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Buying enough Mac for LrC without wasting money

Joined
Dec 2, 2019
Messages
16
Location
Talent, OR, USA
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LrC v11
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  1. macOS 10.15 Catalina
Greetings. I've been running LrC (even before they added "Classic") on the same iMac 27 for about nine years. This year performance is starting to suck badly, and not just in LrC, so I think it's about time for a new Mac. So here's my question: how much Mac is plenty without unnecessarily blowing the budget? How much RAM? How much CPU? And so on... To some extent, my question is independent of which particular form of Mac, though clearly some offer larger RAM choices and such. My choices seem to be:
  1. A new iMac. While I've loved my current one until lately, I'm now a bit skeptical of the all-in-one format. The monitor is in perfect shape even if the computer itself is dying, so I now feel I'm in effect abandoning good components since it's all in the same box. BTW, this one has 1TB of disc and 24GB of RAM, just to offer my baseline.
  2. A Mac Mini. Nice price point. Is it beefy enough to keep LrC zipping along? Are you happy with yours? How's it configured?
  3. A MacBook Pro 16. Expensive. I can't imagine smaller than 16. Even that'll be a come-down after 27. Obvious advantage to portability, though I usually run with a few external drives, where the photos all live. Again, how beefy do you have yours configured to get good LrC performance?
  4. The new Mac Studio. Also pricey. I could blow my retirement totally upscaling all the options. But how much would I actually need for LrC, as opposed to having bragging rights, which I truly don't care about.
So, yeah. Money is definitely a factor. But I spend hours a day in LrC, and I want it to zoom like it used to, and to do so for maybe a decade to come. All input and advice welcome!
 
Joined
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It’s gotten simpler. A few years ago, if you wanted good Lightroom Classic performance, you couldn’t bother with the low-end models and usually had to pay a lot more for a discrete GPU and more memory. Now, thanks to Apple Silicon, all M1 Macs, from the cheapest to most expensive, run Lightroom Classic well. The low end performs well enough but might need a memory upgrade, the base models of the mid-range are sufficiently equipped that upgrades beyond that are not always needed. There is usually no need to look at the high end Macs, for Lightroom Classic.

The M1 iMac and M1 Mac mini are basically the same computer inside; configuring to the maximum 16GB unified memory is recommended for Lightroom Classic. The M1 iMac is currently 24" only, there is no 27" option at this time. The M1 Mac mini is a year and a half old, so many are waiting for an updated model that is a better match to the more recent releases.

The base models of the MacBook Pro 16" and Mac Studio will perform better than the current M1 iMac and M1 Mac mini, especially during bulk import and export processing where the additional CPU cores help. The base M1 Pro is enough for many people; the M1 Max/Ultra processor upgrades are usually not necessary for Lightroom Classic.

In all cases, storage depends on how much you have free on your current iMac 27". If it’s getting full, get the next size up next time. If you need 512GB internal storage, some base models already have enough.

The base model of the new $1999 Mac Studio (M1 Max) represents great value. It already has 32GB unified memory and 512GB storage, so many people will not need to buy any upgrades; they can simply pay the base price and be happy for several years. And it will be faster than any of the other options above. The $3999 Mac Studio (M1 Ultra) gets all the press, but it is not worth the price for most people.

Boiling it down, if we configure 16GB unified memory and 512GB storage across the board, we get:
Mac mini M1: $1099
iMac M1 24": $1699
Mac Studio M1 Max: $1999 (base model has 32GB unified memory)
MacBook Pro M1 Pro 16": $2499

If you mostly use Lightroom Classic, you are probably not going to need more than 32GB unified memory, even though some models can go much higher. If you want 32GB, then choose between the Mac Studio (M1 Max) and the MacBook Pro (M1 Pro/Max).
 
Joined
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Mac Mini + 32” monitor is about the same price as a 24”M1 iMac

I got the 24” M1 iMac w/16 GB RAM. I thought I needed more RAM than was av aimabel but I was basing that on Intel Macs.

It looks like the Mac Mini only has 2 TB2 ports and 2 USB-A ports where the iMac has 2 TB3 and 2 USB-C ports.


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
 
Joined
Feb 1, 2010
Messages
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West Sussex, UK
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Classic
It looks like the Mac Mini only has 2 TB2 ports and 2 USB-A ports where the iMac has 2 TB3 and 2 USB-C ports.

No, the 2 x TB/USB4 ports on the M1 Mac Mini support TB3 (up to 40Gbps) and USB 3.1 Gen2 (up to 10Gbps).

