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iMac 5K: Building a High-Performance Configuration
The late 2015 iMac 5K is the first-ever viable alternative to the Mac Pro for serious professional use, as discussed in iMac 5K: Bridges the Gap to the Mac Pro.
Recommendations for assembling a robust high-performance workstation using the late 2015 iMac 5K follow.
Thank you for using these buying links, so MPG gets credit.
See also the bundled diglloyd enhancement packages at OWC for iMac.
MPG offers consulting for system configuration and setup, including remote setup.
The iMac itself
Apple does not offer a 64GB memory option. Moreover, Apple grossly overcharges for 32GB, so by ordering the high-end model with 8GB of memory, around $400 can be saved on 32GB memory, or the memory can be doubled to 64GB.
Remove the 8GB factory memory and install 32GB or 64GB OWC memory. Installation of 64GB memory strongly recommended for “set and forget” for the lifespan of the iMac.
Add AppleCare for iMac because its all-in-one design may not be as robust as the Mac Pro, and because parts like the display backlighting are very expensive to fix. AppleCare covers things for a total of 3 years, versus one year for factory warranty.
The iMac has only four USB3 ports, which is generally inadequate for many users: things to plug in include iPhone, iPad, camera card reader, external backup drives, printer, wired keyboard (preferred by MPG), etc.
Primary storage and always-attached backup
Speed-sensitive work should be done on the internal SSD (flash drive), for example the Adobe Lightroom catalog, Photoshop scratch and big actively worked-on files, etc. But for images and video, sound, etc, external storage is essential since the 1TB internal SSD will quickly become full.
Single drives like the OWC Mercury Elite Pro can be used (excellent choice for backups), but a robust system requires an always-attached clone backup drive plus a Time Machine backup drive along with a primary storage drive (and external backups drives too). With those requirements, the desirability of the OWC Thunderbay 4 quickly asserts itself—one Thunderbolt cable and one power plug for four hard drives.
MPG recommends the OWC Thunderbay 4 RAID in 20TB or 24TB or 32TB configuration—it’s not capacity but also drive speed, as drives slow down as they fill up. The Thunderbay 4 need not be used in RAID mode, but the SoftRAID software is well worth having since the demise of Apple Disk Utility. When/if RAID-5 or RAID-4 is used, MPG recommends three (3) partitions which match in size to backup drives; see RAID-5 / RAID-4 Can be Partitioned to Suit.
- Diglloyd recommended enhancement package for late 2015 iMac 5K (includes the 64GB memory, Thunderbolt 2 Dock, Thunderbay 4).
MPG does not recommend RAID or multi-drive units for offsite backups, as this involves “more eggs in one basket” as well as more complex hardware and/or software.
Single USB3 drives like the OWC Mercury Elite Pro are ideal, since each drive can be stored and transported independently. Especially for professionals, no fewer than three (3) external backup drives are the smart move, all of which are to be stored safely away from the computer and ideally not even stored or transported or used together at the same time—to avoid physical risks (theft, fire, flood, etc).
Drives at least as large as the primary storage drives are advised , so that backup capacity matches. The startup drive (“Boot”) must be backed up as well as primary storage (“Master”), so backup drives typically should be partitioned into (example) 1TB* BootClone and 5TB MasterClone volumes, assuming 6TB drives.
* Assumes that the internal flash drive / SSD is 1TB.