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Nik Habicht

Switching to Mac Mini from PC Questions?

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Driven partly by a home organization bug, and partly by the knowledge that in the not to distant future I'll need to replace or significantly upgrade my main (desktop) PC, I'm thinking hard about a Mac Mini.

Questions:

I've got about 3 TB of stored files now, mostly images, but quite a bit of everything from tax files to music (iTunes for PC). I'd need some kind of attached storage -- who makes quick and responsive drives, or storage servers that play well with Mac? How painful is the transfer of MS Office, image and video files likely to be? I'm thinking about a 256 GB SSD for the OS and applications.

iTunes -- do I need to reimport all of my CDs, and re-download my iTunes store purchases? Or can I point iTunes to a folder on a storage drive that was originally in my PC -- I'm guessing it won't be that simple?

Anyone with serious photo experience? I generally import using Photo Mechanic, and edit in Photoshop -- I'm also barely starting to learn Lightroom. Is it still feasible to run the apps off the main disk, and work with images on an external drive or server -- and how good or quick of a drive/server do I need?

Is setting the Mini up as a Windows 7 computer a viable option -- that would save me some cash on software switches.

I played with Macs at the newspaper from 1994 to 2006, but my experience recently has obviously been limited.....

Any and all assistance and thoughts welcome.....

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I'm open to other computer options -- had considered a Macbook Pro, but barely use a laptop these days. I'll be running dual displays -- not likely to be made by Apple.....

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I'm open to other computer options -- had considered a Macbook Pro, but barely use a laptop these days. I'll be running dual displays -- not likely to be made by Apple.....

I used to run dual displays on all manner of Mac's and PC (basic to very high end on both platforms) -- depending on what you are doing maybe just consider something like 27" iMac - its NICE not having a big line in the middle between the screens, and being able to keep your head pointed straight vs back/forth. One monitor always ends up as primary for email, web browsing and such. It's a little bit of work to stay active across two screens constantly. Granted, its very nice to have a second monitor for things like video editing (assets/timeline/edits vs output), or programming, or design, but easy enough to hang a second monitor off the iMac for project work. I also run a small macbook air laptop for 'untethered' and on-the-go access. But for 99% of the things I do now, the 27" iMac more than enough (for me) I think for non-professional 8 hour a day use. Its also very nice as a secondary media display aside from your flatscreen TV.

SSD for OS disk and lots of ram make for a very zippy computer. I've actually pulled the CD Burner / Superdrive out of my iMac (wasn't being used), and put a 3TB internal drive there as my 'storage', in addition to a main SSD drive. But apple now has a hybrid drive that will automatically put stuff across SSD and normal disk as needed. (Fusion Drive). Anything will run well from anywhere that is locally attached (Internal drive SSD best, then faster regular drive, if external go fast USB. Generally not recommended to run or open/access files over a network unless you are streaming media, that will really kill performance and some apps like office will just hang when then can't deal with network issues. Best to pull files, work on them, then put them back, rather than open files over a network.

WRT to external drives, most of the big drives play well both PC and MAC. Most of those external drives will be some PC format (FAT32) and the Mac reads/writes to that that just fine. The formats that don't go across well, typically if you on the PC side do NTFS, and on the mac if you format it to an apple native format (gives you some OS benefits, but removes the cross platform ability).

Almost all the files you mentioned should play well on the mac. Apps may be slightly different, but files OK. In most cases you just want to use the nice OS X app, not something running emulation in PC.

Only thing you mentioned that may be a problem is tax files - if you use Quicken, its totally different app between platforms, and the files don't move well back/forth (at the time I did it), you need to check out there support area to get details. One friend keep tax files in windows, and uses emulation for that. Other just uses his old laptop for that.

Hope some of that helps.

Edited by trgt

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It helps a lot -- so my FAT 32 storage drives should be readable?

An iMac is out. I'm not thrilled by all in one's, and the price is way up there -- at least for the similar coin of a MacBook Pro, I'd get on the road computing ability.....

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If your Fat32 drives are external USB, yes, they'd typically be readable. I have those big 2/3 TB drives that I plug in no problem PC or Mac back and forth. USB 2.0 and 3.0 will be much faster than standard USB. I ran firewire 400 and 800 drives also, but those are way more expensive to get those drives vs just fast/big USB drives at Costco.

Main problem with Macbook is you are trading away some flexibility on ram and storage upgrades and a slower processor that wants to save energy/battery, its a smaller/more expensive drive to shoehorn in there. So typically you'd get a main SSD to be fast, then hang a big USB 2.0/3.0 drive for more storage.

