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Making the switch from laptop to desk

michaelgv profile image Mike ・1 min read

In light of the new affordable Mac Mini 2018's, and the extra bonus of it being user-upgradable in terms of RAM, I've already got a NAS with tons of storage available so 128G SSD is effectively a boot drive.

It's affordable for a base model with 16G RAM, throw in some SO-DIMMs to make it 32G, it's now a small tank. I currently run a MBP 2015 13inch - it's nice, but the ports broke and a logicboard replacement is $800 - just shy of the price of a new Mini.

My gameplan

  1. Ditch the MBP 2015 13' in favour of Mac Mini 2018 with 16G/128G
  2. When I'm "on the go" and want to sit at my relaxing lazyboy chair, have a bluetooth external monitor, with a bluetooth keyboard/mouse - take a tiny hit in terms of latency (not major due to distance), but get the portability I desire - I work exclusively in my office at my desk even with a MBP, and never tend to take it anywhere far, so I'm not taking a big hit using a Mini - it fits my lifestyle accurately
  3. Use the thunderbolt 3 ports to connect two more monitors (2x4K) on top of my existing 4K monitor, to make 3 4K monitors

What's your gameplan if you were to make the switch?

Discussion (44)

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

I have a similar idea, but are the new Mac Minis affordable? Are they a better option than a maxed out Mac Mini from the last generation?

I'm kind of looking to be told "yes" because I have a very similar outlook as you.

Base model and upgraded RAM does seem ideal.

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michaelgv profile image
Mike Author

I've just purchased a Mini - after much debate and going to my apple store.

Here's what I've found:

1. The hard drive storage is NOT extendable on the board directly, however, via thunderbolt or USB you can extend (1TB ssd won't run you that much external over thunderbolt 3)

2. The RAM is upgradable, and can be interchanged with ease - they're SO-DIMMs, 64G of DDR4 will only run $400 CAD after shipping, tax, and import charges

3. The size is the same, the look and feel is expected to be much better, the part I like the most is the RAM upgrade at my own will, when I need it

4. The 6-core i7 will be built to last. They are definitely better than the last generation Mac Mini

tl;dr: Core i7, 8GB ram unit with 128G ssd to start, get a thunderbolt3 SSD (1TB), attach dual monitors (HDMI or Thunderbolt - there are 4 TB3 ports), attach pre-existing keyboard/mouse

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Cool, I may go with this exact same configuration.

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michaelgv profile image
Mike Author

It's great, Core i7, 8 GB ram, 128G SSD - a 1TB ssd is costing me $85, and 64G ram upgrade is $400. It's 10x cheaper than apple's OEM cost.

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mikaturk profile image
mikat

wait wait wait, a 1tb ssd for $85? where does one find these amazing deals?

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sleepyfran profile image
Fran González

How easy is it to upgrade the RAM? Does it void your warranty? I've been thinking about making the jump from my 13" mid 2015 into a Mac Mini too, but since I work a lot with IntelliJ that eats RAM like crazy I need way more than 8GB.

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rhymes

the fact that the RAM is upgradeable is great!

How much did you pay for this configuration?

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michaelgv profile image
Mike Author

All in, I’ve paid $1503.57 CAD, if you’re using USD that’s about $1200 USD all in

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rhymes profile image
rhymes

thanks!

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Vladi Beeblebrox

I didn't quite get it.. Can you please write base conf with price you payed and how much will you cost each upgrade? thx a lot

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vbjelak profile image
Vladi Beeblebrox

That macMini Configuration in Europe costs like 1250€ without Monitors

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rhymes

This review by Marco Arment seems might be interesting to you Ben: marco.org/2018/11/06/mac-mini-2018...

The model he tested is not affordable at all but definitely impressive.

The GPU is not great though

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vbjelak profile image
Vladi Beeblebrox

Agree... Why not Hackintosh?

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Jake Varness

Get a used one. Same thing, much cheaper, just doesn't come in black.

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Scott Tadman

If you're on a tight budget it's worth waiting for the refurb 2018 models to hit stock. The 2014 model is dual-core only and not a great deal.

