When the Mac Mini 2018 was announced some Pro Tools users were quick to ask if it would be a good Pro Tools machine for those who want to stick with the macOS. There are Windows PC alternatives but this article is not about that, it’s comparing Apples with Apples so to speak. What do we think?
Mac mini 2018 Reviews
Various reviews have taken place since it was shipped with very favourable comments, in a review titled ‘Apple Mac mini (2018) Review: This Little Mac Is Awesome’ Tom’s Guide said;
“if you want a compact Mac desktop, a great mini PC for streaming media, or even just an affordable way to jump to the Apple side of the computing world, the Mac mini 2018 is a fantastic choice, boasting great performance, excellent design and great value.”
On cooling, an area important to power user because heat means cooling and cooling means fan noise, it said;
“Even after I streamed video, ran benchmark tests and used the system to work on this review, the Mac mini never got warmer than 85 degrees Fahrenheit, which is only 15 degrees above the room temperature of our lab. That's barely enough heat for it to feel warm to the touch. It's well below the 95-degree comfort threshold we hold laptops to, and it's significantly cooler than the HP Z2 Mini G4 (94 degrees). Compared with smaller, less powerful mini PCs, like the Zotac Zbox PI225 pico, which hit 126 degrees during testing, and there's no comparison. The Mac mini is one cool customer.”
Tech Radar concluded;
The Apple Mac mini (2018) was a long time coming, but it’s been worth the wait. This brilliantly-designed small-form factor computer packs in some impressive specs and pulls off neat tricks to do so. It’s not cheap, but it’s priced very competitively compared to other small PCs, especially considering what it’s capable of.
We have heard reports from some Pro Tools users who are already using the Mac mini 2018 in studios, some in Hollywood post facilities suggesting that the small footprint and price may belie the power, some had said it may be a viable alternative to a Mac Pro Late 2013 with similar performance. Wondering if this was just wishful thinking we checked out the multi-core Geekbench scores for the new Mac mini 2018 and the Mac Pro Late 2013.
As you can see from the chart below, the new Mac mini 2018 holds its own against the larger Mac Pro, beating at least one model. What is also interesting is seeing how it performs against older Mac Pro (Cheesegraters) which indicates for those desperate to get a modern Mac to replace their older Mac Pro the Mac mini 2018 may be a viable alternative
Reasons Not To Use A Mac mini 2018 for Pro Tools
There are a number of reasons you may want to pass on a Mac mini for Pro Tools, the first thing to note is that the base Mac mini 2018 does not meet the minimum specifications required for Pro Tools.
From the Avid website here are the minimum specifications for running Pro Tools 12.
Minimum System Requirements:
Intel® Mac with Mac OS X 10.8.5 (only supported below Pro Tools 12.5), 10.9.5 (only supported below Pro Tools 12.8), 10.10.5 (only supported below Pro Tools 12.8.2), 10.11.6, 10.12.6 (only supported with Pro Tools 12.8 and above) or 10.13.2 (Pro Tools 12.8.3 and above).
Intel® Core i5 processor
16GB RAM (32GB or more recommended)
Internet connection for installation
15GB disk space for installation
USB-port for iLok authorization (iLok 2 or iLok 3 required)
USB-port, FireWire-port or Thunderbolt-port for CoreAudio-supported audio device
Supports 64-bit AAX plug-ins in Pro Tools
Let’s check those against a base Mac mini 2018;
Intel® Core i5 processor - FAIL The base machine starts with an Intel i3
16GB RAM (32GB or more recommended) FAIL - The base machine comes with 8gb of RAM
Internet connection for installation PASS
15GB disk space for installation PASS
USB-port for iLok authorization (iLok 2 or iLok 3 required) PASS
USB-port, FireWire-port or Thunderbolt-port for CoreAudio-supported audio device PASS
Supports 64-bit AAX plug-ins in Pro Tools PASS
If you want to invest in a Mac mini that meets the minimum Pro Tools spec then that would be 3.2GHz 6‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 4.6GHz), 32GB 2666MHz DDR4, Intel UHD Graphics 630, 512GB SSD storage which costs £1,969.00 on the UK Apple Store.
