It's not perfect. Nothing ever is. But is solves my problem for the time being. Yesterday, I wrote about a First-world problem: I'm having a mini crisis. I've used it enough to form a reasonable opinion. Here is what I found:
The silent treatment
One of the big problems with my old iMac was fan noise. When the fans are not regulated, it sounds like a leaf blower. In that environment, tasks such as music production are out of the question. For that matter, writing is a nonstarter with a leaf blower on your desk. This is why I spent so much time with my ear pressed to the machine trying to hear the fans. I'm paranoid. Once bitten, twice shy. I did all kinds of things to stress the machine and make the fans kick into high gear.
By the time I went to bed, I still had not managed to get a peep out of the mini. Trying to get the mini to make noise is a bad job that I have completely given up. The Mac mini is stone cold silent. It is eerily quiet, enough so to make you wonder if it is working correctly. I stopped just short of doing a system diagnostic to make sure the fans were working. What finally convinced me was the fact that the unit never got more than slightly warm to the touch. My concerns about noise were put to rest. So, too, should yours.
Yes, it can
My next task was to see what it could do, or if I am being perfectly honest, what it couldn't do. This is the test where a geek pulls out his most powerful application and throws it against the computer just to watch it cry. For many geeks, that application is their pirated copy of Photoshop that they don't even use. Regardless of the software, I call this the Photoshop test.
My Photoshop test consists of running Logic Pro X. It is a professional music production application. It is very heavy. Just launching it is an act of violence against the machine. At this very moment, I have it up and running with 8 audio tracks and several unnecessary plugins. I took a quick break from writing this article to do a bit of mixing and added a few more unnecessary plugins just for fun.
Not satisfied with the damage I was doing to the system, I left the music playing on a loop, and opened a popular Flash-based game in Safari. While Flash will not bring a modern Mac to its knees, it tends to make the system very angry. Macs and Flash do not mix well. So I played a few rounds while the music was playing in the background. The game played just fine and the music did not miss a beat.
Refusing to waive the white flag, I opened another game with which I like to kill time between thoughts. It is simple, but is also unnecessarily processor intensive. A professional application, two games, two Safari tabs, each running Flash implementations, ten apps total, all running at the same time without a hitch. It took right about 8 minutes to encode a standard movie to MP4 using HandBreak. I have not yet done any video editing. For that, my tools are rather pedestrian. Still, it passes my Photoshop test. If you are wondering if it can run "real" applications like a "real" computer, yes it can.
Room for improvement
Please don't get the wrong idea. The base model Mac mini is still an entry level computer, for a Mac. In PC-land, it is easily mid-range. Expect more from a Mac. Nothing I did brought the Mac to its knees. But there were times when I could get it to stutter. When I had everything going at once, there was visible lag when switching apps and Spaces. I use multiple desktops. I keep six separate Spaces open at any given time. It is just a part of my workflow. Moving between Spaces was noticeably laggy during the torture test. But once there, the chosen app ran without any lag.
When under heavy load, it uses everything it has to run the foremost app smoothly. The slight stutter moving between spaces most likely goes away with the high-end model that has four cores instead of two. It might also go away by just adding more RAM. That is the least expensive, and only user accessible upgrade. I plan to upgrade to 8 GB of RAM in the near future.
Honestly, even that is probably unnecessary, as I do not use a computer that way when I'm working. Anyone using a pro app for pro work is not running Flash games in the background. If you are encoding video when seconds matter, you are not checking Facebook on that machine while it works on your project. When I am writing, I have many sources open, but I am not producing multitrack audio at the same time.
If you can cause this machine to stutter during your day-to-day tasks, you are probably using the wrong machine. I recommend you invest another $200 and pick up the i7 model. If that absolutely will not due, there is always the iMac line to consider. For my part, I am very happy with the mini as is. The extra RAM is just for my peace of mind. After all, I'm still a geek.