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Apple 2020 iMac 5K: some Nice New Options but with Downsides for Pro Users, Too

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I’m tempted to get a 2020 iMac 5K, as I still use the 2019 iMac 5K heavily during my travels to places like the Eastern Sierra, Alabama Hills, Mt Dana area, Saddlebag Lake area, White Mountains, etc—4 months straight this sprint during the feckless COVID-19 lockdowns.

The improvements in the 2020 iMac 5K are incremental. But for demanding computing chores like I do, including focus stacking and image scaling and panorama assembly using raw files of images up to 150MB each, the following features are nice advancements:

  • The 10 core CPU option in the 2020 iMac 5K ($400 option over the 8-core CPU) is probably good for at most a ~25% performance boost over the 3.6 GHz Intel Core i9 8-core in my 2019 iMac 5K. Apple claims 65% for some specialized tasks, but the likelihood is a 20% boost at best when all 10 cores are in use, particularly if memory bandwidth is still a hobbled dual-channel design.
  • The 4TB and 8TB SSD options are very welcome, and extend the convenience and longevity of the machine—I’d not buy with anything less than 4TB.
  • Four (4) memory slots—at least that remains (still 4 slots) and they are user-accessible, unlike the ridiculous closed-system iMac Pro. Apple will gladly sell you 128GB for 4-5X the price it costs elsewhere (see below). It’s not clear if the CPU uses quad channel or dual channel memory—probably still dual channel which is a bummer for an 8 or 10 core CPU.
  • The faster GPU option $500 upcharge may be worth it for a few specialized users, but why not just get an iMac Pro?
  • The display is claimed to be improved—yawn. Maybe the +$500 nano texture glass is worth something (maybe $200?). But if it’s like the Apple Pro Display XDR with its consumer-grade color and brightness uniformity issues, then the 2020 iMac 5K is dead on arrival. TBD.
  • The TrueTone technology is a Bad Idea for those working with color as I do—more than once it has ruined my work and I’ve had to redo it. Now I just turn off this DF features which does not recognize simple things like “gee, the user is running a color managed workflow program (Photoshop), maybe the color should not be stomped on?” Apple talks about AI. but cannot get even the simplest basics right?
  • The SD slot is now SDXC UHS-II—should be about twice as fast. Still on the rear of the computer, as asinine as it gets in design terms.
  • Bluetooth 5.0—faster, greater range.
  • The Facetime 1080p camera may be a big win for some, but it’s a loser for me; I tape over (cover) all cameras on my computers for security reasons.
  • 6K display support is a bad joke, see below.

Downsides

Many users will not find these downsides significant, but the wisdom of spending $5000 or more on a hobbled machine versus an iMac Pro remains to be seen.

Major downsides for professional users like me are so significant that I don’t think I’ll buy one—spending $6000 for a hobbled machine for a marginal speed increase is very poor ROI. And having to deal with Catalina is a problem—it will cost me $600 to “upgrade” my accounting software that runs just fine on macOS Mojave on the 2019 iMac 5K.

  • macOS Crapalina is the worst macOS release in history. I loathe running it due to numerous daily small bugs that waste my time, and these are not likely to ever be fixed. With the 2020 iMac 5K, you’re stuck with Crapalina (unconfirmed, but it’s rare if ever that a new Mac will run a prior operating system version).
  • The Apple T2 chip is now in the 2020 iMac 5K. It is the source of many problems, including “bricking” the computer in some cases. I’d pay EXTRA to omit the T2 chip! However, it may speed up certain types of video encoding substantially, eg HEVC.
  • Still only one Thunderbolt 3 bus with only 2 ports. Is this some cheap sales ploy to force users into an iMac Pro? Even a Mac mini has two busses and 4 ports.
    UPDATE: dual Thunderbolt 3 busses when configured with the better GPUs?
  • You have to pay extra for 10-gigabit ethernet.
  • Supports a 6K display which is all but useless because there is only one Thunderbolt 3 bus, and the 6K display will suck up 75% of the bandwidth, degrading speed (for writes) to USB speed. A hobbled design—how many users will add a 6K display, but not need any high-speed external storage? Better add that 8TB SSD...
  • The 128GB memory option was already there in the 2019 iMac 5K (I’ve been using 128GB for 15 months now!). For Apple to claim this is a new feature is borderline fraud—I’d be OK with it if Apple acknowledged it as purely a sales-game change, because it is not a technical one. And Apple built-to-order 128GB memory is a massive $2600 ripoff versus $599 for 128GB memory for iMac 5K at OWC.
  • Still a lame 4 USB-A ports and no USB-C ports (excluding the inadequate dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, which are USB-C compatible).

Reader Comments

Pascal D writes:

One more downside is that it seems the SSDs are now soldered unlike previous generations. Of course Apple will be happy to sell you larger capacity options at 4-5 times the market price. Talk about mafia-like business practices. The only user upgradeable component left is the memory. It does not look good for the future Apple ARM Macs which I think will be totally not upgradeable.

MPG: a soldered-on SSD is definitely a downside, but I’m not too concerned about it, given products like the OWC Thunderblade.

As for business practices—in our semi-free society, people are free to buy or not to buy what they want (well, not in health care)—but Apple is not exactly garnering goodwill by grossly overcharging, particularly with a pathetic 1-year warranty on a super premium-priced product, which means you have to add on the cost of AppleCare.

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