« Random Excellence: James Friedman by Imogen Cunningham | Main | Quote o' the Day: 'A Generational Thing' »

Tuesday, 28 September 2010


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I've been using Macs since 1985 (Fat Mac) so I can relate. I ended up most recently going with a MacBook Pro 13" with an external monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc. Portability is a plus for me. I've had a Mac Mini as my household media server for several years, and it's been great for that.

I expect the new Mac Mini will serve you very well as a desktop workhorse for digital content creation and management. Multiple external drives allow lots of flexibility with storage and upgrades. Just be careful to evaluate the noise spec's on the drives - some of them get unbearably loud at the slightest provocation. (LaCie MiniHub 500GB, for example.) Consider the possibility of a RAID device for increased I/O throughput if you're regularly working with huge files.

I offer no opinion on the monitor ... way outside my zone of expertise and, I suspect, very much a matter of personal preference and/or color calibrator compatibility.

Oh ... you're getting an SSD. Never mind RAID.

I still like the iMac the most. :-)

If image editing is gonna be part of this monitor's chores, then I'd spring for the Eizo ColorEdge CG243W


Maybe it's a "splurge" since you say you don't need it, but I think a good monitor is completely worth it. You can never have one that's too (capable of being) accurate or has too much real estate. You just can't.

With the way I have my work-flow setup, I like working with two monitors, that way I have the picture I am working on in one, and all the pallets and the like in the other, my current setup is two 5 year old Apple 20 inch LCDs, I also have a machine with one Acer 24 inch LCD, it's nice, but the two monitor machine works better for me.

I am finding that my computer lifetimes are getting longer, CPU speed in usually not a problem, now days I tend to use them until they fail or they just are not compatible with my other hardware/software, I am still using Office 98, but am slowing changing over to Open Office.

That looks great, Mike. Go ahead.


I'd use one of the trackpads at the Apple store to see if you like it. Presumably you still have a mouse you'll be able to plug in, but I just don't like the big track pad for anything I need precision for.

That said, having the big track pad instead of the tiny one on my laptop might make a difference.

Its a bit smaller, same resolution, but about the same price: NEC PA241W from B&H. From what I understand, you can use it in the sRGB or AdobeRGB modes and get pretty dang close to a calibrated setup without calibrating. Also has a bunch of other high end functions.

NEC link

I don't have one yet but am about to pull the trigger on one, with the extra calibrator. That lets you calibrate using the internal LUTs.

Sounds good - the monitor looks great - and the USB hub on it should help.

If you're willing to sacrifice a few inches on the monitor, the price comes way way down, like less than a third of the price. http://www.amazon.com/ViewSonic-VP2365WB-23-Inch-IPS-Monitor/dp/B002R0JJYO/ref=pd_cp_pc_0

I have a wireless magic mouse which I really like. I wonder how it is for dragging windows for instance? The mouse does use batteries though so the apple or some rechargeable battery solution would be good. I was going to suggest a mini or a laptop. I used a titanium PowerBook for 8 years before I switched to a mac pro. I've been very happy with Other World Computing as a supplier. I can't speak to the Viewsonic

Approve! What you're describing is basically what I thought when I read your post. I"m getting along reasonably well with a 2.0 ghz Mac MIni with 4 gigabytes of RAM. If I were you I would consider bumping up to the 2.66 ghz chip figuring that faster is always better, and you're going to have this for a while. Also, lots of RAM is good, but you don't have to pay for Apple memory. If you get your Mac from B&H you can not only get the memory for less (half the cost) but they will install it for you and check it out if you wish. You could get the faster chip and have money left over. B&H won't, however, help you with data transfer alas.

I would forget about the Viewsconic, instead take a look at NEC's Spectraview line. These LCD monitors are excellent, incredibly sharp, and super easy to calibrate and profile. Often used by medical imaging specialist for MRI, Catscan, and digital XRAYs, the SpectraviewII software is compatible with several popular colorimeters and with the Spectraview software profiling is a hands off operation. I've never had it so WYSIWYG with my digital work flow. FWIW, Andrew Rodney highly recommends these monitors.

Mike -

I don't know a lot about Mac computers, but I know that monitor is a nice one; and I just installed an SSD in my desktop and the whole system runs noticeably faster. I am also using external drives and they work fine. It should run very quietly. I have had good computers that were so loud that I had to get rid of them. I have a very quiet case now. Quiet is important. With the small size factor, it looks like a really cool system to me.


Mike, I like the setup, and love the small size of the Mac Mini, but I wonder why not the 27-inch iMac Quad-Core (either i5 or i7) with a 1 Terabyte internal drive? It is all one box so ultimately, footprint wise, it is small. It packs more power, and the 27-inch built-in monitor is something to behold. If you don't need the Quad-Core, the next one down is great also. I find mine pretty quiet.

Out of the box that Quad Core i5 is 2K. Add the two 1.5TB externals... some more RAM and you are set (unless you really want that SSD. The iMac has an option for a 256GB SSD, or for both the 1TB drive and the SSD. The iMac is one neat package (wireless mouse and keyboard). The downside... you're stuck with a built-in monitor format.

I have had Macs since they came out (using all sorts of other computers also during a stint with an MIS unit). I have a Quad-Core Mac Pro with plenty of RAM, great graphics card, two 24 inch Apple cinema displays, a few external hard disks, etc. at the office. Great Mac... but I prefer to use my shiny new 27-inch iMac at home for my photo work. Quite comfy, roomy, snappy, and clean for my work area (the iMac, keyboard, mouse, and an awesome pair of Klipsch ProMedia speakers with subwoofer). It is the best Mac I've owned.

Have fun,


i disagree with most of the recommendations in the original post.
i'll go through each in turn.

the computer:

i can only endorse the mini with very very serious qualifications:

1) it's very slow. be prepared to be patient

2) it's not worth trying to make it too much faster. limit yourself to the following upgrades: however much ram 100$ buys you (i believe it's still 4gb), and a hitachi 7k500 500gb (50$). only attempt this if you're confident enough to perform both upgrades yourself; paying for labor destroys the value proposition.