BTW, I think they did a dis-service leaving name iMac. Too many people think of those purple or blue rounded things, or the WALL-E monitors on a silver stalk.

Years ago I used to have a 30" Cinema Display connected to fastest/baddest mac pro tower you could buy (dual quad processor, 16 or 32 gb ram, consumer computer hot rod). I wasn't any happier with that setup, than a 27" iMac now with 16GB ram and single quad processor (2009 iMac).

iMacs these days are much more like having a fast desktop computer embedded in a pro cinema display, vs those bubble/plastic macs of long ago.

Just saying if your plan is mostly time behind the monitor, I'd personally just go iMac (one and done :-), or even mac mini to a single big display.

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http://www.apple.com/support/macbasics/pctomac/Driven partly by a home organization bug, and partly by the knowledge that in the not to distant future I'll need to replace or significantly upgrade my main (desktop) PC, I'm thinking hard about a Mac Mini.

Fine choice.

Questions:

I've got about 3 TB of stored files now, mostly images, but quite a bit of everything from tax files to music (iTunes for PC). I'd need some kind of attached storage -- who makes quick and responsive drives, or storage servers that play well with Mac?

Most everybody. WD has a new thunderbolt 4gb drive that can run Raid0 (get the full 4gb of storage) or Raid1 (2gb, the individual drives automatically mirror each other for redundancy). http://www.wd.com/en/products/products.aspx?id=1240. They have excellent desktop choices as well. http://www.wd.com/en/products/external/desktopformac/

How painful is the transfer of MS Office, image and video files likely to be? I'm thinking about a 256 GB SSD for the OS and applications.

No pain at all. Just copy over your office documents, install Office 11 for Mac or get a Office 365 subscription, and you're good to go. (There are no mac versions of Access or Publisher.)

iTunes -- do I need to reimport all of my CDs, and re-download my iTunes store purchases? Or can I point iTunes to a folder on a storage drive that was originally in my PC -- I'm guessing it won't be that simple?

Actually, it will be simpler than that. Turn on home sharing on the windows iTunes and on the mac iTunes. Turn on your Apple ID in iTunes on the mac, and then you can just drag and drop material (yours or purchased) from the windows machine to your mac, all within iTunes itself.

Anyone with serious photo experience? I generally import using Photo Mechanic, and edit in Photoshop -- I'm also barely starting to learn Lightroom. Is it still feasible to run the apps off the main disk, and work with images on an external drive or server -- and how good or quick of a drive/server do I need?

That's actually a good way of doing things, especially if your plan is to keep systems software and apps on the resident SSD. Whatever external drive you choose, pick at least USB3 (can be read from an older usb2 system) but thunderbolt really kicks ass albeit it's pricey.

Is setting the Mini up as a Windows 7 computer a viable option -- that would save me some cash on software switches.

You don't want to do that, otherwise there's really no point in going apple at all. OS X kicks windows 7's ass all day long (and that's not just a biased apple-head talking). Plus you'll be surprised that, for the most part, apple versions of software (standalone office for instance) cost about half of what their windows counterparts cost. The exception is Adobe anything, but since they don't SELL anything anymore, the subscription is the same cost whether it be for a mac or windows, and you can have it active on 2 different machines, and they DON'T have to be both windows or mac.

Now if there's some piece of windows software that you just absolutely cannot live without (ezwinscore for me), VMWare Fusion or Parallels is the best solution for running Windows in a virtual environment on OS X, meaning you can have them both up at the same time. And I've found that windows has never run better than as a guest machine under VMWare Fusion.

I played with Macs at the newspaper from 1994 to 2006, but my experience recently has obviously been limited.....

Any and all assistance and thoughts welcome.....

This is worth looking at: http://www.apple.com/support/macbasics/pctomac/.

Also whatever you're looking at, get a minimum of 8gb of RAM on the mac mini. 4gb is usable, but you'll be a lot happier with 8, or even 16 if you can go that high. Do the ram upgrade yourself, though, as apple charges a premium for ram upgrades that they install. Buy Crucial memory (apple certified).

To give you an idea of hardware v. hardware. I have a mid-2011 iMac, regular 1TB hard drive, 8gb of ram. I also have a late-2013 retina Macbook Pro 15", 512gb SSD, 16gb ram. On the iMac, Adobe Premiere Pro takes a couple of MINUTES! to load in all his hundreds of components before being ready to go. On the 16gb ram SSD macbook pro? 6-8 seconds!

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..

