I'm looking to get a Mac for iOS development, and with about $700 to work with, a Mac mini with upgraded RAM seems like the way to go. My problem is I never work strictly in one place (i.e. the office). I'm always at different locations, be it at home, with clients, or simply sitting outside at a coffee house. I always bring my laptop along and have looked into using VNC to access the mini remotely. However, I've read snippets of other users experiencing less-than-stellar speeds/performance when using VNC.

iOS programming (i.e. Xcode) is the only tool I'd be using during remote connections - no surfing, downloading, game-playing, nothing graphics-intensive. The image of me typing a line of code and having Xcode lag two to three characters behind doesn't sit well as I really despise any type of lag. (I know. I'm picky.)

So, I'm wondering:

Would VNC allow me to feel as though I'm interacting with the mini itself and offer (at least almost) instantaneous feedback? Is there a better option out there with my budget?

Any help is greatly appreciated, and apologies for the length; just wanted to be thorough.

P.S. - If there's a way to simply plug the mini into my laptop and use its monitor, that would be better, though I haven't found that that's possible.

6 Answers 6


Our development team all use Macs. I have personally tried to use VNC both with Apples built in and premium Apple Remote Desktop ($79.99), as well as Jolly's Fast VNC. I had a Mac Pro tower at work and really needed the remote capability, and was able to work reasonably well with Apple Remote Desktop, but when my tower came off lease I went with a Laptop, because the lag and poor display quality were just too annoying. I found that I needed to degrade the display quality in order to keep the performance reasonable, which meant a blurry display. Overall I found it frustrating and avoid remote access, but it does work, although I would strongly recommend buying Apple Remote Desktop to get the full screen capability. Jolly's was fast but at the time had some bugs that resulted in a corrupt screen sometimes. That was over a year ago, the new version may be better.

There are other developers I work with who think that the VNC solution works just fine for them, so I think it depends a lot on how fussy you are about responsiveness (I am fussy).

If your previous experience with remote access involves Microsoft's Remote Display Protocol (RDP) then you will be very disappointed with VNC. The RDP technology is superior in both display quality and performance. One of the few things I really miss from the Microsoft world.

In short, I'd recommend moving to an Apple laptop and then running your Windows virtually. I started with a mini originally, and just ended up moving to a laptop eventually.

  • 2
    Just to update - today 8 years later MS RDP is still fantastic, and Mac remote access is still terribly laggy. RDP is pretty much like being there, you can use it as daily driver, while Mac remote access is a huge compromise that is OK for occasionaly use.
    – O'Rooney
    Jan 19, 2021 at 22:20

Just made the same: got cheapest Mac mini, attached it to my Linux laptop and tasting iOS development.

Two important things to know:

  1. Use ethernet, not wi-fi. Ethernet faster and more stable.
  2. Give a chance to NoMachine. In my case it just rocks. Not so smooth as LCD attached but very-very-very usefull. Moreover looks sexy on both Linux and MacOS. And what is more significant allow to resize mac's screen to your's.
  • 1
    BTW, two years after experience. Don't waste your time with this kind of economy. Cheapest mac mini is slow as hell, while VNC/remote desktop even more slower. If you really need computer to try ios development - just get used one or refurbished. After all you will be able to sell used computer once again for almost same price.
    – Alex Povar
    May 21, 2017 at 11:35
  • Thanks, NoMachine is amazing. Highly recommend ppl to use it.
    – IeuanW
    Jan 22, 2022 at 19:20

VNC performance depends a lot on characteristics of the network that you use (channel between your MacMini and notebook) like latency and ping but, if your mac mini will be near you all the time (and there also will be an AC power socket somewhere:) then VNC performance would be ideal. You can connect your computers with crossover cable, or wifi.

If you want to use it as notebook then why wouldn't you just buy that refurbished MacBook? What would you do if you will need to work somewhere there is no power socket (like a park)?

  • Thanks for all the suggestions. :) I'd only want one laptop, so if I'd get a Mac one, it'd be my portable workhorse, so a refurb with old hardware might not be the best for running a bunch of OSs, but I like the idea. :P And unfortunately, I would generally not be near or around the mini when connecting. I couldn't see an instance where I would be somewhere without a power socket.
    – Brady
    Mar 30, 2012 at 20:13

I've spent a lot of time looking at solutions to this, buying a MacBook Pro etc.

If you're planning on using VNC from a Windows machine to a Mac running Lion, forget it. The VNC support is worse now than with Snow Leopard. I tend to use LogMeIn, which is a bit slow at times, but the internet connection where I have my Mac mini isn't great.

My problem is that I prefer to have dual screen setup, which I have with my Mac mini.

When I'm on the same LAN, I use splashtop streamer and splashtop remote, which is by far the best. However it only caters for one of my screens. I tend to try and put everything on that screen when I'm working in this way. I use an XP laptop with an external monitor for this.

If you got for the two-Mac approach, then there's problems with sharing source code with two machines, you can use dropbox and git. Unless you par for a github account etc.

  • 1
    I don't know WHY I didn't think of just using git. Using Lion on a VM (w/ possibly better performance options) and then just pushing the changes could be the better option than trying to maintain a VNC setup.
    – Brady
    Mar 30, 2012 at 20:07

One word of warning, when I use VNC it doesn't seem to pickup the fact that I'm holding down Control when trying to connect things in XCode Storyboard mode.

I'd consider that a pretty important part of something you'd need to be able to do to use XCode.

I'd stretch the budget to a MacBook if you can. Don't forget you can sell your Windows laptop and install Windows on the MacBook very easily if that will help with funding.

  • Well that stinks, though selling the PC notebook is an idea. But if I had one laptop, it'd have to be a workhorse, so a cheap Macbook may not be the best fit, though it's definitely another option, so thanks. :)
    – Brady
    Mar 30, 2012 at 20:18

You might also want to consider TeamViewer which seems to have slightly better responsiveness and stability over the various VNC clients for Windows - it's the default remote control solution for my company. Cross-platform, highly configurable, even iOS apps available.

(I still think Timbuktu was the fastest I've ever used, though... sigh)

  • I've seen others recommend TeamViewer. Any examples of smooth or laggy performance issues you'd care to share? I do like the amount of flexibility it seems to offer. Thanks for the suggestion. :)
    – Brady
    Mar 30, 2012 at 20:22
  • It's always been very reliable in my experience, certainly better than VNC. I often remotely admin my servers via RDP, usually from Remoter VNC on iOS over a Cisco ipsec VPN, and TeamViewer is consistently a more reliable connection.
    – da4
    Mar 31, 2012 at 23:15

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