3) it's loud. it will be quiet at idle, but the single fan will spin up and become loud when you're doing pretty much anything. in the world of physical packaging of computation, small = loud, big = quiet. this is an extension of the laws of thermodynamics.

by the way, here's my reasoning on the memory and storage:

first, memory. memory prices are going up again unfortunately, and good quality 4gb so-dimms still carry a pretty hefty premium. i have an extremely similar system (mbp 13") and my workload is photoshop/lightroom. with only these two applications running, it is extremely rare to consume a full 4gb of memory in a way that would cause performance degradation.

second, storage. SSDs are a waste of time and money. speed is going to be on the order of 2x on average _for IO bound operations_ on a single user system and most photo manipulation is done in memory, hence not IO bound. this is something the home user should just wait on. on the upside, disk storage has never been cheaper, faster, quieter, or more reliable.

if you want faster but don't want to pony up for a mac pro, buy a base model workstation from dell or hp. aim for something around an i5-750 (you want around 4 cores, 3ghz). put 4gb of ram in it for the moment and wait until ram prices drop again; the memory will be cumulative. for the drive, aim for a 2tb western digital caviar black and a 2tb western digital green internal and ignore the mass storage advice below.

mass storage:

please don't buy mac specific storage (lacie, OWC, i'm looking at you). this is not the 1990s.

buy the base model USB externals from either western digital or seagate. shockingly, the maximum capacity, 2tb is pretty much the mass storage sweet spot at the moment. if you can use a screwdriver, it may be more cost effective to buy bare OEM drives and empty external drive cases. it is not always for bizarre freakanomics types of reasons.


this is where the vast majority of your money should go, for obvious reasons. imo you want the most color accurate display possible. i would aim for one of the new NEC PA series with an appropriate calibrator. these are not the cheapest way to get the newest LG series of P-IPS panels, but they are the only way (save Eizo) to get the highest grade versions of those; in addition to having the best stability and uniformity, they have a programmable LUT so that calibration can happen at the firmware level (ie, _everything_ is calibrated).

if you want to cheap out on monitor, my recommendations are:

-don't buy any of the newest dell series (UXX11) smaller than the U2711. panel grading drops precipitously below 27" on that line.

-the viewsonics seem to use the previous generation LG panels so i would avoid those. (i could be wrong about this)

-the new HP zr series looks quite nice. the zr24w seems to have some quality control issues, but the zr30w looks extremely nice.

-of the monitors using the new e-ips panels, the NEC 23" is best regarded; i'd say that's probably the absolute cheapest one can get.

obviously you can't forget the calibrator for any of these..

Mike, that sounds like a fantastic setup that should last you more than the typical 2-3 years. BTW, you can do the data transfer yourself using Migration Assistant -- I've used it a few times this year, and it really is good!

External-wise, I recently switched to a drive dock with USB, FW400/800 and eSATA connectivity. I have one HD for photos, and one for everything else, and just swap them in and out of the dock. I was starting to get overwhelmed with my pile of externals and their respective power bricks and cables, etc!

Looks pretty smart to me. Looks like the graphics are half way decent on the little Mac. That would be my only concern, how fast the software runs, but with the ram upgrade and the fancy hard drive should be fine. I do all my Lightroom editing through external drives via USB (to a laptop) and things are plenty quick.
I've been using a new 27 inch imac and Aperture to photo edit at the school I teach at, and the screen is, to my eyes, too saturated and bright at the standard settings, unlike my HP laptop.

Ooops! I just read your previous post and see why you don't like the iMac! Sorry to jump the gun here Mike!


I don't use a Mac, but for the past 2 years I've used a PC equivalent of the Mac Mini. It's been an absolutely delightful computer. Small and nearly silent, and so much space was freed up when the big box went. I wouldn't go back to a full sized box for anything. If it's powerful enough to run Photoshop and whatever else you use, I think you'll really like it.

Best Regards,

I can approve that message.

Of course, some dude wrote an article a while back about buying what you need as an end goal, rather than a few intermediate steps in between wasting money along the way. Some other dude wrote something about "sufficiency" as well, so there you go.

Monetary costs aside Mike, I'd say go for it.

As an aside,find the 27 inch IMACjust too darn expansive for the majority of MY projects. The 15 inch MacBook Pro is far more suitable for many things.

And that 27 inch machine may just well get sold and the laptop be the primary machine.

Besides my photography is not Photoshop/Lightroom material.

Just get a 27" Core i7 iMac already. Mine is 5x faster than my other machine, a Core 2 Quad, and the screen is gorgeous. Macs keep their resale value very well and you should be able to resell your previous iMac without too much of a hit. The Mac Mini is OK for general office use, but will struggle with intense photo editing.

Mike please skip the Apple atore and go to Techwise in Waukesha for advice. Four minutes from your house.

I wanted to do what you are suggesting myself and they explained why an iMac was the better choice. Of course I was worried about being limited to 8 gig of RAM.
Please talk to them.
The iMac has better sound too.
Regarding the SSD. the iMac is screaming fast without it, but OWC can add it for you later if you want.

Still want the MacMini because you lust for the Viewsonic monitor? Just to confuse your decision, I can now sell you my Apple cinema 30" for the price of the Viewsonic. Side by side, you would prefer the 30".

I'd suggest trying out the Trackpad before getting one yourself to make sure you like it. I have one but don't much care for it -- too many years of using the mouse.

I'd also suggest getting an Apple 27" display instead of the ViewSonic, especially for a long-term purchase. It's more coin, but the Apple product has an LED backlight (which means it's mercury free and uses less power), has built-in speakers, and has a higher resolution.

The SSD and RAM from OWC is a good idea. I use a drive dock and have a stack of 1TB bare drives I swap in as needed -- that's an option that may be a bit cheaper.

