New Apple 27" iMac — Buying Advice
This is updated and more extensive buying advice for the new 27-inch iMac, in response to various reader questions. Also, I hope to have a test machine when it actually ships in 2-3 weeks.
For those not in a hurry, I see no reason to not WAIT until mid-January to see if a new Mac Pro is announced.
Recommended configuration and options
Detailed discussion follows further below.
Thank you for clicking through my Apple Store button to buy your iMac.
Update Dec 20: OWC has a 32GB iMac memory upgrade kit for about $197 .
In summary what I’d buy myself:
- 3.4 GHz CPU.
- Base 8GB memory from Apple, upgraded to 32GB at OWC for about 1/3 of Apple’s price.
- 3TB internal hard drive.
- External USB3 480GB SSD or (faster) 960GB PCIe SSD via Thunderbolt, the PCIe SSD being by far the best option for those seeking absolute maximum disk performance (e.g. huge Photoshop files).
- Would not consider Apple Fusion or Apple SSD.
- Graphics card: sleep better at night knowing you have the “faster” GPU. $150 buys a lot of piece of mind. I’m on the fence on this one, since it’s always possible that some useful purpose might emerge, but most users are better off using that $150 towards a backup drive.
The CPU cannot be upgraded, so for 9% more money, a 6% faster CPU is roughly in line in value terms, but 6% is barely noticeable, so don’t sweat that per se.
However, the Intel Core i7 might in limited circumstances offer a little more boost beyond the clock speed difference alone. Based on past experience, I’d suggest that it will struggle to be 10% faster, total. Hence 9% higher cost for (maybe) 10% more performance.
32GB at Apple is absurdly expensive. Get 32GB at OWC for about $189 (wait to order until the new model ships so OWC can qualify the right modules).
Given a machine cost well over $2000 for a nicely configured system, spending 10% more money for 32GB memory makes a lot of sense,.
If one can only have either 32GB memory with the 3.2 GHz CPU, or 8GB memory with the 3.4 GHz CPU, the 32GB option makes a lot more sense, especially if work involves Photoshop or similar programs.
Internal hard drive
The hard drive is not easily upgradeable, and it might be quite difficult (e.g., heat the glue to get the case off). Hence the 3TB option is advised for the convenience of having 3TB internally.
Larger Hard Drives Are Faster Than Smaller Ones as they fill up.
USB3 supports full speed external drives so the 3TB option is really only for the convenience of having one capacious drive internally (why no 4TB option?). The drive I really like here is the OWC Mercury Elite Pro (2012 w/USB3 model). You need at least two external hard drives for external backups anyway. So don’t sweat it if you buy your iMac with a 1TB internal drive, it’s easy enough to add a 4TB USB3 external drive.
For those lusting after performance, skip Fusion and put that money towards a mini bus-powered 240GB or 480GB USB3 SSD or a a super-fast PCIe SSD with guaranteed performance 100% of the time (no Fusion nonsense and 2X or 4X the capacity of the Apple Fusion SSD). There might also be Thunderbolt SSD options. Boot off it, put Lightroom catalogs and any big jobs on it.
All of Apple’s SSD options are very expensive. If your storage needs fit within the 768GB capacity, and you really want an internal SSD and you like the idea of running one at half the speed of a super-fact PCIe SSD, then go for it.
For most users, the “faster” graphics do nothing useful. But gamers, serious video processing, specialty Photoshop filters etc all can use a faster GPU, so there are (limited) reasons there. But remember, the difference between no GPU, standard GPU and “faster” GPU might be zero between the later two.
For me, a “fast” graphics card is provably slower and glitchier for most everything I do (as compared to not using the GPU)! I use Photoshop and other photo programs heavily and I have both the NVidia 5870 and 5770, I couldn’t care less which one is installed in which of my Mac Pros. I disable OpenGL for my work (OpenGL is needed to use the GPU).