January 23, 2019

Mac Mini Might be "the" Mac for Filmmakers

The Mac Mini has long been popular with production companies as a little "do anything" device. With Thunderbolt 3, it might be the best option as a main system.

Apple has been working very hard to get back into the good graces of professional users, with a huge wave of activity in 2018 letting us know that pros are a high priority. While we wait on the long-rumored 2019 Mac Pro and what wonders it might offer (Thunderbolt 3 AND USB-C ports! PCI card slots!), right now, in January 2019, we spent a few weeks testing the Mac Mini.  We've owned Mac Minis over the years, both in our office as a "mini-server" and at home as a media player and all around backup system, and while we've always liked them, we've never thought of them as our main system.

However, as Thunderbolt 3 finally matures, we might consider the new Mac Mini to be a real contender as a "main machine" for even demanding post users, like colorists.

The biggest thing that makes the Mac Mini exciting isn't even the Mac Mini itself, though with its new Space Gray color scheme and fully integrated design it's an attractive little box. No, it's the increasing benefits of Thunderbolt 3.  When the original T3 Macbook Pro came out in 2016, there wasn't anything to really make T3 worth it; you mostly just used an adapter and T2 accessories.

Between the Blackmagic eGPU and the wave of affordable Thunderbolt 3 SSDs that are hitting the streets, there are some real benefits to the little connector.  

Despite the existence of the 2013 Mac Pro "R2D2," the older 2006-2010 "Cheese Grater" Mac Pro is still dominant in post.  Why?  Well, when (and it's when, not if, if you work in motion pictures), the graphics card dies on a 2013 Mac, you have to send the whole unit in to get refurbished.  Even if it's under Applecare and "free," that doesn't account for the time you lose to having the machine out of commission.

If you go the Mac Mini eGPU route, when that eGPU dies, you send it off to be repaired and plug another in. I could see busier production facilities keeping a spare eGPU sitting around, and since you could plug up to four of them directly into a Mini, you can have a graphics powerhouse and an array of "backup" graphics cards ready to go at any moment. Of course, you might still cook the internal Intel integrated graphics, but that is far, far less likely if you are pushing the bulk of graphics processing out to the external processor.

On top of that, for a small fee, you can upgrade the system to 10gig ethernet. While many post houses run on fiber, many "indie" post houses and production companies run on copper, 1gb ethernet to connect machines and move files around. 10gig has been around for a while but has always been too pricy. Putting 10gig into the Mac Mini, with it also in the iMac Pro, means that a whole host of new machines are going to have it built in.

If you wanted, you could buy a passel of 10gig Ethernet apapters and turn a mac mini into a little 10gig switch. That's actually one of the first questions I had for Apple when playing with the machine, and the Apple expert I was talking to pointed out that they had it set up that way at the moment.

We do wish they would space out the T3 connectors a bit further apart: thumb driver and adapters are wider than power cables.

The other big thing that makes the Mac Mini so appealing is the inclusion of the same T2 chip seen in the Macbook Pro and iMac Pro, that is used to speed up H.265 renders. While H.265 (otherwise known as HEVC) hasn't become the dominant replacement for H.264 quite yet, it is coming, and it does offer substantial image quality benefits, or even slightly, smaller files sizes compared to the market-dominant H.264. 

Why isn't it more common?  Because it's a massive time eater to render. On a traditional Mac Pro (2013, 6-Core, D700 graphics), it took 1:43 to render our test prores file to H265 time compared to only 58 seconds for H.264.  On small files, that isn't a big deal, but if you do a lot of exports or work on longer projects, that really adds up. 

On the new Mac Mini, a machine 1/3 the cost of the Mac Pro at base specs and something like 1/5th the price in top spec?  A Mac Pro H.264 render that took 58 seconds now runs at 23 seconds on the Mac Mini and the H.265 render took precisely the same amount of time, at 23 seconds.