I purchased mine last year and coupled it with a CalDigit TS3 Plus dock, which gives me all the expansion ports that I need. Fortunately I went with the 16GB Memory option, there were some initial reports about the 8GB version struggling a little with RAM utilisation, though Adobe did make some improvements in that area. But with the 16GB model I have been very happy with Lightroom performance (both versions).
 
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No, the 2 x TB/USB4 ports on the M1 Mac Mini support TB3 (up to 40Gbps) and USB 3.1 Gen2 (up to 10Gbps).

I purchased mine last year and coupled it with a CalDigit TS3 Plus dock, which gives me all the expansion ports that I need. Fortunately I went with the 16GB Memory option, there were some initial reports about the 8GB version struggling a little with RAM utilisation, though Adobe did make some improvements in that area. But with the 16GB model I have been very happy with Lightroom performance (both versions).
Sorry, I mis read the Apple specs on the Apple website. I stand corrected. The Mac mini does only have two TB/USB-C ports and 2 USB-A ports where the 24" iMac that I have has 2 Thunderbolt / USB 4 port and 2 USB-C ports
 

michaelp

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Joined
Aug 14, 2019
Messages
71
If your iMac has a HDD what is almost certainly happening is that the HDD performance has degraded, especially the spin-up time. This happened to my wife's 2017 iMac. After 4 years it became almost unbearable to use with slow app starts and beach-balling aplenty. Yet all the usual tests (e.g. Etre Check) showed all was well.

I had a hunch that it was nevertheless the HDD.

The highest cost solution is a new iMac; the next highest is to have the HDD professionally replaced with a SSD; the cheapest solution is the simplest and very DIY and requires no open heart surgery. Here's what I did:

1) Purchased an external SSD (WD 1TB, USB-C). Note that if your iMac has Thunderbolt ports, for the best possible performance get a Thunderbolt SSD but they are pricey.

2) Used SuperDuper to clone the internal HDD to the external SSD (name it something like Macintosh SSD)

3) Changed the startup drive to the SDD and reboot (System Preferences | Startup Disk).

Her iMac now performs like new. Apps launch immediately and a beachball hasn't been seen since.

The SDD is taped to the rear of the iMac's aluminium stand which helps with heat dissipation.

I later found a tool to check HDD/SDD performance that measures spin-up time, and yes that was the culprit.

NOTE: for some idiot reason you cannot use Disc Utility to clone a drive to a smaller one, even if the used space on the source drive is less than the target drive size. So if you have a 1TB Fusion drive, that equates to something like 1.02 1TB, and so you cannot clone to a 1TB SSD. You can clone to a 2TB drive though. Hence the need in my case to use SuperDuper for cloning.

Don't forget to change TimeMachine backup settings to reflect the new source SSD.

You can always reboot back to the old HDD to compare (if you hold down Option key at startup and wait for the Apple you can choose which startup disk to use on the fly; don't worry if the cursor does not immediately appear, it will after a few seconds).
 

michaelp

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Joined
Aug 14, 2019
Messages
71
FWIW I very happily run Lr 11 Classic on a 2018 Mac mini (Intel with 32GB RAM and 6 core i5 3GHz processor) and while an M1 Mac mini is tempting (but I'd lose 2 Thunderbolt ports) and the new Mac Studio is very tempting, in reality all I'd gain is maybe a few seconds at most exporting images; and maybe a few minutes processing an hour-long video in Handbrake.
 

David689

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I don't want to start a boring old fashioned Windows vs Mac debate but if cost is an issue have you considered a Windows PC?
Once you're inside Lightroom there is very little difference in interface/use.
 
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I don't want to start a boring old fashioned Windows vs Mac debate but if cost is an issue have you considered a Windows PC?
Once you're inside Lightroom there is very little difference in interface/use.
A computer runs more than just Lightroom. For most Mac users this is something they won't even consider. One doesn't buy a Mac for no reason or because one has too much money.
 
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A computer runs more than just Lightroom. For most Mac users this is something they won't even consider. One doesn't buy a Mac for no reason or because one has too much money.

I’ve been both. Most every Mac app that I run has a Windows equivalent. Now that I no longer work in IT, I no longer need Windows to run Windows ONLY apps. I don’t need to pay extra for and Office suite. I don’t know if Microsoft upgrades are free now like this from Apple, but if you factor in the cost of the apps that come with a Mac and OS upgrades, the true cost of owning a Mac is not far from owing a PC.
I found that Windows needed constant tuning to keep it running at peak efficiency.

Apple has completely integrated the iOS/MacOS environment such that once you have all Apple products, it is extremely difficult to swap out the computer to the other flavor.


