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Photographer’s Mac Mini Buying Guide [2020 Update]

In Blog, Buying Guide by Jeff Harmon60 Comments

Apple FINALLY updated their Mac Mini product line late in 2018 (with a minor update in March 2020), making it a pretty good option for photographers to run Lightroom and Photoshop.  This buying guide provides insight into which model and what configuration options photographers should consider.

If you are a Windows user (I use both platforms about 50/50) then the concepts on what hardware is worth paying for is still applicable, but you would be better served checking out my Lightroom Computer 2018 post and podcast episode.  I also have a Photographer’s Guide to Buying an iMac and Photographer’s Guide to Buying a MacBook Pro. If you are on a tight budget check out my Best Budget Computer for Photography article.

Apple last updated the Mac Mini back in 2018. Apple just updated the Mac Mini here in March 2020! Nothing too exciting though. All that changed was the amount of storage you get for your money (2x for the same price). This article has been updated based on some of the peripherals that can make the Mac Mini an excellent computer for digital photography, but the hardware of the Mac Mini itself hasn’t really changed since then. When Apple does refresh the Mac Mini with new hardware options this article will be replaced by a new one and a link will be provided here.

What is the best configuration of a late 2018 Mac Mini for photographers?

The best configuration of a late 2018 Mac Mini for photographers is 3.2GHz 6‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i7, with 16GB of memory, and 512GB of SSD storage at a cost of about $2,100.

With the 2018 refresh of the Mac Mini Apple has a solid lineup of computers that are great for photo editing.  A photographer almost can’t make a bad choice with the Mac Mini, though the $800 entry level model isn’t really up to the challenge of running Lightroom.

Apple has made the choices for a Mac Mini much easier than their MacBook Pro lineup.  There is really only one choice to make compared with seven decisions you have with the 2018 MacBook Pro lineup.  You can get help with those seven decisions in my Photographer’s MacBook Pro Buying Guide article, though I think the Mac Mini is a better choice as far as value for the money.

Realistic Expectations

Before we get into the configuration decisions, I want set some expectations for you as a photographer looking to buy a computer.  You really need to be ready to make an investment here.  Mac or PC, here in 2019 you shouldn’t really expect to get a computer that can do a good job with Lightroom and Photoshop for less than $1,000.  

Yes, you might find some sales that make desktop computers (especially desktops running Windows) that dip a little below that $1,000 mark but if you don’t have a budget of at least $1,000 then I recommend you keep saving until you can get up there.  $1,500 is significantly better.

On the other hand, you absolutely do NOT have to spend more than $3,000 on a computer to run Lightroom and Photoshop REALLY well.  Not even on a computer from Apple.  You can do quite well with a machine that costs between $1,500 and $2,500.  It will last you at least 3 years and you should get 5 years out of the machine if you invest it properly.  That is what the buying guides on this site are all about.

Decision 1: Processor

I know I just said there is really only one choice to be made but there are actually 3.  I said there is really only one because to me two of the three configuration decisions to make are made for you as a photographer.

Which processor you are going to choose is the first decision Apple presents, but it really isn’t too much of a decision for a photographer wanting to run Lightroom and Photoshop.  If budget is constrained, this is not an area you should save money on.  Lightroom in particular REALLY wants as much processor as you can give it, so spend the money here first.

Core i3 Processor – Not Really Enough Power

At the least expensive end of things, $799 gets you a 3.6GHz quad‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i3 processor.  Everyone has different expectations when it comes to performance in Lightroom and Photoshop.  For beginners just starting out to learn Lightroom, who are more likely to work on jpeg files and not use Photoshop at the same time, the baseline 2018 Mac Mini with a Core i3 process is going to be just fine.  If you have more advanced skills and needs with Lightroom and Photoshop running at the same time then a Core i3 processor is just really not enough power.

Yes, this Core i3 processor will technically start the software and run it, but if you are editing full frame raw files then expect the sliders and adjustment brushes in Lightroom to be somewhat slow to respond in comparison to how Lightroom does with Core i5 or Core i7 processors.  You can also expect exports from Lightroom or HDR/panorama merges, more advanced features, to take longer with the Core i3.

Core i5 Processor – Sufficient

The next processor up from that is the 3.0GHz 6‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i5 (Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz) for $1,099.  If you don’t have the budget to go up to the Core i7 processor then the Core i5 will do pretty well.  It will be sufficient.

The Core i5 is nearly 50% faster than the Core i3 option.  Completely worth the $300 more to get here (you also get 2x the SSD storage in that $300).  It is the lowest I recommend you go for photo editing on the 2018 Mac Mini.  If you go with the Core i5 you may not get 5 years out of this machine before you feel like it is running this too slowly.  

Because you can’t upgrade the processor in the Mac Mini, if you want this computer to last as long as possible then I recommend investing in the Core i7.

Core i7 Processor – Excellent

Finally, you have the 3.2GHz 6‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 4.6GHz) processor that is going to do a good job running Lightroom and Photoshop for at least 3 years and probably 5 years.  It is only 25% faster than the Core i5, but that 25% makes a real difference in Lightroom.

Going to the Core i7 means another $200, taking the price up to $1,300 now, but you already have a pretty decent computer for running Lightroom and Photoshop without spending any more money.  

If there is more money in the budget I do recommend upgrading the memory from 8GB to 16GB, which is your next decision, but the processor is so important to running Lightroom that if you can only do $1,300 then this is where you should go.  Especially because if you are willing to dig into the computer a little then you can upgrade the memory later yourself!

Decision 2: Memory

It is great that Apple has you choose processor first because that also happens to be the most important thing to make Lightroom perform well.  Next to that is the memory that just so happens to be your next configuration choice.

This memory decision is the real decision you have to make when buying a Mac Mini for photo editing.  This decision is not as easy to make as the processor.  The more memory you can throw at Lightroom and Photoshop – especially if you run them at the same time – the better. Check out my How Much Memory does Lightroom Need article for more information. 

