First Mac...looking at the Mini now

I posted a while back asking for spec advice on buying a used Mac laptop (my first Mac) to use with Scrivener. After spending a couple weeks looking at used machines online, reading a lot of opinions, etc., I’ve decided I’d rather go with a Mac Mini. I’m hoping to keep the thing, used or not, right around $500 or less. But the more I’ve read, the more questions seem to arise. Keep in mind I’ve never really used a Mac–though I’ve worn out three or four ipods. :slight_smile:

–I would willingly spring for a new low-end Mac Mini (2014 model) except for the fact that everyone seems to complain about how dog-slow it is. I don’t want dog-slow. I could get the 8GB RAM upgrade, but would that make enough difference given the 1.4 GHz Core i5 processor?

–I would happily go into an older Mac Mini–say a 2010-2012 model–if those will run Scrivener better.

–I’ve been seeing some things on here about some El Capitan squirrelliness with Scrivener, which makes me wonder if I should definitely be looking for an older Mac Mini and sticking with something like Snow Leopard.

Any hints or recommendations about these older Mac Minis, the optimum OS/RAM/chip for Scrivener, etc. would be appreciated. I really want to avoid, as much as possible, the spinning beach ball that I’ve been hearing of. And I’m really wanting this Mac pretty much solely for Scrivener, so don’t need gamer specs, high-end graphics, etc. I want smooth-running Scrivener functionality in a not-too-expensive Mac Mini.

Any thoughts are much appreciated!

2 factors contribute to what MOST people (aka not video/audio content creators) consider as “speed problems”

  1. Insufficient RAM
  2. HD access speed.

#2 impacts #1 and #1 impacts #2 in systems based on unix type platforms (OSX is based off a BSD derivative which is based on unix so …) and to a lesser extent in windows. As your system runs out of RAM, the OS will utilize disk (called swap in unix, pagefile in windows) to allow you do load more “stuff”. As you to more “stuff” the system spends more time moving things from RAM to disk. Then, when you want to go back to something that was moved to disk, the OS has to move more “stuff” from RAM (to free up space) then copy the thing you want to do back to RAM. With a slow drive this can be v e r y s l o w.

You have two options:

  1. buy more RAM and then you don’t need to swap.
  2. Get faster disk, like a solid state, that operates near RAM speed and stop caring.

RAM is cheaper. Do that. I would recommend getting as much memory as you can afford, then add a little more. You can never have enough RAM.

Once you do that … the mini will be fine.

What kind of writing do you do? Even a pretty highly spec’ed Mac might have trouble with the 8 GB monster project that floated through the support queue a few weeks ago. But most Macs that can run Scrivener at all would be fine with a more typical 100 MB or so.


A couple weeks ago, I bought the next model up (the $699 one) and it isn’t slow for me at all. The extra 200 buys you double the ram, a much better processor and twice the hard drive space. My advice is to spring for that one.

Thanks for the good thoughts, all. Very helpful. As for the kind of writing I’m doing, it’s typical novel-length stuff, mostly text, 100K words or less, very few images–say a couple dozen pix in my character files, for example.

I probably WILL be tempted to move up to that second-level 2014 Mini when its all said and done.

BUT…would getting into a 2010 or 2012 be a big mistake? Even if I beefed it up with more RAM? There’s something about doing the job with an older/cheaper machine that appeals to my sense of adventure (and my cheapskate nature). :slight_smile:

I don’t have a Mini, but I run Scrivener very happily on this late 2010 MacBook Air, which only has 2GB RAM, and 256GB SSID, a 1.86GHz processor, and fairly slow bus speed. It’s running 10.11.4 happily. I’m not writing novels, but I can imagine doing so would not really tax the system much more, unless I was to fill the Research folder up with a huge quantity of images. I use collections a bit, and Scrivenings all the time. The only time I’m even aware of having to wait is when compiling a 45+ page manuscript, and then it’s only momentary, and I would expect it while compiling anyway.

The way Scrivener works, it seems to me, is very memory efficient, though if you want to load a 100,000+ word draft in Scrivenings view, it will inevitably take a few moments. I would think a 2010 Mini would be just as efficient as this MBA. And if my memory serves it would have the advantage of being upgradable in terms of RAM and hard disk, which a 2014 Mini would not, though I’m not entirely sure when Apple changed the Mini to be non-upgradeable … you’d need to check.

My ½p.

Mr X

Thanks, Mr. X. That’s encouraging. The 2010 and 2012 Mac Minis are upgradable, yes. The current (2014) models more more locked-down…the RAM is soldered in etc.

I have a mid-2011 Mini. I stuffed 16Gb of RAM into it to ease its running of Parallels and various Windows software, but no longer use it for that purpose. If you can accept that the loading of programmes can be slow, especially when starting the computer up, it has absolutely no problem whatsoever, so far, in running Scrivener and several other programmes as well on El Capitan.

Thanks, Hugh. I can live with slow startup and slow program-launching as long as it’s running smooth when it’s up.

