The setup that runs my whole YouTube channel behind me cost about half what the 27” iMac it replaced did – about £1000. That’s the price of a brand new MacBook Air, and its also faster. So would you like to know how? Let’s get into it.
Full disclosure. I also use my iPhone in the pursuit of making my videos, but I feel like pretty much anyone looking at a Mac setup likely has one already, so I’ve not included a iPhone in the cost, but that said, why would I?
Also, I didn’t buy the set up all in one go, its a combination of things I had around already and some new stuff too that I’ve bought especially, but its all costed in. So, let’s go.
So lets start off with the heart of the desk setup – Mac mini M1. I went for the base model, simply as I was expecting that I’d be looking to replace it with an M1X iMac as and when they arrive, though I’m not so sure any more. I may have been spoiled by the sheer screen real-estate that this setup offers!
The M1 Mac mini is an absolute beast of a machine for my needs, and was bought to replace my 2013 27” iMac that is now on the side of the desk with Boot Camp installed, though honestly I use it very rarely, just a handful of older games.
So the price paid for this Mac mini? £624. Retail is £699, but my wife bought it for me as a student (thank you for doing a Masters degree Jo!) so there was a very helpful saving here. Now, you may or may not be a student, but there is certainly be money to be saved on the Mac mini, for example at the time of writing you can grab the same model from Amazon at £648.45. or used on Amazon from 603.06, which is an insane value.
https://amzn.to/321cBtk (affiliate link)
I think enough has been said about the awesome performance of the M1, and I have to say that I was slightly affected by buyers remorse when I got mine as some of the big advantages are in efficiency and battery life, and the MacBook Pro and Air also come with great keyboards, displays and trackpads in their price… but that has vanished quickly as an issue for me.
The M1 Mac mini actually gives you the most flexibility in your setup and has the absolute best performance you can get from the M1 chip. It has a real cooling system so it NEVER throttles, and I’ve never even heard the fan, though when doing 45 minute renders in Blender with everything running at 100%, you could just about feel a warm, light breeze at the back. Nothing you could hear though. The vintage PowerMac G4 Cube is not included in the build price, sorry!
So moving on to the displays, which after the Mac mini itself have to be the main attraction I guess, the main display at the bottom is a JVC 4K Android TV, running at native resolution over HDMI to USB-C cable. Because its so big at 40”, there’s no need to use the Mac’s built in scaling to smooth the display and instead I use it to fit more content on the display. In the past I’ve run 2-3 displays when using the iMac, typically the iMac itself being the primary display with a couple of 1080p panels either side, but knowing that wasn’t a practical option with the Mini, I knew I wanted a 4K TV, and I picked this one up a month after the Mac. The colour is absolutely fine for me, though there are occasions where websites for some reason certain greys don’t like to play nicely with the screen and you get dancing pixels. 9to5mac.com is a big culprit here! Anyway, this screen ran me £249, bringing our running total to £873.
The top display was a nice win for me and I actually bought a while ago used from eBay for £40. Only 1080p here, but because its up high I generally use it for viewing media like YouTube while I’m working on the main display, and its perfect for this. I also keep twitter up there sometimes, or finder windows while I’m editing so I can grab what I need for Final Cut Pro. Its a Bush TV, and while the bottom bezel is a bit chunky it sits behind the main display out of sight anyway. This one’s connected directly via regular HDMI cable to the Mac mini’s HDMI port.
While I wanted to use my HomePod mini as the audio output for the Mac, and it does work, anything with quick changes has delays because of using bluetooth, and when you’re editing video, that’s a bad thing. But quite a while ago I bought myself Harmon Kardon Sound Sticks – in fact I managed to get hold of two sets on eBay, one gen one and one gen 2 in a single lot as for repair, for about £40. Both sets are now fully working, and they sound incredible. The main reason I wanted these in the first place was that Apple Design Chief (at the time) Jony Ive had worked with Harmon Kardon on the design and while I still think they look incredibly modern, they match PERFECTLY with Apple’s design direction around the time of the PowerPC G4s, like the G4 Cube and G4 Sunflower iMac. This particular sub is missing its rubber feet so a little blu-tack helps keep it in place as well as eliminating any rattling on the desk. These are still pretty easy to find used, or you could use the speakers in your TV if they’re any good. Mine aren’t any good at all… So we’re up to £933.
I re-used the Keyboard and trackpad from my iMac for this setup, as well as using an old RAT1 Wired mouse, which is honestly crap, but fine for those odd jobs on Photoshop where the trackpad isn’t ideal, but generally lives out of the way under the TV to keep the setup as clutter free as possible. I assume most people have a keyboard and mouse that they can borrow, salvage etc from a family member or older computer so I’ve not included these in the price. Also because I forgot. However, you can pick up a wired keyboard and mouse combo on Amazon from around £16, so we’ll include that in our price just in case. https://amzn.to/3uKBupd
In terms of function though, something else is missing vs that MacBook Air, Microphone and FaceTime camera. I was able to grab a couple of microphone arms for £9 each from Amazon, and made use of my old Blue Snowball mic – which I’ve owned for about a decade and is still great – I think it was about £40 when I bought it and you can find them now used for less than £30 on ebay. On the other arm I have an iPhone mount, just taken from a £1 mini tripod from the pound shop (our version of the dollar store) which works perfectly and can happily hold my iPhone 12 Pro Max while streaming without issue.
So that brings our price, neatly to £998. Less than the price of an M1 MacBook Air, and I think you’ll agree, probably quite a lot more system for your money. I have to admit though, it is less portable.
Of course there is far more in the studio, including the cable management conduit that runs an inch or so above the desk attached to the wall, where I run the LED strips through too. The sound panels were pretty cheap from ebay I also happen to share the space with our home’s boiler, electricity and gas meters, Electrical breaker board and tumble dryer for the laundry. The old iMac is still here, using a keyboard I was sent for review a while ago (KLIM Mechanical one with RGB and everything) as well as a drop leaf table that I pop up when I’m filming the daily shows.
So I hope you enjoyed this little setup tour, and don’t forget you can join us every weekday at 12UTC for all the latest apple leaks, news and rumours. And if you have an question about this, or anything else Apple, feel free to drop them down in the comments using Hashtag icaveanswers.
Thanks for watching!