That's because there is hardware acceleration built into the T2 for H.265.  Of course, the new 2019 Mac Pro will have T2 (or T3, maybe) chips and fast H.265 encoding as well. But the Mac Mini is affordable and accelerated. Even better, by putting HEVC encoding on the T2, your CPU stays relatively free for other tasks. The same renders on the top spec Macbook Pro took about 20 seconds, but of course, that is a dual graphics card machine that can cost twice what the Mac Mini will run you. 

We compared Compresso and Media Encoder, with both showing good times on the Mini, but unsurprisingly Compressor had a slight speed edge (20 vs. 23 seconds). Since Apple makes both, they can presumably optimize in a fashion that no third-party software can match.

It's small.  Affordable.  Fast.  Configurable.  Extensible. Even if the 2019 Mac Pro is everything we dream it will be, the Mac Mini might still be the smart option for filmmakers this year.

Available now.

Tech Specs:

  • GHz Intel Core i7 Six-Core and Four-Core processors
  • Up to 64GB of 2666 MHz DDR4 RAM
  • Integrated Intel UHD Graphics 630
  • Up to 2TB internal PCIe SSD
  • 1 x Gigabit Ethernet Port, Upgradeable to 10 Gig
  • Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) | Bluetooth 5.0
  • 4 x Thunderbolt 3 (USB Type-C) Ports
  • 2 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A | 1 x HDMI 2.0
  • 2.9 pounds (1.3 kg)
  • T2 security chip with HEVC optimized encoding

Your Comment

25 Comments

For the love of god, NFS needs some editorial oversight. Is this promotional content? It's clearly not editorial. Wow. My late 2012 Mini is still my FCPx machine because of the very poor value of the new mini. The internet is full of mediocre reviews and concerns about the new mini, ESPECIALLY for people pumping video. eGPUs are not cheap and make the thing no longer anywhere close to mini. Thermal throttling problems abound and pricing it with a i7, 64GB RAM 1 to 2TB SSD and eGPU puts it north of $4000! $4000 buys a nice iMac or MacBook Pro and they have monitors and no ungainly eGPU. Or $2000 in a Hackintosh will outperform the $4000 mini. (YouTube has several easy Hackintosh builds benched against the new Mini).

Come on NFS, get your act together. I've stopped recommending the site to beginning filmmakers I know or mention the many editorial problems. Said to see this site fall so low.

January 23, 2019 at 12:20PM

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Stephen A van Vuuren
Filmmaker
372

I'm currently working off a maxed out 2012 cheese grater:
2x 6-core 2.4 Xeon
64GB RAM
GTX1080 only because the internal power supply couldn't handle the Ti
SSD OS Drive
10G server connection with 600/600mbps
USB 3.0 PCIe card for peripherals

While it is still a very powerful machine it chokes on VR and h265 workflows. It doesn't handle complex AE projects well (talking dozens of comps and lots of alpha), and 4K pushes it pretty hard. I have a sneaking suspicion that the power supply is reaching the end of it's life based on the types of load crashes I'm experiencing.

I've already invested in high quality monitors and I have to work on the road occasionally which involves hefting this monster and it's peripherals-big plus to the mini for size even with an eGPU which easily fit in a pelican!

While I would very much prefer upgrading to a truly modular 2019 Mac Pro, I'm just out of options at this point. Considering a decently spec'd iMac Pro cost $7500+ the Mini seems to be a good option for the next 3-5 years. Hopefully Apple won't forget about the pros for another 6 years. I think a 2018 mini will be a noticeable step up for about $4500 (including the egpu) with a Vega 64. The h265 point is actually fairly significant in my developing workflow.

My proposed specs at that pricepoint (which is slightly discounted from apple's consumer prices through business accounts):
2018 mac mini
6 core-i7
64GB RAM
10G Ethernet
1TB SSD (2TB seems excessive even if it wasn't so obscenely expensive. It'll hold my OS, apps and a 200GB ludicrously fast media cache just fine at 1TB).
Sonnet FX 650 eGPU
8GB AMD Vega 64 (+$300 for the 16GB Radeon vii when it is released next month *fingers crossed)

If the performance holds up to what I'm seeing in reviews and benchmarks it should be a massive improvement compared to my current workflow.

