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Opinions on Mac M1 for graphic artists …?


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Hey folks! I've been pondering something for awhile now … I've been talking to some tech-educated friends about it, but none of them have been in the same line of work as me, so they're hesitant to make a solid opinion. So I thought I might ask here, where there there are probably more folks in a line of work more similar to mine!

I'm a graphic artist, designer, cartoonist, illustrator, etc, kind of jack-of-all-trades. As such most of the heavy-duty professional apps I use from day to day are Photoshop (sigh), Affinity Designer, Photo, Publisher, and Sparkle. Almost everything else is pretty lightweight -- Numbers and Pages, Ulysses, Bear, etc. I'll occasionally rip a DVD to add to my digital collection but I don't really do anything like audio or video editing, 3D rendering or AR/VR, or code compiling.

For my professional life I've always tried to maintain a high-end "prosumer" Mac desktop for my work … starting with the G3 and G4 mini-towers they used to make, then transitioning to the larger more powerful iMacs as Mac Pros became expensive and overpowered. Currently I'm using one of the last Intel 5K iMacs, with 3.8GHz 8-core i7 processor and 40GB of memory.

With the apparent phasing-out of the larger model iMac, I'm looking ahead -- not immediately, but someday -- to what my next machine will be. The new Mac Studio looks really sweet, but adding in a monitor makes for a significant jump up in price from the slightly-over-$2000 budget I usually allocate for my desktop upgrades.

This got me thinking, though, about whether my whole purchasing philosophy is outdated. Processors have obviously gotten a lot more powerful over the past two decades. Plus, of course, the M1 line has a completely new way of working that makes its speed and memory usage really hard to compare apples-to-apples with existing Intel lines of processors. So I'm wondering … am I overthinking my needs at this point? If chips like the M1 Pro and M1 Max and M1 Ultra are meant for hardcore rendering or compiling professionals, when I'm doing much more flat image editing and page layout type stuff? Would, say, a Mac Mini with an M1 processor and 16GB or memory actually be enough to handle my professional needs?

This is all very hypothetical for the moment, of course. By the time I'm ready to upgrade again I may well have decided to spend a little extra for a Mac Studio (all those ports would be useful), or it's possible Apple might introduce some sort of "Mac Mini Pro" to fill the current $2000ish prosumer gap in their lineup. But I was curious to hear from anyone out there who might already be working on a Mac Mini, iMac, or Macbook running on an M1 processor in a professional design capacity. Do Photoshop and the Affinity apps still run smooth as butter? Is running out of memory ever an issue? Any other problems that the M1 doesn't live up to expectations? I'd love to know your experiences!

(Please, no Mac-bashing or Windows evangelizing. I've always believed people should use whichever platform works best for them and the Mac/iPad ecosystem is what works for me!)

Thanks for reading and thanks for your input! I hope this is appropriate for this forum, please feel free to move it if it's not. ^.^

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Well the whole depends on your personal hardware/software needs and so if it actually (or in near future) makes sense for you to upgrade at all or not. - Meaning, to get what you now have/use, aka an Intel 5K iMacs, with 3.8GHz 8-core i7 processor and 40GB of RAM, in the actual Apple Silicon world instead, it will cost you much more than $2000. Assuming you want to replace your actual 40GB RAM Intel iMac with something RAM-size similar M1 desktop based, then you would have to look after a M1 Max based SoC system, since only those do support 32/64 GB of RAM.  So a desktop based Mac Studio + Monitor costs much more here than that $2000 Budget.

But, if you say that actually 8-16 GB of RAM would be enough for you for the next years (?), then you could go instead for a more cost efficient desktop like a MacMini + Monitor, or 24" iMac here, which are then also nearer to the $2000 Budget.

However, personally I have absolute huge doubts that in my working domain I would be long time happy with a not upgradable max 16 GB system here.

 

☛ Affinity Designer 1.10.5 ◆ Affinity Photo 1.10.5 ◆ OSX El Capitan

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32 minutes ago, v_kyr said:

However, personally I have absolute huge doubts that in my working domain I would be long time happy with a not upgradable max 16 GB system here.