Also consider on-line network storage. I use several services -- stuff I'm working on lives on Dropbox and for long term storage I send stuff up to Amazon S3 (using Panic's Transmit utility).

You're definitely on the right track. There's nothing wrong with the suggestions of a MacBook Pro but if you don't need the portability you're just paying for another display yet again.

I've used a Mac Mini since Apple switched to Intel and updated to a 2009 version when they came out. I added 2GB RAM for a total of 4GB and swapped the hard drive for a 500GB 7200RPM drive. I use Lightroom extensively and only rarely could use more CPU speed. Super-fast CPUS are for gamers and video editing and are otherwise mostly wasted.

I'd change your list a bit:

- Put in a 500GB 7200RPM Hitachi or Seagate drive (less than $100). Except for booting up the machine, you're not likely to notice the difference. Spend the $500 saved on cameras, lenses, books, stuff for your new darkroom, or beer.

- Get a 1TB Time Capsule for backup, or use Time Machine with the 1.5TB external drive. Backup becomes automatic and painless.

Just took a look at the ViewSonic page you link to. The headline is:

"Professional-grade monitor for pros"

As opposed to? I'd pass on that monitor just on account of the headline! Of course whoever designed the monitor probably didn't write the headline as well, so you might be safe.

On a slightly more serious note, you might want to consider bigger external drives. I know 1.5TB sounds like a lot, but so did 100GB just a few years ago. I'd go for something in the 3 to 4TB range. Personally I use RAID arrays for that extra margin of safety.

Other than that it looks like a great system!

I really like my mac mini, it's small, it's so quiet (it's silent even) that the noisiest thing on my desk is a external hard drive. Even without the SSD and 8 gb Ram (I have 4) it's able to handle photoshop well.

Maybe the NEC PA241W with full Adobe RGB color space coverage?
It's $50 cheaper at B&H Photo.
Thinking of getting one of those... or maybe the wider PA271W.

Mike, don't know what your budget is... but if you can spend another $300-400, then get a Macbook Pro 13" instead of the Mini. Same specs as the Mini, including support for 8GB RAM and the high-res monitor, but you also get a second (albeit smaller) monitor via the laptop screen. You can set up a dual-monitor configuration this way. And you can take it with you, which is not so fun with the Mini since you need to schlep the monitor, keyboard, and mouse too. I know about this because I own both a Macbook and a Mini. The Mini just sits in my living room as a sort of mini-entertainment center, which it's quite good at, but it never moves. See current best prices and specials at www.macprices.net/macbook.

Mike, in just the last month, I struggled with the same questions to replace an aging system, ultimately determining to go with a 64 bit pure Intel system, quad 4 I7 processor and 8 GB of RAM to begin with. Macs were tempting, in part because I had heard they had great screens, but expense ultimately making my choice against the Mac. But, choosing a screen, for either computer system, was the most challenging choice to make. Speed of chips, amount of RAM, and interface are relatively easy to balance in comparison, much of it being just computational arithmetic after some point. But, nobody seems to offer comprehensive and reliable reviews of monitors.

I wanted a wide gamut, accurately calibratable screen. My postings on some bulletin boards did not produce much in the way of reliable anecdotal experience. The Viewsonic you posit may fit the bill, as it claims to be wide gamut, I just do not know.

I do know that articles like this one in the February 2010 online issue of Shutterbug http://www.shutterbug.com/equipmentreviews/software_computers/0210nec/ and a British review which takes a look at color accuracy and the fit into RGB and sRGB color space, or not, of many monitors were helpful in my choice of a NEC Spectraview monitor. http://www.tftcentral.co.uk/reviews.htm

Googling high end brand monitors can give some interesting feed back from folks who had unhappy experiences with support people or longevity. After a bit, I steered away some of those costly screens because of those anecdotal stories.

My NEC arrived two weeks ago, from B&H, inside a pristine, inside another pristine box, but after a over a week of tedious data transfers to the new hard drive, I discovered just this weekend that the colorimeter was broken, even though inside its own bubblewrap and buried inside the main box along with the monitor. I have to say that the NEC support people were polite and immediately responsive to a degree which is seldom experienced any more. Are they really in California, not Canada? My new colorimeter is expected tomorrow, with no fuss or muss, 48 hours after calling up NEC support. A pleasing experience.

All of these choices are compromises and a roll of the dice as well, given the difficulty of getting reliable information about monitors. I am an amateur, and so while I do want high quality, the choice is remains dollar limited. I still do not know how well I shall like the NEC, other than it is already seeing that it is miles ahead of the CRT which it is replacing.

Not sold on the trackpad, but everything else looks sweet as.

I like the selection of the SSD and the RAM, but why the 1.5 TB HDs? The Hitachi 2 TB is very attractively priced and reliable. The WD 2 TB HD costs a little more, but is also quick and reliable. You know that the few dollars difference will be long forgotten when you run out of space on the 1.5 TB drive. I would also suggest getting a third HD for backups so that you have a rotating system of backups with one off site. If you really want to splurge, get one more HD for a Time Machine drive. You can use the mini-stack enclosure for the Time Machine drive and one of the "Toasters" for the two backup drives so that you just plug the drive in rather than having the expense of an enclosure for each of them. With the Time Machine drive you stand to lose no more than an hour's work unless you have some sort of catastrophic failure that destroys everything (except your off site backup).

Yes, I know I sound like a shill for the HD manufacturers, but the truth of the matter is that the only thing on you Mac that matters is the data. What is that worth? HDs do fail and sometimes in rapid succession.

"One more thing"...hardware failures begin to excalate after the 30 month point.

All fine, but putting your music and pictures on the same disk is a big no-no. Use two separate OWC Elite-AL Pro. They're worth it.
Make sure the drive mechanisms are WD, not Hitachi DeskStar. (Two of mine from OWC came DOA, another pair died in the first week; replaced them with WD, glitchless ever since.) Not enthralled with Seagate Barracuda either, reliability-wise.
For backup, prefer a Guardian Maximus or Mercury Elite-AL Pro in Raid-1 configuration (=mirrored, not striped).
Belt+suspenders approach, reliable and quiet. Greatest OWC drives, when equipped with the proper mechanisms. I also have one as a heavy-duty 24/7 hi-res music server, using iTunes and Pure Music.