January 23, 2019 at 2:03PM

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Jordan Parker
Video Producer and Photographer
74

If $4500 for a thermally challenged system with a bulky, under-powered eGPU seems like a wise investment, glad you don't make the purchases for my outfit.

January 23, 2019 at 9:43PM

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Stephen A van Vuuren
Filmmaker
372

I'm just getting started trying to become a more successful, professional Freelance Motion Designer/Video Editor. I'm currently saving money to make the purchases I need. I want to eventually move on from the old MacBook Pro I have and buy a Mac Mini 2018. Here are the specs for the current MacBook Pro I own:

13-inch, Mid 2012 MacBook Pro
2.5 GHz Intel Core i5
16 GB 1600 MHz DDR3
Intel HD Graphics 4000 1536 MB
1 TB SSD storage

I've been doing some research on the Mac Mini 2018 over the last 2 weeks and I'm looking to buy it. I use most of the programs in Adobe Creative Cloud but I mainly use After Effects 2018/19 & Premiere Pro 2018/19 is a close second. Here are the specs I want to get for the Mac Mini 2018:

3.2GHz 6‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 4.6GHz)
8GB 2666MHz DDR4
Intel UHD Graphics 630
1TB SSD storage
10 Gigabit Ethernet

Accessories to buy for it are:
-Crucial 32GB DDR4 2400 MHz SO-DIMM Memory Module Kit for Mac (2 x 16GB)
-Razor Core X eGPU
-MSI Radeon RX 580 GPU
-Satechi Aluminum Slim Wireless Keyboard with Numeric Keypad
*Continue using my ASUS MX27AQ monitor or buy an LG 4K UHD 27UD88-W 27" LED-Lit Monitor with USB Type-C
*Continue using my Logitech MX Master Mouse

What do you think? Is this enough for a guy like me who is saving money and just getting started trying to become a professional Motion Designer/Video Editor?

January 24, 2019 at 4:09AM, Edited January 24, 4:25AM

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Alonzo Nelson
Freelance Motion Designer & Video Editor
1

I own the 2018 Mac mini and I can stand behind this article. You’re effectively getting an iMac Pro for less than half of the price (check out 9 to 5 Mac’s benchmark tests on YouTube) even when you include a monitor and eGPU. Definitely the best Mac for the money. I get amazing performance in both Premiere and Resolve. I’ve exported 4K ProRes HQ sequences with color correction, stabilization, and film grain in Resolve at close to real-time.

Sure there are Hackintosh options that are cheaper with better specs. But Hackintosh builds aren’t practical for a lot of people in the industry. This is a great machine for people looking to upgrade to a high performing Mac desktop for a relatively small investment.

Here are my specs:

2018 Mac Mini
6 Core 8th gen i7 3.2ghz
16 GB 2666mhz DDR4 RAM
Razer Core X Thunderbolt 3 eGPU
AMD Radeon RX570 4GB

January 23, 2019 at 4:32PM, Edited January 23, 4:38PM

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Grayson Cape Arias
Director of Photography
88

You have a $220 GPU in there. That's a low end machine for video. It's not a high performance system, period, Mac or PC. If you consider that "amazing performance" in Premiere and Resolve, you've never worked on a fast machine. And "relatively small investment" is disingenuous. It's only small compared to an iMac Pro (which includes a 5K monitor and much better thermals than that Mini or the forthcoming Mac Pro modular. It's a big investment compared to anything else. A new iMac or Macbook Pro with the upgraded GPUs is arguably a better buy and less awkard to move around than a Mini with an eGPU.