BTW, I think they did a dis-service leaving name iMac. Too many people think of those purple or blue rounded things, or the WALL-E monitors on a silver stalk.

...

iMacs these days are much more like having a fast desktop computer embedded in a pro cinema display, vs those bubble/plastic macs of long ago.

Just saying if your plan is mostly time behind the monitor, I'd personally just go iMac (one and done :-), or even mac mini to a single big display.

Hey now, those blue/purple round things, i.e. the original iMac, brought Apple back from the brink of oblivion in 1998! The 2002 "Wall-E" iMac was also a great machine; I still see both of them in schools.

And yes, a mac mini with a 27inch high-resolution display kicks ass.

By the way, the Wall-E iMacs as you describe them? It's actually called the sunflower iMac:

“Jobs went home early that day to mull over the problem, then called Ive to come by. They wandered into the garden, which Jobs’s wife had planted with a profusion of sunflowers. “Every year I do something wild with the garden, and that time it involved masses of sunflowers, with a sunflower house for the kids,” she recalled. “Jony and Steve were riffing on their design problem, then Jony asked, ‘What if the screen was separated from the base like a sunflower?’ He got excited and started sketching.” Ive liked his designs to suggest a narrative, and he realized that a sunflower shape would convey that the flat screen was so fluid and responsive that it could reach for the sun.

In Ive’s new design, the Mac’s screen was attached to a movable chrome neck, so that it looked not only like a sunflower but also like a cheeky Luxo lamp. Indeed it evoked the playful personality of Luxo Jr. in the first short film that John Lasseter had made at Pixar.”

Excerpt From: Walter Isaacson. “Steve Jobs.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/QyFUz.l

Edited by wgnoyes

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To give you an idea of hardware v. hardware. I have a mid-2011 iMac, regular 1TB hard drive, 8gb of ram. I also have a late-2013 retina Macbook Pro 15", 512gb SSD, 16gb ram. On the iMac, Adobe Premiere Pro takes a couple of MINUTES! to load in all his hundreds of components before being ready to go. On the 16gb ram SSD macbook pro? 6-8 seconds!

Is that mainly speed comparision SSD hard drive vs normal one? Does your iMac have the slower 5400 RPM drive? A computer will seem like a new machine getting rid of that and moving to SSD or even 7200 RPM, as you show with the laptop speed. I was sooo happy moving from an original macbook air that had the 4200 RPM drive to the SSD drive in the next one, was amazing the speed difference.

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I think it's a combination of a real HD v. SSD AND twice the amount of ram, plus a faster processor.

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Go for the MacBook Pro, it's portable if you ever want to travel with it, and you can very easily connect it to one or two screens using the thunderbolt to HDMI cable.


External HD - Anything will work. I would highly recommend you format it to EXFAT configuration before you start transfering data into it. FAT32 will have a 4GB restriction which seems a stretch to reach until it happens. And when it happens it sucks. And EXFAT is cross compatible with Mac and PC.


SSD - No matter what, make sure that SSD is installed. 128GB is doable, 256GB is recommended. If you are the type the places everything on clouds and external hard drives, go for 128GB. If you are the type that creates high resolutions videos, photos, and you might watch videos on your main hard drive, you need at least 256GB. Especially if you are going to identify your scratch disk for Adobe Premiere Pro to your main hard drive, 256GB is pivotal for performance.


Windows or not to Windows? - Plain and simple, you either can go for virtualization (Parallels or VMWare) or you can go for the pre-installed BOOTCAMP. I've installed bootcamp on multiple Macs and it works great. I've installed Parallels and VMWare too with no problems. They all work and they are all easy to use. The difference is with 3rd party software the integration with the Mac desktop is awesome. Bad news is that you will never be able to use all your resources and cores like you would with BOOTCAMP. Seriously though, the only time bootcamp really mattered was when I was trying to make a AutoDesk 3D/Maya machine...which is not needed in your case.


Off An External - Yes, you can work on video and HIRES photoshop on an external hard drive or even a networked server. HOWEVER, I would recommend G-Drive hard drive via Firewire connection (or whatever they have out these days) or a wired connection for both the server and your Mac Mini/MacBook Pro. I've worked on video through a G-Drive that was ridiculously large, with no problems. With a cheap WD hard drive from Walmart...fail.


I'm currently using a Lenovo laptop with 256GB/16GB RAM and it renders videos faster than non-SSD MacBook Pros. In other words, SSD makes a huge difference so if you have limited funds...that's the first priority.