I guess what I'm questioning is if I've been over-buying for my needs. I HAVE 40GB memory because it's what I could afford at the time, but I don't know if I really need that much for what I do. XD Maybe the M1 is fast and efficient enough to be suitable for my needs.

But yeah, that said, 16GB does make me a bit nervous, even if the M1 does use it more efficiently. We'll see where things go by the time I'm ready to upgrade.

Currently there's one last Intel Mac Mini on the Apple Store … $1099 (US) with four Thunderbolt ports instead of the two on the other Minis. If the rumors of a high-end Mini are true and they were to replace that with a new model with an M1 Pro configurable to 32GB and still have the four Thunderbolt ports for around that same price point, that might make a good option. Would make a sensible desktop lineup too: Mac Mini with M1, Mac Mini Plus with M1 Pro, then the Mac Studio with M1 Max or M1 Ultra. Plus whatever Mac Pro they unleash. 🤔

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1 hour ago, Cooner said:

I guess what I'm questioning is if I've been over-buying for my needs. I HAVE 40GB memory because it's what I could afford at the time, but I don't know if I really need that much for what I do

Well you can always take a look and check in the MacOS Activity Monitor how much RAM your apps usually need when you perform usual/daily work on your system. Actually with your 40 GB RAM you're more on the secure side here, since it's always a good thing to also have some free RAM left over in reserve.

However, don't expect much memory wonders/magic from the M1 systems, especially not when using common Mac software like for example Affinity Publisher, which in turn eats a bunch of memory. The whole lives and dies always with the respective software here, i.e. meaning it depends on how well and memory-efficient a software is written, if it possibly contains a bunch of memory leaks (allocated/occupied mem which is never releazed/freezed again) and the like!

An updated more capable M1/M2 based MacMini with let's say up to ~64 GB RAM would be fine too, but probably or maybe the Mac Studio line is instead meant for that purpose (aka as a MacMini Plus). - One has to wait (hope) and see what the future brings!

☛ Affinity Designer 1.10.5 ◆ Affinity Photo 1.10.5 ◆ OSX El Capitan

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2 minutes ago, v_kyr said:

Well you can always take a look and check in the MacOS Activity Monitor how much RAM your apps usually need when you perform usual/daily work on your system. Actually with your 40 GB RAM you're more on the secure side here, since it's always a good thing to also have some free RAM left over in reserve.

Yeah I always figured more RAM is better than less which is why I went so high. Unfortunately with the new fully integrated systems that's becoming trickier to do tho.

I do check Activity Monitor from time to time but I'll probably be doing that more frequently now that I'm thinking ahead to my next upgrade under these conditions. It is interesting and unsurprising that the Affinity apps tend to take 1-2GB of memory while Photoshop, even running idle, is currently at 15.21GB 🙄

Screen Shot 2022-03-23 at 2.20.07 PM.png

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2 hours ago, Cooner said:

I do check Activity Monitor from time to time but I'll probably be doing that more frequently now that I'm thinking ahead to my next upgrade under these conditions. ...

There are some good docs & articles about Activity Monitor (...even from Apple itself):

2 hours ago, Cooner said:

It is interesting and unsurprising that the Affinity apps tend to take 1-2GB of memory while Photoshop, even running idle, is currently at 15.21GB 🙄

It highly depends on what you've thrown on (aka opened in) these apps. See the above demistified article to get a better overview and idea of certain by AM (Activity Monitor) shown informations. - The AM memory pressure should give further indications of the overall system RAM usage/handling.

☛ Affinity Designer 1.10.5 ◆ Affinity Photo 1.10.5 ◆ OSX El Capitan

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34 minutes ago, v_kyr said:

See the above demistified article to get a better overview and idea of certain by AM (Activity Monitor) shown informations.

FWIW, that article is badly out of date, showing what Activity Monitor v10.8 looks like running on Mountain Lion (Mac OS X 10.8). It has changed a lot since then.

