver-independent; and displays will work with the Mac mini as long as you have the right kind of adapter cable.

The Mac mini led the way when Apple began to excise internal optical drives from its system; if you need to load or burn a CD or DVD, you'll need one of Apple's external SuperDrives (a third-party CD/DVD burner will work fine, too). That's one of the reasons why the Mac mini rises less than an inch and a half from the table. But don't let that deceive you. On the Mac mini's backplane is an array of expansion ports that provide you with a lot of flexibility. There's also a bottom panel that is removed by twisting a few degrees in one direction - that reveals two RAM sockets which you can upgrade with more high-density RAM if you find that the 4 GB included is insufficient for your needs.

The Mac mini's older design relegates it to 802.11n wireless network speeds, but Gigabit Ethernet is included for fast hard-wired connections (just like all Mac desktop models). FireWire 800 and four USB 3 ports are included, along with an SDXC card slot for retrieving photos and video from a digital camera. There are digital/analog audio input and output ports. There's also a Thunderbolt port for connecting to an external display or a fast external hard drive RAID. With the right adapter from Apple, that Thunderbolt port will work with just about any monitor - DVI, VGA, and so on.

The Mac mini also incorporates HDMI, so you can connect it to a flat panel HDTV (or a computer monitor that supports HDMI input). That, combined with a front-facing IR receiver, make the Mac mini ideal for use in the living room, if you're looking for a Mac-based home media server.

After Apple discontinued its rack-mount Xserve server, the Mac mini found new life in corporate workgroups and small to medium-sized businesses as a server. Apple's been offering the Mac mini with OS X Server pre-installed since Snow Leopard was current, and continues to sell boatloads of them to organizations looking for inexpensive systems to serve up everything from e-mail to web pages, media content and more.

The quad-core 2.3 GHz Core i7 processor on the higher-end mini is comparable to Apple's entry-level 15-inch MacBook Pro from 2012. While the relative clock speed is slower than the less expensive mini, the quad-core processor makes a difference when you're working with software that's optimized for multiple cores. That includes a lot of graphics software and software that relies on digital processing.

Having said that, all Mac minis are encumbered with Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics, which are slow - don't expect any of these systems to be cutting-edge game machines, graphic design workhorses or digital video editing workstations.

For that, there's the iMac.

All-in-one vs. all in parts: What's the iMac advantage?

How the iMac has changed since its 1998 debut, when a 15-inch CRT inside a Bondi Blue-colored translucent plastic case would change Apple's fortunes. Over the years it's changed dress many times, and the iMac has transformed from a workhorse aimed at families getting on the Internet for the first time to one of Apple's most powerful systems - a computer that's as likely to be found in a professional digital video editing bay as it is in a family room.

When you take a look at the iMac's specs, it's easy to understand why. All iMacs (in their stock configuration) use differently-clocked quad-core i5 chips, and this past fall they were updated with Intel's "Haswell" microprocessor. Much of Haswell's design benefits are more specific to laptop computers, because of improved power efficiency. But Apple used the refresh opportunity to spruce up storage options and wireless networking - all iMacs now support 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which works up to three times faster than 802.11n.

For external expandability, all iMacs sport Gigabit Ethernet, two Thunderbolt ports (the original, not the faster Thunderbolt 2 found on newer MacBook Pros with Retina Display and the Mac Pro), four USB 3.0 jacks, SDXC card slot and headphone jack.

Also, if you happen to have a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro with a Thunderbolt port on it, you can double the iMac as a display for that laptop. The iMac supports a special operating mode called "Target Display Mode." If you consider that Apple's 27-inch Thunderbolt Display is $999, it's like getting one of those with a built-in fast-as-blazes Mac for an extra $800.

For memory and storage, all iMacs come equipped the same except for the cheapest $1099 model - 8 GB RAM, 1 TB hard drive (the low-end model sports a 500 GB hard drive instead). One important difference between the 21.5-inch and 27-inch models: The 27-inch iMac sports easily user-upgradable RAM thanks to door on the back that unscrews. The 21.5-inch iMac requires a complete disassembly to upgrade - and that's a daunting proposition even for an Apple-trained technician. You can custom order your 21.5-inch iMac with up to 16 GB RAM if you want, just be aware that doing the upgrade yourself after the fact is a hellacious project that may void your warranty.

