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I've read about a lot of people using their Mac Minis as a file server, or media centre or something similar.

Does the mini function alright as a standard desktop PC? The Mac will be used primarily for web development, that is, it will need to run Coda, Photoshop, possible Firefox and Safari at the same time. So it will need suitable performance.

Or am I better off getting an iMac?

I though the mini looked like a good option because:

  • cheaper
  • I already have a keyboard, mouse and 24" monitor
  • I could use a KVM between the mini and PC

Also, does the mini support multiple monitors?

Thanks

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12 Answers 12

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Of course they are! There's not much difference between a Mac mini and an iMac, except for form factor, so definitely yes, given the fact that you already own a keyboard, mouse and monitor, get yourself a Mac Mini.

Also, from their specs page, (linked by John):

Extended desktop and video mirroring:
Simultaneously supports up to 1920 by 1200 pixels on a DVI or VGA display; up to 2560 by 1600 pixels on a dual-link DVI display using Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter (sold separately)

Edit: Apparently this doesn't mean you can attach 2 monitors I think, but using something like DualHead2Go should fix this.

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Dual-link DVI is about display bandwidth not driving 2 displays. As indicated you need it for the largest Cinema Display. –  Ben Lings Aug 13 '09 at 7:16
    
@Ben Lings are you saying that it won't support 2 displays? –  alex Aug 13 '09 at 7:23
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it says simultaneously supports on DVI or VGA. –  Turismo Aug 13 '09 at 7:31
    
Yeah, I thought this was about splitting the mini DisplayPort to two screens, but now I'm re-reading that, I must say I'm not sure any more. –  fretje Aug 13 '09 at 7:39
    
@fretje - Do you think it'd be possible to use a DualHead2Go with a multiple monitors KVM ? superuser.com/questions/22160 –  alex Aug 13 '09 at 7:54

We use a bank of mini's for testing our web application code. They are perfectly suitable desktop replacements. They are not for power users, but are perfectly capable for everyday tasks (word processing, email, web browsing, etc.)

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As mentioned above, the hard drives on the minis are a bit slow, which you might notice if you work with big PhotoShop files.

A solid state drive can really help there, but I’m not sure if that’s an option on iMacs either.

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Mac Mini is very easy to upgrade RAM. Just use a kitchen spatula to open the case instead of the recommended putty knife. My 1st generation C2D with 512 MB of RAM just didn't cut it. Upgraded to 2 GB and it is a whole different machine! I have since retired it as my primary desktop in favor of my MBP, and it now serves duty as an outstanding media server, including Hulu for TV and Movies.

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Just wondering - where is the best place to purchase RAM for these? –  alex Aug 19 '09 at 6:27
    
Other World Computing has great deals on memory upgrades for Mac. eshop.macsales.com/shop/mac-mini –  Pegasus416 Aug 19 '09 at 11:48
    
Crucial is great for Mac RAM too. –  Paul D. Waite Mar 15 '10 at 22:26

mac minis are awesome.

I USB-KVM the mac mini and a desktop pc.

The only problem is the lack of easy upgradability: upgrade it when you get it IMO.

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Do you mean by that "Get the best specs before purchasing it", or "upgrade it before the warranty runs out"? –  Andrew Grimm Dec 13 '09 at 1:23
    
get the best specs before purchasing it. –  Paul Nathan Dec 15 '09 at 20:01

I use one as my main web development machine at work, usually simultaneously running Safari, Firefox, Textmate, Sequel Pro and Versions, plus non-development stuff like Tweetie and Adium. Other than the odd beachball here and there (it’s an older model with just 1GB of memory), I’ve had no problems so far. You’ll probably love it, just max out the RAM if you can afford it, and you’ll be fine.

