The Mac mini’s Intel GPU won’t cut it as a 4K media center

Posted by:
Date: Tuesday, October 28th, 2014, 07:18
Category: 4K, Apple, Hardware, Mac mini, Television, UHD, Yosmite

Yosemite's 4K support is pretty poor - Jason O'Grady

I purchased a Samsung 4K television (a UN65F9000) for our family room and was super-excited to buy a late-2014 Mac mini (Macmini7,1, model A1347) to complete our entertainment center. The problem is that the Mac mini’s anemic GPU can’t drive a 4K display at a fast enough refresh rate to play smooth video, which is a bummer.

I’ve used a Mac mini connected to a 1080p panel in my living room for years, and it’s always worked great. A Mac mini is great in a media center computer, there’s nothing like having a real web browser for watching live streams and video podcasts and VLC media player is the de facto standard for playing every video CODEC known to mankind. (Tons of people also swear by Plex but I haven’t taken the time to set it up.)

I was optimistic that Apple would properly support 4K (UHD, 2160p) after early Yosemite rumors claimed that it would. When connected to my 65-inch Sammy 4K TV, the 2014 Mac mini can only muster a paltry 30 Hertz refresh rate, which is unacceptable for video. It results in choppy, unwatchable playback. The mini’s poor video performance is a result of its underpowered Intel Iris Graphics.

If you’re thinking of connecting a Mac to a 4K panel, beware. The only Macs that will do 4K justice are those that have a discrete graphics card – and you’ll probably need a $3K Mac Pro to do it right.

I connected my MacBook Pro Retina 13-inch to the Samsung F900 panel and it too only supports 30 Hz output, which won’t fly for video playback. The 13-inch rMBP only has Intel Iris 5100 Graphics which isn’t enough to drive a 4K panel at 60 Hz. According to the Apple Discussion Forums:

  • the 15″ rMBP w/NVidia does support 60Hz
  • the 13″ rMBP w/Iris does not support 60 Hz

If you want to drive a 4K monitor at 60Hz from a Mac you’ll need one with a discrete GPU. Boom. Sounds like the best justification I’ve heard to purchase a Mac Pro yet.

What’s your Mac media center setup?

Recent Posts

10 Responses to “The Mac mini’s Intel GPU won’t cut it as a 4K media center”

  1. RT @JasonOGrady: The Mac mini’s Intel GPU won’t work as a 4K media center http://t.co/AuPGbPFgg3

  2. RT @JasonOGrady: The Mac mini’s Intel GPU won’t work as a 4K media center http://t.co/AuPGbPFgg3

  3. Jason, it may not be the GPU at all, but a limitation of how you are connecting it. If either the Mac Mini or the monitor is using HDMI v1.4, then you will be limited to a maximum resolution of 4096 x 2160 @ 30 fps. You must use HDMI 2.0 to get to 4k @ 60 fps. Apple doesn’t specify which version of HDMI the new Mac Minis use…

    Jeremy

  4. What about a 5K Retina iMac?

  5. This clears up the resolution support a bit: http://support.apple.com/en-us/HT202856

  6. Is it really that bad? Most 4K movies are shot in 24p, so if you’re able to set the output at 24Hz they ought to play frame by frame, right?
    I was considering buying a 4K TV and a Mac Mini to match for christmas, but now I’m not so sure about neither any more.. 😐

  7. Spot on Avrid, all Blu-Ray Discs at 24Hz so this is not a problem. I am running plex on my late 2012 Mini and the movies play great on the upscaled 1080 output to my 4k TV. The set up was simplicity itself as the high speed HDMI I was originally using for my 1080 TV DOES NOT need changing for the 4K. Guys , remember that there are no specialist cables for 4K, don’t get ripped off! If you don’t believe me , check out the official line from HDMI.org
    http://www.hdmi.org/manufacturer/hdmi_1_4/4K.aspx

  8. I have a 1080P 55″ Samsung TV with a 2013 mac mini. TV is dying now so looking to upgrade and trying to determine what sort of problems I’ll hit if I move to 4k (looking at a 65-75″ Samsung). I could get a 75″ 1080P which is half the price of the 4k version, but I’m struggling to convince myself that is the way to go.

    At what resolution can you get a 60Hz refresh rate? I do a lot of web browsing on my TV so I’m probably going to have to drop the resolution anyway, or at least scale up the text. Would be nice to play Netflix at 4k though.

  9. unbelievable but true: the “new” mac mini is useless with its intel graphic card with only 30 hertz max, I really can’t believe my old mac mini beats it with the geforce card and 60 hertz! I’m sending my newly bought mac mini late 2014 back, at least I saved some money….

  10. I was thinking of doing the same thing, thanks for posting the issue. Looking at another couple of sites it seems the hdmi port is 1.4 spec only and hence limited to 30fps. However the adapter below claims to enable full hdmi 2.0 spec with 60fps from Thunderbolt port….

    http://www.ilounge.com/index.php/mac/entry/belkin-mini-displayport-to-hdmi-adapter-4k-ultra-hd-compatible/

    Would be interested to know if it works before buying new Mac mini….