If you could afford the LED Cinema Apple Displays...they are 1000 bucks a pop. Go for it, they are beautiful!

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WD's thunderbolt drives are neither cheap nor available from Walmart, but yes I agree, the G-Technology thunderbolt drives are sexy and fast. Also, what about LaCie? I'm in the market myself for external space.

Edited by wgnoyes

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Transfer rates of G-Drives were at least close to what they advertised. I guess that explains why their products are so expensive. When I said WD, I meant the normal USB 2.0/3.0 Hard Drives that you would find in the 120-160 dollar price range. I have plenty of WD Passport 2TB hard drives and I love them....for holding normal documents and movies/music. But if you want to use a hard drive for "edit-in-place" tasks (video/intense photo editing) then paying the extra dough is worth it.

Also consider external enclosures such as Macally storage enclosures (you can find them in Amazon). The one with Firewire 800 is about 100 bucks. Of course this is only if you already have firewire ports (aka Mac Mini, towers, older MacBook Pros). I'm pretty sure the new MacBook Pros don't come equipped with them. I've placed 3TB hard drives in them, no problem.

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Everything wgnoyes said in post #6! It's spot on.

I would add that Intuit anything on mac just kinda sucks. I run Quickbooks with payroll and it was totally different. No local storage at all on the mac so I had to set it all up from scratch. The database converted into the mac application just fine, but the payroll was a dealbreaker for me. I went and got Parallels and Win 7 and installed Quickbooks there. It's basically all I use it for because the Mac is just sooooooooooo much better. I haven't rebooted in months!

Also MS Office for Mac is okay but if you end up having to run Windows for something just keep that stuff there, the Office for Mac is essentially the same but there are some minor nuances. The nuts and bolts are basically the same.

With Parallels you can drag and drop files between both which was a nice surprise. I normally have both running when working and put Windows on a 2nd 19" widescreen monitor rotated 90 degrees. I do my Excel spreadsheets which get pretty crazy in the iMac's 27" side in OSx. Basically I'm just running Quickbooks occasionally and Windows Photoviewer in Windows. On OSx I have all manner of stuff running sometimes I have several .pdfs, Excel spreadsheets, browser with multiple tabs, another browser (Chrome) streaming an internet radio feed, etc going. I'd go insane running a standalone Windows box like this but the iMac doesn't miss a beat. It's a Mid 2011 27" iMac, 12gig of RAM. I use a WD My Cloud for backup. So far so good.

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...The one with Firewire 800 is about 100 bucks. Of course this is only if you already have firewire ports (aka Mac Mini, towers, older MacBook Pros). I'm pretty sure the new MacBook Pros don't come equipped with them. I've placed 3TB hard drives in them, no problem.

They don't, but there's an apple thunderbolt to firewire dongle that takes care of that.

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If you already have the money invested in current Windows software (PhotoShop, MS Office, etc) and they don't allow cross platform install it might be worth it to install something like CrossOver (like Wine for Mac) so you don't have to buy new licenses until you are ready and you don't have to run two OSs which saves on overhead. They also make a plugin for the MAC so you can write to NTFS permissions as well. There are a lot of reasons to stay away from FAT partitions.

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Any reason to hold out for the 2.6 GHz i7, over the 2.3? Asking because if I buy an Apple refurb 2.3, I can save about $220......

On the Windows side I'm running a first gen i5, and not running into processor issues yet......

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Unless you're running something really processor-intensive, you'll be happy with either one.

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Any reason to hold out for the 2.6 GHz i7, over the 2.3? Asking because if I buy an Apple refurb 2.3, I can save about $220......

On the Windows side I'm running a first gen i5, and not running into processor issues yet......

I've bought apple refurb and closeout several times, its nice way to save a little money if they have a configuration you like. If you are spending work money, sometimes nice to get the latest and greatest. Spending my own money I much prefer to get the current or last generation after they cut the prices when new models come out.

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Unless you're running something really processor-intensive, you'll be happy with either one.

That's what I figured -- but wasn't sure if my Windows experience would translate over......

Thank you one and all for the assistance. I'm going to try to grab a mini with the 2.3 i7, 4 gigs of ram and a hard drive. Then I'll order an SSD and ram to finish the build. I've built and rebuilt a few PCs, and watched a couple of videos on OWC's site so I'm fairly confident that if I take my time, I can manage it.....

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We'll the ram's nothing as it's right there when you take off the round cap, but the hd is buried further down and isn't considered user serviceable. My son-in-law makes his living off computers and he went ahead and just bought a mini with ssd; he didn't want to invalidate the warranty.

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