January 23, 2019 at 9:41PM

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Stephen A van Vuuren
Filmmaker
372

I wouldn't consider this a high end editing machine, but I certainly wouldn't label it as a low end machine. Perhaps to someone who works mostly as a post production specialist. But even with a low end graphics card, I still have more than enough processing power for my 4K+ workflows. So this system works for me, very well. It is not THE best machine to cut on, it is not THE best Mac to cut on, it is not THE cheapest computer to cut on. However I think it's the Mac with the most bang for your buck (especially if you opt for a better graphics card like the Vega 64. This option works well for me as it will for plenty of other people out there who have similar needs. Sure a MBP would be less awkward to move around, but this machine has a lot more IO and expandability than a MBP.

January 28, 2019 at 4:19PM

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Grayson Cape Arias
Director of Photography
88

I looked up the video you mentioned and he concluded by saying DON'T expect the new Mac mini to perform at an iMac or MacBook Pro level. I was also confused because I just bought an eGPU to bypass my overheating and glitching D700s in my Mac Pro and during that process learned that the eGPU can't perform at the level of an internal card because the internal cards are on the PCI x16 slot while Thunderbolt is PCI x4. And, they said, TB3 only gives a 10% boost in performance in the case of the eGPU (the Mac Pros only have TB2). Mine is a Sonnet Breakaway box with a Vega Frontier installed (I think essentially the same as the Vega 64 in the iMac Pro, as they're both V64 and have 16gb vs the 8gb of the "Vega 64". In tests, my eGPU setup only matches ONE of the D700 cards in Resolve NR tests, and only half when both cards are selected. And the D700s were considered mid-range cards even way back in 2013 when they came out! The techs explained it's because of the PCI slot. I rather doubt it would be any different on a Mac mini. So I am suspicious of the claim that a Mac mini could be considered a pro level video editing machine these days, particularly working with gpu intensive apps like NR and additive grain in Resolve. But anyone please explain if I'm wrong... As far as my eGPU, I'm happy that I don't need to worry (as much) about weird sporadic artefacts in my exports from the poorly ventilated Mac Pro.

January 24, 2019 at 9:53AM, Edited January 24, 9:56AM

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Not sure if you saw the same video I did.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVqKmzZpyM4&t=571s

CPU Benchmarks are at 4:26

I can speak from personal experience that my Mac mini has performed better any iMac or MBP that I have cut on (excluding the iMac Pro obviously). It also handles recode and ProRes better than the 2013 Mac Pro that I have cut on previously. I can't speak to the specifics of the throttling of the eGPU. But I know that my low end RX 570 handles grain emulation in Resolve like a champ, and I have also color corrected and stabilized clips in addition to adding grain on 4K Raw footage from my URSA Mini, and was able to play back the footage in resolve in realtime without dropping the playback resolution or generating optimized media.

As far as considering it as a pro machine, It works very well for my 4K+ workflows. And the only cameras I shoot with nowadays are Arri, RED, and Blackmagic. So at the very least this machine gets hit with 4K ProRes XQ, or 4K/5K/6K/8K RAW, and it handles all of it well in my opinion. I'm never waiting for long periods of time for my exports, even with a timeline loaded down with effects.

January 28, 2019 at 4:35PM

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Grayson Cape Arias
Director of Photography
88

compresso, the software for coffee adicts ...

January 24, 2019 at 4:55AM

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Lutz Leonhardt
Filmproducer
249

I have a 2013 macpro maxed out and I am hoping to move to PC soon.

January 24, 2019 at 10:37AM

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Paolo Mugnaini
Director/DP/Editor
65

This is a bit of a side note, but following the discussion here in the comment section I'd like to state this clearly:

There are two (often overlapping) cases for buying a Mac

a) You seriously prefer MacOS to Windows.
b) You use FCPX.

If you are primarily a DaVinci or Premiere user (or other Adobe fair), just buy a PC and get about 40% better performance for your $.

If you have already invested in a Mac, learn to love FCPX, and you will make up that 40% performance and then some with optimisation (and you will also edit faster because it's better designed, but that's a more controversial statement).

Apple does not make great hardware for professionals, haven't for years, this is a fact. FCPX is the sole reason for video professionals to stick with them, but it is a compelling reason.

