May 31st, 2019
Anymore, computers outlast what is considered to be the average four years of use. I've been using a 2012 Mac Mini that was still going strong before it was time to consider an upgrade. Those four, or in my case, seven, years is an eternity in the computer world and any upgrade is going to be better in almost every way. While my 2012 Mac Mini was still reasonably useable its age was showing during processing photos and other resource intensive tasks. It's not that it couldn't complete a task, it was just the time it took to complete them. I spent some time researching a replacement and settled on the 2018 Mac Mini with an LG 27UK650-W 4K monitor. I thought I would offer a few words on why I choose this setup and how it has been working so far.
I am a dedicated macOS user for one simple reason. I like macOS. It's not anymore complicated than that and it doesn't need to be. If you like Mac stay with Mac, if you like Windows stay with Windows. If you are not sure, then maybe this review will help. Having decided that I won't be switching operating systems, I had to decide which of Apple's computers would best suite my needs without spending any more money than what I had set aside. There is the MacBook, Mac Mini, and iMac (I'm purposely ignoring the Mac Pro). I personally prefer dedicated desktop computers. Sure, you can have that option with the MacBook by pairing it with a dock but I find peripherals (external hard drives, audio interfaces and other devices) easier to manage on a desktop computer. Which left the Mac Mini and iMac. The Mac Mini won for two specific reasons: cost and modularity.
In Apple's lineup of computers, the Mac Mini is the happy medium. While the base price of the Mac Mini increased with the 2018 refresh, they still come in cheaper than an iMac while maintaining similar configurations. The Mac Mini does not have any configurable options for discrete graphics (there is an option to pair the Mac Mini with an external GPU) but the integrated Intel UHD graphics is perfectly serviceable if you're not going to push a lot of video pixels. The Mac Mini I configured includes an Intel i5, 16GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. The bulk of my storage is handled externally so a large internal SSD was not necessary. This configuration is a reasonable middle ground for performance that will handle most photo editing and other processing tasks without too much trouble. What remains is the monitor and that is the second advantage of the Mac Mini. Modularity.
The iMac has a phenomenal 5K screen. Everything is perfectly crisp and true but it is not my favorite monitor for photo editing largely due to the glossy panel. It is hard to describe if you haven't had the opportunity to use one but images on a 5K monitor don't always look how they are supposed to look. Especially when printing. My preference is a matte panel and having the Mac Mini provides me that option. Obviously having the iMac isn't stopping you from buying a second monitor but the additional cost of buying the iMac on top of buying a second monitor was more than I was willing to spend.
For photography work, a well calibrated monitor is important and you want to consider a monitor that, at the very least, offers near complete coverage of the sRGB color space. There are monitors that offer coverage of the Adobe RGB color space as well but those are often more expensive and, depending on your photo printing needs, largely unnecessary. For my needs, the sRGB color space is more than enough and the LG 27UK650-W 4K Monitor fits that bill nicely. At 27" it offers plenty of screen real estate and at 4K it renders beautifully. Often compared to the LG is the Dell U2718Q 4K monitor. Having had the opportunity to test them both, the LG, to my eyes, had a slightly better picture. However, the Dell U2718Q is a great alternative if the LG is unavailable. Occasionally you will see people question whether 4K is overkill on a 27" monitor. Suggesting that icons and text may render small due to such a high resolution compared to its viewing size. I can report that, on macOS, everything is easily viewable on a 27" 4K monitor. So much so that it would honestly be difficult going back to a lesser resolution. For the money the LG LG 27UK650-W is a great monitor and I doubt you would be disappointed in its performance.
How have things been performance wise? It's been great. Everything just...works. The real test would be running my normal workflow for photography which includes Iridient Developer for the initial RAW processing and then Adobe Camera Raw, or Photoshop, depending on the needs of the photograph, for my finishing work. I don't use Lightroom anymore so I won't be much help to those of you who are dedicated Lightroom users but what I can offer is as an observational benchmark using Iridient Developer. Iridient on my old Mac Mini struggled. It would never freeze or quit. It was just slow to render and slow to process. My educated guess is that Iridient relies less on image caching and more on straight computer power to get the job done. I say that only because Adobe Bridge and Photoshop ran surprisingly well on my 2012 Mac Mini with specs that were approaching ancient by today's standards. Anyways, on the 2018 Mac Mini Iridient Developer runs significantly faster. Easily twice as fast, if not more. This is definitely appreciated during the initial conversion and subsequent editing. As for Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop the Mac Mini barely breaks a sweat. Photo rendering is nice and quick. Photo editing is near instant. There truely isn't much to complain about.
At this point it probably sounds like I'm your typical Apple fanboy where everything is great and nothing isn’t. Which, fair enough, I suppose, but it's all about context. I think it's fair to say that the Mac Mini fulfills this utilitarian niche in Apple's computer product line. At its core the Mac Mini does exactly what it is intended to do. Complaint free day-to-day computing with enough pro features to satisfy moderately pro users and then some. If you are a photographer, hobbyiest or otherwise, looking for a no nonsense computer the 2018 Mac Mini is great option to consider.