From the completely different than what I normally post on my blog department…
While most of my blog is comprised of sermons audio/video of me, I’m also a pretty serious computer geek who likes to mess around with video editing. And that’s what I am going to talk about today – my latest computer project.
I’ve been a Mac fan for a long time – and by a long time, I mean 30 years. I was using a Mac IICX (look it up) in my Uncle’s office during Thanksgiving 30 years ago. Obviously, Macs have changed a lot since then, and for some years, my favorite line has been the Mac Mini. While the iMac line has a lot to offer, I’ve preferred to use my own monitor instead of a built-in one. But, the Mac Mini line has limits – quite a few of them actually, especially the 2014 Mac Minis.
However, after owning a 2014 Mac Mini for a few years (and setting it up to be a 4K Video Editing Machine), I ended up buying a late-2012 Mac Mini. Why? Because it checked three boxes
- Fast Processor (Quad Core i7 @ 2.3 GHz) which is faster than anything in the Late 2014 Models
- Upgradeable hard drive and RAM.
- Modern Ports (USB 3, Thunderbolt)
I found one on eBay, purchased it, and upgraded it the hard drive and RAM. I already had my fast drives from my Mac Mini 2014 setup, so I was good to go. Along the way, the combination of external hard drives became annoying and took up a lot of space, so I consolidated my hard drives into some enclosures to simplify things. But there was a problem – the internal graphics on the Mac Mini were slow… really slow and underpowered. And there is no way to upgrade the internal graphics on the Mac Mini. But I got to reading about External graphics cards. While not officially supported by Apple, external graphics cards use the Thunderbolt connection on a Mac to connect to an external PCI enclosure to containing a modern, upgradeable graphics card. While I knew it would take some monkeying, I wanted to give it a try. So I bought the following items
- Akitio Thunder2 PCIe Enclosure
- ZOTAC GeForce GTX 1050 Compact Graphics Card
I went with the ZOTAC for a couple of reasons (1) It was available directly from Amazon so if it didn’t work, the return would be easy (2) I knew the mini/compact version would fit nicely into the external enclosure (3) It was a lower power consuming card and I had read online that this card didn’t require you to connect an additional power supply (4) I had read the NVIDIA has recently released drivers for the MacOS that included the 1050.
Everything arrived yesterday and here’s where the steps I took
- Plugged in the Akitio Thunder2 PCIe Enclosure (empty) to make sure the Mac recognized it. (No problem)
- Installed the graphics card into the enclosure and booted up while still connected to the internal graphics (No problem)
- Attempted to run this script to enable the external graphics card (didn’t work – turns out I had to turn off System Integrity Mode)
- This shouldn’t have taken so long, but it did – I couldn’t get my machine to boot into recovery mode. Eventually, I had to finish an update to MacOS 10.12.5, and then it let me boot into Recovery mode. I followed these instructions, and it worked fine
- Re-ran the script – it ran fine, and the drivers installed fine. Rebooted the system.
- Things got weird here, and I think I figured out why. I wanted to use the DVI port on my Acer monitor, but the DVI port on the card was too low in the enclosure, so I had it connected via an Apple HDMI to DVI adapter. That was a mistake. Once I connected it directly from the HDMI port on the card to the HDMI port on the monitor, it was fine.
- And I did a little comparison testing. Long story short, I’ve just about tripled my graphics performance based on some benchmarks I did. I also opened up Final Cut Pro, switched to “Best Quality” and started playback of a 4K 305 Mbps Canon XF file. This used to push my system a bit – it would play it but not well (around 380-400% CPU usage). With the new card installed, the usage dropped to less than 200%, and everything in Final Cut worked seamlessly.
Long story short, I had a few problems that were related to my setup or adapters, but all in all, it took me a matter of hours of messing with it to have it up and running. Would I recommend buying a Mac Mini and doing this – probably not. There are better options in the iMac line if I’m honest. But if you own a Mac Mini and want to add external graphics? Definitely.
Here’s the final setup
- Apple Mac Mini (Mac Mini 6,2)
- Intel Core i7 (Quad Core) @ 2.3 GHz
- 16GB RAM
- 960GB SanDisk Ultra II Solid State Drive
- 4TB Akitio Thunder2 Quad 4-Bay ThunderBolt 2 Drive Enclosure with 4 1TB Western Digital 7200RPM Hard Drives used for video editing.
- 2 x 8TB Western Digital My Book Duo Drives configured RAID 0 and used for archive and general storage.
- Mediasonic HFR2-SU3s2 ProRAID 4 Bay Hard Drive Enclosure (2 x 4TB Hard Drives, 2 x 6TB Hard Drives) configured for RAID 0 (16TB) used for Time Machine.
- Akitio Thunder2 PCIe Box
ZOTAC GeForce GTX 1050 Compact Gaming Graphics Card
- Replaced with 6GB EVGA GeForce GTX 1060 GAMING Card – Although this card didn’t improve my benchmarks a whole lot, it does have it’s own power input so I don’t have to worry about the card drawing too much power and crashing the whole system.
- LG 27-inch UHD Display.
- Monoprice 28-inch UHD Display