Using Intel iMac 27" with headless Mac Mini

I have a 2017 Intel iMac 27" that I’m thinking of replacing with an M3 Mac Mini once they’re available. Rather than buying a monitor for the Mini, is it practical to use the iMac as a monitor for the Mini via screen sharing? Is anyone doing this? Thanks!

Terminal Computing Rises Again! :slight_smile:
Yes you can do this, and i do it all the time in
working with disparate operating systems, but
I am less concerned with user tasks and more
with sys admin type tasks.

One caveat is that you are limited by the hardware
of your “terminal”, and the quality of your network.
(I can’t stress the network enough}

An example of hardware limitations, would be If the new M3 mini outputs 8K video (whatever) and your 2017 iMac only supports 4K (whatever), you get 4K.

IMHO if I was more interested in user tasks, as opposed to creating a glorified jump box, i would use any type of locally connected monitor

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I agree with @csf111 A directly attached monitor would be far better than using your Mac Mini via some form of Screen sharing or VNC client. I do this sometimes from my iPad to my Mac Mini and the latency can be brutal at times.

I’ve done this in the past. It is useable, but can have some rough edges.

The biggest pain point I had is when the Mac Mini had boot up problems and I needed to force a startup mode to diagnose, reload the operating system, etc.

Definitely keep a usable dumb monitor available for those times.

In a pinch, I even used a 7" HDMI monitor I use with my 35mm camera for video work. (At the time, me hunching over a tiny monitor with a magnifying glass still seemed like less work than dragging a large monitor from the other part of the house all the way over and back.)

Nowadays, most TV’s with HDMI will work too.

Just to note that to get the best out of the remote Mac, you will likely need to install a dummy HDMI, so that the Mac Mini thinks it has a screen attached. It certainly was the case in the past, and I’ve had to do the same with my current Linux server to get VNC working nicely. My item was this one, but others are available (and some will output 4K).

Or if you fancied a project…

I’ve done this for over a decade, but the iMac has always been my main computer and the mini a server. I wouldn’t want to do my work on the mini using the iMac as the display, even though the mini is an M1 and more powerful than the iMac!

Buy a monitor.


The hassle of such a system is not worth it IMO. If the Apple Studio Display is too expensive, then I think you can do quite well with 27" monitors from Dell or LD.

I recently took my old iMac 2014 back to Apple to be recycled. It bothers me that the perfectly good monitor was going to be recycled. But it did not bother me enough to live with the hack solutions of keeping it as a monitor for a new Mac mini.

I am completely on board with Apple no longer offering the 27" iMac. Instead, you are pushed to buy a MacStudio/Mac mini and a Studio Display. It makes a lot more sense in an era where a wired connection between a monitor and a desktop computer has no limitation driving a 5K display. This was not the case back in 2011 when having the 5K monitor and the computer in the same enclosure made it work better.

If your computer is too outdated for your purposes or dies some horrible death, you can get a new one without having to throw away a monitor.


However the pricing of the Studio Display is such that buying the entry 27" iMac was $100 less expensive than the Studio Display + keyboard + mouse, without even buying a computer.

Yup, that’s my issue with the studio display - it’s sold at a price that seems nonsensical if compared to 27” iMac prices (when they were selling). I get that’s it’s logical (limited supply of 5k27 displays, but I don’t have to like it.


Thanks all for the advice. I think when the time comes I’m going to get an inexpensive external monitor to get the Mini going, and then do the conversion project on the iMac to get the equivalent of the Studio display, and as the video (thanks @Nick) points out, I can sell the iMac innards on eBay and end up with a basically free display. Then I can use both displays simultaneously.