Of course there is a cost to the memory, and prices are inflated right now due to so much demand placed on the market with the crypto mining craze, so what is the reasonable amount of memory for photographers?  So glad you asked.

8GB – Almost Sufficient

The baseline Mac Mini has 8GB of memory.  On a Windows computer I would tell you that 8GB is not enough for running Lightroom and Photoshop.  But Apple has engineered into macOS some special sauce with regard to memory management that makes 8GB on a Mac a whole lot more useful than it is on a PC.

Still, even with the fancy memory tech in macOS, 8GB is going to be really tight.  If you do any kind of panorama or HDR work you won’t be happy with 8GB of memory.  The lack of memory is also going to slow down moving from photo to photo in Lightroom, so if you don’t like that “Please wait…” message at the bottom of Lightroom you will want to invest more here.

If you maxed out the processor already (which is higher priority than memory) and there isn’t any room in the budget to upgrade to 16GB of memory, then stay right here.  It will work for the “normal” types of editing or if you are just getting started in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Save yourself a lot of money by upgrading the memory yourself following iFixit’s excellent Mac mini Late 2018 Memory (RAM) Replacement guide.

This is also something you could buy if you want to upgrade the memory yourself.  Yes, you can actually do that on the 2018 Mac Mini!  It isn’t something Apple is recommending, they officially tell you to take it into them to upgrade the memory, but iFixit has a beautiful Mac mini Late 2018 Memory (RAM) Replacement guide. 

iFixit rates the process to upgrade the memory at a medium level and say it should take 20-40 minutes to do.  It will save you quite a lot of money and even if you have never done something like this I promise this is something you could do without breaking anything.

You should also check out this OWC Mac Mini Memory upgrade video because even if you have NEVER opened up a computer in your life, you can totally do this! You will save yourself a ton of money in the process.

16GB – Sufficient

If you don’t want to take on upgrading the memory yourself (seriously, you can do it!), 16GB of memory is sufficient to make photo editing work well on pretty well any modern computer.  Windows or Mac.  I already mentioned the special sauce that Apple has put into macOS with regard to memory management, and that is going to make 16GB feel more like 20 or 30. 

Not saying that 16GB of memory is going to be the same as actually having 32GB of memory.  There is a big difference there, just that 16GB of memory in a Mac Mini will function more similarly to a basic (things can be done for Windows too but takes some advanced knowledge) Windows computer with more physical memory. 

Upgrade the processor first, and if there is $200 in the budget then I recommend going to 16GB of memory.  16GB is the sweet spot for a 2018 Mac Mini to do photo editing.  The right price to performance ration for most photographers, though it won’t really be useful for video editing.

If you willing to give it a try (are you catching on yet that you can do it) you can get to 24GB of RAM for half the cost of paying Apple the $200 to have them upgrade from 8GB to 16GB of memory. Buy the OWC 16GB (16GBx1) memory kit for about $100 and then you should be able to easily install that one memory stick right next to the 8GB stick that Apple will put in there and have 24GB!

32GB – Excellent

At $600, the upgrade to 32GB of memory is quite a jump, but if you are one who round-trips between Lightroom and Photoshop a lot and/or do HDR panoramas, then you are going to need it.  I have been using 32GB of memory on my custom built Windows photo editing computer since 2014, and have needed every bit it.

The beginning to intermediate photographer is likely to be just fine with 16GB of memory, but the photographer doing advanced editing on their photos is going to need to get to 32GB.  Max the processor and spend the $600 to get to 32GB of memory and the 2018 Mac Mini should be a solid photo editing computer for at least 3 years.

Once again, you can save yourself a lot if you will be brave and upgrade the memory yourself. Buy the OWC 32GB (32GBx1) memory upgrade for about $230 and you can install this memory stick next to the 8GB stick that Apple installs to get to 40GB of memory and save yourself $380!

64GB – Overpriced (Unless DIY)

Yep, I think that paying $1,400 to get to 64GB of memory is overpriced for a 2018 Mac Mini photo editing computer.  While 64GB of memory may be very helpful for some workloads (I could have used it for some of my bigger composites or HDR panoramas for sure), it is absolutely NOT worth it for photographers to pay the price Apple is charging for this upgrade.

It isn’t silly to put 64GB of memory into a 2018 Mac Mini. Both Lightroom and Photoshop will gobble up as much memory as you can put in the computer. It is the price Apple wants for it is just plain silly.  Given the other components in the 2018 Mac Mini, like the lack of a discrete graphics card (will talk about the Thunderbolt 3 option for GPU later), you are likely to run into other bottlenecks before you can truly use all of that memory.

Video editing is where you could really use this amount of memory, and the 2018 Mac Mini is not a great video editing computer.  If you want to do a lot of video editing you will have a much better experience with an iMac (check out the Photographer’s 2019 iMac Buying Guide) or a custom Windows computer.

When I saw the $1,400 price tag Apple charges on this upgrade I literally laughed out loud.  Paying more for the memory than the rest of the computer combined is insane.  Especially when you can buy a 64GB (32GBx2) memory kit from OWC for about $450! Unlike the 16GB and 32GB DIY upgrades where you can keep the 8GB memory stick and get to higher amounts of memory for less cost, this time you can’t keep that 8GB memory stick that comes from Apple so you only get to 64GB in total. You can save a MASSIVE $950 doing it yourself over paying Apple. That would be worth doing if there is budget.

Decision 3: Storage

Like memory, this decision is harder to make and going to be entirely budget based.  One of the challenges with using a Mac Mini for photo editing is the lack of storage. 

Photographers need and use a lot of storage.  Not like videographers, that is some serious storage needs with 4K and 8K footage these days, but photographers definitely need a good amount of storage for their photos.  No matter which storage option you go with, you are going to have to connect external storage to the Mac Mini, something I will address as well.

I like that Apple has made this the third decision to make as you configure your 2018 Mac Mini.  With all of the options being super speedy SSD, the only bad choice you can make here is not getting enough storage or going with the overkill options.

