I’ve tried to avoid using Mac’s as hard as I tried to avoid learning to build Websites.  But ever since Web Developer Guru Dave Wilson built my first real website www.bangkokimages.com I was hooked.  I drove him nuts worrying over the finer details which is just the way my brain works.  I can’t help myself.  If I know a “t” isn’t crossed I can’t sleep at night, so I learned to build them myself.  4-5 versions later our flagship website is doing better than ever, and I’ve build at least a dozen websites for clients that turned out even better.  It’s contagious.

Introduction

I’ve tried to avoid using Mac’s as hard as I tried to avoid learning to build Websites.  But ever since Web Developer Guru Dave Wilson built my first real website www.bangkokimages.com I was hooked.  I drove him nuts worrying over the finer details which is just the way my brain works.  I can’t help myself.  If I know a “t” isn’t crossed I can’t sleep at night, so I learned to build them myself.  4-5 versions later our flagship website is doing better than ever, and I’ve build at least a dozen websites for clients that turned out even better.  It’s contagious.

Fellow commercial photographer and colleague Craig Lamson (the guy I go to when I have questions) having recently been assimilated into the Mac World apparently felt I deserved no less and has encouraged me to do the same and has been very helpful in the process.  As a professional photographer serving a broad spectrum of clients we encounter clients who need Mac compatible files and I’ve long since learned to provide them.

But what really hurt was when my workshop clients who I value the most (not because I earn the most, I actually earn the least with workshops, but the opportunity to help a fellow photographer enjoy their craft is all the more is priceless), wanted to learn the post-processing half of the workshop on a Mac and I couldn’t accommodate them to a high level.  Now, due in a large part to Craig Lamson I’m well versed in the Mac World and can conduct the full workshop in any platform including the monitor profiling portion.

 

And it started with Craig emailing me “Hurry, there’s a new Quad Core 2.5g i7 Mac Mini on their Outlet and you can save $150..”  He went on to tell me this rarely happens and at the same time I’m asking myself “Steve, do you really want to do this, you’ve spent years avoiding this moment, what’s different now?”   What’s different was Craig’s credibility.  Craig is kind of like Siri but for photography and a lot more knowledgeable.  If Craig tells you something about photography, including which tools are best used, you can take his opinion to the bank.   So I quickly click on the Outlet site and see it’s still available, 0500 in the morning and the only one, and five minutes later it’s ordered and on is way.

 

The Order

And it started with Craig emailing me “Hurry, there’s a new Quad Core 2.5g i7 Mac Mini on their Outlet and you can save $150..”  He went on to tell me this rarely happens and at the same time I’m asking myself “Steve, do you really want to do this, you’ve spent years avoiding this moment, what’s different now?”   What’s different was Craig’s credibility.  Craig is kind of like Siri but for photography and a lot more knowledgeable.  If Craig tells you something about photography, including which tools are best used, you can take his opinion to the bank.   So I quickly click on the Outlet site and see it’s still available, 0500 in the morning and the only one, and five minutes later it’s ordered and on is way.

Meanwhile I’ve received another email from Craig saying  “I know you like speed, I haven’t done this yet but if you want to install an SSD in addition to the included 1tb HDD this is how..”   Now my mind is working:  “A new quad-core Ivy Bridge should be plenty powerful, what if we pumped up the disk I/O to the current fastest possible speed and maxed out the RAM with fast RAM modules?  We just might have a screamer.  Let’s give it a try!”

I broke out my credit card and away we go: The Outlet Quad-core Mac Mini 2.5g with the 1tb HDD and 4gb of RAM ran $650, the fastest SSD available that week was the Samsung 840 Pro capable of 100,000 IOPS on 4k R/W (the fastest I’ve seen this side of a PCIe SSD) was over at Other World Computing (OWC)  which at the time was $219 (they go up and down like any commodity), their excellent and complete Data Doubler SSD/2.5” Hard Drive Installation Kit for $29.00 a NewerTech NuStrand Alloy stand to hold the Mini vertical for $18.50, an adapter to run a second monitor, and 16gb of fast Crucial Lifetime warranty RAM for $96.00 (also goes up and down and it looks I bought at a great time) and I was done.  All I had to do was wait.  After tax I’d barely broken $1000.00  $1000.00 for a state of the art Ivy Bridge quad-core Workstation complete with the fastest SSD on the market and a fat 1 terabyte hard drive from a top brand known for quality hardware!

