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Ask DN: Thoughts on a Mac Mini as a Design/Dev Solution?

over 6 years ago from , Front-end Developer at Chalk

Hello DN! For the past few months, I've been considering purchasing an Apple based computer or laptop, purely for design/development work when I'm at home. As I do most of my design/development work these days at my job on an iMac, I've become pretty comfortable with the Mac OS, and how I have things setup there, so it seems like a good idea to me to buy one for use when I'm at home.

I've been looking into that Mac Mini as a solution, for a few reasons:

  • It's relatively small, and I can mount it behind one of my existing monitors, which supports multiple inputs, so I don't have to unplug/replug cables everytime I want to switch between computers.
  • It's pretty portable, should I need to take it with me somewhere. I never really go away on vacations or that sort of thing, and it would be quite likely that wherever I might be going with a Mac Mini, I would just be able to plug it into an existing TV/monitor/projector, etc.
  • It seems like it would be a more affordable solution in comparison to something like a MacBook Pro, which while I wouldn't mind having a laptop, I never seem to go anywhere enough that I could justify purchasing one.

My main concern about going with a Mac Mini is the power aspect of things. For pure development, I wouldn't see that being an issue, but I was more concerned about the design side of things. Would any DN members out there have any personal knowledge of using a Mac Mini for design work, and how it handles things like Photoshop or After Effects for example, performance wise? (AE isn't maybe the best example, as I could use my current PC for that as it handles it quite well).

Any knowledge, suggestions, etc, would be greatly appreciated!

20 comments

  • Larry HynesLarry Hynes, 6 years ago

    I replaced my old G5 twin processor with a 2012-ish mini, upgraded to an i7 and 8GB of ram. Could not be happier with it. Handles Adobe's products no problem, I have ruby, python, zsh, git, haskell, perl, you-name-it dev environments set up on it without issue. Got a 27" thunderbolt monitor for it at christmas and use a das keyboard. Can recommend a mini.

    4 points
  • Rob GormleyRob Gormley, 6 years ago

    If you use a Thunderbolt Display, you can also use Twelve South's Backpack - http://www.twelvesouth.com/product/backpack-for-imac - for "mounting" the Mini behind it. Honestly, your single biggest issue is "get an SSD".

    4 points
  • Nick MNick M, 6 years ago

    I think a Mac Mini would be fine for Photoshop, but I would worry about it with something like After Effects. It really will depend on how much memory you're able to put in it, and what type of workload you'll be giving it. Think no less than 16gb, and get yourself a SSD instead of the default 5400 rpm hard drive, and you'll most likely be fine.

    3 points
  • Clark WimberlyClark Wimberly, over 6 years ago

    It's not a Mini but I used a Macbook Air for my main design machine for over a year and noticed very few (if any) performance problems.

    2 points
    • Kelly Lawrence, over 6 years ago

      Thanks for the heads up Clark! I had considered the idea of getting a Macbook Air or Pro, and just hooking it up to one of my existing monitors. My concern though was having it constantly plugged in for power, as I wouldn't be taking it around with me really.

      I assume you probably used your laptop in a number of different locations, and didn't usually leave it plugged in at one spot for longer periods of time, or longer than it needed to be full charged I guess?

      0 points
      • Clark WimberlyClark Wimberly, over 6 years ago

        I got the Macbook after I started working in an office, so I generally haul it back and forth with me each day. Sometimes when I'm feeling lazy and know I won't need it, I'll leave it somewhere for a while, but overall it's been pretty traveled.

        0 points
      • Bowen LiBowen Li, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

        I have a MBP as my primary work computer. It's plugged in 8hrs a day when I'm at the office and hooked up to a monitor. The device is smart enough to know when to charge or use the wall power vs charging the battery. I wouldn't worry about that at all.

        0 points
        • Kelly LawrenceKelly Lawrence, 6 years ago

          Thanks for that Bowen! The one thing I've consistently heard about being an issue with laptops is the power cables, which usually seem to go first. I'm sure Apple's are a little more studier and made to last, but I wasn't sure how they would handle being left plugged in for extremely long periods of time.

          I'll definitely look a little more into the laptop route now though! Would you happen to know if there's much different in terms of the different MacBook Pro's when it comes to multiple display inputs?

          0 points
          • Bowen LiBowen Li, 6 years ago

            I think it depends on which model/year you are getting. The new ones are listed here: http://store.apple.com/us/buy-mac/macbook-pro

            It says "up to two external displays" - for the retina models, but again you should double check on the exact model you end up getting.