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
 
Joined
Apr 3, 2019
Messages
1
As a new consideration you may want to investigate the new Mac Studio. I'm going to order one for $1999 (10 core CPU, 24 core GPU) + $200 for 32GB RAM. I watched a YouTube video by a professional photographer and he said this would run any photo post-processing software with no problem. There are plenty of slots (Thunderbolt & USB) for any peripherals you have.
 

Selwin

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I got the 24” M1 iMac w/16 GB RAM. I thought I needed more RAM than was av aimabel but I was basing that on Intel Macs.
Hi Cletus, interesting comment you made about RAM and intel vs M1 Macs. I am still running a Late 2013 retina MBP 15" w/ 16GB RAM and when using LrC I need to close most other apps or RAM will fill up quickly and the machine will get slow. After a reboot, and using only Lightroom, it's still reasonably useable. But I don't want to have to do that every time.

As an all-Apple user I am sticking to this brand so I am considering a 16" M1 MacBook Pro. Because of the RAM issues I described above, I was thinking to max out to 64GB just to make sure it won't bite me in the tail (again) 8-10 years from now. However, your words appear to imply an M1 Mac doesn't need as much RAM as an Intel Mac. So then maybe 32GB would in fact be sufficient, even after 10 years. This would save me €460 Euros = well over 500 USD.

As for the processor, I was considering the Max, just to have some leeway in the long run. However, some reports read that this enables hardware that is not used by Lightroom and it will eat the battery sooner. So maybe a Pro is preferred over a Max? Any comment on that?
 
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Hi Cletus, interesting comment you made about RAM and intel vs M1 Macs. I am still running a Late 2013 retina MBP 15" w/ 16GB RAM and when using LrC I need to close most other apps or RAM will fill up quickly and the machine will get slow. After a reboot, and using only Lightroom, it's still reasonably useable. But I don't want to have to do that every time.

As an all-Apple user I am sticking to this brand so I am considering a 16" M1 MacBook Pro. Because of the RAM issues I described above, I was thinking to max out to 64GB just to make sure it won't bite me in the tail (again) 8-10 years from now. However, your words appear to imply an M1 Mac doesn't need as much RAM as an Intel Mac. So then maybe 32GB would in fact be sufficient, even after 10 years. This would save me €460 Euros = well over 500 USD.

As for the processor, I was considering the Max, just to have some leeway in the long run. However, some reports read that this enables hardware that is not used by Lightroom and it will eat the battery sooner. So maybe a Pro is preferred over a Max? Any comment on that?

The M1 chip uses Memory differently from the intel. Perhaps it is more like the memory usage with iPadOS. I went from a 32GB intel iMac to a 16GB M1 iMac and the 16 GB iMac was faster and produced less stress on the system than the 32GB intel iMa running the same OS.


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
 
Joined
Apr 15, 2020
Messages
15
If your iMac has a HDD what is almost certainly happening is that the HDD performance has degraded, especially the spin-up time. This happened to my wife's 2017 iMac. After 4 years it became almost unbearable to use with slow app starts and beach-balling aplenty. Yet all the usual tests (e.g. Etre Check) showed all was well.

I had a hunch that it was nevertheless the HDD.

The highest cost solution is a new iMac; the next highest is to have the HDD professionally replaced with a SSD; the cheapest solution is the simplest and very DIY and requires no open heart surgery. Here's what I did:

1) Purchased an external SSD (WD 1TB, USB-C). Note that if your iMac has Thunderbolt ports, for the best possible performance get a Thunderbolt SSD but they are pricey.

2) Used SuperDuper to clone the internal HDD to the external SSD (name it something like Macintosh SSD)

3) Changed the startup drive to the SDD and reboot (System Preferences | Startup Disk).

Her iMac now performs like new. Apps launch immediately and a beachball hasn't been seen since.

The SDD is taped to the rear of the iMac's aluminium stand which helps with heat dissipation.

I later found a tool to check HDD/SDD performance that measures spin-up time, and yes that was the culprit.

NOTE: for some idiot reason you cannot use Disc Utility to clone a drive to a smaller one, even if the used space on the source drive is less than the target drive size. So if you have a 1TB Fusion drive, that equates to something like 1.02 1TB, and so you cannot clone to a 1TB SSD. You can clone to a 2TB drive though. Hence the need in my case to use SuperDuper for cloning.

Don't forget to change TimeMachine backup settings to reflect the new source SSD.