The bad news is you can’t replace the SSD yourself.  Come on Apple!  The processor and the SSD are both soldered in.  Neither is user upgradeable.  So you have to nail this because you aren’t changing your mind later.

Check out the testing I have done to see how storing your photos on an external SSD vs an external spinning drive speeds up Lightroom Classic by as much as 50% in this article on Performance of External Drives with Lightroom Classic

128GB SSD – Not Enough

Don’t go this low on the storage.  You can’t go this low as of March 2020! Good thing. I have two computers with 256GB SSD drives.  My 2015 MacBook Pro and my 2014 custom build Windows desktop.  I only have the operating system and the applications installed to these drives, no photos stored there, and there isn’t a lot of breathing room.

With that in mind, 128GB of SSD storage is just not enough for anything but a computer to browse the Internet.  Nothing else.  I wouldn’t recommend 128GB of storage for a computer used mainly to create documents and spreadsheets, let alone a photographer. 

Dial back the memory if you can’t afford the $200 to get to 256GB.  Or better yet, save just a bit longer until you get that extra $200.

256GB – Sufficient

Don’t go any lower than this for the storage.  The $200 to get to 256GB is essential for a photographer.  This is now the lowest option available as of March 2020. Sure wish they had updated the Intel CPUs inside the Mac Mini at the same time, but this is nice.

As mentioned above, this is what I chose for my photo editing computers in 2014 and 2015.  It works.  I have enough room for the operating system (both macOS and Windows) and the other software I use (Lightroom Classic CC, Lightroom CC, Photoshop CC, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and a few others), but it is a little tight.

With only 256GB of storage I have to think about what I am putting there and actively manage it a bit, watching for programs that default to using the boot drive for temp files.  If after maxing out the processor and getting a good amount of memory you don’t have budget to go any further than 256GB then this will do quite well – just be ready to manage things a little form time to time and find things to delete.

512GB – Excellent

If after processor and memory the budget allows the $400 $200 (as of March 2020) to go to 512GB of storage, I think this is the sweet spot for the 2018 Mac Mini as a photo editing computer.  You can be good with the 256GB option, but with 512GB you won’t really have to worry about things.

Now you are not going to put your photos here.  512GB will give you enough space that I recommend you put your catalog here, but you need to add external storage to the Mac Mini for your photos.

1TB and 2TB – Overkill

Still overkill even with the March 2020 updated pricing that now asks for $400 to go from 256GB to 1TB. I guess it is nice to see Apple offer some overkill options.  In the past options for more memory and more storage weren’t there and now we have some options that just don’t make sense.

You may be thinking that 1TB or 2TB of local storage inside the 2018 Mac Mini sounds ideal to you as a photographer, but the price is over the top again here.

Like memory, SSD storage in larger sizes like 1TB and 2TB is expensive.  However, Apple is marking up the costs on the SSD quite a bit more than they are with the memory.  A 1TB PCIe NVMe – M.2 Internal SSD goes for about $300 at the time of this article and Apple wants $800 $400 (almost reasonable now) to go up from 128GB 256GB to 1TB, about a $500 (167%) $100(33%) markup.  2TB goes for about $550 and Apple wants a whopping $1,600 $800 for it, a markup of about $1,000 (290%) $250(200%)!

Makes those markups on prints seem pretty tame, doesn’t it?!!

Not only is the cost far too high for what you get here, it doesn’t really solve your storage needs.  If you are just starting out, 2TB may seem like plenty of storage for you photos, but I can promise you it really isn’t if you stick with this for very long.  External storage is the best way to meet the needs of storing your photos and 512GB or 256B SSD options are better choices.

Decision 4: External Storage

While on the topic of storage, if you are going to use a Mac Mini for your photo editing you really have to plan on adding external storage for your photos.  I really wish that Apple offered a desktop computer with the form factor that allowed adding internal storage.  Maybe the new Mac Pro that is supposed to be headed our way in 2019 will provide it, but I am not holding my breath.

So the storage has to be external.  Fortunately Apple has provided some super speedy ports on the 2018 Mac Mini to do just that.  Thunderbolt 3 connections are capable of speeds that rival the M.2 interface to PCIe NVMe SSD we just got done talking about. Unfortunately, that kind of storage is so expensive I also can’t recommend it.

Wait, so you above I said that you don’t want the 1TB or 2TB SSD option, but the external storage through Thunderbolt 3 that can come close in performance is also too expensive?  Yep.  Neither is worth the price of the storage for the tiny bit of performance increase. It would sure be nice if there was a less expensive way to go to 2TB of that insanely fast storage.  I just don’t think the cost is worth it.

I do have a very good alternative. Still a little on the costly side for many photographers, but a really good option that will provide quite a lot of performance. The SanDisk 2TB Extreme Portable External SSD for about $390.  A full $1,200 (410%) less than what Apple wants.  Now that’s what I’m talking about.  Funny how you can make a $400 external drive seem less expensive isn’t it? That drive is plenty fast to keep your Lightroom and Photoshop moving along.

Get one of those and live off it as long as you can, when you hit the wall where that 2TB isn’t enough add slower, less expensive long term storage with something like the WD 8TB Elements USB 3.0 Desktop Hard Drive that runs about $150.  Name brand isn’t a big deal here, USB 3.0 is the thing to look for.  You can get both external drives, totaling 10TB of storage, for about 45% less than the cost of the 2TB internal storage option.

Edit from the speedy and mostly reasonably priced SandDisk SSD and then store the photos long-term in the slower but far less expensive WD drive (or something similar). A great solution to the problem of storage for a photographer wanting to use a 2018 Mac Mini for photo editing.

Don’t forget that you need to backup that data.  Check out the Photography and StorageOnline Backup and ULTIMATE Guide to Backup For Photographers Photo Taco episodes for help there.  I recommend BackBlaze as both a reliable and good value online backup provider I have used for many years.  If you signup using my link you and I both get a month of service for FREE!