Our advice is to invest in the 6 core model and also increase both memory and storage as much as you can afford from the outset as Apple have made upgrading components nigh on impossible.. As Tom’s hardware say in their review this can get quite pricy, but how does the price compare against a Mac Pro Late 2013 with a comparable specification?
|Mac mini 2018||Mac Pro Late 2013|
|Specification||3.2GHz 6‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 4.6GHz)||3.5GHz 6-core with 12MB of L3 cache|
|Memory||64GB 2666MHz DDR4||64GB (4 x 16GB) of 1866MHz DDR3 ECC|
|Graphics||Intel UHD Graphics 630||Dual AMD FirePro D500 GPUs with 3GB of GDDR5 VRAM each|
|Storage||1TB SSD storage||1TB PCIe-based SSD|
|Total price from Apple Store UK.||£3,049.00 approx. $3,990.00 USD||£4,619.00 approx. $6,000.00 USD|
One area the Mac Pro Late 2013 improves on is the dedicated dual graphics cards. However the Mac mini has the latest Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports.
With that said, the cost of entry for the Mac mini 2018 is significantly lower with the Mac Pro Late 2013 around 50% more to buy. Also the new Mac mini 2018 sports much newer technology that the Mac Pro Late 2013.
What you also have to consider with both machines is that if you run any PCIe cards you will need a Thunderbolt Chassis to house these, thankfully these have dropped in price considerably costing just a few hundred pounds now. Check out the Sonnet website for options.
What Pro Tools Users Are Saying About The Mac mini 2018
We are getting feedback from Pro Tools users who have already invested, you can see them in the comments below; here are some highlights.
Joe said; “Running one with 16GB of RAM and i7 perfectly fine. Only $1,699. For the price it’s the best bang for buck I’ve found for Mac”
Jared P said; “I purchased the i7 model with 8GB of RAM and did the upgrade to 32GB myself (took about 30 minutes). Being a student (late bloomer at 34 years young) I was able to get a discount on my Apple order. All in all I paid $1490 USD.”
On the issues of CPU throttling and heat he said; “I have had zero issues with heat or CPU throttling. It can handle any session that I throw at it. Whether it be tracking or editing or mixing.”
Concluding he said; “Personally I would highly recommend to anyone thinking about picking one of these up to just do it. But as with all things Apple, spend the extra money and get a large enough internal storage so you're not constantly battling space on your OS drive.”
Simon Nakra has said; “Regular mix sessions with large track counts (70 plus) and lots of plug-ins operate with ease. I no longer have to freeze tracks, which I was doing constantly on the Mac Pro cheese-grater. I also didn’t notice any glitches in the graphics during regular use.“
On the subject of the graphics card in the Mac mini 2018 he says; “However, the graphics are where the Mac Mini will fall down if I intend on doing any video or graphics intensive work, so in that case I will definitely require an eGPU.
On the Buffer size he adds; “Tracking at lower buffer sizes (32 and 64 samples) also works surprisingly well. Avid has stated that there are known CPU performance issues when working at lower buffer sizes. Well not for me - so I guess I’m one of the lucky ones!”
Watch out for a the full story of how Simon Nakra went from a Mac Pro cheese-grater to a Mac mini 2018 in an upcoming article.
Summary - Should You Buy A Mac mini 2018 For Pro Tools?
As you can see from various reviews from respected websites and benchmarks, the Mac mini 2018 has come of age, with Apple taking it from an entry level desktop to a mighty little atom when upgraded. It’s certainly a Mac that can give both versions of the Mac Pro a run for their money and a machine Pro Tools users who want to stick with Macs should seriously consider investing in.
Are you using the new Mac mini 2018 for Pro Tools? If so then we would love to hear your reports on performance.