The resale value on these is also ridiculous. Look on Kijiji at prices. The 2012 model still sells for > $500 which is a little less than half of its brand new price.

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rhymes profile image
rhymes • Edited

I guess it depends on what you work on.

I have a six year old Mac with 16GB of RAM and an SSD and I'm okay for now as development goes. Photoshop CC can be quite slow though :-(

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Jake Varness • Edited

After having laptops provided by my employer that have all had SSDs and large amounts of RAM, I don't really think I could go back to using a desktop. The portability alone keeps my hands firmly on a laptop.

If I had to get a desktop, I'd probably build my own desktop. I'd just purchase all the parts online and assemble it myself.

Unless I really needed Windows for what I would be doing I'd probably just download whatever my favorite Linux distro would be at the time and get up and running.

If you were on a serious budget, Raspberry Pi is never a bad option ;D

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Jake Varness

I've also seen a lot of people taking their broken laptops and converting them into pretty cool machines:

youtu.be/vqeLHrJ68vg
youtu.be/c61ZwCchxn0

rhymes profile image
rhymes

You always speak in absolutes, my current setup is good enough for me ✌🏾

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

I agree with both of you here.

I personally find it important for my productivity and happiness to max out RAM (and anything else that will keep me productive), but people make all sorts of different setups work.

Lots of people develop on 8gb of RAM, or even 4gb 😳 and I want to tell them all that there is a better way, but there's also no magic number where things get better. You're probably always going to find a way to trend towards the limits of your machine. FWIW 16gb seems like plenty most of the time, though I will likely be doing 64 in my next machine.

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rhymes profile image
rhymes

I personally find it important for my productivity and happiness to max out RAM (and anything else that will keep me productive), but people make all sorts of different setups work.

Yeah, it also depends on which platform you develop I guess.

I'm currently limited by the amount of RAM I can fit in my Macbook Pro, it's not like I have decided "nope, I'm not going to add more RAM" :D

I'll definitely keep this in mind for the next one

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Scott Tadman

One of the nice things about the Mini is you can have fairly capable desktop that's always-on and uses very little power plus a basic MacBook for about the same price as a high-end MacBook Pro.

I bought a base MacBook Pro and a top-end Mini in 2012 and they've served me very well. I'm only upgrading now because of the six-core option and vastly expanded memory capacity.

With Thunderbolt drives you should be able to get really good performance (40Gbit/s!) off of external devices, a rate that's about twice as fast as the best non-enterprise SSD you can buy. Having limited internal storage isn't a huge problem, but it's a shame Apple isn't using a standard m.2 connector here. Being able to upgrade that would be nice.

The best part of upgrading is plugging in your Time Machine drive, giving it an hour or two to restore, and picking up exactly where you left off.

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ComputerSmiths

Definitely the Mac Mini, these things are built to last, while they won’t run the latest macOS, I just upgraded RAM and installed a SSD in a 2010 Mac Mini and it runs the latest Debian release like a dream! Got the first of my Mac Minis on order, will probably buy a half a dozen in the next year. Upgradable RAM is a hige win, as prices drop the mid-life ram upgrade will be cheap!

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Debashis Dip

After adding a good mouse, keyboard & monitor it costs the same or more than a MacBook Pro.

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Ben Sinclair

Well... it doesn't cost more than a Macbook Pro with a decent external monitor :)

As developers we tend to like having big, clear displays when we're sitting at a desk. I know I appreciate it more and more as I get older.

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rhymes profile image
rhymes • Edited

Not necessarily, it probably depends on where you are in the world. My mouse and keyboard cost less than 150€ (which is honestly a lot more I could have spent for the two) in total and the monitor I attached to my MB Pro was 275€. His configuration (for which he spent 1500 CAD - 1050€) here costs 1269€ (wonders of Apple :( ). The total in euros would be around 1700€

The equivalent MB Pro (i7 with 8 GB of RAM) is 1900€ here but you get a 13 inch screen and you can't upgrade the RAM :-(

If he's ok with having a portable desktop instead of a laptop I think the made the right choice. A i7 CPU with 64GB of RAM is going to fly and last him a lot :D

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michaelgv profile image
Mike Author

No, I’ve got a nice HAVIT mouse/keyboard set that ran me only $25, full backlit with colour changer

rhymes profile image
rhymes

Again you're speaking in absolutes disregarding personal preference.

