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i currently have a 2011 27" iMac - i7, 3.1ghz with 20gb RAM with a gig of vRAM on a standard AMD Radeon 6970M video card. It's connected to 2 24" Dell U2415 monitors running at 1920x1200. i use it for web development (VS Code, various node servers and processes, databases, source control clients, dozens of browser tabs etc) and design, which means heavy use of Photoshop & Illustrator at the same with multiple files, layers and artboards - files are typically for screen (not print) so it's not like I'm editing ginormous RAW photos, but there are a lot of filters and smart objects at times. Occasionally, I'll dip into AfterEffects and inDesign, and then there's other apps like XD, Figma, etc.

This system handles all this surprisingly well, but one of the drives is getting to be on the older side and is making me nervous. Not wanting to put a dime into this dinosaur and already having gotten more life out of it than I expected, I'm ready to upgrade. I found a great deal on a 2018 Mac Mini i7 6-core, 3.2ghz, 16gb RAM and 256GB SSD.

I know I'd have to get a TB3 -> TB2 adapter (to use my current iMac as a display only) and 2 TB3 -> HDMI cables - no big del there. Eventually I'll upgrade to bigger 5K monitors and at that know I'll surely need to get an eGPU in the process - I'll be willing to bite the bullet when that time comes. But for now based on the kind of work I do and my monitor setup (the 2 Dells and the iMac), I'm wondering if the Mini's onboard graphics can handle it alone.

If anyone has any insight or personal opinion they'd care to share, I'd love to hear it. Also, if there are any other potential issues beyond having to get adapters for TB2 and HDMI that I've missed, please feel free to point them out. Thanks!

PS - forgot to add that I've read about Bluetooth issues with the Mini as well. My desk is wood (not metal) and I use a 2nd Gen Magic Mouse & Keyboard as well as a FitBit (and I don't NEED to connect the fitbit. i can do that on my MBP if necessary) - will I encounter any issues with the connection to keyboard and mouse randomly dropping?

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  • Regarding using your old iMac as a display for an external Mac mini, are you sure that’s possible? I didn’t think most/any of the iMacs supported that. – jimtut Jan 12 at 3:59
  • @jimtut - if I'm reading this app (support.apple.com/en-us/HT204592) correctly, it can do it - just need the tb3 -> tb2 adapter – Daveh0 Jan 12 at 4:02
  • Thanks! Either I didn’t know that, or I had forgotten because of the strict requirements on both Mac models (which I don’t meet) and the old OS requirement. Too bad why they removed support for that from newer Macs and macOS. – jimtut Jan 12 at 12:00
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I have the middle i5 6-core Mini, and using InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Logic, Dorico and other 'pro' apps, I haven't even comes close to maxing it out. I've even had Handbrake running in the background comfortably.

The on-board SSD is crazy fast. I'd get more RAM for it, though. I have 32GB, which again never gets entirely used, even with loads of caching.

Yes, the Intel graphics units may not be as good as dedicated cards, but they're good enough for most uses, unless you're doing 3D rendering or high-end gaming. Multiple Photoshop effects layers are not a problem.

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  • I’ll second the fast T2 storage is the main game changer on modern Macs up to the point you can hop to Apple Silicon, then the core software calls are ridiculously faster and the storage moderately faster than Intel. – bmike Jan 11 at 15:36
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We run the i7 2018 Macs mini (and newer) in full design production. No issues with color calibration, all the Adobe apps, touch pads, web and teleconference apps. They are workhorses and unless you want to dip your toes in Apple Silicon, a 2018 or newer mini is a workhorse of a Mac. Nothing in your requirements are deal breakers and anyone could slow down even an iMac Pro and Mac Pro hitting it with some of your requirements. The Bluetooth stack is as reliable and prone to interference all other new Macs have in our experience.

In practice the i3/i5 are hard to tell from the i7 even though specific things benchmark faster. Most of the time people are slow due to network and humans, not waiting on a build or render. We rarely spec eGPU for this reason as well - they work for specific renders and most people can’t put them to work and the investment is better on training or software than GPU.

If you can buy at a discount, any 2018 or newer Intel Mac is a very major upgrade from what you have. I just wonder if you should commit to M1 CPU and Apple Silicon if you’re going to keep this for a decade as well. I suppose you need to balance exactly which software is going to hit your GPU and forecast their investment for however long you run this new Mac.

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  • great info - thanks!! Would you consider $1100 a good deal? I haven't seen anything even remotely close to that... – Daveh0 Jan 11 at 14:54
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    Pricing is odd. We would buy refurb new from Apple at around that price point so unless you can’t order new, that seems high. @Daveh0 we only use eGPU for testing and rare short term needs. Most people never are slowed down enough for that to be the right investment. Intel minis are 679 and 929 from Apple eligible for three year AppleCare and full manufacturer warranty. Get those if your price point is $1k. – bmike Jan 11 at 15:09
  • yeah the $929 is an i5 with 8gb RAM... i could upgrade the RAM but I'm pretty sure I want/need the i7. I guess I could always be patient and wait for an i7 to become available. – Daveh0 Jan 11 at 15:28
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    @Daveh0 Even the i5 beats many Mac Pro configs on Geekbench scores. – benwiggy Jan 11 at 15:47
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    I ended up finding an open-box 2018 i5 with AppleCare+ until 2023 (i'm guessing it would have to be an Apple-Refurbished open-box?) - 16gb RAM/512gb SSD for $900. Glad I asked about price and looked a little more. Thanks for the intel! – Daveh0 Jan 12 at 4:26

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