You can always reboot back to the old HDD to compare (if you hold down Option key at startup and wait for the Apple you can choose which startup disk to use on the fly; don't worry if the cursor does not immediately appear, it will after a few seconds).
I agree with this course of action. I replaced the HDD in my 2013 iMac 21" with a SSD and added more RAM in 2016 (DIY) and it literally became a new machine. I did the same recently with my 2019 iMac 27" and it's a quite a bit faster. Find your computers model ID: Apple Menu > About This Mac, go onto OWC website and they'll tell you which SSD's you can use. Then get a techie to install it for you. (Warning/Disclaimer: don't DIY, it's tricky and scary and you might crack the screen).
The problem with your 9-year old machine, aside from an obsolete, failing HDD, is that it can't run the newer OS's, so you can't install newer than Catalina. Having said that, after 9 years of stellar performance, my 2013 machine died a couple of months ago, not the SSD but a suspected graphics card failure, so you should bear in mind that down the line, other components will fail and these machines won't last forever.
In summary: cheapest option is to install a SSD & RAM, but if you can afford it, get a new machine with the M1 chip.
 
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Apr 15, 2020
Messages
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percybottle

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Apr 4, 2019
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1
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South Australia
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A MacBook Pro 16. Expensive. I can't imagine smaller than 16.
I have the 14" MacBook Pro. Portability is fantastic and it has all the power you need for LrC. Just get yourself a big monitor and plug that in when you're at home doing serious photo processing. (I upgraded to 1TB of internal storage when I purchased it so I wouldn't have to carry an external drive for my photos when travelling.)
 
Joined
Apr 4, 2019
Messages
11
In case you are not aware, consider this...
For the past two and a half years or so, LrC has been able to fully utilize many CPU cores while building previews in bulk. Before then it was single-threaded and therefore much slower. If your storage is quick enough to feed many CPU cores at once - e.g. NVMe SSD rather than a single HDD - then the speed boost is roughly proportional to the number of cores being used. This means that an up-market computer can save you many hours of wait time when importing lots of images or simply when refreshing existing previews after doing some bulk editing.

My recent experience is Windows-based but this change should apply to Apple-based versions of LrC too.
 
Joined
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Talent, OR, USA
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I don't want to start a boring old fashioned Windows vs Mac debate but if cost is an issue have you considered a Windows PC?
Once you're inside Lightroom there is very little difference in interface/use.
I thought about that too. Lightroom is pretty much Lightroom. But there are other non-photo things I use my Mac for where I confess I'm pretty hooked into the Apple ecosystem. :)
 
Joined
Aug 12, 2020
Messages
59
Hi Cletus, interesting comment you made about RAM and intel vs M1 Macs. I am still running a Late 2013 retina MBP 15" w/ 16GB RAM and when using LrC I need to close most other apps or RAM will fill up quickly and the machine will get slow. After a reboot, and using only Lightroom, it's still reasonably useable. But I don't want to have to do that every time.

As an all-Apple user I am sticking to this brand so I am considering a 16" M1 MacBook Pro. Because of the RAM issues I described above, I was thinking to max out to 64GB just to make sure it won't bite me in the tail (again) 8-10 years from now. However, your words appear to imply an M1 Mac doesn't need as much RAM as an Intel Mac. So then maybe 32GB would in fact be sufficient, even after 10 years. This would save me €460 Euros = well over 500 USD.

As for the processor, I was considering the Max, just to have some leeway in the long run. However, some reports read that this enables hardware that is not used by Lightroom and it will eat the battery sooner. So maybe a Pro is preferred over a Max? Any comment on that?
Selwin, I'm in the exact same boat. 2013 15" MBP 2.8 i7 processor 16GB running HUGE LR catalogs, lol. I'm on Catalina 10.15.1 but afraid to push it any further.

I'm also looking at the 16" MBP as I travel with my computer for work and download and import every night in motel rooms. I work and backup on the road with a couple of Samsung T7 2TB SSD's and they work great. My onboard RAM is hitting me upside the head again with low space and it may be time to finally make the move. Plus, I will be needing to run Premier a lot more in the future.

I'd be interested to hear if you made the switch, what you ended up with, and how it's working out?

Cheers,

Dennis
 

Selwin

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Hi Dennis, thanks for your reply and good to hear I'm not the only one struggling a bit with the 2013 machines. :D

I am contemplating on getting a new MBP within the near future. The thing is that I like to keep my gear for as long as possible, not just to save money but also to minimise global waste and try to set a good example for my teenage children.

Fact is that this 2013 MBP retina 2.3GHz w/ 16GB RAM could have had a longer life span if it had had more RAM. Really everything else is still running quite satisfactorily. It's only when I want to do some Lr editing that I need to restart or at least close some apps. That is why I'm not under the gun at this point. By the way I am on Big Sur and it's running quite well, no more issues than with Catalina.