Wow, Mike, you really knocked me out with that display! Just a few hours ago I was searching for a nice PVA/IPS monitor, at least 24" (since the good 27inchers are all but vanished) and couldn't find any decent one from the big brands. Dell fell with displays worse than the ones they made five years ago, HP forked in ultra-consumer plus unbelievably expensive, Sony quit, and Apple makes it quirky (really, miniDP?) and my old time favourite, Samsung, simply skipped the domain by discountinuing good displays and not replacing them with any other option.
I simply forgot that there are lesser known brands that specialize in catering to the ones left out...

Sounds sensible. I'm a big believer in having lots of RAM (and I do more or less know what I'm talking about when it comes to computer performance).

If you're using time machine use that or migration assistant and make the move .. it pretty easy and you'll save $100 .. but I'd buy Applecare.

I'd consider getting 2 23 inch IPS monitors , the price jump from 23 to 26 inches is quite breathtaking about 3 times as much.
For what it's worth I've been quite happy with the HP LP2475w 23 inch, s-ips, 1920X1200 good build quality. Un-profiled it has a bit of a pinkish spike in the highlights but once I got it profiled it's been great.

If you have two monitors, you can have one vertical which is pretty nice.

Hi Mike,
Monitor - Lovely :-)
Storage - Sandforce SSD, perfect, latest and greatest with the best for now chipset, I would query the need for 240GB size though, perhaps get the 120GB for now and swap out in 12 to 18 months when the prices drop more. SSDs are one area where we are seeing good improvements in price, capacity and speed on what seems like a quaterly basis. 2 external drives @ 1.5TB is also a sweet spot pricing wise.


Consider a Wacom Bamboo Pen & Touch instead of the Apple Magic Trackpad.

I'm not qualified to comment on your technical choices but I would ask you to consider the following point. If you have stuff on your computer that is both really important to you and not replaceable by other means, then you MUST have an external back up hard drive which you keep in a secure alternative location. This may be a small safe in a different part of your home or, even better, given to a friend who lives a mile or two away for safekeeping. Sure, you won't keep this up to the minute up to date but maybe, like me, do a back up transfer about once a month or so. The point being of course that you need to be protected not only against electronic but also against physical and criminal mishaps.

make sure those external drives are quiet !!! In my experience the 5400rpm's are MUCH more quiet than the 7200's. Besides since you'll be running them using the firewire 800, the faster drives are a waste.

Also, I don't think there is a huge difference in performance between the 2.4 & 2.66 Mini. Save some money there.

While the viewsonic does seem nice, the new 27" apple display has more resolution for not a lot more $.


Just wondering how you chose what you chose

Alex S

Buy small but strong iMac.iMac has a display port. Plug viewscan in it, and use iMac display for anything but photo editing thus save work hours on vievscan.


Try the 27" Cinema Display. Costs $100 more than the ViewSonic, but if my 27" iMac is anything to go by, it'll have really good* colour rendition, and the resolution is amazing, plus it will act as a USB hub.

Oh, and I don't know which keyboard you're using, but my piano-playing girlfriend says that the Apple wired keyboard is great and the wireless one is amazing. Me, I think the wired keyboard is the best - far better typing accuracy and less fatigue than anything else I've used, and I usually type at least 7000 words a day. Something to consider, as you probably use your keyboard quite a lot.

* good - relatively good for an amateur who doesn't colour-manage their displays, but I generally know exactly what a print will look like.

Given your strong preference for keeping the monitor when upgrading your computer, your choice makes sense. The only thing I'd quibble about is the SSD -- I don't think SSD is "there" yet in terms of cost/performance/durability, versus conventional hard disks. (It's also not clear if the unit you've spec'ed actually fits inside the Mac Mini -- please do double-check that.)

That's an intriguing combo Mike. Best investment I ever made was a monitor that I really couldn't afford; an Eizo CG 241W. As a result of the overspend I couldn't afford the MacPro workstation I wanted and instead got a Macbook Core2Duo 2.2 black (3 years ago) which turned out to be less than ideal when I upgraded from a Canon 1DS to a 5DmkII. But there is nothing like the peace of mind of sending files that you just know hit the sweet spot. Even if it takes longer to process them.
One suggestion I'd make is for you to consider getting a considerably bigger Time Machine backup drive. It should be 1.5x bigger than your total storage (minimum). Ideally 2 to 4x larger. That may give you several years of fail-safing your files from dodgy drives, false deletions, flood, fire, tornado and other cock-ups and disasters. A 4 bay MacPower unit from OWC with RAID 5 should do it nicely. Total paranoia avoidance is to have a duplicate set of drives cloned and stored off-site.
If you go ahead with the Macmini system, I'd be interested in how it works out.

I understand what you want, and certainly why. But I'm not sure if Mac Mini is a good way to get there. IMO Apple has a gap in their line and that's something between the Mini and a Mac Pro. The iMac is Apple's answer, but then you're stuck with the glossy screens, and it's not much more expandable than the Mini. I'd like to see something similar in size to the SFF PCs where you at least have room to upgrade disk capacity with an extra disk or two, but Apple don't seem interested in that type of form factor.

So, if you want that LCD-screen then the Mini is the only option without getting a Mac Pro or an iMac and a dual screen setup (which you might want to look into). Anyway, the Mac Mini isn't particulrary powerful by todays standard, but it's certanly good enough for light to medium Ligthroom or Photoshop use. If you feel you're in the light to medium image editing category then the Mac Mini should work OK performance wise.