            The other thing to note is the new macbooks have both HDMI and thunderbolt ports. If your monitor doesn't have one of these as input, you'll have to buy an adapter.

            0 points
            • Kelly LawrenceKelly Lawrence, 6 years ago

              Thanks for that link, and pointing out the HDMI and Thunderbolt ports. My displays all have HDMI inputs, so there won't be any issues there. I was just curious about the dual-display setup as I do have a few monitors that I would intend to hook things up to, so I would want to make sure that wouldn't be an issue.

              0 points
  • Ben Grace, 6 years ago

    I have an older model mini that I use as a secondary machine at home. It works well, after I added a SSD and loaded up the ram (make sure you have an SSD and max the ram!). I don't use AE (yet), but it handles large photoshop files pretty well. If I used it all day, every day, I would probably need to upgrade (remember though, this is an older model)

    Macs hold their value really well. You may be able to sell it if you don't like it without being out much cash.

    1 point
  • Michael AleoMichael Aleo, 6 years ago

    I don't see a problem with it.

    You're selecting between hammers, find the one that works best for you.

    1 point
  • Louis BLouis B, 6 years ago

    We use Mac Mini's at work and they're all packed with 1TB SSD's and 16GB of ram. They're basically superheroes. All I'd worry about is getting a SSD though, match a large one with some good ram and you're good to go on any machine.

    0 points
  • Peter AntoniusPeter Antonius, over 6 years ago

    If you're thinking about the Mac Mini - wait. It hasn't been updated for 652 days (Oct 2012).

    0 points
  • Joe JoinerJoe Joiner, 6 years ago

    I've been a 2012 Mac mini user for the past year using Photoshop and Sketch, as well as audio programs like Logic Pro, Ableton Live and GarageBand, and I must say it has performed excellently. I have the base model with the i5 and 4GB RAM and I have no trouble getting things to work any better than an iMac could. Love that its absolutely silent too…

    0 points
  • Bardan Gauchan, over 6 years ago

    It'll work fine. I recently bought mac mini for the exact purpose (well except for AE). I use it primarily for Photoshop/Illustrator/Sketch/Xcode and it runs like a champ. Be sure to get the SSD and min 8 GB RAM though.

    I have a 11' Air for casual bed use and for travelling. For a while I was using this to design and other than RAM being a little low at 4GB, even the Air ran plenty well.

    0 points
  • Chris CChris C, 6 years ago

    I think it would be a great solution and had one for a while as well. I made some some small games in Unity, designed things in PS, AI, and did plenty of development on it too. I never had any issues that really slowed me down. Then again, I did basically max out on RAM and CPU when I ordered it.

    Should be fine, just don't look at the base models.

    I have a MacBook Air (13) now and I love it for design/dev work. I think you'll be happy with whatever you choose. You don't really need some of the specs for design and dev work a lot of people suggest.

    0 points
  • Nathaniel PeralesNathaniel Perales, 6 years ago

    I have the 1st gen 13" Retina MacBook Pro with 16gb of RAM and a 256gb SSD. It's my main work computer for web design and photography (http://sincerelyyours.co). I have it connected to two 24" monitors (thunderbolt to DVI and an Amazon HDMI to DVI adapter) at my desk and it still screams. And this computer is getting close to 2.5 years old.

    When doing nothing but coding/photoshop/illustrator/sketch/ios simulator I feel no lag whatsoever on the computer. Honestly when I'm working with photos that's the only time I feel a tiny lag (5 seconds to process a Sony A7 RAW photo at 24 megapixels which is understandable).

    I'd repeat the same sentiments as everyone else, if you get any Mac, get it with an SSD and max the RAM. The SSD will push the length of time your Mac will last. If you don't think you'll need to have it portable than just stick to Mac mini, but don't let the power chord hold you back from getting a laptop. I love my MacBook Pro, just make sure you don't put stress on it when you're wrapping it up. There are ways of doing it that don't cause it to fray. It's super simple.

    0 points
  • Floyd WilliamsonFloyd Williamson, 6 years ago (edited 6 years ago )

    I would avoid getting a Mac Mini if you are concerned about price. Its pricetag is a bit deceiving, since it does not include the monitor, keyboard, and mouse you will end up buying. By the time you have all those, you might as well have purchased a macbook pro or air. At least, that is what I found out when I was considering a mini.

    0 points
  • Jason CalleiroJason Calleiro, over 6 years ago

    I got by for the last year with a first generation 11" macbook air that I would hook up to my cinema display when I was home. Power will not be an issue for you while using the mini. Go for it!

    0 points