But wait I didn’t.  I’m just not good at waiting.  I went back to the Data Doubler page on OWC’s excellent website and watched their step by step installation video for installing the additional drive.   Hmm.. seems easy enough..

 

The Arrival And Assembly

Two days later multiple carriers were busy ringing my doorbell and dropping off packages and soon I had it all before me. Here is a list of all their DIY videos, you’ll find the Data Doubler and RAM install instructional videos here. I’ve been working with electronics  for decades, I feel very comfortable with virtually any task.  Give me the tech manual and necessary test equipment and I can find the bad component(s).  So it’s probably no surprise that I found this easy, but I could tell there were a few areas someone less experienced might have issues.  I had a second party put this together and confirmed, when they got to two areas they weren’t sure what to do, but once I showed them they went on to complete the installation with relative ease.   About 20 minutes from start to finish and the new 16gb RAM modules and the new 256gb Samsung 840 Pro system drive was installed while retaining the original 1tb storage HDD as a storage drive.

 

But we weren’t done yet.   The Mountain Lion version of OsX was still on the HDD and the SSD wasn’t yet formatted.  To rectify this I followed Siri’s Craig’s advice and obtained a copy of Carbon Copy Cloner here. Any of the popular drive cloning applications will work fine and they all work mostly the same.  After booting up on the original HDD I set all the required settings, installed CCC, and then followed the very easy to use instructions and cloned everything to the SSD.  I then went into Utilities and then Disk Utilities and reformatted the original HDD as a storage drive.

 

Transferring The Operating System

But we weren’t done yet.   The Mountain Lion version of OsX was still on the HDD and the SSD wasn’t yet formatted.  To rectify this I followed Siri’s Craig’s advice and obtained a copy of Carbon Copy Cloner here. Any of the popular drive cloning applications will work fine and they all work mostly the same.  After booting up on the original HDD I set all the required settings, installed CCC, and then followed the very easy to use instructions and cloned everything to the SSD.  I then went into Utilities and then Disk Utilities and reformatted the original HDD as a storage drive.

 

That’s it!  Done.  I could hardly wait.  I hit the Apple, told it to restart, and less thaen 10 seconds later I had shut down OsX and booted back onto the new screaming fast SSD.  The properties window confirmed the 2.5g CPU, 16gb of RAM, the 256gb SSD, and the 1tb HDD.  20-30 minutes was all it took start to finish.  But before I started installing my software suites I installed GeekBench which promptly returned a very high for the platform 14,435.  I should mention that my current workstation, the workstation that’s been earning me a fairly decent living, an X-58 based 950 quad-core i7 desktop, state of the art three years ago only earns 10,600  but technology marches on.

  

GeekBench Benchmarking

That’s it!  Done.  I could hardly wait.  I hit the Apple, told it to restart, and less thaen 10 seconds later I had shut down OsX and booted back onto the new screaming fast SSD.  The properties window confirmed the 2.5g CPU, 16gb of RAM, the 256gb SSD, and the 1tb HDD.  20-30 minutes was all it took start to finish.  But before I started installing my software suites I installed GeekBench which promptly returned a very high for the platform 14,435.  I should mention that my current workstation, the workstation that’s been earning me a fairly decent living, an X-58 based 950 quad-core i7 desktop, state of the art three years ago only earns 10,600  but technology marches on.

 

Next I loaded up Lightroom 5.2, Photoshop CC, Capture One 7, and some other plug-ins and software necessary for my workflow.  It’s a bit disconcerting looking at the totally silent small square thing on my bench.  Sitting next to it is my three year old workstation.  Tried and true, it’s never let me down.  But by comparison it’s huge giant of a machine, earsplittingly loud (I used to think it was nearly silent), and can this small silent piece of new technology really handle the long sessions where I’m processing hundreds of images or rendering videos and the types of processes that places an unusually high-load workload on the workstation.