Decision 5: Ethernet

Apple offers the option to upgrade from a 10/100/100 Ethernet connection to a 10 gigabit Ethernet connection for $100.  There is really only one good reason a photographer would consider this upgrade, and that is if you ever want to use Network Attached Storage (NAS).

We just talked about needing to add external storage.  One of the options I didn’t go into here, but do in the podcast episodes mentioned above, is the ability to connect to Network Attached storage.  There are some good advantages to this kind of storage, but let’s not get into that here. 

The important thing to note is that this upgraded Ethernet connection will allow you to get the very most speed out of that NAS as is possible today.  Still won’t be close to direct connections like Thunderbolt 2/3 or USB 3.0/3.1, but a really solid option for that less expensive slower storage.

With that 10 gigabit connection you can get speeds fast enough to edit photos from the NAS.  Without it, I don’t recommend doing that.

For most photographers, not worth spending the $100 here.  If you need it later and are still using this Mac Mini for editing then you can always add a Thunderbolt to Ethernet adapter and get there when you decide you need it.  I am guessing you won’t.

Decision 6: Graphics

Unfortunately Apple doesn’t offer any choices for Graphics processing capabilities. You’ll notice there is no option for a discrete graphics card and you are stuck with Intel UHD Graphics 630 built into the Intel processor.

There is a way to add discrete graphics to your 2018 Mac Mini via that speedy Thunderbolt 3 port, but I don’t recommend it for photographers who buy a Mac Mini.  The technology is pretty expensive and isn’t mature enough to really depend upon. It is more likely to give you problems than it is to provide solutions.

That said, just so you know all of your options, for about $540 you can buy the eGFX Breakaway Box 550 Bundle (with Sapphire PULSE Radeon RX 580 8GB Card) from Sonnet (a well known and well established vendor for components like these).

If you are wanting to go with an eGPU with you Mac Mini you for sure want to max out the other components, let’s assume you DIY the 64GB of memory, you get a total cost of about $2,300 for your Mac Mini. That is before adding storage and a display. I just don’t think it is worth it to add on the eGPU. If this is the kind of Mac you are after you really should consider an iMac.

On top of immature technology and significant costs, Lightroom and Photoshop don’t do a great job taking advantage of GPU processing here in 2019.  There is some support, and in some cases it has helped, but there are still a lot of photographers finding they have to turn off what limited support there is for GPU in order to get the most performance.

The one challenge photographers may run into with a Mac Mini for their photo editing computer is trying to do that on a 4K display. Technically, the Mac Mini can drive a 4K display, but it may not drive it very well. The graphics power in that CPU is just enough to make this go. As of right now you would be better off with a MacBook Pro with discrete graphics driving a 4K display or an iMac. Let’s hope that eGPU becomes less expensive and more reliable soon.

Decision 7: Monitor

I didn’t have this section in this guide originally, but after having many questions I decided to add it in here. Photographers who are buying the Mac Mini clearly need a display to make it useful. The new Pro Display XDR Apple announced at WWDC in 2019 is a whopping $5,000 and not something that is intended for photographers, so what display should a photographer buy to go with their 2018 Mac Mini?

Here in mid-2019 photographers will be happiest with a 2K (2560×1440 or 2560×1600) monitor to go with their Mac Mini. Make sure it is not labeled as “Full HD” or 1080p. Sometimes the description will say 1440p. The Intel graphics will be able to drive that 2K display far better than it can a 4K or higher resolution monitor.

Brands aren’t as important here, though I would stick with the largest players like Dell, HP, LG, Asus, BenQ, ViewSonic, or Acer. You want to make sure the display uses IPS technology and that it has DisplayPort for a connection. You should look for a 27″ screen and if you have the budget 32″ is worth paying for.

As of right now for the best price to performance I recommend the ViewSonic VX3211-2K-MHD 32 Inch IPS WQHD 1440p Monitor that runs about $280. Another great choice for a monitor that is more highly acclaimed is the Dell Ultrasharp U2719DX 27-Inch WQHD 2560×1440 Resolution IPS Monitor that runs about $380 but it is both more expensive and smaller.


The 2018 Mac Mini can be a good solution for a photo editing computer, just be prepared to spend $1,500 to $2,100.  The $800 entry level model is not going to be enough to do a good job with photo editing.

The budget configuration, the absolute lowest configuration of the 2018 Mac Mini I recommend to photographers at about $1,300 $1,100 ($1,200 $1,000 if you do DIY memory) is:

  • Processor: 3.0GHz 6‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i5 (Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz)
  • Memory: 16GB 2666MHz DDR4
  • Storage: 256GB SSD storage

The most I recommend a photographer spend on the 2018 Mac Mini is about $2,100 $1,900 ($1,720 $1,520 if DIY memory) for the following configuration:

  • Processor: 3.2GHz 6‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 4.6GHz)
  • Memory: 32GB 2666MHz DDR4
  • Storage: 512GB SSD storage

If you have more budget than $1,300 $1,100, but not the full $2,100 $1,900 then back off on the storage and go down to the 256GB SSD.

The other options are just overkill for photographers.  The performance improvement will not be worth the cost to max out the 2018 Mac Mini at a cost of about $4,300 $2,899 to be used for photo editing.  There are much better ways to spend $4,300 $2,899 on a computer to do photo editing.

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  1. Love the article. But to be honest made me confused. I have a MacBook retina 12” late 2016, intel m7, 8gb of RAM. And that has being my main machine to edit all my photos in Lr and Ps. I work as a wedding photographer. It has accomplished wonders and only a few times it gets slow and do some delays in the editing.
    Then I was willing to get a Mac Mini 2018 baseline but your article seems to say that it’s basically impossible to edit on it. How could I have being able to fully edit thousands of photos on Ps and Lr with a (theoretically) slower and less powerful machine?