Beyond customizing RAM on the 21.5-inch iMac, you can also customize storage options, replacing your 1 TB SATA drive with a 1 TB Fusion Drive or PCI Express (PCIe)-based flash storage. Fusion Drive is an interesting option - it's something that's been offered on the iMac since its last major redesign in 2012. Fusion Drive combines a 1TB hard drive with 128 GB of flash storage; the Mac sees them both together as one single storage device.

On Fusion Drive, frequently used files are kept on flash, while stuff that's only touched occasionally stays on the hard drive. Pure flash storage yields the best performance, but it's expensive. Fusion Drive offers better performance than a regular hard drive, but still offers gobs of space.

All iMacs except the $1,099 and $1,299 models incorporate discrete graphics processors, for better performance for gaming, graphics applications, video editing and more. But even the entry model is no slouch - it uses Iris Pro graphics. While Intel integrated graphics processors haven't been much to write home about in the past, Iris Pro is a bit of a different situation.

Iris Pro, introduced on higher-end Haswell processors, incorporates 128 MB of embedded RAM (eDRAM) that helps to reduce bottlenecking issues associated with integrated graphics processors. The net result is that the base-model 21.5-inch iMac distinctly outperforms its discrete processor-equipped predecessor.

Besides user-accessible RAM, the 27-inch Macs have more real estate inside, so you can customize them with up to 3 TB of internal storage (regular SATA hard drive or Fusion Drive) or 1 TB of flash storage; you can also equip them with up to 32 GB of RAM. The higher-end 21.5 and 27-inch iMacs can be configured with even faster processors, and the high-end 27-inch can also be configured with a faster graphics processor. A murdered-out 27-inch iMac, fully loaded with fastest CPU, graphics, gobs of RAM and flash storage tips the scale at $3,949. Sure, it's a lot of money. But it's also ferociously fast.

But if you want fast fast, let's have a look at the Mac Pro.

Practicality vs. power: Is the Mac Pro worth the money?

Let's get one thing out of the way: the Mac Pro is not for everyone. This is a niche machine aimed at content creators in professional video editing, graphic design, music and more - people who are looking for maximum, no compromises performance to get stuff done. Scientists, too. This isn't designed to compete with a high-end gaming PC, for example. This is workstation-class hardware.

The Mac Pro's peculiar cylindrical design has been likened to an office trash can. That mistake is easy to make when you're looking at pictures, but in real life, it's different: the Mac Pro is less than 10 inches tall. It's tiny for its astonishing performance. And in this case, form follows function - the very shape of the Mac Pro has been designed like a jet turbine, to whisk away hot air from the very powerful internal circuitry, which has been arranged around a unified thermal core, with a specially designed fan at the top that makes the Mac Pro much quieter than its predecessor.

Inside the Mac Pro, Apple has used Intel's latest Xeon processor. Xeon is aimed at workstation and server applications, with boosted levels of internal cache and enhanced multiprocessing capabilities.

Apple's focus on optimizing the Mac Pro as a workstation-class computer continues to the graphics, where Apple has opted for AMD's FirePro GPUs. These processor aren't like Radeon GPUs you might find for sale from your favorite PC game hardware outfit. They're designed for optimal performance in high-stress environments for video cards to work in, like 3D rendering, for example. And they are parallel-processing monsters. Application software that's optimized for OpenCL, a core OS X technology and an open standard, will see huge benefits, which makes the Mac Pro ideal as a system designed for massive computational work, as is being done in science and research. Also for other applications that are driven by parallel processing, like video effects rendering.

The Mac Pro eschews conventional hard disk drive technology altogether for PCIe-based flash storage. That means that the new Mac Pro isn't nearly as internally expandable as last year's model - you could cram a combined 16 TB of hard drive storage into the old one; this one tops out at 1 TB. But that 1 TB is terrifically fast. And RAM is expandable at present to 64 GB of 1866 MHz DDR Error Correcting Code (ECC) memory.

Despite the relative dearth of internal expansion options, the Mac Pro is Apple's most expandable Mac on the outside. Four USB 3.0 ports and dual Gigabit Ethernet ports are only the start - there's also six Thunderbolt 2 ports. Thunderbolt 2 has twice the bandwidth of the original Thunderbolt. That means the Mac Pro can simultaneously accomodate RAID, Storage Area Network (SAN) systems, exotic network interfaces like Fibre Channel and up to three 4K displays - making this a terrific companion for professional film editing.

What's more, Mavericks has introduced a new network interface called "Thunderbolt Bridge," which I expect we'll hear more about for use with the Mac Pro - this is a direct network connection that uses Thunderbolt cables. You can only imagine what an array of Mac Pros, networked together with Thunderbolt cables and Thunderbolt Bridge, will be able to do with the right parallel processing software. It's a distributing computing dream.

