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Mac Desktop Buyers' Guide Q4 2014: New Mac Minis and iMacs

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By William Peacock, Esq. on October 22, 2014 7:01 AM

Finally, with all of Apple's annual (or bi-annual, in the Mini's case) upgrades on the books, we have the entirety of the Apple product line in front of us. If you're looking up upgrade or replace your office computers, and you're already on the platform, or Mac-curious, you might wonder what your best options are: Mini, iMac, or iMac with Retina?

Even between those three product lines, there are countless customization options for Apple's desktop computers. Let this be your guide:

Mac Mini

Who this is for: People replacing desktop computers, who either already have keyboards, mice, and monitors (none are included with the Mini) or are willing to buy them a la carte.

Who this is not for: Power users, especially now that there is no quad-core processor or OS X Server option.

What it is: The Mac Mini was intended to be for entry-level or office computer use, not power users. But the last generation, which was last updated in 2012, could actually be built to order with a pretty rugged spec list: a quad-core processor 16GB of RAM, multiple hard drives (in the server model).

Not anymore. The new models, which start at $100 cheaper, are fine for office PCs, but if you do anything that requires substantial power (video editing, music production, gaming), you'll want to go for a PC, iMac, or Mac Pro.

Which to buy: Truth be told, for office tasks, you could probably get away with the absolute base model, which has an old-fashioned hard drive and an Ultra-low voltage processor taken from the MacBook Air. (I have the Air and it handles everything I throw at it, though I save the processor-intensive tasks for my Windows desktop PC.)

But if you want to future-proof your machine (and since this line seems to only be updated every two years, you do), we'd advise paying extra for the mid-range model, which has a way better processor, graphics, more memory, and hard drive space. You'll also want to get either the Fusion Drive (part flash memory, part spinning drive) or the low-capacity flash storage drive, both of which cost an additional $200.

Of course, that configuration brings you to $899, plus the cost of keyboard, mice, and monitor. At that point, you're already in iMac territory.

iMac

Who this is for: Pretty much anyone who doesn't mind an all-in-one setup and a slightly heavier price tag.

Who this is not for: Folks who already have expensive monitors, Windows-lovers, bargain-hunters.

What it is: A line of all-in-one computers, with either 21.5" or 27" displays and with one exception, more powerful internals than the entry-level Mini line.

Which to buy: As we noted when the budget model was released earlier this year, that one is not much of a steal. Much like the lowest level Mac Mini, it has the same internals as the Air. One step up on the 21.5" line, or any of the 27" line would be infinitely better: faster quad-core processors, more RAM, and way better graphics. Again, we'll recommend either the Fusion drive or the full flash drive -- nobody should be using a spinning disk drive in this day and age, as they are slower and less energy efficient.

iMac Retina 27-inch

Who this is for: Ballers, ultimate power users who don't need the supercomputer trash can that is the Mac Pro (unless you're making Hollywood special effects, the Mac Pro "trashcan" is overkill).

Who this is not for: Anyone on a budget.

What it is: With Apple's first "Retina" display on a desktop, the 5k display will make your HDTV look like VHS tapes. The internals are impressive, the screen is reportedly stunning, and it all comes at the low, low price of $2,499. OUCH.

Which to buy: There's only one model, though it can be customized with another $1,900 in upgrades. We repeat: OUCH.

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