 

Software Installation

Next I loaded up Lightroom 5.2, Photoshop CC, Capture One 7, and some other plug-ins and software necessary for my workflow.  It’s a bit disconcerting looking at the totally silent small square thing on my bench.  Sitting next to it is my three year old workstation.  Tried and true, it’s never let me down.  But by comparison it’s huge giant of a machine, earsplittingly loud (I used to think it was nearly silent), and can this small silent piece of new technology really handle the long sessions where I’m processing hundreds of images or rendering videos and the types of processes that places an unusually high-load workload on the workstation. 

Yes it can.  With ease and apparently without even breathing hard.   Over the next 2-3 weeks this machine proved itself a joy to work with.  OsX is addictive but for me not overwhelming, the small footprint is a joy to work with, and the quiet nature of the machine very easy to appreciate.

I wanted to touch on the “Windows vs. OsX” debate we’ve heard going on forever and give you my opinion.  In the past there was a time when Windows was a superior product, and there was a time when OsX was a superior product.  IMO this would  be normal as two competitors go head to head for their ranking in the marketplace.  However now, we enter a relatively rare time when both products are pretty much equal from a technological and user experience point of view.  They’re both good! 

Yet, OsX leans towards the user who just wants a system to work and is willing to accept the tighter constraints of both limited hardware availability and software function.  For those who want a much greater flexibility of hardware and software function then Windows 7 and 8.1 (forgot 8.0) are very good.  I prefer Windows 7 because I’m using a desktop and the Metro interface suits a tablet better.

 

Nits and Niggles

Two things are missing:  GPU power and onboard data storage in excess of the 1 terabyte hard drive it comes with.  The Intel HD Graphics 4000 set is no slouch.  It can run three 30” monitors if that’s your thing at their highest resolution and deepest color.  If you mainly process still imagery, even large multi-layered tiff’s, you’ll have no issues.   But if you render videos longer than say 5-10 minutes in length on a frequent basis then you’ll start to feel the loss of a discrete GPU with gobs of power.   And with a Mini you can’t just add on a video card.  You get the built-in Intel HD Graphics 4000 and that’s it.

Data storage on the other hand gives you more choices.  Impressive choices even.  Recently I’ve started using a Synology 1813+ eight bay NAS and you’ll be seeing it’s write-up here.  It’s one impressive machine and I’ll only talk about one of its assets here so as not to spoil the review, the ability to roll data through a machines LAN port FASTER than most any hard disk drive out there.  In my case my 1813+ is configured with (8) 3tb HDD’s so nearly 20tb’s of data storage in as many drives as you’d care to configure, rolling data to your new Mac Mini faster than an internal hard drive could ever do.  20 TERABYTES! 

And if that’s not enough I could configure it with 4tg drives for nearly 30tb’s of storage, or I can add up to two extensions for up to 72 terabytes of secure storage.  If that’s’ not enough folks they make bigger models.  If you need a faster interface then the Mini’s Thunderbolt port can roll as fast as you could ever want with capacities previously unheard of (10gbps), or if you want economical storage the Mini’s quad USB3.0 or single Firewire 800 ports are there to please.  Smaller drives up to 128gb can be accommodated via the SD card slot. 

As you can see, there are many easy and economical ways to compensate for the lack of onboard storage past 1 terabyte. 

 

Connecting my new Screaming Mac Mini

Video outputs include HDMI, Mini-Display port, DVI via an adapter comes with the Mini.  I hooked up one NEC LCD2690 via the mini-dp port, another through the DVI adapter, and the Mini auto-configured both monitors to work exactly how I wanted them to work right out of the box. Wow!  Windows makes you configure them.  Later on I connected my HDTV via an HDMI cable and the Mini easily handled all three. 