I see the restricted internal disk space as as another potential problem, or at least an inconvenience. It all depends on how much data you need to have on the internal disk. Working directly from an external Firewire disk, even a Firewire 800 one is not ideal, particulary if you work a lot on big files. It's a problem that can be circumvented by moving data to and from your internal disk, which is inconvenient.

It all comes down to which parameters (size, silent operation, performcane, screen options etc) that's most important to you. Personally I'd be more happy with a somewhat more powerful processor than you get in a Mac Mini, and at least room for two internal drives (or eSATA external drives), but I'm sure you can get a reasonably good system with your configuration, and the "music-drive" don't need to be advanced, any (1TB) external USB-pwered 2.5" drive should do.

The only thing I'd call overkill would be a 240GB SSD. The operating system, applications and libraries won't need anything like that much space, but it'll be totally insufficient for your data. Everyone I know who has an SSD (myself included) has a small one for the software paired with a large (>= 500GB) disk or RAID-1 pair for their data. Not to mention the tendency of SSDs to slow down due to a special kind of fragmentation that happens when you write and erase lots of stuff on a daily basis.

That monitor looks pretty sweet though :-)

Great start, you are on the ball. I suggest: 2TB drives are better than 1.5s, because its a round number, and they are just as reliable. Add a third drive for triplicate backup and store offsite or in a safe deposit box, that way you are protected if your house burns down. Get a Color Munki... and upgrade the monitor to a 30", because you can simply do more. The NEC displays are the best, but pricey, I like em better than the Viewsonic.

OWC is the best, I buy from them too.

Mousing is easier than a trackpad, but, thats just like, my opinion man.

Remeber, the fastest external connection is FW800 on the mini, not eSATA. Make sure your external enclosures are FW800, otherwise you will be sucking your photos through the straw of USB 2.0.

It seems you have taken your decision to use the Mac Mini, so there you go; I think that monitor is ugly as hell, but it seems it must be technically very good (and I guess you will have very specific photography uses for it). So no discussion; my only suggestion: put more RAM if you can afford it, RAM is never enough.

But going to my point (that maybe should be a comment to your previous post on this topic): changing the monitor with the computer is not bad idea IF you use the computer long enough. Let me explain:

I've been using Macs since 1990 (so I am almost in your "Mac user forever" category). The first one I owned was purchased in 1999 or so, being one of the first iMacs (one Special Edition if I recall correct). It is still located next to my main computer, and it works fine on OS X 10.4. In 2001 I switched to a PowerMac Pro (top of the line at the time) with a Sony CRT monitor. In 2008 or so, the CRT nonitor died and I replaced it with a Samsung LCD screen, which I used plugged to the PowerMac Pro until 2009; then I replaced the whole system by getting a top of the line iMac (27").

My point: if you are changing your Mac every few years, it is true you are wasting the screen. But if you do it every 8-10 years (which is not unrealistic), it does make sense, as usually there is a clear advance in screen technology, and besides the original iMac screen is already well used.

And then, my real point is this:

There is no need to change Mac every three years. I've been using for professional uses (education and research) a computer purchased in 2001, until late 2009. It worked fine, and I could do all my required jobs without any limit.

We are more and more into the philosphy of use and throw away all kind of products, from kleenex to computers, and we are clearly entering that phase also in the world of photography. But, let me use capitals for this, IT DOES NOT MAKE SENSE. It's not only the screen you purchased 8 years ago: it's also THE COMPUTER (specially if it's a Mac, given their quality) what works entirely fine and there is no need to replace it.

Depending on your budget, you might want to replace the internal SSD with a larger SATA drive. SSDs are kind of overrated in my opinion, and not worth it for the price yet. I would get a 1,5TB or 2TB internal drive, and another one externally for backup. I don't see why you should need three drives when you only seem to need two :)

If you absolutely feel you need a SSD, should get a smaller one. I'd say 64 GB is enough if you don't store music and pictures on it, and it will still give you the faster boot times for the OS and faster load times for Photoshop etc., and save you some money while you're at it.

Looks like a wonderful setup!

the Mini is a decent solution; at some point you might want to travel with a computer, in which case a 13" MacBook Pro (basically the Mini in laptop form, and with about the same connectivity) could be plugged into the monitor instead; that's what i do, and i'm very happy with it

one thing i don't understand is the drives -- those drives are no bargain (each is a $75 drive in a $125 case), and why not a third drive to rotate offsite (which would make it a "real" backup)?

and personally i am suspicious of that monitor -- i can't find any mainstream reviews of it, and Viewsonic hasn't bothered updating its Mac specs since Apple switched to Intel chips in 2006 ("G3/G4/G5"!); if Apple's 27" had an anti-glare coating it would be an easy choice over this Viewsonic

Monitor and upgraded Mini are perfect, SSD takes even slightest noise out and adds lots of speed. Trackpad -- questionable. No precision for me at least. Wacom or iPad would do better with photographic work. With backup I choosed Drobo (www.drobo.com) few years back, because of frustration about multiple backup and data drives lying around. Drobo gives me upgradeable backup in one box. One bad thing -- it is noisy, if it works, but Im using it once a week only. So, my two cents.

If you don't regularly import lots of huge photo files into Aperture then the mini should be perfect.
I use a 24" imac with a similar spec (ish) and it handles A900 files with reasonable facility, i still leave it importing and then go to work when it has finished chewing.
If I was processing 100's of photos a day I would get a Mac Pro tower just to speed up workflow.
If you have a Spyder Elite they have a recent software upgrade which has greatly increased its functionality especially for imac users it has gone from being an ok calibrator to an excellent one so recommended for any screen you may purchase.
Unrelated but if anyone out there gets paid regularly via paypal and needs to account for those payments then check out Garagepay by iwascoding, I just started using it and am most impressed absolutely no vested interest in the company.

Good plan, especially with the SSD and external drives.

OWC might even allow you to swap the optical drive for an internal 2.5" harddrive, which may or may not be faster than an external one. I don't know, best ask them. Optical drive can be externalized (is that a word?) or tossed as needed.