Affinity Photo 1.10.5, Affinity Designer 1.10.5, Affinity Publisher 1.10.5;  2020 iMac 27"; 3.8GHz i7, Radeon Pro 5700, 32GB RAM; macOS 10.15.7
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14 hours ago, R C-R said:

FWIW, that article is badly out of date, showing what Activity Monitor v10.8 looks like running on Mountain Lion (Mac OS X 10.8). It has changed a lot since then.

You can provide a newer more actual one instead!

☛ Affinity Designer 1.10.5 ◆ Affinity Photo 1.10.5 ◆ OSX El Capitan

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I think a chunk of this thread has been lost by the wayside … I was hoping to hear from any folks who are using an M1-based Mac (new iMac, new Mac Mini, new Macbook Air, etc.) and see how their experience is running the Affinity apps and possibly Photoshop on it. If anyone is out there, let me know. ❤️

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3 hours ago, v_kyr said:

You can provide a newer more actual one instead!

Since it depends on the macOS version used, your second link (View mem usage in Activity Monitor on Macs) is where I would start, selecting from the dropdown whichever macOS version applies.

Affinity Photo 1.10.5, Affinity Designer 1.10.5, Affinity Publisher 1.10.5;  2020 iMac 27"; 3.8GHz i7, Radeon Pro 5700, 32GB RAM; macOS 10.15.7
Affinity Photo 
1.10.5.280 & Affinity Designer 1.10.5 for iPad; 6th Generation iPad 32 GB; Apple Pencil; iPadOS 15.7

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Activity Monitor does not display much useful information as OS is designed to assign ALL free memory to applications, and free it not until it is needed elsewhere. Thus part of the memory is assigned but contains only unnecessary data.

Basically you would be just fine with Mac Mini 16GB RAM, or similar iMac. Apps you use are not too demanding. If you want be safe you could buy M1 Pro 32GB instead but I am not sure you would see much difference. I kinda wish next Mac Mini version would be M1/M2 Pro which might be my next upgrade.

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8 hours ago, Fixx said:

Activity Monitor does not display much useful information as OS is designed to assign ALL free memory to applications, and free it not until it is needed elsewhere.

Some recent versions display Physical Memory (the installed RAM) & Memory Used (broken down as App Memory, Wired Memory, & Compressed), so the difference between Physical & Used tells you how much if any RAM is currently unassigned.

But much more relevant is memory pressure as shown in the graph & by Swaps Used. See for example https://support.apple.com/guide/activity-monitor/check-if-your-mac-needs-more-ram-actmntr34865/10.14/mac/12.0

At least this is how it works on Intel Macs. I do not know how it does on M1 Macs, but the above linked article does not make any distinction between CPU types.

Affinity Photo 1.10.5, Affinity Designer 1.10.5, Affinity Publisher 1.10.5;  2020 iMac 27"; 3.8GHz i7, Radeon Pro 5700, 32GB RAM; macOS 10.15.7
Affinity Photo 
1.10.5.280 & Affinity Designer 1.10.5 for iPad; 6th Generation iPad 32 GB; Apple Pencil; iPadOS 15.7

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13 hours ago, Fixx said:

Basically you would be just fine with Mac Mini 16GB RAM, or similar iMac. Apps you use are not too demanding. If you want be safe you could buy M1 Pro 32GB instead but I am not sure you would see much difference. I kinda wish next Mac Mini version would be M1/M2 Pro which might be my next upgrade.

Thanks for the input! Yeah, I'm really hoping they replace that last Intel Mini with something with an M1 Pro or M2 processor or something. I'd feel more comfortable with something with a bit more power and RAM than a baseline M1 but the Mac Studio with the M1 Max chip is JUST above my justifiable budget right now and probably way more than I need … Hopefully by the time I'm ready to upgrade this iMac. :)

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On 3/23/2022 at 5:34 PM, Cooner said:

Currently there's one last Intel Mac Mini on the Apple Store … $1099 (US) with four Thunderbolt ports instead of the two on the other Minis. If the rumors of a high-end Mini are true and they were to replace that with a new model with an M1 Pro configurable to 32GB and still have the four Thunderbolt ports for around that same price point, that might make a good option.

