Minimal Mac Setup

For anyone new to iOS development, and especially when coming from a Windows background, it is common to wonder what the minimal Mac system should be to start iOS development. 

Of course the answer to that question depends on budget, but for someone just getting started, the most common goal is to start iOS development with the best bang for the buck system. Spend as little of your money as possible, while ensuring fast compile times and an enjoyable development experience.

Coming from a Java development background, this is exactly where I was back in 2013. Let's take a look at what I recommend based on my own experience.

One caveat. If mobility is crucial for you, then you have little choice. Go for a MacBook Pro, but you'll need to buy used, or be willing to loosen the purse strings.

This post is targeted towards those that want to minimize cost while having a system that performs well and looks good on a desk. Apple is cool, so your system should be as well. Without further ado, here is my recommended setup.

Mac Mini

You can't go wrong with a Mac Mini. You are paying for the most minimal Mac system, but you get to choose what kind of display, keyboard, and mouse you want. Since it is just the unit without peripherals, the price is very reasonable.

The beauty of this system is that it has very good resale value. If you find that you have embraced iOS development and want to step up to something more mobile and perhaps with a little more under the hood, you can sell it for an excellent price. There are always eager would-be iOS developers looking for such a system to get started.

Apple Like Monitor

Do you want to spend as little as possible but still feel like you have a full Apple system? That was exactly my goal when I ventured into iOS development coming from the Java world.

In my home office, I wanted the complete Apple office look, and it was important for me to have a slick, clean, and beautiful space that embraced Apple values. To achieve that, I wanted a monitor that would look as close to an iMac as possible.

After doing the research, I settled on the HP Pavilion 25xi to pair with my Mac Mini. The newer 27 inch HP 27er model in the picture below is equally as sleek and awesome, and even better, is the same size as the iMac!

Here is an interesting comparison. Look below, and compare the iMac on the left, to my HP 25xi on the right. From an aesthetics standpoint, a very striking resemblance I would say! I'm not a photographer so you'll have to take that aspect with a grain of salt!

The complete setup

With a Mac Mini and silver HP Monitor, combined with a sleek white desk, here is what your desktop could look like. Again, I'm going to compare an iMac setup on the left, to my own setup on the right.

You'll notice my Mac Mini is not in the photo of my desktop. To promote a clean and clutter free desk, I purposely have the Mini sitting on a pure white cabinet which I described in this post. I built the cabinet to house equipment such as my router, cable modem, and power bar. Since the cabinet is lower than the desk, nothing on it is visible from anywhere in the office other than directly in front of the cabinet.

Mac Mini Upgrades

The Mac Mini I purchased was the late 2012 version. I ordered it with an SSD, and then immediately upgraded it to have 16GB of RAM. Such a system is still a completely fast sytem today. Having an SSD is mandatory, and once you have one, you cannot go back.

Update 10 July 2017: I recently enhanced my Mac Mini by adding a second SSD, and I've documented the process in this blog post.

If you look at purchasing the 2014 Mac Mini, which is the current version, you need to consider that RAM cannot be upgraded with after-market RAM, unlike the late 2012 model that I have.

If you really want to save money, purchasing a late 2012 model that has been upgraded is not a bad idea, especially considering that they were still for sale in 2014, so if you can ascertain that a given system is less than 3 years old, it makes a great starter system, and you'll be able to add RAM and an SSD yourself should you need to.

The ever popular question is when will the Mac Mini be upgraded again. It could be in 2017, so stay tuned and keep your eyes open for that.

Whether you go for the 2014 model, a pre-owned late 2012, or wait a little for the next version, I'm confident you will be pleased with a Mac Mini, and accompanied by the sleek and beautiful HP monitor, you'll have a wonderful system for developing iOS apps.

25 Day Fast Track Learning Plan

If you have your new system, or already had a Mac and want to fast track yourself to becoming an iOS developer, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Big Nerd Ranch Guide iOS Programming book. An earlier version of this book was my initial resource for learning iOS development.

Give yourself a challenge, to read and complete the exercises from one chapter each day, and after only 25 days you will have a solid foundation to build upon towards realizing your goal of being an iOS developer. 

While there are many excellent resources online from which to choose from, this book is based on popular training programs, but allows you to work at your own pace, covering all the essential concepts, tools, and techniques, building some cool apps as you learn. You then have it on your bookshelf as an ongoing valuable reference as you tackle larger projects.


Disclosure: Products on this page are those that I recommend, am using myself, and would recommend to my friends and family. I would not recommend any product that I am not completely happy with, but please do your own research to be sure that you are choosing the right system for your needs. The HP monitor and iOS Programming book have affiliate links, which means that I may earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you) should you elect to purchase either through my links. If you do it is much appreciated and I thank you for it. Either way, I hope that this post has provided you with some ideas for the perfect Mac system and training resource to get started in iOS development.