Review: Mac Mini (2012) for Graphic Design, Photo Editing & Video Editing

There's roughly two parts to this Mac Mini review.

First part looks at the specifications and the second at how it performs in the real world with regards to creating graphics, photo editing and video editing.

Configuration

Apple's 2012 release of Mac Mini comes in three configurations:

I bought the middle configuration but customised it with a 2.6Ghz quad-core and 1TB Fusion Drive. The set I'm buying is for mainly for photo and video editing, stuff that I do at home. Since I create graphics for newspaper, I'll also comment on its ability to perform under daily deadlines. I'm not really interested in numbers so you won't see much benchmarking - go to Macworld or Barefeats for those. I'm only interested in how predictable the computer is. Whether under stress will it start to show strange things, such as screen redraws, inability to switch from one app to another, missing palettes in software, inability to save files, inability to launch apps. I've an office computer (WinXP) with better specs than the Mac Mini but shows all those problems.

Customisation of the Mac Mini is only available from the Apple store online. Other retail or online stores are selling only standard configurations.

The (non-exclusive) advantage of the Mac Mini is of course the ability to pair it up with your own display. Apple displays and that from the iMac are brilliant, but not excellent. If you work for print, and require colour accuracy for reproduction, you have to get a non-glossy screen. If you don't need that level of control over colours, the iMac might be a better buy. Personally, I prefer non-glossy screens. I can't even stand the gloss on my iPad. If you're putting your computer facing light source or windows, there will be gloss.

Processor

The base model has a dual-core, the middle and server editions both quad-cores.

Not all applications take advantage of the multi-core. So depending on what you do, you might not spend more on the extra processing power.

Some applications that use multi-core: Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, Final Cut Pro, After Effects, Premiere Pro

Some applications that do not support multi-core: Sketchup, iLife (includes iMovie, iPhoto, etc).

If you're looking at the Mac Mini for entertainment, e.g. watching shows on your HDTV, a dual-core model is sufficient.

For computing needs and production work that requires rendering, I would recommend the quad-core.

The quad-core starts at 2.3Ghz and is really fast. You can also upgrade it to 2.6Ghz but I'll only recommend it if you work more on videos.

So far from my usage, I found out that the processors have maximised usage during initial runs — that would be 100% for software that can use quad-core. Once the processor starts to heat up, the CPU usage drops. So even if you have upgraded to 2.6Ghz, you might not get 2.6Ghz worth of processing power. I've noticed that this pattern during my photo batch exports and video renders.

Hard Drive and Fusion Drive

The default hard drives are 5400RPM, but you can configure them to either a Solid State Drive (SSD) or the new Fusion Drive.

Both the SSD and Fusion Drive are noticeably and significantly faster than default hard drives.

Traditionally speaking, the hard drive has been and still is the bottleneck of computing systems. Installing SSD is the easiest way to speed up any computer system.

My Mac Mini has a 1TB Fusion Drive and boots to the desktop in around 10s. That's faster than my 2006 Mac Pro with a Crucial M4 SSD. It's the

The Fusion Drive is actually 2 drives: a 128GB Samsung 830-based SATA III SSD and a 1TB 5400RPM hard drive. Storage space is 1.12GB total.

The Fusion Drive feels like a single 1TB SSD. You get snappy performance for opening applications, opening and saving huge files, copying files from USB3 or the SD card slot. Overall user interface is very responsive.

For the price that Apple is selling their Fusion Drive, they should be providing a 256GB SSD instead. On the bright side, 128GB is more than enough for storing the OS, applications and handling daily file transfers. For example, 500 RAW photos at 30MB each is only a 15GB import. After you finish working on those photos and don't access them for a period of time, they will be transferred automatically to the slower 5400RPM hard drive for storage, releasing the SSD storage capacity. It all happens behind the scene without you realising.

Fusion Drive technology is software-based. In theory, if you're adventurous enough, you can buy a separate SSD, fix it into the Mac Mini, and use a third party code hack to enable Fusion Drive.

I've read comments from people saying they like to have manual control on where their files go. As such, they opt for a separate SSD and hard drive. They put their working files on the SSD and then move them to the hard drive after finalising. But I don't know what happens when they have to edit the finalised version, which happens all the time. All these manual file moving is just a waste of time, which is why I favour the Fusion Drive option. There's not much point to the technology if it doesn't save time.