Still the big debate for my next machine is only the 32 vs 64GB RAM question. Hearing encouraging reports of people running Lr on a 16GB M1 don't mean much if I don't know what other apps are in memory. Even hearing Lr success stories of 32GB M1 users cannot predict the needs I may have in 8-10 years time.

So - as I see it - I basically have two options:
1. Get the 32GB M1 Pro and see how long it holds, then throw away (sell of course) and get a new one after maybe 5-6 years
2. Get the 64GB M1 Max and use it for 8-10 years.
There is a €1000 between these configurations, about 28% more money. But if it holds 50-60% longer, then it may be worth it.

I think I am going to wait for the M2 Pro/Max to hit the shelves and see if I can get a 2TB M1 Max 64GB for a bargain.

Will try to remember to report back in due course.
 

michaelp

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71
Selwin I think it's highly unlikely you'll ever need more than 32GB for editing photos. Even 16GB should be enough.

I just checked in Activity monitor and Lr is using 5.96GB with associated Adobe processes using only 172MB in total.

Unless you must have heaps of other memory hogging apps open at the same time as Lr, I really don't see why you'd need more.

I cannot see how the RAM size will affect the useful life of your Mac as image files are not going to get bigger and software is unlikely to bloat RAM requirements.

My 13" 2015 MacBook Pro with only 8GB RAM still runs Lr pretty well (albeit a bit of a lag with some processes).

My 2018 Mac mini with 32GB runs it very smoothly.

That said, I know some have noticed that while 8GB M1 Mac mini's are very snappy with image and video processing, the RAM is too small so the SDD is used to make up any RAM shortfall (SWAP file), which means a more wear on the SDD.

FWIW I occasionally check my RAM usage and only very rarely, with a lot of apps open, will I see it is using a SWAP file.

So maybe the argument for 64GB RAM is that it may possibly extend the life of your SSD a bit by avoiding the use of a SWAP file?
 

Selwin

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Selwin I think it's highly unlikely you'll ever need more than 32GB for editing photos. Even 16GB should be enough.
Hi Michael, many thanks for your extensive reply.
32GB, maybe, or likely enough, at least for now.
16GB: no it's not enough as I have 16GB now and the swap file is growing and as soon as this starts, my system performance for Lr is going down.
I just checked in Activity monitor and Lr is using 5.96GB with associated Adobe processes using only 172MB in total.
Take into account that I also use Photoshop simultaneously with Lr, taking another couple of GB of RAM if the files are big enough.
Unless you must have heaps of other memory hogging apps open at the same time as Lr, I really don't see why you'd need more.

I cannot see how the RAM size will affect the useful life of your Mac as image files are not going to get bigger and software is unlikely to bloat RAM requirements.
When I bought my current MBP in 2013 that is when I thought 16GB should be enough, following the same logic. However, Lr has evolved massively since 2013 and the RAM usage has increased a lot.
My 13" 2015 MacBook Pro with only 8GB RAM still runs Lr pretty well (albeit a bit of a lag with some processes).
Well, with 8GB there must be swap file usage. Whether or not Lr will run smoothly may also depend on the # of photos in your library. I think so because when I open a new catalog with just a couple 100 images, Lr is much snappier than with my 150.000+ main catalog.
Also, working with larger files (Canon 5DsR) in Develop module appears to be much heavier on the system once the swap file starts growing than, say, my iPhone pics.
My 2018 Mac mini with 32GB runs it very smoothly.
Yes I would expect that, from a RAM viewpoint at least. And it has a fairly recent processor too. However this topic is all about 7-10 years from 2022.
That said, I know some have noticed that while 8GB M1 Mac mini's are very snappy with image and video processing, the RAM is too small so the SDD is used to make up any RAM shortfall (SWAP file), which means a more wear on the SDD.
I just thought of a new aspect the speed at wich data runs between SSD <- -> processor. If a swap file is used on modern systems, such as the M1, and users don't notice substantial lagging with the swap file in use, this could point to highly improved "swap speed" between processor and SSD. Especially compared to my 2013 MBP where using the SSD may be a lot slower.

So basically the question could also be if using the SSD (swap file) is a thing we want to avoid by buying more RAM.
FWIW I occasionally check my RAM usage and only very rarely, with a lot of apps open, will I see it is using a SWAP file.

So maybe the argument for 64GB RAM is that it may possibly extend the life of your SSD a bit by avoiding the use of a SWAP file?
That could also be a consideration. But speed is my main concern.
 
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