January 24, 2019 at 11:23AM

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FCPx is the only reason I still have a Mac in house. I still have client work on in. But I'm slogging on a top model late 2012 with 16GB RAM and a 1TB SSD I put in myself. A lot faster than then 2014 mini. But unless Apple cuts prices or puts in a internal GPU and solves throttling (very unlikely) I will either Hackintosh, soup up an old cheesegrater or iMac/Macbook Pro. The new Mini is NOT a video machine, period.

January 24, 2019 at 1:42PM

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Stephen A van Vuuren
Filmmaker
372

You forgot Pro Res. And I disagree with your conclusion, because Apple isn't only about making hardware, they're also about making sure the OS works with the hardware that they make, as opposed to the Frankenstein world of Windows. I'll take stability over an incremental speed bump anyday. Also the UI won't suck the creativity out of me like a chupacabra. Windoze has a colour palette created by balding businessmen for Power Point.

January 24, 2019 at 3:29PM, Edited January 24, 3:31PM

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Nope, years ago, you needed a Mac for ProRes, that is no longer true. And platform wars are tired, boring and irrelevant. I run Windows, Linux and Mac in my studio, have for many years and will continue to for years to come. A pro should be able to work on any box while you angst about the color palette of your UI.

January 25, 2019 at 12:32AM

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Stephen A van Vuuren
Filmmaker
372

Hogwash. I'd much rather be shooting and researching new projects than geeking out on all the tech, as if that somehow makes your projects better in the end. The less time on distractions from story and content the better, and at present, for me in my ecosystem, that is Mac. It's a perfectly fine pro's choice and legitimate, logical way to approach work.

January 25, 2019 at 8:52PM

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My workhorse MBP battery started failing while working as a Digital Image Tech on an indie feature film. Shot 6k RED, and needed to be transcoded to 4k ProRes 422 LT (still dont know why they couldn't proxy while filming). About 1tb of footage to transcode per day, with several company moves planned throughout the 8 days. Due to unpredictable power and work conditions on-set, I had to resort to staying back at the hotel for parts of the shoot to keep up with my transcoding and running to-and-from set for card swaps. Yikes. I also had an ASUS workstation laptop as a (not ideal) back-up machine. It was a good paperweight for most of the shoot.

Mac Mini 2018 was just released. Those little things always intrigued me. So in my panic with the failing battery issue, I sprang and got the top Mac mini model available near me as a last resort because I was on the road with no access to my main rig.

Working out of a hotel room with a downed machine, a less than ideal back up machine and a single 4k capable monitor on hand with very few options; it worked in a pinch. With maybe a 10-15% improvement in transcode time from my original machines. Six core I7 CPU, Intel UHD 630 GPU. Nothing to write home about.

Got it home after the job and ran some more testing...to find it just wouldn't cut it for the next gig with similar demands. I had some time in between gigs. So I returned the mini when I found a diamond in the rough...a Lenovo ideapad 330. I know. A Lenovo laptop starting @ $500, equipped with AMD chips offering higher core/thread counts. After making minimal ram (8 to 16) and storage upgrades (256gb sata ssd to 500gb m.2 and 500gb sata hdd) I was seeing colors in my testing. It outperformed my other mobile machines and the mac mini without breaking a sweat.

Its a true consumer machine, not quite the workhorse I can rely on in the work I do. But to think a $500 machine with minimal upgrades was able to outperform a $1200+ Mac mini, that MAYBE would have still missed the cut with a $600 eGPU has me at a loss.

I know. I cant expect to get by doing what I do with a Lenovo Ideapad. It's now a family laptop for day-to-day use. Had the job paid more and offered kit rental, I probably would have lugged my actual work cart with me. If I wasn't a 190 mile drive away from it, I probably would have just ran back home to get it in the middle of the week and save me the hassle. But when you pay someone like a DIT, an integral part to handling the data properly and verifying quality of the footage $200/day for an 8-day shoot, its not feasible for someone to bring a full mobile workstation cart. I couldn't predict my MBP going down when it did. My intrigue in the Mac mini was sort of deflated after. Nice I/O ports, but not exactly a V8 engine under the hood. Considering the price without a screen or other peripherals being included, it just didn't suit my needs.