If either one of the Fusion Drive parts fail, the whole drive fails. That's no different from a single hard drive. In other words, get an external drive for backup.

I've also tried filling up the SSD portion and proceeded with the usual tasks, e.g. importing RAW photos. Everything still feels snappy until it hits the boundary where the data starts loading onto the hard drive instead of the SSD. Past that boundary, when you open up files, they still feel snappy, even for 1GB+ Photoshop files. But let's face it, when you open such a big file, you will expect it to be slower.

If you're using the Mac Mini to watch shows, then there's no need for the Fusion Drive. If you're using it as a main workhorse, then it's recommended.

RAM

Mac Mini 2012 with back open showing RAM inside
The default unit comes with 4GB of RAM, specifically the DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600Mhz (PC3 12800).

You can get cheaper RAM from third party sellers. Apple overcharges for their RAM.

The usual brands for RAM are Kingston, Crucial, Corsair and Transcend. The difference is price. I don't expect performance to be significantly different, at least not in a noticeable way compared to the Fusion Drive. I got the cheapest.

Add more if you like to leave multiple (and I mean a lot) applications open simultaneously. One good gauge on how much RAM to get is to open the Activity Monitor and look at your typical memory usage.

An extra stick of 8GB RAM will give you a total of 10GB after removing the 2GB stick inside. If you need more, you can get an extra stick.

Intel HD Graphics 4000

Sketchup with Intel HD Graphics 4000

The integrated graphics card can drive resolution up to 2560 by 1600 from high-end 27 and 30 inch LCD monitors. However to go beyond the 1920 by 1080 resolution, you need a mini Displayport to Displayport adapter (cheap), or a Dual-link DVI cable (expensive).

I'm using a Dell U2711 LCD monitor. General performance is satisfactory. Expose animation is quite fluid even at 2560 by 1440 resolution — I'm using a mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort cable from Accell.

I don't play games to I can't comment in detail from the gaming perspective.

I tested the 3D capabilities with the Sketchup modeling software. With Sketchup, the graphics card can handle high polygon scenes without significant lag. In the scene above, there are 5 high-polygon models each about 8MB in size. There's some slight lag during panning, but nothing I would complain about.

A dedicated graphics card would of course be more appropriate for Maya, Autodesk, Lightwave, Cinema 4D or Zbrush. That's where the more expensive Mac Pro and iMac will come in.

Video RAM ranges from 512MB to 768MB depending on how much DDR3 RAM you add.

Art and Graphic Design

I work on various Adobe graphics applications, mostly Illustrator and Photoshop.

Launching applications is fast and they are responsive. There's no screen redraw even when working on several huge files. I attribute that to the Intel HD 4000 which is quite a performer despite what other people might say.

For art and graphic design, the Mac Mini handles flawlessly. If you work with multiple applications or on huge files (500MB Photoshop or Illustrator files anyone?), it is recommended to get more RAM. There's no lag or spinning beach balls when working on several huge files at the same time.

If you're short on RAM however, applications can behave strangely. E.g. Adobe Illustrator will fail to save files, unless you quit other applications to release memory. Adobe Photoshop might show up blank palettes. When that happens, I've to quit other programs to release the memory so that I can save or export files. Get more RAM!

For Photoshop users, you can add RAM to the point where you don't even need the scratch disk. You can also increase the number of history states and display cache that can be recorded.

The Mac Mini is perfect for art and graphic design since they are just 2D.

One downside that's not really related to Mac Mini is user habits during graphic design. Just because you can make the file big doesn't mean you should. I prefer linking into Illustrator files rather than embedding.

Photo editing

The Mac Mini 2012 is also a great machine for photo editing. You can pair it with any monitor of your choice which is important if you require absolute colour accuracy.

Mac Mini 2012 with USB 3, Firewire 800, SD card slots
The USB 3 and SD card slot are blazing fast at importing photos. I tested the SD card slot with a UHS 95MB/s SD card and it can import files at the speed of the card. If your camera cable is only USB 2, you might want to use the SD card slot, assuming you have a fast SD card. Class 10 SD cards are much slower to import, of course.

Lightroom 4 takes advantage of multi-core. I'm guessing Aperture performance should be similar.

I use Lightroom and importing files is snappy thanks to the Fusion Drive. Thumbnails are promptly generated and cached, and you can scroll through hundreds of them without lag.