    1. Author


      Not sure how you took away from the article that the 2018 Mac Mini won’t do well with Lr and Ps. When properly configured with the Core i7 processor and 16GB of memory it does extremely well. I have heard from many photographers who used the advice in the article to guide their purchase and they are extremely happy. That is what I was trying to get across as the entire premise of the article, I think the 2018 Mac Mini is the very best price to performance option for photographers to run Lr and Ps.

      What it won’t do very well with is video editing. There isn’t an option for a discrete graphics card in the Mac Mini (no room for it) and you really need some of that GPU power to have video editing go well. Now this can be solved with an eGPU connected via that super speedy Thunderbolt 3 connection, so there is that. Though that tech is new enough, and therefore expensive enough, if you want to do video editing you are better off with a MacBook Pro or iMac.

    2. Author

      Oh, in second reading if your comment Thiago, it is my strong recommendation to not go with the baseline model of the 2018 Mac Mini and I do believe that is absolutely true.

      As I stated in the article, it isn’t that it won’t work because a baseline 2018 Mac Mini will certainly run both Lr and Ps. It is that if you invest a little more in some hardware here the experience of Lr in particular will increase tremendously. It is very worth the investment. Especially if you round trip between Lr and Ps or so any kind of HDR/panorama work.

    1. Author


      I agree that the Core i3 will be up to the task if you are dealing with jpeg files and don’t need to run Lightroom and Photoshop at the same time. The less advanced features of the software. I also know that importing, exporting, and most of the activities in the Develop module are significantly faster when you have a stronger processor.

      It will totally work to be sure. For some tasks as you say just fine, just significantly better with Core i5 and then better again with Core i7 that for the little bit of money it takes to get there it is totally worth doing that given most photographers are going to keep this computer around for as long as they can.

  2. Thanks for the write up!!

    I am looking at the i7, 32GB memory, with the 512 GB SSD for my main setup. My big worry is hooking this up to my existing 5K Ultra Fine and experiencing the laggy LR performance still. This is the big issue I’m facing with my 2016 MBP (2.6GHz i7, 16GB memory, Intel HD Graphics 530 1536 MB).

    Should/is this still an issue if I get the higher spec’d Mac mini or is this sluggish performance due to a lack of GPU performance with the 5K screen? Is an eGPU the better solution with my current MBP?

    1. Author

      @John C,

      Give this a try on you MacBook Pro. Don’t run Lr full screen. Make it take up about half the screen, size the window to be 2560×1440. Just to give it a try. See how the performance is. Does the lag you have seen go away?

      1. Hey Jeff!

        Thanks for the reply. This definitely helps with reducing the lag and makes LR snappier.

        What the heck would be the best solution here? I have the 5k monitor so desperately want to use that. Editing in this smaller window is not ideal haha… 1st world photographer problems, I know .

    2. This is the exact spec I’m considering as I mainly edit in LR, not yet PS. If I get into video editing in future, I can add a eGPU.

  3. This is the best article/advice I’ve found in Mac Mini 2018 and LR usage and has stopped me procrastinating between MM2018, iMac, MBP, Hackintosh, PC… for those who’ve done it, please can you advise what monitor (4k) you recommend by what connector on MM2018 does such a display use? Thanks in advance.

  4. I’ve been saving and waiting to buy an iMac with an 8th gen since June of last year, was hoping for WWDC, then the fall… now… who knows. I think that the mini + an equivalent 5k display isn’t worth it – especially given that the iMac will have upgraded graphics. But at least the mini is available now.

    I’ve come close to going with a PC that is upgradeable, as I primarily use PS and Lr. (Read your build a PC article – thanks!) But I love the Mac OS experience and I get plenty of PC exposure with my work PC.

    My other option is the MacBook pro, but for my laptops I don’t like to be > 13″ (boat-anchor aversion) which seems like it would be comparable to the mini as they don’t get dedicated graphics.

    How much longer do I wait for the iMac? Go do some weights and get a 15″ MacBook pro? PC?

    The rate this is going, I’ll have saved up enough to get the Mac AND a new mirrorless…

    Unless my wife finds my money stash…. shhh…

  5. I have a fully tripped out i7 iMac; but it’s a 2012 model so I’m keen to upgrade to a faster unit (with SSD internals) for PS work. With the current iMac prices; and knowing any new iMacs, based on Apples current greedy stance, will cost even more, the mini looks favourable. You should be able to build a good i7 with a widescreen (curved maybe) monitor for around £2000 … it’s just a shame there’s another £300 on top of that for keyboard and mouse, and more for 3rd party memory. And that awful graphics … you can’t really say it’s great value. NB my 27″ iMac cost around £1600 for i7 3.4ghz, 64gb, 1tb, 4mb graphics … so it just shows how greedy Apples got these days!

  6. Thanks for taking the time to lay out your reasoning in detail. Your article really stands out from much of the commentary I’ve found on this subject and helped me feel more certain about my decision.

    Commenting on a couple of your remarks:

    eGPUs not proven? I don’t know much about them. I have seen benchmarks and users discussing their experiences, and I’m a believer, but maybe I’m being naive. Anyway, I haven’t come across any major concerns and the stats are stellar (OpenCL of 153,791 for Mini with Vega 64 eGPU). Have you heard of any known issues I’d want to research further?

    Also, did you consider the Samsung x5 SSD option for storage expansion? Under $500 for 1TB, speed tests showing comp performance to internal Mac SSD. Gigabyte also has comparable external SSD, LaCie, etc.

    To me, all current Apple options would mean settling for something I’m not thrilled about just so I can avoid something I want even less (Windows OS and PC machines), and all with planned obsolescence baked-in. The Mac Mini is about $2,000 less with comparable build (though many discounts seem ever-present for MBP’s that tip the cost calculus). Add an eGPU of my choice (I.e. Sonnet with Vega 64) $800 or less, and the Mini outperforms the MBP across the board (or so benchmarks would lead me to believe). Cost of display (i.e. BenQ SW271 or NEC PA271Q for Adobe RGB gamut absent in Retina displays) and yep, I’m around the same price as an MBP. But with better GPU, better display, and peripherals with upgradeability, cross-platform compatibility, and greater longevity that will be relevant beyond the life of the Mini.