I use a Logitech K800 keyboard reviewed here, and a Logitech Performance Mouse reviewed here.  Both use a single USB transceiver called the Unifier, which all in can connect 6 compatible devices.  I/O devices are personnel I know, but everyone I know who has given these two devices a try finds them superior to anything else they’ve tried with one exception.  The exception is when using OsX and there are some users who prefer Apples Magic Mouse.  I didn’t.  I found it annoying as it’s runners scraped across my mouse pad.. but to be fair about half love it.  The other half loves these two Logitech products.

If you use any type of LAN connected drive then your current home networking equipment becomes vital to the speed with which your data  is delivered.  If you don’t know how to do it yourself considering paying a professional to evaluate your home system.  If your home system is modest, say you only have a router and modem then I can tell you to get a quality late model router such as the Asus RT-AC66U series, route a quality Cat-6 cable between your router and your new Mac Mini, wifi of even the fastest speed will greatly slow your input/output rates.  But if your system also includes a switch (extra router ports), multiple connections, media devices, hard drives, printers, etc, it would really benefit you to hire a professional to evaluate your system.

Connecting my Mac Mini to my system immediately gives it access to two NAS devices including my main Synology 1813+, WD Media Live, DVD player, Sony ES Home Entertainment receiver, Cable DVR box, Samsung HDTV, Motorola SURFboard DOCSIS 3.3 eXtreme Broadband modem, Sling Box Pro, several tablets, 5-6 phones, 5 laptops, 3 additional workstations.. all through a Asus RT-AC66U router and a Cisco 16 port Rackmount Gigabye switch.  SOoo.. if I want maximum throughput to my main storage unit (Synology 1813+) it becomes mandatory to investigate each and every one of these connections. 

 

Video outputs include HDMI, Mini-Display port, DVI via an adapter comes with the Mini.  I hooked up one NEC LCD2690 via the mini-dp port, another through the DVI adapter, and the Mini auto-configured both monitors to work exactly how I wanted them to work right out of the box. Wow!  Windows makes you configure them.  Later on I connected my HDTV via an HDMI cable and the Mini easily handled all three.

 

Summary

If you need a very powerful inexpensive workstation with the smallest footprint in the industry, all the power you could use for processing still photographs, and you enjoy the style of Mac products then give the Mac Mini Quad Core a serious look.

The entire time I used this machine I never wanted for more power, and I had to remind myself the computer was in this small 7.7 inch square by 1.4 inch thick slab of polished aluminum sculpture.  Virtually every other device in my system, my printer, modem, NAS, were ALL bigger and heavy and single task items.  The Mac Mini is smaller and does so much more.  If you’re coming from a tower computer it takes a bit of time to reconcile the diminutive size.

There is also a bit of adjusting when it comes to the desktop.  The computer is smaller, but not everyone’s needs will be met with a single internal storage drive and they might not choose an out-of-the-way or in-the-next-room NAS, they might choose Thunderbolt or USB3.0/Firewire 800 external drive and that will need to be placed.

As you can tell I’m taken with this small powerhouse of a computer.  I can see many professional applications where I might want to carry 3-4 of these and matching monitors.  Will I adopt it as my own workstation long-term?  No.  Maybe for short term assignments when I want to carry a small powerful workstation w/external monitor with me.  But I must confess, this didn’t last long at all.  Within a few weeks so many people had given it a spin and offered to buy it, and of course there’s that one person who wouldn’t give up until they took it home.  So it’s already moved in.

But but.. what about the need for a Mac Machine to please my clients?  No sweat, by the time you read this I’ll have already finished my next build.. a lot more complicated but MUCH more of a computer.  And it doesn’t make you choose between a Mac and a Windows machine either!  Can you solve the riddle?  You’ll see soon enough, I just need to write the article..

 

But but.. what about the need for a Mac Machine to please my clients?  No sweat, by the time you read this I’ll have already finished my next build.. a lot more complicated but MUCH more of a computer.  And it doesn’t make you choose between a Mac and a Windows machine either!  Can you solve the riddle?  You’ll see soon enough, I just need to write the article..