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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

12 Answers 12

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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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  • 2
    Dual-link DVI is about display bandwidth not driving 2 displays. As indicated you need it for the largest Cinema Display.
    – Ben Lings
    Commented Aug 13, 2009 at 7:16
  • @Ben Lings are you saying that it won't support 2 displays?
    – alex
    Commented Aug 13, 2009 at 7:23
  • 1
    it says simultaneously supports on DVI or VGA.
    – Turismo
    Commented Aug 13, 2009 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
    Commented Aug 13, 2009 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
    Commented Aug 13, 2009 at 7:54
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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
    Commented Aug 19, 2009 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
    Commented Aug 19, 2009 at 9:36
  • @Alex: I always use dealram.com
    – Josh
    Commented Mar 15, 2010 at 23:37
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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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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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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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2

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
    Commented Aug 13, 2009 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 Rose
    Commented Oct 23, 2009 at 18:45
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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
    Commented Aug 13, 2009 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/…). Commented Aug 14, 2009 at 0:40
  • I've always called it the "beachball of doom". Commented Aug 18, 2009 at 20:02
  • Just wondering - where is the best place to purchase RAM for these?
    – alex
    Commented Aug 19, 2009 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. Commented Aug 19, 2009 at 11:09
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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
    Commented Mar 15, 2010 at 22:31
  • Yep. Just not as snappy as it should be and not sure exactly why. Commented Mar 18, 2010 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
    Commented Mar 20, 2010 at 0:35
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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"? Commented Dec 13, 2009 at 1:23
  • get the best specs before purchasing it. Commented Dec 15, 2009 at 20:01
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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
    Commented Aug 19, 2009 at 6:27
  • Other World Computing has great deals on memory upgrades for Mac. eshop.macsales.com/shop/mac-mini
    – Pegasus416
    Commented Aug 19, 2009 at 11:48
  • Crucial is great for Mac RAM too. Commented Mar 15, 2010 at 22:26
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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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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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