    Comparing prices
    Mac Mini: 3.2 i7, 32 GB ram, 512 SSD, AppleCare = $2,200 (+ eGPU + display + keyboard + mouse)
    MacBook Pro: 2.9 i9, 32 GB ram, 512 SSD, Vega 20 = $4,228 (or i7 for $300 less).

    1. Author


      I wish I could test out the eGPU myself to speak from personal experience, but others who have done hands-on testing have shared with me that the performance isn’t close to the same as an internal GPU and the technology has bugs where it stops working or works intermittently. Software doesn’t seem to be written to work well with it either, which may account for the intermittent functionality.

      Besides the technical capabilities, the cost just doesn’t make sense. Most people buy a Mac Mini because it is less expensive than an iMac. If you add an eGPU you are getting into cost territory where you may as well buy an iMac. Then there wouldn’t be any performance or technical issues to be worried about.

      This article was about Mac Mini for running Lightroom and doing photo editing, a task it is well suited for even with the integrated GPU with the Intel CPU. Lightroom just doesn’t really utilize the GPU to justify such an expense.

  7. I can’t tell you how helpful this post was. Everywhere I’ve searched they show what a Mac mini is for Video Editors or Gamers. Nothing for someone like me who’s a photographer and only man to se my Mac mini for Lightroom and Photoshop. Thank you

  8. Jeff, any chance you’re working on an article to configure your computers storage workflow? If going by your suggestions, we will need to place applications in the “right” drive for fast work flow. I ordered and awaiting this configuration, but I’d love to have an idea as to where running apps should go, etc. I too spend my days in PS, LT, Bridge and occasionally Final Cut.
    Your help or direction is greatly appreciated. Props!

  9. This may never get seen since this article is several months old, and its a good writeup, but there are some technical errors in your external storage section.

    Reality is that the Thunderbolt 3/USB C connections on the back of the mini are rated at 40 GB/s = 4000 MB/s. Much faster than the standard USB 3 connections on the back, rated at 500 MB/s.

    So adding a super fast NVMe external drive, like an OWC Envoy Pro EX , via USB C would allow it to run at its full rated 2500 MB/s (very close to the minis internal drive). Wicked fast. But expensive. $700 for 2 TB. You could also build your own. but TB 3 cases are $200…

    The drive you suggested, the small Sandisk is a decent drive, but tops out at 550 MB/s (5.5 GB/s). Far slower than a NVMe PCIe based solution or the minis internal drive. So not really a far comparision of space vs $$ vs speed.

    If you were looking for 2 TB of external storage, best bang for the buck would be DIY — 2 regular 1TB 2.5″ SSDs in a RAID 0 case. Close to the same $380 as your recommendation, but should reach speeds to 900 MB/s., or double the Sandisk.

    1. Author

      Too funny, my middle name is actually Dean. So I am a Jeff Dean too! Totally fair point, I didn’t remember stating it the way it was in the article. Those TB3 ports are far more capable than I gave them credit for. Thanks for catching that. Updated the article. Don’t think most Mac Mini buyers are the type up for a DIY solution, but that is a far better way to get some speed out of storage. Thanks for the feedback!

  10. Yeah, the TB3/USB C ports are really the saving grace for the small flash storage most makers are putting in their machines/laptops.

    Easy to add a simple 2.5″ SSD + case and get full 550 MB/s speeds. Great for a scratch disk. Even a small 128 GB drive. (although still not as fast as PCIe).

    And if you really want superfast speeds, it will support the full NVMe PCIe speeds too.

    At least in the minis case, it means not having to shell out the premium for an internal drive from apple. You could get by with 256 GB even…. which is how my workflow is.

    Slightly different because Im running an iMac, and it does have a 2 TB Fusion drive… but its only 375 GB full. And 180 GB is dropbox, shared files to clients across the country. If no dropbox = 100 GB used. All of my working files are on an external RAID 0 platter based setup I built. 8TB (2 x 4GB + $50 case) and Im getting near 400 MB/s in read/write speeds. Add a single slower 6 TB drive for Time Machine backups + backblaze = double redundancy. Every month or so (or after a big project) I pull out a 4 TB portable drive and copy new work over… and drop into a firesafe here in the studio. Easy peasy… and now 3 backups. When it gets full, just get another, under $100.

    USB C is not your grandmas USB port. ONE port can do it all. USB C hubs are the end all be all of things. So even tho your new Macbook Air only has 2 ports… one port can do all this:

    Dongle life is fake news. =)

    And Dean is my middle name too…;)

    1. Thank you for your recommendations. I really appreciate articles like yours.
      I’m new to photography and post processing. I will be using “Affinity Photo & Capture One Pro” combo. My main concern is low spec integrated graphics card. I’ve read on Capture One Pro website that they recommend a discreet graphics card.
      I’m still going to take the plunge and run with the Mac mini option. I would greatly appreciate your opinion on Intel’s 630 graphics card. Is it really that bad?

      1. Author

        Hey there Franco. So glad you found the article helpful. I can’t speak to your specific combination of apps in a lot of detail as I have done my testing in Adobe products, but I am confident that you will be fine with the integrated GPU. Sure, a discrete card is likely going to be a little better, but in general I have found that for editing stills (different story with video) the software doesn’t seem to really draw upon the power of the GPU or even a high core count CPU. Hopefully the eGPU tech will make big improvements so that we have that as a reasonable option to add that capability, but that just doesn’t work well enough today for me to recommend the fairly large investment. Get that Mac Mini and get going on your journey to improve your skills and create stunning images. You can do this.