There's also an HDMI 1.4 "UltraHD"-compliant interface for hooking up a 4K television. And just like Apple's other new machines, there's also 802.11ac Wi-Fi networking under the hood, so even if you're not hard-wiring this beast to your network, you'll see some smoking wireless networking speed.

Who should get a Mac mini?

The Mac mini is an ideal first Mac for someone just switching over to the Mac platform, who's anxious to get their feet wet but may be held back by the perception of the Mac as an expensive computer. It's great if you're on a budget, especially if you have a display, keyboard and mouse from another computer - Mac or PC - that you can recycle.

It's a terrific home computer - I have three kids, and I was able to get each of their own. They use them for talking online with friends, playing games, doing schoolwork and working on projects - everything from science reports to multimedia presentations.

What's more, the Mac mini is a great small workgroup server in a corporate environment, or for small to medium sized businesses that want to take e-mail, web service, file sharing and other capabilities in house rather than paying for an external option or cloud service.

Having said all that, the Mac mini is getting long in the tooth - it's squarely last year's technology, working with slower Wi-Fi and pokier graphics. If Apple's history with the Mac mini is any indication, it should get a refresh in the next few months, with Haswell processors and other refinements, to keep it in check with every other consumer Mac. So if you need a Mac mini today, get one - but if you can wait a bit, your patience may be well-rewarded.

Who should get an iMac?

The iMac is an elegant workstation that's equally versatile in the home or office. Many iMacs perform double duty as a personal computer and as a movie or video viewing system for a bedroom or den, in place of a television. It's a gorgeous machine that's well balanced to do a little bit of everything - from running office productivity software to the latest games.

But there's a lot of power under the hood. The iMac's beefy processor and great graphics make it an ideal content creation workstation, suitable for everything from magazine page layout to music creation, video editing and effects rendering, and more.

I do have some misgivings about the 21.5-inch model's lack of user-accessible RAM - putting more RAM in a computer can help extend its useful life and will enable particularly aggressive apps to run faster. Having said that, 8 GB is more than enough overhead for now.

Who should get a Mac Pro?

Time is money. And the Mac Pro is optimized to save you time. If you're in an endeavor where you are sitting around waiting for your computer to do something - whether it's color-correcting an hour of high-definition video or calculating genetic variance - the Mac Pro may be a good system for you to own.

Of course, that presumes that you can wait for one. The Mac Pro isn't expected to ship until December, and Apple isn't yet taking pre-orders. But we can look at the spec pages and drool.

Still undecided?

Hopefully I've given you some food for thought. But if you remain unconvinced about which Mac desktop model is right for you, please visit our Apple desktops discussion forums, and continue the discussion right here in our comments. We have an amazing online community that you should be a part of.

Any decision you make will yield you a great Mac that's flexible for doing a lot of things. Let your heart and your wallet guide your decision, and rest easy that whatever you decide, you've got an excellent new computer.

Peter Cohen

Managing Editor of iMore, Mac and gaming specialist and all-around technologist. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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Mac mini vs. iMac vs. Mac Pro: Which Apple desktop should you get?

47 Comments

Great article, Peter. Thank you!
If money were no option, I'd have a Mac Pro with all the trimmings. For the architectural renders I produce, this thing would surely spit them out and ask for more - Instead of me setting it up to render and then going off to do something else while it works. Realistically speaking, I'm looking at another iMac, which I'm not disappointed with. I love my current iMac. It has been a great computer.
{Currently accepting donations... xD}

I have a mid-2007 iMac but think I'll go with minis from now on for two reasons:
- When the drive went, the iMac was a pain to take into the shop to get fixed.
- It's also nearing end of life, but still has a gorgeous 24" display. If I had gone with a Mac mini, I can still keep the display when I swap out the mini for a new one. So next time, I think I'll buy a Mac mini and good quality display and it should still be cheaper than an iMac.

That said, if you have heavy video card needs, the iMac is the way to go. But for standard home use, the mini is fine.

That's assuming that Apple will keep making the Mac minis. It sucks that there hasn't been a Haswell update to the Mac minis yet. I would love to see a Mac mini using Iris Pro graphics and PCI-e SSD drives

Nice article Peter. Great breakdown of each machine and its uses. I ended up selling my 2012 MBA to a friend who had his laptop stolen and bought a barely used, almost-fully upgraded Mac Mini and an inexpensive 27 inch LED monitor with the funds. For the light to moderate gaming needs I have (CS, Portal 2, few others being the most intensive), the Mini works just fine.