One caveat: Screen is IMHO overpriced (you knew it!). I'd recommend looking at a HP ZR24w: Only a little smaller, same resolution, IPS panel, swivel, height adjustment and pivot, and enough inputs. And best of all: Under 400 Dollars. I think it's the most cost-effective "good" monitor you can get. But if it's love with the 'Sonic, it's love. And I won't mess with that :)

Piece of advice: Buy the Mac with the RAM preinstalled. It´s very taxing installing it on your own.

Keep music and pictures on separate discs.



" I listen to music a lot as I work"

Might be a reason to consider a PC.

All my music is on the hard disk - as original WAV files, not compressed. Fed through an M-Audio 2496 sound card (about £100 for the card) into an external amp (Pioneer 300R Precision) and then into 3 foot 1960s high Wharfedale speakers.. compares favourably with most sytems I've heard.

Presumably, you are going to connect the Mini to the monitor using a mini Displayport to DVI adaptor, and run the HDMI to the hifi for your music? If so, Apple's own adaptor has some mixed reviews (http://store.apple.com/uk/product/MB570Z/A). You may need to identify a different source.

I only know this as I am going through my own research to use a Mac Mini as a media centre with a slightly outdated Samsung TV with no HDMI - there are all sorts of cable issues to consider.

Mike, for what it's worth, I have a HP LP2065 (20 inch standard format) monitor with an IPS panel - did my homework 3 years ago - and I must say it has been an excellent choice with its rudimentary (downloadable) calibration wizard. I think they do a 24 and 28 inch in standard format also. Having looked at the widescreen options I would have needed a much larger widescreen to get the 12 inch vertical height that I have and I use a cheap second monitor for placing open files or palletes.

Oh, yes, and the price for the HP IPS panelled monitor was about 450 of your American dollars, so worth a gander.
Good luck.

Hi Mike
This seems like a reasonable setup. I won't comment on the monitor because I am not familiar with your photo editing and calibration decisions.
I run a team where we have in excess of 20 Macs delivering creative ouput. Our Minis are unsung heros. We don't have many, but they hammer away, taking up little space, and making little noise, and the latest ones are fast too.

One smallish thing:
Consider, at some stage, an additional backup drive that can be kept off-site, and/or some kind of online backup, especially for your most valued images.

Hi Mike
You'll absolutely love the SSD. In the spring, I bought a laptop with a 250 Gb SSD. Due to the SSD, this otherwise rather modest machine really moves the data about. And it's dead silent as well.

I'd definitely go for the Apple 27" Cinema Display. After using a 27" iMac there's no going back to a smaller screen.

The ViewSonic monitor (going on specs alone) wouldn't be my choice if the aim is print matching. It has pretty coarse dot pitch, is a bit bright and doesn't directly support DisplayPort. It's also unlikely to offer hardware calibration. Overall colour gamut isn't as important as people think. If you do go ahead with it though, I'm sure it will be great!

Computers are commodities whereas the screen is what you look at all day, everyday day ... or at least I seem to.

I think this makes lots of sense, but I would spend the $150 to get the faster processor.

Pointing devices are very personal. I would also get a Kensington trackball. I'm not sure I could use the TrackPad as my primary input device, but I want one for photo editing.

I would get a larger drive for backups, say 2GB. Then it will hold at least one copy of all your files even if you fill the data and OS disks.

Recently I put a SSD Patriot inferno in my Mac Mini and....Ouahhhh, I have now a new machine, very responsive, no more beachball in Aperture. I think you make a good choice.But consider the swap of the superdrive with a 7200 tours Hard disk for your photo Masters.
Best regards
Excuse my poor english, I'm French.

Wow, that is going to be an expensive starter system.
By the time that you connect all those drives, you are going to end up with a mess of cables and external power supplies.
This might be a nicer drive if you go with a mini:
http://eshop.macsales.com/shop/ministack/ because it fits nicer and gives you extra ports.

Co-incidentally I have just been considering going over to the dark side. Your blog set me down that track again but then I saw Apple are charging $699 stateside or €799 (approx $1100) for the Mini. Nearly twice the price.

Thats Apple and Adobe who cynically rip of consumers the other side of the pond

The Mac mini with a SSD is a swell choice, and I have no hesitation in recommending it.

I have a problem with your monitopr choice, however ;-)

If you intend to live with your monitor for several years, you might consider going for a more high-performance model than the ViewSonic.
May I suggest either the Dell U2711 or the NEC PA271W (both probably use the same 27-inch 2560x1440 IPS LCD panel)

I'd tend to recommend the NEC PA271W, as it's a monitor specifically tuned for the graphics arts. Of course, it's expensive, but I tend to think that, just like the speakers of a Hi-Fi setup, the quality of the output device is critical to the performance of the whole ensemble.

The CNet review of the NEC PA271W is mildly informative. To find it, try this Google search:

pa271w review site:cnet.com

The PA271W has a 10-bit DisplayPort input, which, in theory, enable a much smoother tonal range compared with the standard 8-bit DVI or DisplayPort which can offer far less than 256 actual values once a monitor calibrator identifies the tonal values that need to be skipped to approximate the target tonal response -- e.g. Gamma 2.2.

In practice, 10-bit DisplayPort might be a good or bad thing. There's an interesting article on Luminous Landscape about a Mac user's teething troubles with 10-bit DisplayPort:


Note however this quite reassuring comment by user "mactilda" on Apple's support forums:

"My PA271W + miniDP/DP cable work fine on both a '09 mac mini."


One major caveat: I have no idea whether the Mac mini can actually send out 10-bit DisplayPort signals when connected to a 10-bit capable display, or if it will just continue to operate it as a 8-bit interface…

Hi Mike (from Australia),

I think I understand your reasoning behind this setup, but I do have questions/suggestions:

1) Do you REALLY need the SSD? My 500GB HDD in my EeePC (travel storage) is capable of 70MB/s transfers and is essentially silent. It is also about 10x cheaper...
Also, with 8GB of RAM, the SSD is going to be idle most of the time.