      1. Hi again!
        100% appreciate you are extremely busy, but I must admit that I am even more curious about updates on this one now, when Apple has updated both the iMac and the MacBBook Pros 🙂

  11. I have an old Mac Mini which has been excellent but is now just not up to the job so am looking to replace it with a new model. One thing my machine has is a card slot so I can import images directly onto the hard drive but I am not sure that the current models have that, can you please say whether or not they do? Thanks for a very interesting review.

  12. Thank you for this wonderful information! I am a Mac freak and have been using the for literally 30 years now and am in the entire eco system as well. I know them well but am not a tech geek so I need people like you to help me figure out what is beneath the hood.

    So here is my question:

    What would you think about a 2014 Mac Mini that has an i7, dual-core, 16GB RAM and 1TB Fusion drive? Will that work with Lightroom CC Classic? My main camera is a Canon 6D MKii and I also use a 6D, so pretty decent files. My daughter will sometimes do video work on it as well. Nothing major for her as she is in high school, but video stuff none-the-less. I ask as I have a deal one a reconditioned unite (NOT refurbished from Apple which I usually swear by), but something that if you think is a good deal, I literally cannot pass up.

    Let me know what you think and thanks for this blog and podcast!

    1. Author

      Great to hear from you Jerrold. Yes, Lightroom Classic (no longer called CC now) will work fine with those specs. I was running Lr Classic on my 2015 MacBook Pro with only 8GB of RAM until I spilled water on it and it did very well for me. It of course would run faster with a newer processor than 2014 but everything will work.

    2. Author


      That 2014 Mac Mini will run Lightroom well enough. The processor is old and slow enough some of the sliders may have a little delay and the adjustment brushes might be a little bit slow to pain and update the view, but nothing too bad. Plenty of memory to run both Lightroom and Photoshop at the same time.

  13. When installing Lightroom it’s been recommended to have the catalogue stored on an external hard drive. So when you are referring to Lightroom usage according to your configurations – is that factored in?

    1. Author

      Hey there @Kat, thanks so much for taking the time to comment. Yes, the recommendations here are expecting that you will use an external drive to store your photos. Paying for the internal storage large enough for most photographers is so cost prohibitive I just can’t recommend that when an external drive gets the job done so well.

  14. I’m using an Early 2015 13″ Retina MBPro with an external monitor. When I upgraded the monitor to an LG 4k 27″, LR slowed and PS croaked (45 seconds for the brush to show up). I’ve been waiting for the MacPro, which was now just announced, but $6000 for the basic model sent me re-thinking the Mac Mini — and hence to your excellent article.

    Not much discussion of how your recommended configuration does with 4K monitor. (1) Do you use a 4K monitor with PS successfully? (2) A couple other posts suggest an external graphics card. Have your views on this changed at all in the half-year since your original post? Thanks so much.

    1. I’m eager to read your response to the last question too. Have you needed to add an eGPU? What monitor are you using?

  15. Author


    This is one of the reasons I currently don’t recommend a 4K monitor. I think the sweet spot for photographers is a 2K (2560×1440 or 2560×1600) display because Lightroom in particular does so much better under that resolution and it is still high enough resolution to see your photos in a tremendous amount of detail.

    That said, many photographers have bought the 4K display already, and I it sounds like that is the case for you. To solve this to some degree, a bit of a workaround, you can run Lightroom without it taking up the full screen. If you size the Lightroom window down to that 2560×1440 resolution it will perform far better and the Mac Mini will drive that just fine!

    I haven’t personally tested any of the eGPU options to be able to recommend one or I would have in this article. Adding that to the mix sort of defeats the purpose of the Mac Mini where most are looking for a relatively inexpensive computer that runs macOS. Still, with the recent announcement from Apple on what the new Mac Pro is going to cost, the Mac Mini becomes the next best desktop option for Mac that doesn’t include a big screen that is part of the cost (iMac).

    Yes, if you want to drive a 4K display, the Mac Mini is going to struggle a bit. It can drive a 4K display but this is the very reason Adobe added GPU acceleration to Lightroom. 4K and higher displays need that extra push from GPUs to make things go well in Lr.

  16. Thanks a tone for your insights. You indicate that you can buy a single 32GB memory stick and install it next to the 8GB stick that Apple installs to get to 40GB of memory. Great! I noticed the Fixit site also indicates the mini supports using any combination of DDR4-2666 SODIMM RAM modules up to a total of 64 GB. Isn’t there a performance degradation if you mix and match different RAM sticks?

    1. Author


      Thanks so much for asking your question. Dual-channel memory can indeed improve performance because it enables the controller to talk to the memory sticks over two channels instead of just one. The processor and motherboard all have to support dual-channel memory, and the 2018 Mac Mini supports that with the motherboard and the processor (the i3, i5, and i7 all support dual-channel).

      The next thing you need to truly squeeze out all of the performance is to have both memory sticks be the same size. If one of them is a different size then “flex” mode is used and in the example where you have 8GB and 32GB memory sticks dual-channel would only be used to access the first 8GB of the 32GB stick and single-channel would be used for the other 24GB. Technically, yes, performance would be better with two 32GB sticks so that dual-channel can be used to access all 64GB of memory. But would you really know if it was the dual-channel or increased amount of RAM? An even more important question, are Lightroom workloads memory bound where the very minute difference between single and dual-channel speeds make a noticeable difference?

      I can’t say for sure because this isn’t something I have directly tested, but I am going to make an educated guess that Lightroom workloads are not so sensitive to the memory speed difference between single and dual-channel access for it to be noticeable as you use the software. I say this because in my testing I have seen the speed of the processor be by far more important than the amount of memory. Yes, it technically makes a difference but no I don’t think you would even notice.

  17. These are some great insights Jeff. Managed to read this as well as your MBP buying guide just in time for my new purchase. I am really clueless about technology and it’s people like you who share your knowledge that helps the wider photography community be more informed about their purchases.

    I am still on the fence between the Mac Mini ( at exactly the specs you had recommended) and the MPB (2.6Ghz 6-Core 9th-Gen i7 with similar RAM and storage) with both being very similar in cost – I will be using this purchase as my main desktop photo editing computer.