If I were to get a desktop Mac I would want an iMac. I think I would probably need a laptop or something to that effect though.

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Great article, I'm looking at getting my first Mac and the mini looks like the one for me thanks to this comprehensive article.

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I am developing a game for iOS. Currently using a PC but thinking of buying an i7 Mac mini. Which would be better to get? Mac Mini or iMac. If I had the money, obviously I would get the Mac Pro but thats not happening right now.

A quad-core mini (one with the i7 processor) should yield faster compile speeds than a dual-core mini. And if you're working with Windows tools you're comfortable with, bear in mind you can always use Boot Camp and reboot into Windows, or virtualization software like VMWare Fusion or Parallels Desktop to run Windows apps simultaneously with OS X.

I'm holding out for a new Mac mini. I just got a really hi res display for my PC, so I don't need the integrated display.

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I was making this decision last year and decided to get the MacBook Pro (non-retina) so I could upgrade some internal components.

Then I bought an external keyboard, touchpad, and a nice, large Dell monitor.

95-percent of the time I sit at my desk with a large monitor, nice keyboard, and some good music speakers. For the remaining 5-percent of the time I just unplug everything and take the laptop with me. Works for me.

Anyone have any thoughts on what the bottom-line, essential specs would be for a home media mini? I'm talking about just a 3 year old, 42" Samsung plasma as a monitor for streaming basically...can't imagine we'd need anything cutting edge or even a couple years old at this point!

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Time Machine is built into the operating system. It works with every Mac.

If you're talking about a Time Capsule, then yeah. The new Time Capsules support 802.11ac, and that's backwards-compatible with the 802.11n standard the Mac mini supports.

My small business needs to buy a new mac for video editing using Final Cut Pro X. Not a large budget so I'm looking into an i7 Mac mini. Will this be enough for video editing programs? I will also use after effects and other adobe programs like Photoshop, illustrator, etc.

Any help? Do I absolutely need an iMac?

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The Mac mini meets minimum system requirements for Final Cut Pro X. If you want background rendering, GPU-accelerated exporting and optimal performance, you really need a Mac with a discrete graphics system like one of the three higher end iMacs.

I'm patiently waiting for the Haswell MacMini to be released. My home computer is a PowerPC iMac stuck on 10.4.11 with the monitor failing (vertical lines everywhere, so I have a separate monitor attached to it). I need a new Mac ASAP.

So, release the Haswell MacMini already, Apple!!

Signed "Desperate in California"

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Actually in real terms, certainly from my experience, Apple hardware being overpriced is purely a perception.

From experience my last PC cost far more than the Mac that replaced it. The quality was far lower than the Mac. On top of that the working life of a Mac tends to be far longer. It doesn't have an OS that is 'processor heavy', Unix and Linux are both OS's that fairly compact and efficient. Windows is an OS that constantly requires the latest and greatest Processor and more and more memory to run in and maintain performance. Just look at the Maverick update from Apple for OSX, I am sure there are a lot of Mac users out there that have put off purchasing a new Mac for another year or posssibly two.

Would I go back to using a PC. NO. They are not built to last. It is not in the interest of Dell or HP etc to have devices built to such a high quality that they last too long.

My last PC cost me over $3100 not including the extras that had to be purchased to keep it going over it's 3 year life. It had an extended warranty, it had to be repaired 5 times during that warranty. The offsite backup software supplied by the maker failed to make backups and we lost huge amounts of data because 'we trusted the offsite backup' and was slow and decrepit to restore what little it had backed up. A restore took 72 hours on an 75Mbps download connection and there was very little data restored that was usable. We went back to our own onsite backups.

I spent far less on my 27 inch iMac even with extra upgrades. Have never looked back.

Do I miss Windows. Heck No! Windows 7 explorer would crash every 15 minutes or so and the upgrade that I paid for to Windows 8 because the Maker of the PC suggested during a support session that this would cure the problem didn't help any, it had all the same problems. Shortly afterwards the PC died.

Windows is a breeze to use, I gained all the time that I lost while Windows would compile a report to send to Microsoft and the reloading of explorer followed by opening the folders that had been open but we no longer open.

Are there features I miss! Yes! Do I need those features? Not really and I have learned to work around them and don't give it a second though.