2)If you are going to do heavy editing on the Mac Mini, you may want to consider upgrading the CPU (with the money saved from not buying the SSD :), as every little bit helps.

3) Screen good! Me want too! I have the HP 2335 LCD (essentially an Apple 23" Cinema Display, only better). Better as in adjustable stand with pivot and every video connection known to man. So go for it. A good screen is like a good lens - an investment. Size DOES matter...

Not a Macolyte myself, as I prefer DIY and bang for your buck, but whatever fires your shutter.
It's that little voice in your head speaking, Mike (shut up little voice, shut up, shut up! :)

FYI, I am an EOS 7D (Yeah! Canon Gets It Right!) user, with just three lenses (Sigma 12-24, Sigma 24-70 2.8, and EF 80-200 2.8L.

So to summarise: approve and disapprove :)

p.s. Are you really going to take notice of anything we say?

Mike Hente
Melbourne, Australia

you already have a small Wacom tablet, right ?

"Just wondering how you chose what you chose"

Alex S,
I'm worried about glare from the glass surface of the Apple monitor. My office gets a lot of afternoon sunlight in the wintertime. It bugs me already. (Of course, maybe investing in a good set of curtains....) Anyway that's what got me started thinking in terms of alternatives to the iMac line, which I've been with for three upgrade cycles now (Blueberry, eMac, '06 iMac 20".)


If it was me, I would buy the 27" IMAC . If AIO is not an option for you then please explain how this viewsonic monitor is better than the MAC 30" monitor?

Interesting Setup...

What's the general opinion on the Viewsonic monitor.. How does it stack up for real world photo editing use... I'm not expecting it to beat top end EIZO & NEC units but would be very interested in it if comes reasonably close.

For about the same price, I would recommend the 26" NEC MultiSync LCD2690WUXi2.

I caught on to this line of monitors by way of recommendation from Andrew Rodney (aka Digital Dog). I'm not saying he recommends THIS monitor, but they are all color managed in detail.

It includes color calibration hardware and software that integrates directly with built-in hardware on the monitor.

I own the 24" - it is a solid piece of hardware.

Read the spec here: http://goo.gl/NfcB

Love the Apple Magic Mouse. Tried the Magic Trackpad in the store and hated it. The trackpad on my Macbook Pro is fine, when I have to use it on the road, but a mouse is better.

Other than that, looks like a good setup. My current preference is for a laptop and an external monitor so I can have a portable solution for the road and still have a nice desktop work area, but if you don't need portable, the Mini is really small and a fine choice.

Hi Mike,

I am a PC guy, but this is the third year I use a 19" VA926 Viewsonic (4:3) LCD Monitor. I found this format better for editing photography, as there is no space around the picture in 4:3 format, or very little empty space above and below it if it is in 3:2 format. It has a resolution of 1280x1024, and a contrast ratio of 2000:1. Maybe all these numbers mean nothing, but the end result - the colors it produces - they are superb. I didn't do any calibration to it, but maybe, only maybe, it'll be necessary depending on the printer you are going to use in your system. Anyhow, good luck with it.

Agree with Mac Mini, but suggest the server version with two hard drives and no CD drive.

Just need to load OS X. Better spec than the iMac.

Big approvals for the 8Gb of RAM (I couldn't think of any better upgrade to my MBP).

The SSD is a good idea, but IMHO they are overrated (and I had a lot of trouble installing an aftermarket SSD into my MBP. It is a known issue with OSX's SATA driver where it is unstable at high speeds (!!) -- and some manufacturers even make detuned SSDs for Macs for this reason.

For the human interface side, don't cheap out on the mouse or keyboard. If possible a comfortable mouse with selectable DPI (on the fly). This is useful to get more accuracy as you need it on touch ups.

I wouldn't cut back on the keyboard either: something that has good key action that is comfortable to your hands is important.

Consider the 21.5 inch iMac with the second monitor. The foot print is still pretty small, but the power is much higher. The issues with the glossy screen are all much smaller with the smaller screen - and I can assure you that the matte IPS panel and iMac screen pair just fine. I have a 22 inch HP IPS panel that I paired with the iMac.

Mike. As a guy who last year had to sell an iMac (grrrr)for the same reasons you mention, I know your pain! I caved and got a Mac Pro.

I would ask: Does the Mac Mini have the graphics card horsepower and RAM to run all this?

Don't know about the rest of the hardware, but when I got my IPS monitor about a year ago, there seemed to be a lot of reports of HP and Dell 24" IPS monitors around this price range suffering from a green tinge on one side of the screen and pink tinge on the other. Sure enough, mine had it, and I couldn't get it to go away through the monitor controls. Fortunately hardware calibration (Colormunki) knocked it down to the point where I had to consciously look for it to see it, and I don't notice it at all anymore. Hopefully you won't see that problem, but something to watch out for.

Haven't read the referenced post and comments but have recently upgraded Mac / monitor.

Why do you *want* the Viewsonic? If it has something to do with the colour gamut capability and its programability, i.e., being able to calibrate the monitor as opposed to the video card, and its compatibility with profiling software, then great.

I'm working with a refurbished NEC screen and NEC's SpectraView II which allows me to profile for editing or print and to switch profiles on the fly depending on what stage in the workflow I'm at.

Some minor watch-its regarding the colour management capabilities of your software but if its Photoshop, you should be OK.

For under $1500 or so, you're not going to get much more than a reasonably solid sRGB gamut out of your screen. Hence the ability to softproof a print gamma can get you closer to results you can see before hand.


Consider tracking down a "clearance" Mac Mini Model z0h00LL/A

4gb ram, 500gb hdd, 2.66ghz, 9400M.

We just bought one from MacConnection on a super deal. This is a "last generation" model, but very nicely priced...$699...

Why just one back up external drive? That sucker goes and you have lost everything. You need two back up drives for archiving. Hard drives eventually fail. Buying two gives you a shot at not losing everything.