    I was leaning towards the Mac Mini for the great form factor, faster processor speed (3.2 vs 2.6 Ghz) and wide array of ports. BUT I am one of those who have already bought a 4k display and now that I’ve read that the Mac Mini will run LR sluggishly on 4k, I am now thinking that the MPB would be better suited for my setup due to it having a discrete GPU.

    You have mentioned that a workaround is running LR at a lower resolution but that really defeats the purpose of having a 4k display in the first place – I would like to fully maximize the real estate of the expensive display I’ve just bought.

    I am aware that these two are not true apple to apple comparisons, but the MPB seems to be the closest in terms of specs and price of the Mac Mini. Hoping to get your advice and thoughts about this. Many thanks!

    1. Apologies, totally missed out the portion where you suggest to go for MPB with discrete graphics to drive a 4k display.

  18. I don’t understand why you’re downplaying monitors. For anyone preparing photographs for print (either publication or exhibition) a professional graphics monitor—meaning one with hardware calibration—is arguably more important than the computer itself. A slow computer means waiting a few extra minutes. A consumer-level monitor means printing by trial-and-error: days of work instead of hours, along with dumpsters full of wasted materials.

    I strongly recommend saving pennies for a good graphics monitor with the calibration hardware, like the NEC multisyc series and Spectra View software. It’s a night and day difference. I have a 2010 mac pro, but will be replacing my aging NEC monitor before I upgrade the computer.

  19. Hi, Jeff. Thanks for the article. I am currently editing photos (Fr and Ps) using my 2018 MacBook Pro 2.7 GHz i7 with 16 RAM and 2TB Flash Drive with a BenQ 27″ 2.5K monitor. I like the flexibility of taking the laptop on the road. However, I occasionally get odd pixelation in dark areas of photos (particularly with clouds) and wondering if using a 2018 Mac Mini i7 will give truer on-screen resolution. Thoughts?

  20. Hi. I have a macbook pro 13″ from 2015. Base model. I needed a desktop so i built a pc for the price of a new macbook pro. But i really can’t have my osx workflow on windows. I just can’t. So i need a mac. I was wondering about your opinion the value of the mac mini 2018 with i7 and 512gb still good today, what do you think. Imacs are too expensive, have no ssd and macbooks have few ports are i need something that stays on my desktop. So i was thinking mini. Thanks.

    1. Author

      @Thomas the 2018 Mac Mini with Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB SSD is still a fine computer for editing photos.

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  22. Hi Jeff, I followed your advice and upgraded from a 2012 iMac to the mid spec Mac mini you recommended. I have mated it wit a 24″ Dell IPS FHD and will add a 24″ QHD IPS monitor for a dual monitor setup.
    The problem I have (and many others from my internet searches) is the bluetooth connectivity with the Mac mini – Apple’s form before function mantra! Due to having the Mac mini on a shelf above the monitor, I get constant disconnect/reconnect for my peripherals. Solved the mouse by going to the Logitech MX Master 3 connected via 2.4GH dongle. The problem now is what keyboard would you recommend that has the same form factor as the small Apple magic keyboard (87keys) that is either wired or uses the 2.4GH dongle. Alternatively have you heard whether a bluetooth USB dongle attached to the Mac mini will fix the problem?
    Thanks in advance for any assistance.

    1. Author


      Are you by chance using a USB hub with your Mac Mini? I haven’t tested it myslef, but one of my friends who has been using the Mac Mini for more than a year now had this issue at first and was able to resolve it by not using a USB hub. Soon as he disconnected that everything worked great.

      I don’t have any direct experience with a third party keyboard for a Mac. Logitech seems like they produce consistent quality results though and this one looks really promising to me:

      1. Hi Jeff,

        Thanks to you and your friend, as I did have a USB hub connected. Removed it and bingo – all good!! Can connect my Wacom tablet and HDD to the two USB ports and no bluetooth problems!

        No need for another keyboard as can now use the Apple one without any issues.

        1. Author

          So glad to hear that it works that way. Which USB hub did you use? Just want to track which have been tried.

          1. Hi Jeff,
            It is an Orico USB 3 hub with four ports. It’s a few years old but working perfectly now connected to my Dell monitors USB3 port.

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  24. Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for the update including monitor recommendation. I bought a mini in Dec 2019, spec’d up as per you advice in the article.

    I had always intended to have a 2×24″ monitor setup, due to space limits in my study. I bought a Dell P2419HC which is their Pro line with USB C connection. I am now looking to get the second monitor and need your and/or others advice here.

    I was looking to get a Dell “P” series 1440p monitor but was wondering if it would be better to get one of their (or other brand) higher spec’d FHD, for the greater colour accuracy. This keeps the amount of spend I have available the same for either option.

    I do sports photography principally (for our local rugby union club) plus holiday and family photos. When I recently printed the team photos, they came out darker than what I saw on screen.

    Basically is it better to have a higher colour accuracy FHD monitor or the higher pixels of a QHD monitor? Alternatively should I get the QHD and a DataColor Spyder and calibrate the standard QHD monitor regularly?

    Thanks in advance for any suggestions you have.

    Best regards,

  25. I have a Macbook Pro 13″ 2014 I need to upgrade and looking for suggestions. Should I wait till there is a Pro 16″ w/ M1 or get Pro 16″ now with out M1. My other thought is getting something like a 2018 Mac Mini to hold me over till new M1 16″ is out. I’m shooting with Nikon D850 and do some small video editing.

    1. Author

      I wouldn’t go with an M1 today. I expect the M2 or M1X, whatever they call it, to be another massive step forward with iMacs and MacBook Pro 16. That, combined with software getting built for the platform, should mean insane performance worth waiting for.

      I think the 2018 Mac Mini could certainly be a good way to wait and see what happens, but I think I would just hold off for another 4-6 months and see where it goes before investing it anything from Apple.

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