If anything I am glad that I purchased both the Mouse and the trackpad. I hated the touchpads on Laptops. I would always buy a separate mouse for them and actually purchased a mouse and trackpad because the guy at the Apple Store said that I would come to prefer the Apple pad and use the Mouse far less. I didn't believe him and decided to purchase both. He was right, I hardly use the mouse. It sits gathering dust. Nice to have around but now it's not essential to business.

If only they did a bluetooth keyboard with a numeric keypad on it, but again that's available as USB and I'm used to using the british layout Keyboard I purchased (took extra time for them to ship out the iMac because I purchase a keyboard with a £ on the number 3) that I use now and don't want to switch from it anymore.

I used to replace PC's every 2nd year. Except for the old clunker that is used to produce shipping labels for the business and we keep without updating at all because the version of Java it has works and the later versions have too many security features added that stop the Pitney Bowes label script from running.

If I total up the total amount spent on the two PC's I had in the previous 4 years before I switched to Mac I spent upwards of $6000 on that equipment and none of it has last. I know people with 5 year Mac's that are still running perfectly well. I don't know of many with 5 year old PC's that are able to use them today albeit in a severely handicapped capacity (such as our labelling PC).

I didn’t intend to write anything here, just wanted to read reviews. I was thinking about buying my first Mac mini, and inquired about some particularities. Your bold remarks about the PCs made me step in, sorry. This is the most unfair review I have ever read… You can dislike Windows machines all you want, but it still should not be that much biased.

There is one major flaw in PCs, which is - abundance of viruses. An antivirus app is required, and it slows things down dramatically. If you get a virus, you may be screwed big time. If one wants a professional Windows PC, that machine should never go online. Yes, and W8 is good only for touch-screen mobile devices, by the way…

I have no idea what one needs to do with PCs for making them cease just in two years... Maybe, you were just out of luck. I have never heard anything like that from anybody. Many of my friends use same PCs per years. I myself have been dealing with PCs all the time. I have two big towers for working with MIDI and video, and both have been – and still are - close to the top of the line. Each cost me less than a half of the price of a mid-range Mac Pro. My machines are not DELL or HP, though; I made a research and bought all the parts myself, and then people from Microcenter assembled everything in 2 days. I never had any warranty. The best PCs are custom-made. You said $3100 (OMG…), and you repaired it 5 times?? Was it overclocked in some particularly cruel way, by chance? In that case it wouldn’t be a good example of a fair feedback on PCs at all...

I ‘inherited’ two more PCs from my son, who studied video and graphics at college. Those two machines were bought second hand, and they already didn’t even look new at that time. They served my son for over 5 years. Sometimes he had to render video files for a week or two without turning the PC off at all. One machine began to go bad after 5 years. The other one ‘died’ 3 days ago, i.e. after more than 6 years of constant use just in our house, and it wasn’t bought new, as I said.

I want to try a Mac mini for the web and office work; it seems to be a nice little thing. I hope that it won’t disappoint me. I am already using an iPad, and I like it. AND I still think that it’s not necessary to take sides when it is possible to have the best of both worlds. :-)

Great article Peter. Personally, I use my iPad for more tasks at home and work. That's why I sold my MacBook Pro and got the entry level Mac Mini.

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Excellent article. We are looking at a mini as our first Mac computer. This was helpful.

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I've got the 2011 iMac and it's so slow having iTunes spotify iBooks and chrome opened at the same time leaves me with 32mb or RAM and unusable. Chrome mind you with crack berry YouTube and reddit oppened

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A very informative read. I just realized that beyond Apple's mobile products and some basic knowledge of the MBA, that there's a whole new side of Apple technology and products out there that I have been very clueless of. Sure, before I might not even considered purchasing a Mac because of the price but now as I mentioned on another article, I'm more open than ever in considering my options for the next desktop/laptop I'm gonna get.
I love Apple's mobile devices and would like to see how those two, mobile and desktop computing, can enrich the experience it brings as a whole.
Definitely watching out for the next generation of Mac Mini (Haswell) or iMac. And yes, drools on the Mac Pro.

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I love my late 2012 27" iMac but for some reason I still prefer using my MacBook Pro. It just feels and looks better, in my opinion anyway :)

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Thanks, Peter, a very well written and thought out article. I have the new iMac fully tricked out except I opted for the 3 TB fusion. What a beast! I was going to wait for the Mac Pro but it seems to focus on sheer graphics power too much.

I have yet to put a dent in the 32 Gig RAM, and I have some hungry apps running. Apples memory handling is stellar. The i7 processor runs very cool and unless I am converting lots of video from one format to another the machine remains cold to the touch all day long. I ripped 7 movies back to back and it did get a little warm.