Edits happen instantly on screen.

JPEGS are exported with ease and speed thanks the the multi-core.

Video editing


I've moved the video editing review section to another page.

Glitch and issues

Sometimes the screen will blackout for 1s or 2s while I was working, then it would come back on. There are many similar complaints by other users online so this isn't an isolated case. I hope Apple will provide a firmware fix to it. It seems to affect those people who use HDMI — I use the HDMI to DVI adapter. But from what I've gathered online, people are saying that Intel's been working on this problem since June and there's still no where near to fixing it, resulting in Apple shipping a less than perfect machine.

Speaking of HDMI, I tried the HDMI output and the colours are too washed out, and bright, especially on a LCD monitor. That's after advanced calibrating using the System Preferences. With HDMI on HDTV, the colours are fine.

The Mac Mini does become warm when exporting photos from Lightroom and during video encoding. Probably because it's much more processor intensive.

Another issue, I had set the Quicksilver app to start during startup but it doesn't start instantly compared to my Mac Pro.

Overall recommendation

I had bought the Mac Mini as a backup to my 2006 Mac Pro. Now, I'm thinking of using the Mac Pro as a backup instead.

It's able to handle intensive graphic design, photo and video editing at ease.

The middle model, upgraded from dual-core to quad-core in the current update, is probably the most significant upgrade among the three configurations.

Apple has added some rather important features that should have added a long time ago, namely, the USB 3 ports and the SSD & hard drive combination (now working together as a Fusion Drive). Those two components make the computer fast and responsive. Even the integrated graphics card turned out to be quite good.

I highly recommend the Fusion Drive for medium to semi-heavy production needs. You can then add RAM yourself when you find the need to. The 2.6Ghz quad-core upgrade is probably for those who edit video a lot. The unit can run quite hot if it's rendering continuously, and I'm not sure if the fans are enough to cool the unit, but the processors do slow down when things get hot.

The Mac Mini today has a good performance over price ratio.

The potential deal breaker is the blank screen problem. It gets annoying very fast, even if it happens once a day.

Accessories

Logitech k760 Solar Powered Keyboard for Mac
The Mac Mini doesn't come with keyboard and I would highly recommend the Logitech K760 keyboard which is solar powered. I use the Windows version of the keyboard and it's excellent. I've been waiting for solar powered keyboards (and mouse) for a long time.

Apple Trackpad
For those using the set for HDTV, you should get the Apple wireless trackpad so you don't have to find a surface to use the mouse on.

Accell B119B-007J UltraAV Mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort Cable
Accell Mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort cable is required if you want a 2560 by 1600 resolution. This brand works well with the Mac Mini.

Western Digital My Passport for Mac USB 3 external drive
Western Digital My Passport Studio 2 TB FireWire 800 External Hard Drive
For backup, I recommend Western Digital My Passport for Mac USB 3 external drive in 500-2TB capacity. Or if you need Firewire 800, the Western Digital My Passport Studio 2 TB FireWire 800 External Hard Drive.

I personally use these two hard drives for backup.

Apple Superdrive
Unfortunately, the Mac Mini doesn't have a DVD burner so if you need to send discs to clients, you probably need to get the Apple USB Superdrive. If your clients don't mind downloading work files from the web, you can use Amazon Cloud Drive which offers 5GB free (20GB for $10/yr and 50GB for $25/yr).

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48 Comments

This isn't really a review as

This isn't really a review as such, rather a short write up of stuff that can be found on other websites for years and great prrof that not every blog entry in the world is needed. In fact, very non-pro writing style, with some mixed in pictures / logos that are taken from Apple.

I also have the 2006 Mac Pro

I also have the 2006 Mac Pro (upgraded with GeForce 8800 card). Aside from not being able to upgrade the OS to Mountain Lion, my biggest annoyance with it is the slowness in launching iTunes and iPhoto (15K photos).

Have you noticed any improvement in launch time for these apps?

Nice review, Parka. Thanks

Nice review, Parka. Thanks for posting this.

Do you mind to tell how much you spend after all of the upgrades?

I'm planning to get one for offline video editing, but I may have to stick with the baseline first without fusion drive, etc. Do you think it will suffice?