January 25, 2019 at 11:14AM

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Mike
16

I could not care less about platform wars (I generally use a PC, occasionally a Mac, know people who use both and do good work etc etc etc), so please take this as curiosity not a gotcha: Is the perceived advantage of eGPU and other Thunderbolt pluggables that you don't have to open the box to add something? Is it that being modular means you can change your rig for different jobs?

I personally like upgrading parts as needed and consider every connection a potential point of failure, so I'm biased against the idea, but a lot of people seem to like it and I'm curious why.

January 25, 2019 at 1:00PM

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"Despite the existence of the 2013 Mac Pro "R2D2,""

Don't you mean "Trash Can?"

January 25, 2019 at 1:12PM

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I wanted to find a recent text from my brother-in-law before I commented: “Davinci performance is atrocious on my Mac mini! I just ordered an external gpu for it. You’re very patient.”

I was at is place over the holidays and was finishing up a project. He had the new Mac mini (maxed out version). At home, I edit on a Mac Pro 5,1 cheese grater (12 core 3.46ghz, gtx 1080, ssd raid on PCI, usb 3.0, you get it). My old Mac Pro cost me $2,500 USD to put together. My brother’s Mac mini cost him over $4,000. The files and drives I was using at his house with the only variable being the Mac mini could not play back 4K raw video at all (2-3fps). My old machine at home plays back the files in real time without dropped frames.

I suspect the files wouldn’t play back in real-time even with an external gpu but I’m guessing. Point is, to say a Mac mini is a good investment for filmmakers is a joke. Maybe if you don’t care about money, or performance, or time, or you just don’t care; a Mac mini could be an option. BUT if you care about getting the best performance for your money, don’t go near a Mac mini for film/video editing. You are wasting money.

If you’re going to pay $4,000 for a Mac mini, pay $5,000 and get an iMac pro. I don’t suggest either, but if you’re going to waste your money, waste it on a machine you will be happy with when it comes to video editing.

January 25, 2019 at 4:40PM

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Concerning Resolve, I think the current iMac Pro with the Vega 64 is the only real option in the Mac field right now, as the trashcan Mac Pros' video cards can't handle the NR or grain. Fingers crosses on the new Mac Pro coming out this year. I wonder if they'll have the sense to size back up and allow internal PCI slots for graphics cards. I'll never rely on another soldered-in AMD card after my nMP experiences with Resolve, and eGPUs are great for laptops and gaming but are handicapped on a machine like that due to the Thunderbolt PCI speeds, as I understand it.

January 25, 2019 at 9:01PM

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interesting....but I'm still confused about that

January 26, 2019 at 4:55PM

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Kate Tween
Web-designer
6

I'm baffled how many people are loyal to the Mac. You are throwing around numbers like $4000 - $5000 as no big deal. You know how much power you'd get for that if you just made the switch to PC! From a company that was caught purposely crushing their phone's life so you'd have to upgrade, I'm surprised they have any customers at all still.

January 26, 2019 at 5:04PM

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David Prokopchuk
Photographer / Film Maker
203

I am still rocking a MacBook Pro, mid-2014, 2.5 GHz i7, 16 GB 1600 MHz DDR3 Ram, with a NVidia GeForce GT 750M. Today I am editing 360 video in FCPX with effects without any issue. Love this machine. My old Mac Mini is in a closet somewhere, been there for years.

January 27, 2019 at 7:15PM

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John Nelson
Filmmaker
79

I'm baffled how many people are loyal to the Mac. You are throwing around numbers like $4000 - $5000 as no bi g deal. krogerfeedbackYou know how much power you'd get for that if you just made the switch to PC! From a company that was caught purposely crushing their phone's life so you'd have to upgrade, I'm surprised they have any customers at all still.

February 5, 2019 at 4:14AM

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