I can almost hear it giggle when I run Logic Pro X with a dozen virtual instrument and audio tracks as if it is thinking, "Is that all you got?"

Since I've never owned a Mac before is go with the Mac mini because I've already got a display and I could just plug it in and get the full Mac experience for $599. Although it would be nice to have an all in one Mac or MacBook they're really expensive but completely worth the money.

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Very good article. As an iMac 27 inch owner myself, my experience with the all-in-one design has not been a happy one. My screen recently cracked, no accidents or physical damages on my part and that is the honest truth. We all treasure our gadgets, especially if they are pricey. Well, to my surprise, Apple does not cover or accept responsibility for such defects. I've been quoted over five hundred pounds to replace the outer glass alone. Personally, if I was to own another PC, I would definitely go for the Mac Mini or a laptop. It's likely to be more robust and would be cheaper to fix, should problems arise. So, I would happily swap my expensive 9 months old iMac 27 inch for the top spec Mac Mini any day.

Question: Loaded iMac vs low end Mac Pro? The cost is nearly identical. I'm a photographer, graphic artist, and small publisher that works with large files. A heavy user of the Adobe CS suite and some Final Cut editing, it's not unusual to have a dozens apps running. My 2009 Mac Pro needs replacing (I'm gonna miss it). A loaded iMac i7 with SSD and the new Mac Pro both cost about $3k. I already have two displays, although they date back to 2009. I go back and forth on this one but lean towards the Mac Pro. Thoughts?

I'm in the exact same boat as you. Really struggling with this. I go back go to debating a "maxed out" all-in-one vs. an entry level "al-a-catre" system I can grow with. I currently have an early '08 MacPro with 10gb ram, third party SSD, and after market video card that, 5 years later, is only now starting to show its aging with current software capabilities. Honestly, InDesign is my biggest bottleneck. The only program I wait for functions to complete. I want my next computer to hang around for at least 3-4 years (I hate upgrading)....I'd love some more insight or opinions from other CREATIVE SUITE power users, not FCP video crunchers. Who can help?

Well, I could only afford the cheapest model if I was going to buy one... So my options are limited. Good thing I was able to turn my $600 HP Envy into a Hackintosh!

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I have a 27' i5 1TB iMac. It is really nice and fast, however, sometimes I will like to work on my programs when I'm not at my desktop (fyi, I have parallels installed). I was wondering if I get a mac mini, with the best specs to replace my iMac, would I be able to just take my mac mini, mouse and keyboard everywhere? Of course everywhere where there is a monitor? Would I be able to connect to any monitor?
The thing is that I'm not sure if I should replace my big iMac and just get a nice 27' monitor and a mac mini!
Any advise will be greatly appreciated.... :)

I just wanted to thank you for writing a clear article on this subject. I was faced with a choice and your article highlighted the very things I needed to consider, making my decision a much easier one. I look forward to being a regular reader at iMore!

Thank you for such a detailed comparison. It would a great read if it compares with the Mac Pro as well just for the sake of reading as I wouldn't be able to afford it right now. LOL!

Is the Mac Mini(2.3 GHz Quad Core) be good enough for editing photos in Lightroom 5? I am a wedding photographer and currently using a 2010 iMac 27". My workflow is 95% Lightroom 5 and 5% Photoshop. My current iMac is able to give me the speed that I need. I am wondering will the current Mac Mini be just as good or even better?

Your help is much appreciated.

Thanks ahead

Hi I'm an India based photographer, I want a Mac desktop for basically photo editing and live shooting. I'm confused between iMac 3.2 GHz i5 or a Mac mini 2.3 GHz i7 with a TB display. I know there is difference in RAM but i can upgrade the mini to a 16 gig for approx 85$. As they cost almost the same (iMac = mini + TB display) can anyone tell me whose performance will be better. I might use the display as a secondary display in future as well as, i have macbook air.

If you are looking for a computer for surfing the internet, watching movies, editing documents, programming and other activities of daily average usage, then the mac mini is an ideal choice for you.
The good thing is that the Mac Mini produces very little noise, and it is an ideal office pc.Mini which takes up little space and consumes only 10W in stendbay mode, while his maintaining is almost unnecessarily.
Mac mini is small, compact and quiet, but you will not be able to play the latest games, therefore it is not recommended for gamers.
Take a look at this comparison at http://antoniom1.hubpages.com/hub/What-is-a-Mac-Mini and You will see comparison to iMac and Mac Pro.Anyone considering purchasing this Mac Mini needs to see the information in this chart.