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Beachball? haha, I've also seen it as 'revolving pin wheel of death' :P –  alex Aug 13 '09 at 23:18
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Heh, yeah, I've always called it that. I've also heard Spinning Pizza of Death, Marble of Doom (marbleofdoom.com), Hypnowheel, etc. For the record, the technical name according to Apple's Human Interface Guidelines is Spinning Wait Cursor (developer.apple.com/documentation/UserExperience/Conceptual/…). –  Guillermo Esteves Aug 14 '09 at 0:40
    
I've always called it the "beachball of doom". –  Brian Knoblauch Aug 18 '09 at 20:02
    
Just wondering - where is the best place to purchase RAM for these? –  alex Aug 19 '09 at 6:26
    
I buy all my memory from crucial.com. Be advised that opening up a Mac mini is an absolute pain in the ass. –  Guillermo Esteves Aug 19 '09 at 11:09

I think Mac minis are good desktops. The biggest downside is that upgrading them is almost like open-heart surgery (even moreso than the iMac). You're not even supposed to upgrade the memory unless you're apple-certified.

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That's a pain in the A. I've read they're difficult to open too without scratching the case. –  alex Aug 13 '09 at 14:31
    
They're not too hard to work on. The accepted practice is to use a putty knife to separate the "lid" from the "base." It's not as easy as a desktop or unibody MBP, but easier than most laptops. Check out ifixit.com for step by step pictures. (No, I don't work for them...) –  John Booty Oct 23 '09 at 18:45

Having used a few, I'm going to have to disagree. The specs are attractive, but when you actually sit down and use one, the user experience is sluggish. Really nice form factor for applications where you don't need the speed. However, for a primary desktop, it's not exactly ideal.

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Have you tried one with more RAM than the default? –  ceejayoz Mar 15 '10 at 22:31
    
Yep. Just not as snappy as it should be and not sure exactly why. –  Brian Knoblauch Mar 18 '10 at 17:42
    
I would have to disagree with this, at least with my setup. At work, I use an iMac, and have a Mac Mini at home. Both are similar spec'd, and I found the Mac Mini runs just as smooth if not smoother. –  alex Mar 20 '10 at 0:35

I agree with the others, the Mac Mini is a solid desktop replacement. I bought one earlier this year and am very satisfied with its performance. I should add that I upgraded it to 4GB, so I can't judge the performance of the basic version.

Regarding the multiple monitor part of your question Apple says two monitors are supported - taken from http://www.apple.com/macmini/features.html :

Expand your experience
There’s nothing quite like seeing your photos and movies on a big, beautiful display. Unless, of course, you add a second. Mac mini comes with both mini-DVI and Mini DisplayPort output ports, so you can connect up to two displays. Choose the beautiful, widescreen Apple LED Cinema Display or displays available from many third parties.

I hooked mine up via DVI to a Samsung 2343BW that runs at 2048 x 1152. Works perfectly fine although the specs say only 1900 x 1200 are supported.

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Just wondering - where is the best place to purchase RAM for these? –  alex Aug 19 '09 at 6:25
    
The current Mac Minis need DDR3-1066 SO-DIMMs. That is the same RAM used for Laptops and is not Apple specific. So your best bet is to shop around in your local stores or online for the best prices. –  Turismo Aug 19 '09 at 9:36
    
@Alex: I always use dealram.com –  Josh Mar 15 '10 at 23:37

You probably want a USB (or preferably FireWire) external hard disk, though. The internal disk is smallish and slowish. There are nice enclosures available that fit in with the Mini's design.

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I've seen those - they look nice. –  alex Aug 13 '09 at 7:46
    
You wouldn't care to provide some links? –  David Pearce Aug 13 '09 at 12:16
1  

Absolutely. I've even upgraded both of mine to run Linux instead. I've got one running as a media server, and the other as a development box.

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lol +1 for linux over OS X. Not that I'm a fanboy... superuser.com/questions/117240/… –  Moshe Mar 15 '10 at 23:55

Judging by the specifications it can sure function as a desktop PC if you wanted it to! A quick glance over the "Graphics and video support" section suggests that it does in fact support multiple monitors.

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