FWIW, I’ve got a 2010 iMac with only 8GB of RAM, and nothing I’ve done even makes it work hard. I routinely have Scrivener, DevonThink, DevonAgent, Chrome, and Thunderbird all open at once, with iTunes playing in the background.

The only time I’ve even considered upgrading was when I was running out of disk space, and I fixed that by turning my SSD + HDD combination into a 1.25 TB Fusion drive.


I bought an old Mac laptop 2009/10 version still running Lion a couple of years ago solely so that I could have the Mac version of Scrivener. Yes I love Scrivener that much!

I have a vast Scrivener project on the go most of the time ( to give you an idea it takes 16mins to upload to Dropbox, when my smaller Scrivener projects take about 5 seconds). Both my huge Scrivener project and the Macbook itself have no lags, beachballs or slow startups unless I have about fifty browser tabs open and five other programs running as well, and even then it’s not bad.

I’ve never wanted to upgrade from Lion and the fact I don’t have to to use current versions of Scrivener makes me very happy. Because I love both Scrivener and Lion as is. So if you’re drawn to an older version my experience is that it’s problem free.

Just two points I’d like to reiterate with the proof of Mr X and Hugh:

  1. SSD drives change the need for large RAM (Mr X)
  2. Large amounts of RAM can hide slow disk (Hugh)

You don’t need both. RAM is cheaper than HD. If you go Mini (and you should, it’s a decent little box) pay for the things that will help you most. A large HD is only needed if you have LOTS of content (videos, audio, etc) that you need to store. External HD are an option there as well.

BTW, if you do pick up a Mac Mini of 2011 vintage or similar, as far as I can remember the “official” Apple RAM limit for that model is 8Gb. I put in 2 x 8Gb and it has given me several years’ service with that set-up (although, as noted above, you can’t perform that trick with more recent models where the RAM is soldered in - thank you, Apple. :imp: )

You folks are a treasure trove, seriously. This is all super helpful info.

Katherine–what OS are you running on your iMac? (And that prompts another question: If I go with an older OS, like Snow Leopard or Lion, will I be cutting myself off from using new updates of Scrivener?)

Owl Light–(related to the previous question): why does the fact that you don’t have to use current versions of Scrivener make you happy? I’m kind of ignorant in regard to the version differences.

Yosemite. I’m planning to upgrade to El Capitan, just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

The thing about older versions of OS X is that Apple gradually stops supporting them with things like updated developer tools. That makes it more and more difficult for us to have a single version of Scrivener that runs on both the latest version of OS X and the older versions, and therefore more and more difficult to continue to support the older versions.

Scrivener 2.7 runs on all versions of OS X from 10.6 forward. But of course we have no control over what Apple does.


Thanks for that info, Katherine. So is there a general consensus about how well Scrivener is running on El Capitan? I’ve seen some complaints here at the forum, but that could be a small subset of users–I wouldn’t know. In general do you think most users are satisfied with the latest Scrivener rev on the latest OS X?

There are a couple of known crashes, the most obnoxious of which is probably the Full Screen crash: … ll-screen-

And there were a few format update issues when version 2.7 first came out. But on the other hand imported web pages and other media seem to be less fragile than in earlier versions.

I’ve already updated my laptop, and lack of time is the biggest reason I haven’t updated my iMac.


Thanks, Katherine.

Consider a refurbished Mac from

A refurb will be cheaper by some measure than a from-the-factory Mac.

The advantages of a refurb over a used Mac is that a refurb is more recent tech, and you can buy AppleCare for it. If you buy a used Mac, you might get a brief period of support, or no support at all. IMO AppleCare is worth the cost (a MacBook Pro that needed no fewer than 3 replacement screens, and a Mini whose hard drive failed). And, as a new Mac user, you can call AppleCare anytime with questions about the machine, OS X, or Apple-supplied software.

Regarding how much memory to get, remember that these days Macs’ RAM is soldered to the logic board IIRC except for the 27" iMac, which is user-expandable – consider getting a Mac with 16gb rather than wishing later for it.

I have a 2012 Mini with 16gb RAM and a 500gb 5400rpm spinner, which is slow to boot due to my list of login items, but it runs 10.8.5 well and I am happy with it. (I managed to catch the failing HD early, before corruption spread. And, I will upgrade it with an SSD to run Yosemite / El Cap.)


Personally, I would never ever buy a vintage Mac in order to save some money. When spending a little bit more, you’ll be fine for the next five years or so; with a vintage Mac, this certainly won’t be the case. I own a six years old white Mac Book which is still fine in every respect; except that it runs only on X.7.5 or earlier. Which implies that (the most recent versions of) popular applications like 1Password, Curio etc. won’t run on it. So the day you decide that a similar application fits perfectly into your workflow and then discover that it won’t work on your vintage Mac, you’re in trouble.

And yes, Scrivener 2.7 still runs on X.6; but didn’t Keith tell us that version 3, which should ship later this year, will require a more recent version of the OS? Or am I wrong?