As I said, it's a six year old machine, it's expected to be a little bit slow when you have a few gigabytes of data opened at the same time in photoshop plus the rest of resource hungry usual apps.

There's nothing wrong in having either a Mac or a PC. Live and let live :D

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moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

I used to know someone who used a Mac Mini years ago, and used to bring it into the office in the same way other people brought a laptop. I mean, it is really portable even if Apple never push that to their audience as a feature. They're not bad for what they are, but then again, what are they for? They're a laptop without a screen, in a box.

I use a laptop when I want to use a laptop (e.g. sitting on the sofa) and a desktop when I'm at my desk. Means I don't have to unplug and re-plug everything. When I'm at work I use a MacBook Pro, and the hassle of fixing everything multiple times per day because it's so bad and remembering resolutions and mirroring settings, etc. means it's a poor choice for me.

As far as affordability goes, you might think that it's more expensive to have two separate machines, but it's not, because as a developer I don't need a huge amount of processing power (it's not the 90s and I'm not compiling behemoths in C) and I don't need a Mac. So my development environment cost about £500 I think.

On top of both our prices, if affordability is a concern then you need to add costs for a good monitor, keyboard and mouse, and perhaps factor in a desk and lighting if you don't already have a space set aside.

Oh, then I added an extra ~£200 and upgraded the desktop into a decent gaming machine... yeah, sorry about that.

Going back to your broken laptop, though, when you say "the ports broke" what do you mean? All the ports physically broke off? If it's possible to rescue it then you could put it in a desk drawer to hide it and use it as if it were a desktop. For example, as a silly suggestion, if the ports are wobbly then just glue those cables in place (!) and never touch it again. On the other hand, if it's just, say, one of the USB or TB ports then you can daisy chain the others. Finally, if you've been quoted $800 for a replacement board (probably not including labour) it might not be required. You could take it to a reputable third-party repair shop (i.e. not Apple) for a separate quote.

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nepeckman

What bluetooth monitor are you planning on using? Sounds like a cool setup!

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Joseph Farruggio

Can you provide a link to a recommended 1TB SSD with Thunderbolt 3?

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Jason C. McDonald • Edited

I don't particularly have to make the switch, as my desk is already set up with an excellent monitor, stereo speakers, a wireless Logitech mouse, and my beloved CODE keyboard. I set my laptop down there, plug in, and BOOM - dual-monitor setup!

That said, if I were to switch to a purely desktop setup, I'd much rather be running Linux than Mac. The System76 Meerket is roughly equivalent, and runs Ubuntu natively. (Of course, remember that Ubuntu has less performance demands than Apple, so the same specs on Linux are going to be faster by default.)

Meerkat
3.5GHz Intel i7 dual-core, 16GB RAM, 250GB SSD
4 USB Type-A, 1 USB Type-C, HDMI, audio port, Ethernet, power
$1069

Apple Mini
3.2GHz Intel i7 6-core, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD
2 USB Type-A, 4 USB Type-C, HDMI, audio port, Ethernet, power
$1099

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Ben Halpern

Thanks for the input. I'm watching this thread with a lot of interest, but after that I'm jumping in and making a choice.

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Jake Varness

I have never owned a System76 but they look amazing.

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ik_ance profile image
NotBal

I’d much prefer the 4 thunderbolt ports on the Mac mini. Definitely one my favorite interfaces and probably has even more advantages on Mac being a desktop.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald • Edited

Well, fair enough, but to me, two extra ports isn't worth the proprietary lock-in or the drop in specs. There are USB-C-to-USB-A converters, not to mention, USB hubs.

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NotBal

USB-C is not the same as Thunderbolt.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald

Well, TIL. Thanks.

Still, I'm not sure the trade-offs are worth it. At least not to me.