Thanks for the review! Have

Thanks for the review! Have you tried after effects or premiere pro on it?
According to adobes systemrequirements you will need a 7200 rpm harddrive for the CS6-versions of those two applications, but maybe the fusiondrive work even though its a 5400 rpm?

Nice to see a blog who really

Nice to see a blog who really understands the ins and outs of computing devices how it relates to specific programs! Great review. I am a photographer who mainly works with Photoshop, and it's nice to see that it does well on a Mac Mini. May pick one up by the end of the year.

To "Anonymous".

To "Anonymous".

I strongly disagree. As you say there are other reviews out there which are often technical. They are useful too, essential even, but Parka's review is the "human" point of view, and it's a great complement.

In general I hardly understand why people like you take time to destroy other peoples' work without bringing anything. There is nothing wrong nor dishonnest in his review, so if you just don't find it useful for you, move on silently.

Hi there, this is a good

Hi there, this is a good informative look at the Mac Mini from a studio perspective. They have come a long way it seems.

Just wanted to pick up on the point about the 5200RPM drives. It seems you think these computers can handle CS6, which presumeably most Macs do. but is a 5200 drive a nightmare to work on in a production sense, and would for example the 7200RPM drive be preferable (if SSD is not an option?) I have noticed that Apple have more or less univerally popped the slower (but 2.5") drives in most of the lower end specs on all the machines.

Be good to get your thoughts.

Thanks for the clock speeds,

Thanks for the clock speeds, very good information. I work mostly as a graphic artist, so does that change your thoughts on this at all, sorry if my comment was misleading. Most of your article seems to talk about print/press production. I work in web as it happens and often see large PSD files with many layers as well as Illustrator and I'll often have Bridge and a code editor open.

Hello Parka.

Hello Parka.

I have a question. With the photo and and video editing testing you made on this new iMac, how extensive was your test that made you conclude or at least say that this machine is good? Like, for video editing, how did the machine perform with rendering, adding effects. For photoshop did you try to open a big file and add some rendering or effects?

I would love to get a great feedback from a users perspective as I am about to buy this mini tonight. LOL! I bought an iMac a week ago and returned it today. Planning to get a higher model of iMac or mini (2.6ghz, 1tbFusion, will upgrade RAM to 16-third party of course + Thunderbolt Display)

Great Review anyway! Cheers!

Hi nice blog! just what i was

Hi nice blog! just what i was looking.
Iam a photographer and i process a lot of Raws on LR,. actually i just got the new nikon d800 (36MP sensor) which change my entire workflow (....yes 75 to 80s MB RAWs files). I dont want a new i mac, i have a late 24" inch model and it served well until the new nikon body came. So you may know how do i feel.
I have 2 questions for you:

1.- The Monitor: dell ultrasharp U2711 or the more bigger expensive dell U3011 which one can be better only for my photo editing, not a gammer etc..

2.- The Mac Mini: after read a lot i have to say that probably the best option could be the 2.6GHz Intel Core i7 Quad-Core, 8GB of 1600MHz DDR3 RAM 1TB Fusion Drive -------- or this one: 2.6GHz Intel Core i7 Quad-Core, 16GB of 1600MHz DDR3 RAM 1TB 5400pm Hard Drive

this two Minis have the same price range but one have fusion drive and 8gbRAM and the other is 16RAM only.

I really would appreciate your coments especially for the monitor mac mini combinartion...

Thanks. !

Here's my take. So, I got the

Here's my take. So, I got the top of the line Mini. 2.6Ghz, 1TB Fusion, 16GB RAM.
Restore my backup copies at that point so far so good. Done. Until I notice something, When I copy a folder 300GB of file size, Fan rpm would go up to 5894 rpm. CPU is 103c. Holy!! Is there something wrong with my Mini?

I went to a local computer store. Tried a 2011 mini with 2GB or RAM. Open the iMovie, export a 20 HD seconder. I did not hear anything from the Fan. :(

Another test made today. Went

Another test made today. Went to local BBY store. Tried the mac mini stock 2.3Ghz 4GB RAM 1TB (non fusion drive) opened the iMovie app. Edited the existing movie, duplicate the copies so that I can have a 2 minute video. Then Export it to a 720HD movie. Took less than 2 minutes to complete. Checked the Mini and I did not hear any loud fan noise. I wasn't able to check the CPU temperature and Fan rpm. But for sure, The fan did not went to 3000 or 5000 rpm.

