Comparing Mac hardware—amortized cost and approx. performance gains

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@ryanjamurphy Have you considered a 21.5" iMac? That could be a nice addition to your existing 5K display and wouldn’t cost as much as a 27". I’ve been running a 21.5" iMac with 2 external displays for almost 3 years and it’s been a great machine.


Thanks all. I have a lot to chew on.

As it happens, I think I’ve figured out why my trusty MBP is struggling sometimes—it’s the heat. If I edit my maps for a while, it starts to cook, which must lead to throttling. If I pick up a map after a break it does a bit better.

So, I might be able to “work smarter, not harder” and suffer with this machine for a year or two, giving me the chance to wait for an Apple Silicon desktop form factor I’m happy with.

On the other hand, I have heard that Mac minis make great home servers in retirement…

Edit: Also, the fact that thermal performance matters this much in practice means that all of my comparisons using Geekbench scores are kinda useless. Is there another measure out there that does a better job of accounting for high performance day-to-day use?

In the end I had to “find out” by buying a machine and seeing for myself.

Accounting for high performance in day-to-day use is pretty subjective. For me, I decided that the only metric I could reliably compare “performance” with was Geekbench single core performance – too litte of the software I use benefits much from multicore.

There’s an interesting recent post at Barefeats which asks if the 16" MacBook Pro can replace a desktop unit. As is the way of that site, various tests using popular (albeit specialized) processor and/or GPU intensive tasks are compared.

The conclusion: :woman_shrugging:

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Do you already have a monitor? The cost for the Mac Mini should include any additional costs like monitor, keyboard, and trackpad. I’m guessing the Mac Mini will still come out ahead though.

Aye, that’s the main motivator for going with the little mini. I own every other aspect of my desktop already—without much room for another display, too.

I could fit a MBP but that’s both more expensive and (as discussed above) I’m concerned about the tradeoffs of performance, laptop form factors, and thermals.

I have a 2015 MBP too and it was struggling when connected to my 4K external monitor. I have written about it in this post. Opening the lower case and cleaning the insides out with a can of compressed air should help with the heat. If that isn’t sufficient then you can try replacing the thermal paste. I just did so yesterday (using ARCTIC MX-4) and am happy to report that it has made a difference!

The Mac is able to drive the external monitor now, which it couldn’t earlier, although the fans do run at around the 6,000 rpm mark in order to keep the temperature below 70°C. The AC in my room has conked out and it is pretty hot (around 95°) and humid where I am so that might be contributing to the increased fan speeds too.

Good luck!

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Thanks @ryanjamurphy. I’ve followed this with great interest.

I have decided that I will wait until the configuration that I want on the 16in MBP falls below $3k (US dollars with educational discount). My 2013 MBP that has been upgraded to 1TB SSD and 16GB RAM will have to hold out until then, even as the rubberized gasket holding the Retina screen is wearing at a spot, the glass screen itself is scratched from the keys, the letters on certain keys are worn in spots, and the back cover no longer fits properly in place. It still churns on to do what I need.

I suspect that a drop to this price point may occur soon after the first ARM Macs are available. And if projections are on spot, the new dongles that I’ll need in transition will make for a wonderful Christmas list for family.


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For decades Apple has tended to build to specific price tiers, so if you’re looking for a lower price you usually need to look to used/refurbed, or a different product at a different price tier. Additionally, it seems unlikely to me that Apple will make its remaining Intel hardware more price competitive before its phase-out. They didn’t do the the last two go-rounds when switching processors.

Thanks all!

I have made perhaps the worst Mac purchasing mistake I’ll make in the next ten years—my Mac mini gets here next week. Six-core 3.2Ghz, 1TB SSD, and 8gb of RAM. (I will install 64gb myself, thanks to iFixit.) Despite the uncertainty, I am very excited about my new performance ceiling.

This is in spite of Joanna Stern saying that this is probably the worst time to buy a Mac… In my defense, her caveat was “unless you really need one,” and I think I do.

Hopefully I’m not too impressed with the first line of Apple Silicon Macs, else I’ll probably entertain offers for my Mac mini in a year! We shall see.

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There have been teething pains in hardware and software both times Apple previously migrated to new processors, and it’s inevitable it will happen again. Just as mavens rushed to jump onto the Catalina and iOS 13 betas the instant they came out (and paid for being unpaid beta testers) there are people champing at the bit to buy these new machines, sight unseen. But Intel Macs will run well and be supported for years to come, so be happy with your purchase if you need a replacement now, and be happy you won’t have to negotiate what will probably initially be choppy waters of new hardware and software compatibility and emulation.

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That’s my machine; the RAM install was involved but doable. I think as a stopgap at worst it’s a great machine, and given any teething issues with the new ARM macs, well, maybe more than a stopgap.


Yep, I love mine and did the same for hardware. Nothing too fiddly except for the antenna connection needs patience. Relax and take your time.

I do think the next model of Mac Mini will be exciting and powerful, but I also think that it will fully blossom in a couple of years’ time as Apple works to get all the bells and whistles in (I’m not expecting problems with the first round of hardware, just that it will continue to improve rapidly for a few years then settle down. Gut feeling). So, I do think my machine will age (in my eyes) faster than I wanted it to, but on the other hand I like new toys.

As people keep saying, if you need a machine, get it now and no regrets. It’s great.