I'm kind of in the same boat as you (graphic designer / illustrator, waying up apple silicone) my thoughts are that a M1 mac mini with a decent sized ssd and 16gb of ram would be a good choice that would prob see you 4-5 years, although this may be dependant on how many big ram hungry jobs you do, as I reckon a large annual report with lots of pics may find you using all your ram and start eating into ssd swap which has been a concern for users (mainly with 8gb ram) as ssd's don't last forever and may only be replaceable by sending away to apple, so like you a mac mini with 32gb of ram would be a real sweet spot. Hopefully Apple will bring out an upgraded mac mini mid to late 2022? hopefully, it won't just be a processor bump, but a base model with 16gb and 512ssd (which I'd snap up) and a configurable option for 32gb - that's my hopes and wishes anyway - prob have the funds left over for a second hand large Wacom Cintique??? to replace my old ugee 19"  

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I am in the same boat too lol. I am an illustrator / photo editor. Work with Photoshop, illustrator, designer and Photo. Lately i am hooked with Designer. My current computer is a custom PC with a i7 6-core cpu (6800k), 32gb mem, gtx1070 and fast m2 ssd. When i work in al my programs i have 12 to 20gb ram used. 

I am also considering moving back to Mac and go for the M1. The cores are blazing fast.. and our tools are very single core hungry. 6 / 8 core are the sweet spot. 

There is not so much info from an illustrator point perspective on these machines. But i read a lot of graphic designers really flying in the Mac mini m1 with 16gb and 1tb ssd. It is fast, quiet and you can the lack of IO is something you can deal with.

I think for us illustrators, we are missing an option. A Mac mini M1 pro with 32gb. Benefits: few extra gpu cores and acces to 32gb mem + 200gbs broadband.

My thoughts: sit back.. and check out what is going to happen with M2. I think stuff still needs to settle down a bit. If you need a new machine RIGHT NOW, I think you will be very happy with a M1 base model and 16gb. Those M1 cores are beasts. 

Ps, i am lurking at a BenQ PD3220U. Checkout Artsisright his reviews on this.

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16 hours ago, Royk said:

I think for us illustrators, we are missing an option. A Mac mini M1 pro with 32gb. Benefits: few extra gpu cores and acces to 32gb mem + 200gbs broadband.

My thoughts: sit back.. and check out what is going to happen with M2. I think stuff still needs to settle down a bit. If you need a new machine RIGHT NOW, I think you will be very happy with a M1 base model and 16gb. Those M1 cores are beasts. 

I totally agree! The more I think about it … looking at the last Intel Mac Mini they're still selling on the Apple Store, $1099 with four Thunderbolt ports and RAM configurable up to 64GB … If they were to replace that with a new Mini with an M1 Mac Pro (or the M2 equivalent) with at least a 32GB RAM option and keep the four Thunderbolt ports and keep it in that same price range … I think that plus a monitor would be a great way to fill the current gap between the regular Mini and the Studio, both power-wise and price-wise, to suit illustrators and photo editors such as us. Of course Apple being Apple we'll see what they do. XD

Yeah for now I'm gonna hold on and wait. This past weekend I was frustrated by a hardware problem that was making me want to flip my desk and just buy a new computer, but it's been resolved now so I'm calmer. My iMac is only about 18 months old with a decent processor/RAM/SSD configuration so it should be able to last quite awhile longer while I wait and see what new options open up in the coming year or three. (I'd bought it in order to ride out the chip transition to the M1, but it seems the transition has been way smoother than we anticipated.)

