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Late 2012 Apple iMac
With up to a 3.4 GHz quad-core CPU, the late 2012 iMac is Apple’s fastest Mac for general use as of January 2013.
The CPU is not upgradeable. Users with performance requirements should absolutely opt for the 3.2 GHz Intel Core i7, and preferably the 3.4 GHz option. The 2.9 GHz Intel Core i5 model will be somewhat slower, both from its lower clock speed as well as the less efficient i5 processor. (The 21.5" iMac is a dead-on-arrival machine for any performance use, due to its 8GB memory limit).
- Fast quad-core CPU up to 3.4 GHz, turbo boost to 3.9 GHz.
- Up to 32GB memory.
- 768GB SSD or 1TB or 3TB Fusion drives with Fusion option.
- Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 675MX 1GB or NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680MX 2GB.
- Four USB 3.0 ports. This is a critical improvement; it allows connecting high-speed peripherals, such as backup drives. USB 3.0 is especially valuable for hyper-fast SSD-based external drives, but also high capacity external hard drives.
- Two Thunderbolt ports, handy for (for example) ultra high speed PCIe SSD support, such as the Mercury Helios, assuming it can be daisy-chained off a Thunderbolt display (unsure here).
- Mini DisplayPort support for up to 30" 2560 X 1600 display.
- 802.11n Wi-Fi wireless built in + Bluetooth.
- SDXC card slot — easy download of digital camera image files.
- Gigabit ethernet. Perfect for networking.
- FaceTime HD camera, built-in speakers, dual microphones, Headphone jack.
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As an all-in-one Mac, the iMac’s sleek case is actively unfriendly to any upgrade except memory (memory is quick and easy install):
- Internal storage options are difficult to change from the factory config, either to upgrade or fix a bad drive.
- Adding storage means a tangle of cables for power and data— fine for one drive, increasingly messy for several drives (Mac Pro can take at least 4 internal drives plus PCIe SSDs).
- No PCIe slots (but external PCIe via Thunderbolt with Mercury Helios).
- 32GB memory limit is good, but not enough for big Photoshop jobs.
- Dubious longevity (heat/cooling) for extended usage over time; not likely to have the longevity of Mac Pro.
The Photoshop test results show clearly that having adequate memory is critical for some applications. Some users might squeak by with 8GB; it all depends.
But with memory prices so low, it makes no sense to skimp on memory for a machine that approaches $2500, when 32GB memory is around $220 (as this was written). Even adding 16GB memory for about $110 to a stock 8GB system would yield 24GB total, a massive jump over the base 8GB. Adding 8GB to go to 16GB is half again as much.
Get your iMac memory at OWC, because Apple charges a large premium.
Could a iMac be better than a Mac Pro?
The late 2012 iMac 3.4 GHz is from somewhat faster to substantially faster for common Photoshop tasks than the Mac Pro, provided that the tasks fit into available memory.
For tasks where an application uses six or more CPU cores efficiently and/or use more than ~24GB of memory, the 6-core and 12-core Mac Pro will be stronger performers.