Early this morning, I made a test on my mini creating a 2min video in iMovie, export it to hd720, CPU went as high as 92c-95c. Fan RPM went to 5600!

I'm going back to Apple and have them check the Unit. :(

I have no previous experience

I have no previous experience on photo or video editing. I am a poet and writer who wants to get into both to make my publications better. Since I won't be using that on a larger scale, would the standard mini Mac work for me, or would you still suggest the middle grade? Yes I would like go learn on photoshop if that helps you out in the answer.

Exactly what I was looking

Exactly what I was looking for: I'm currently using a 3 year old MBP as my main photo editing machine via an NEC spectraview, which has served me very well but is due for replacement. As I've become an avid iPad user for mobile needs, I really don't need to replace my MBP with a like, i.e. portable, machine. I also clearly have no need for the screen on an iMac. Mac Pros being as staggeringly expensive as they are, the Mac Mini is my obvious choice. However, I was concerned as to their real word capabilities. You've answered my questions without the usual tedious benchmark regurgitation ! Thank you.

Thank you Teoh Yi Chie very

Thank you Teoh Yi Chie very much for your review. I'm a graphic designer aswell and I've been spinning my head around for days trying to figure out whether to buy Mac mini as my new working station. I went trough a pile of sites and forums to have someone tell it plain and simple about graphic work experience on a new mini... And thankfully i found your review.
Just what i needed.

Thank you again!

p.s. I'm also considering the same monitor as you have - Dell U2711. What are your thoughts on monitor itself (alone) and in combination with Mac mini?

Thanks for the link!

Thanks for the link!
I'll probably choose between U2711 and U2713H. HM is great to but, i'd like to have that wider gamut. But as U2713H is still not available here in my country, it will probably be U2711.

I have the 2011 i7 with two

I have the 2011 i7 with two Vertex 4 250, in raid 16g of Ram, it has a real issue with Raw Photos in Aperture, goes all blocky, Apparently its the graphics chip.
Hoping the new 2012 Version doesn't have that problem, Have you experience any issues with Pro size Images. As i need it for what i do, Its also bit choppy with Sketchup.
Other than that it works fine and fast. Its hooked up to a 2560 x 1440 Monitor with display port and a second 27" monitor, would be looking at adding a third via USB 3, }
Also built a custom cooler for it ;)

So i just ordered one today..

So i just ordered one today.. the quad i7 2.6 w/ 16GB RAM and the 256 SSD.. i do mostly photography work. very little video editing.. ill probably be running aperture, but i have toyed with the idea of switching to light room.. anyways, about the HDMI black out... does that happen only with the HDMI to HDMI? currently im using my older macbook pro as my desktop, so im having to use the mini display port to HDMI adapter, and im assuming i can use this same config on the mini as i think you stated. does the black out also happen using the mini display port or only from direct HDMI? thanks!! :)

Dear Teoh

Dear Teoh
I found your words and experiences very useful and just want to say thank you. I think i will be order Mac Mini / quad i7 2.6 w/ 16GB RAM and the 256 SSD.

Would you pls. tell how i can connect two monitors with DVi connections to this Mac mini? (I have one Cinema Display 17" and one 23" Apple Display and both of them are DVi)

Thanks from Iran
Farzin Nikpour
Graphic designer
www.coroflot.com/farnik/portfolio

Hi, what you can do is

Hi, what you can do is connect one monitor using a mini displayport - dvi adaptor and and the other one using a hdmi-dvi adaptop which u get from apple when u buy the macmini.. I guess its tht simple.. keep in mind tht hdmi-dvi adaptor will dislay maximum resolution of 1920-1200.. so connect higher resolution display into ur display port

I have a Mac Mini 2012, 2

I have a Mac Mini 2012, 2.6ghz quad core i7, SSD 256gb (w/ external drive attached), with 16gb ram. Have had it a month so far, and really love it. :) I am learning photography and plan on making some short films and photo editing. Your article has helped a LOT to better understand how the Mac Mini can handle things.

My question is: I have heard people complain about how hot the mini can get. So I was wondering if it's possible to get one of those laptop coolers (that connect to USB) & put the mini on top of that when its running hot. Do you think that would help? The mini is small enough that I would think it should work. Figured I'd ask you/suggest it as an option to cool things down a bit.

Thanks again for your article!

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