Good luck if you decide to make the switch! I believe everyone should use the system they're most comfortable with but I've been an Apple user since the Apple II days and they've always served me reasonably well. :)

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On 3/26/2022 at 6:00 AM, Dazmondo77 said:

I'm kind of in the same boat as you (graphic designer / illustrator, waying up apple silicone) my thoughts are that a M1 mac mini with a decent sized ssd and 16gb of ram would be a good choice that would prob see you 4-5 years, although this may be dependant on how many big ram hungry jobs you do, as I reckon a large annual report with lots of pics may find you using all your ram and start eating into ssd swap which has been a concern for users (mainly with 8gb ram) as ssd's don't last forever and may only be replaceable by sending away to apple, so like you a mac mini with 32gb of ram would be a real sweet spot. Hopefully Apple will bring out an upgraded mac mini mid to late 2022? hopefully, it won't just be a processor bump, but a base model with 16gb and 512ssd (which I'd snap up) and a configurable option for 32gb - that's my hopes and wishes anyway - prob have the funds left over for a second hand large Wacom Cintique??? to replace my old ugee 19"  

Yep, I'm with you there! I think for right now, if my machine exploded tomorrow, I could probably get an M1 Mac Mini and survive, but since my current iMac is only 18 months old with pretty good processor/RAM/SSD options installed, I'm gonna wait it out and see if they release the "dream machine" of an M1 Pro Mac Mini with 32GB RAM or some M2 equivalent over the next year or two. Let's keep our fingers crossed! :D 

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"With the apparent phasing-out of the larger model iMac, I'm looking ahead -- not immediately, but someday -- to what my next machine will be. The new Mac Studio looks really sweet, but adding in a monitor makes for a significant jump up in price from the slightly-over-$2000 budget I usually allocate for my desktop upgrades."

"I was hoping to hear from any folks who are using an M1-based Mac (new iMac, new Mac Mini, new Macbook Air, etc.) and see how their experience is running the Affinity apps and possibly Photoshop on it. If anyone is out there, let me know."

I think my recent experience qualifies. Here's my story (sorry it's so long):

A couple of months ago, the 3T Fusion drive in my 2014 27" iMac died suddenly. (And it's stayed dead, so all I can do is recycle the iMac.) I was already slightly over 3T in stored files, and though not at all a graphics pro, have been experimenting with video in Final Cut Pro X. My other resource hog is (perhaps amazingly) Photos, with more than 1T in its library. 

Fortunately, I had been waiting for Apple's 2022 27" iMac, and had decided ahead of time to spring for some serious backup: An OWC miniStack STX with a 14T hard drive and a second miniStack STX with a 14T hard drive and a 4T SSD. These replace a hodge dodge of 2T and 4T mini external drives. So I had two perfect Time Machine backups.

When my iMac died, I was able to buy a 24" M1 iMac locally, with 8 GB memory, 256 GB SSD. With the two miniStack STXs connected, I use the external 4T SSD for most of my files, and the two 14T hard drives just for Time Machine (which alternates between the two drives).

This works wonderfully. It's dramatically faster than my 2014 27" iMac in many operations, including opening Affinity Photo in a flash. The external SSD is only noticeable for certain things that apparently won't work with external files, like my Apple TV photo screensaver set of images.

The 24" monitor is excellent, but I do notice that windows are more crowded. (And I had to fix some Keyboard Maestro shortcuts that automatically position windows.)

We originally figured to trade in the 24" iMac at some point in the near future, but it's so nice we decided to save it to replace our secondary 2010 27" iMac.

Of course, Apple didn't update the 27" iMac, so I decided on the Mac Studio and Studio Monitor. I have the monitor and have tested it. It is also excellent, sharp, perfect color (as far as I can tell), plug and play. I'm still waiting (and waiting and waiting) for the BTO Mac Studio, but all reviews indicate I'll be delighted.

Of course, this is all quite a lot of money, maybe over your budget, but I hope to keep this system for several years. Hope this helps.

~~~~~~~~~~

Additional:

Back late last year, I checked out the cost of a 2021 Intel 27" iMac. It would have been my third 27" iMac, and I have always bought BTO with plenty of upgrades, but not the top of the line. When I looked at the cost of the 2021 Intel 27" iMac outfitted the way I would have ordered it, that figure was not shockingly less than what I will spend on the Mac Studio plus Studio Monitor.

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