And besides, memory is cheap.

I assume you're planning to replace the Mac Mini's hard drive with the 240GB SSD. Is this something you feel comfortable about doing yourself? Are you aware that, regardless of who does it, a drive swap would technically void Apple's warranty, in which case the Apple Store would look askance at providing any assistance?

You might also consider how much of your work you'll be doing with the internal hard drive vs. the externals. I own the OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro you're considering, and although it's quiet, compact and reliable, the fact that it uses a FireWire connection limits the data throughput. The internal drive will be a lot faster, but if you do a lot of shooting you can fill up 250GB before you know it.

I mention this caveats not to discourage you. Both may be non-issue for you. I just want to be sure you're making a fully informed decision.

As a 'commentariat' (great name, BTW...) I would like to mention my pleasure with OWC, they have great support and great products.

I forget to say...everything else looks awesome, especially the monitor....Michael

I've just traveled down a similar track. Your plan seems quite a good one.

I bought one of the new 2010 model Mac Minis, to write programs for OS X. I find that the 2.4GHz core2duo processor runs quite nicely, along with 4GB of RAM. (I considered 8GB, but think 4GB adequate.) I'm using two 1280x1024 LCD Sony monitors, one connected with DVI, the other with VGA. Plus three fluffy little ViewSonic birds perched on top -- from some computer show, I think.

The little Mac Mini chugs along pretty well, compared with my older 3.2GHz pentium4 windowsXP box, with 2GB of RAM.

I find the Mac Mini to be refreshingly quiet.

I also have a fairly serious Network Attached Storage (NAS) box [1], with a collection of hard discs: that provides for storage of my photos, and other data, including Mac's Time Machine. The NAS is periodically backed up alternately to two further hard discs.

[1] http://www.qnap.com/pro_detail_feature.asp?p_id=104

Why 240GB SSD ? Windows users get away with 80GB (or smaller) boot drives and I wouldn't think Macs need more. Space for the OS and frequently used apps and the rest goes on the external drive ?

Noooooooooo!!!!!! Go to the Dell Outlet (fine print link at the bottom of the page) and get a similar monitor for around $170. Nine hundred? Jeez Mike, spend that on some glass.

Mike is the glossy screen keeping you from the 27" IMac? It is space efficient and fast as heck. And if push comes to shove can run that 23" monitor to boot. I own a 21" IMac and use it to do our uploads and run all the business software applications. It serves as the backup to the Mac Pro. The Glossy screen has not been an issue (or I've just gotten used to it).

"I wouldn't cut back on the keyboard either: something that has good key action that is comfortable to your hands is important."

I use the Microsoft Ergonomic. I have, I think, three of them. Once you get used to the split format it's hard to go back to anything else. The only problem with them is that the caps key doesn't release quite soon enough, and it's very common to type ONe EXtra CAp without meaning to. Otherwise it's a comfortable and good-performing (and not too expensive) keyboard. I would think it would be better for touch-typists than it is for me (I'm a four-finger hunt-and-pecker, unfortunately. Wish I'd learned to type properly when I was a kid; I'd be a whiz by now).


As an owner of two Sony Artisan CRTs and one Mac 23" Cinema Display over the past 6 years, I would never again consider purchasing any stand-alone color monitor that is not self-calibrating.
To be able to click 'start' every other Monday morning and then have a cup of coffee and make a phone call while the Artisans adjust themselves for perfectly-tuned display characteristics... well, my 23" Cinema has simply become my tool palette.
As such, this EZIO would be my own choice in your position:
And best wishes for your new upgrade Mike, whatever you finally choose!

I like the idea about buying the mac mini for your computer... if you can make it work, but I have some advise for your monitor. dont buy viewsonic. I had one once and had it replaced 5 times and still did not get fixed. their customer service is not very good. and second it is not super colour accurate for the price. check out http://www.shootsmarter.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=165 will crockett definately seems to know what he is talking about. if you are going to spend that much on a monitor, I would recommend the LaCie 324. it will have better colour and save you some moneys. Also consider the imac again. Its monitor has excelent colour and can be used just as a monitor when it gets old. In addition you can get a referbished 27in one from the apple website for less than 1300. and has a better monitor than viewsonic one and is faster than your mac mini. just some food for thought.

I would upgrade the processor to the fastest one Apple makes-that simply increases the "usability" of the Mini that much longer and is a minimal investment over several years at $150.
As for RAM, check these guys out as well: http://www.transintl.com
As an Apple network engineer I've used them for years and their quality is excellent and pricing is pretty competitive.
I'll presume you already have a wireless keyboard and mouse, but I'd check out Western Digital and LaCie for bigger external hard drives and compare them with what you selected.
Just my two cents!

Like some others I would highly recommend the 27" iMac. Gorgeous screen, fast, aesthetically pleasing and a pleasure to work on.

I would suggest that ViewSonic monitors are typically a bit sub-par when it comes to image quality. Dell's monitors are more widely regarded as being the best bang for the proverbial buck.

A U2410 is $500.
The U2711 runs $1100, but is closer to a 30" in terms of resolution. http://accessories.us.dell.com/sna/products/Displays/productdetail.aspx?c=us&l=en&s=dhs&cs=19&sku=224-8284

Lastly, is it necessary for an SSD that large? I would think a large redundant external storage pool (3TB RAID 5) with a 120GB SSD would be a better balance. This would come out $20 less, with the addition of more storage, redundancy and speed, but the loss of 120GB of SSD.


I use the HP LP2475w as my monitor, probably not as nice as the ViewSonic but I think it was in the $700-800 range and therefore a great value. The Mini will probably work fine, but I invested (and I don't use that world lightly for the amount of money I dumped into it) in the least expensive Mac Pro and it's paid for itself in productivity. The 12GB of RAM is regularly taxed, having multiple drives spreads out the R/W, makes backup a cinch and it's upgradability has helped keep it keep up with the times.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007