Working with the new (2018) Mac Mini

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One of the problems with owning high resolution cameras that capture a lot of detail is post processing the images. If you rattle off 50-100 pictures in a session, which is not HARD to do by the way, you are left with potentially processing many, many images and encountering the spinning beach ball of the stressed Mac laptop.

I have a MacBook Pro with a 2013 build. It is multi-core being an i7 Intel processor. It’s Thunderbolt 2 and has one USB 3 port. It did ok over the years and only handles photo editing, email and some light documentation via MS Office. It’s a 15” size so the screen is not very big. I used it hooked to an Apple Thunderbolt Display back in my studio days and the laptop did ok but as my file sizes grew, and Adobe seemed to get more resource intensive in it’s processing, I started experiencing some hefty delay time working on certain types of files. When I started full time my cameras output 12 MP images. Images from my Fuji X systems are 24/26 MP output and even those file sizes got the spinning beach ball treatment when applying fixes using the Transform tool or when doing brush and other filter work. Now its not like I use these features real heavy which is what pissed me off. I felt that with my minimal use of the functions, the darned machine just should be processing the files faster. But it is a 2013 build so the network card is kinda slow. The processor is slower now, and my SSD’s didn’t seem to help much. USB-C is the big thing now and its so fast. I was experiencing most of my delays in I/O but the processor pegged along with memory when processing was heavy. I keep my catalog’s external so they can be used easily from one machine to another, which doesn’t aid speed. That 15” screen wasn’t winning my almost 65 yr old eyes over either.

I had the Thunderbolt Display boxed in storage since after closing my studio…it had a mouse and keyboard. That display is only 4K (well technically its 3.6K) but its plenty fine for my needs and it has a built in “hub” consisting of USB 2 ports, an ethernet port, Firewire ports and an HDMI port. I still use USB 2 inputs, like for my Wacom tablet. I charge my mouse off USB 2 and I also have several very nice disk based G-Technology drives which use a “almost as quick as USB 3” Firewire 800 connection. So the Thunderbolt (2) display is very useful. it has a couple decent sounding speakers built in too. I figured I should unbox it and clear off some desk space and get to using it once more. My eyes will love me again. But after seeing the new Mac mini released in the fall of 2018, I wondered “why bother hooking up my laptop to it?” Maybe a new Mac mini instead? For months and through several camera and lenses purchases, I went back and forth with camera gear winning out in the purchasing contest and me telling myself the laptop still had legs. It does too, but now as a tethering location machine. I finally decided to just buy the Mac mini a few weeks back. Why? It has the ports I want, and it can be configured how I want and is the cheapest way to get me a decent desktop workstation given I have the display, keyboard and mouse already.

I went back and forth over what configuration to buy cause there are options and future concerns to think about. I wanted at least 16 GB and a multi core processor that can multi-thread since 90% of my photo editing software uses multi-threading. And you need 16 GB minimum to use Capture One, Lightroom and Photoshop. More is better though. Always. The i7 Intel processors multi-thread and the Mac mini (Mm) offers an i7 3.2 GHz processor which can turbo out at 4.2 Ghz. Plenty of speed and power. I decided on 32 GB of RAM to future proof the thing. I also went with a 1 TB SSD hard drive for similar reasons. I use external drives for most all my needs. This machine will do my photo editing, my webpage maintenance, and work related email. Right now it does not have Office on it and it may stay that way. It’s bluetooth 5.0, has a couple USB 3 ports, four USB-C ports and a decent ethernet connection. The wireless network card is newer and fast too, although I hook this up direct to my shitty AT&T DSL modem to get the very fastest performance for uploads and downloads. I did decide to put my iTunes library on the mini so that uses the wireless side to feed my Bose wireless adapters and it uses a Firewire G-Tech spinning drive to store the tunes. I’m using one USB-C port for my display, one for my 4 TB SSD Lacie work drive and one to power a 4 port USB 3 hub. One of my USB 3 ports supports my Drobo 16 TB RAID system for archival files and storage locally. One shitty feature of the mini is all the ports are on the back side and I need access to it for some things. Mostly SD card readers. The mini has a SD slot in the back but I use the USB 3 hub and SD ultra fast reader plugged into it and its right in front now.

So I had to buy 1 adapter for my display and I bought an extra for just in case or for when I need to add one of my other Thunderbolt SSD drives. I have one USB-C port open. I have one USB 3 port open as well. So it can support my other external SSD drives if needed. I’m using the display’s USB 2 ports for my tablet, and to run a multi head headed charge cord. I did also buy a 4 port USB 3 hub. Oh, and a C to C cord for my 4 TB SSD. So not a lot of coin in extras to support this workstation.

The mini is very fast. Processes files with no wait time. Even the massive GFX files. Exports files super fast. Photoshop brush and transform work is like finished in an instant. No more cussing at the slowness of the computer. Seeing applied changes to the images in real time blows me away! My eyes love the larger display too. I did buy another light for the side of the desk the mini is on, its one designed for computer or reading work. No glare, daylight and it dims as I need it. I can find nothing negative so far. Other than the ports all being on the back. If you turn it around, which is possible, then all the cords are all over the desktop pointed at you - yuck…but it’s not that big a deal. Just makes the card reader useless except as a storage device of sorts. Slap a 128 GB SD card in and more storage!

I should have done this sooner. I’m using a lot of SSD, internally and externally, and that coupled with the speed of the machine is the difference I’m seeing. But truthfully, I had the same externals on the laptop so I know the mini is carrying the bulk of the load. I bought $99 worth of AppleCare which runs my warranty out to 2022 and includes a couple replacements if needed. This mini has made my workflow easier, faster and it was a relatively cheap upgrade to my office. Yep, I should have done this sooner!