Time for a new iMac

If you can’t decide which new iMac to get, then the decision process I went through whilst deciding which iMac to buy may just hep you. That’s why I’m sharing it here.

Mac vs PC

Before you Windows guys tell me to ‘get a PC’, it won’t work. I’ve used Apple Macintosh computers ever since my first Apple Macintosh LCII back in the early 1990’s. I use Windows based PC’s daily for many tasks but still much prefer Macs for my main computer. I also have loads of software that I have bought that I use daily and of course it is all OSX specific so I have too much invested in the Mac platform to jump ships now.

Having a Mac as my main computer also means that it works perfectly with the rest of my Apple devices such as my iPhone, iPad and iPod Nano and Morgan’s iPod touch. And who knows, if Anna is a good girl she might even get an iPhone for Christmas as well so there will be yet another Apple device in the household. (Shhh, don’t tell her!)

I know Windows based PC’s are cheaper, I’ll admit that. However when you compare like for like and look at top of the range PC’s versus their Mac equivalent then the price gap isn’t as wide as you might think it is. Yes, a Mac may still be just a little more expensive, but with the amount I already have invested in the Apple ecosystem it’s a price with paying.

It’s not just about the price

Besides, price isn’t the only consideration here. There are so many other things that are important, including the ease of use, reliability, performance and yes, aesthetics too. But more important than all of that is the fact that my computer is probably the single thing that I use more than any other. I use it for work all day every day but also use it for personal applications, entertainment and many creative tasks that I just couldn’t do without it. My computer is the tool by which I earn my main source of income but it is also the tool that allows me to communicate with friends and family, update this weblog, view my photos, track my triathlon training, produce our weblog book, and much much more.

With that in mind, and considering how much time I spend using it, it makes sense to have a computer that I enjoy using, rather than just the cheapest or best value machine that gets the job done. I want to feel good when I’m on it and owning and using an Apple Macintosh computer makes me feel that way.

These sentiments have spilled over into my decisions about when to get a new computer and which specifications to go for.

Why I need a new Mac

My current iMac (the one I’m writing this on) is a late 2009 21.5″ 3.06Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo with 8GB of RAM. It’s still running well and has actually had a bit of a new lease of life thanks to the speed increases associated with OX Mavericks. Before Mavericks though it was beginning to slow down a little and I was getting the odd spinning beach ball meaning that it couldn’t quite keep up with me.

I got it in December 2009, so it is now 4 years old which in computer terms is quite old. It had a new hard drive fitted in April 2012 when the old one decided to fail on me, but other than that has been working tirelessly all day every day since I got it. It is on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks of the year and could probably do with a rest! I think they say that a computer year is equivalent to 15 human years so it is approaching 60 and therefore almost time for retirement.

Video Issues

It’s also been having a little trouble lately driving my second monitor. At first I thought that this was due to the monitor as that was getting a little long in tooth too and had a few other problems itself.

The monitor stopped working completely the other day so it has gone to the tip and I have a brand new 24″ monitor in its place. However, there have still been a few issues with the iMac driving this one. I’ve replaced the VGA cable and have tried a DVI-D cable to it but still there is the odd occasion when the monitor displays an ‘out of range’ error and I have to restart the computer to fix it. The fact that it requires a restart of the computer rather than the monitor would point to the iMac being the issue, although I have yet to change the mini-display port to VGA adaptor that I use between the two so it could be that causing the problems.

More More More

Otherwise, everything seems fine with the computer. That doesn’t mean of course that I wouldn’t like an upgrade and I’m sure I’ll get some added enjoyment from using a slimmer,  faster, better new iMac.

More speed is always welcomed. My current iMac isn’t slow, but any speed boost would be good as I just can’t stand having to wait for my computer to do something

More storage would be good. The 500GB internal hard drive on my iMac isn’t full, but it doesn’t have huge amounts of space available these days so getting some more storage would be a good idea before I do start running into problems. It’s much nicer to be able to create documents without worrying about the space they will take up, and I can’t be doing with archiving things to external drives as that would just mean even more back-ups would be necessary.

More screen real estate would be nice. I already have the 21.5″ iMac monitor and a 24″ second display, but bigger screens would be good.

More toys. As well as being a tool that I use everyday, an iMac is a cool gadget as well, and we all know that ‘he who dies with the most toys wins’, so there’s no harm in having another!

A stitch in time

With all of this in mind, I have decided that it is time for an upgrade to a brand spanking new iMac.

The new iMac

The new iMac

The timing is right as the iMac range has recently been updated to use the latest ‘Haswell’ generation of i5 chips. This means that a new iMac model isn’t due to be released anytime soon. There’s nothing worse than buying a new gadget only for a new model to come out a month later making yours out of date immediately.

It’s also probably a case of a ‘stitch in time’. It’s much better to replace a machine that you use everyday before it starts failing. Replacing it now while it is still working should make the upgrade process fairly seamless. My current iMac is able to run the latest OSX so there won’t be any changes as far as that is concerned.  I should just be able to transfer everything from this iMac to a new iMac and then continue on as if nothing had happened. The new machine will however give me the ability to run future updates to the operating system, allowing me to stay up to date for longer.

Which iMac

With my mind made up, it was time to decide which model and which specification to get. The first choice is the one between 21.5″ or 27″ screen. I love having huge screens so the 27″ was my preferred choice, but it is BIG. I took some measurements on my desk and it will fit nicely so there is no reason NOT to get it. It is about £300 more expensive than the 21.5″ option but there are some other advantages to the larger screened iMac. I’ll mention these as I outline my other decisions below

Processor Speed

The new iMacs currently range from a 2.7 or 2.9 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 in the 21.5″ models up to a 3.2 or 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 in the 27″ models.

There is also a build to order option of a 3.1 GHz or 3.5 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 for the faster of the two in each screen size, but this adds £160 or £190 to the price. It does however have significant performance advantages as the i7 chip supports hyperthreading whereas the i5 doesn’t. I can’t claim to know exactly what ‘hyperthreading’ does but it does mean that the i7 chips are significantly faster than the clock speeds alone would suggest.

However, even the 2.7 Ghz  quad-core i5 is a significant improvement over the 3.06 Ghz Core 2 Duo in my current iMac. The fact that 27″ models also have faster processors though means that you are getting more than just a larger screen for the extra £300, giving me another reason to plump for the larger screened iMac.

RAM

My current iMac has 8GB of RAM. The new iMacs some with 8GB of RAM (2x 4GB) as standard. You can configure the 21.5″ models with up to 16GB and the 27″ models with up to 32GB. The important thing to note here though is that the RAM isn’t user-upgradable in the 21.5″ iMacs whereas it is in the 27″ models.

Because of this, upgrading the RAM in the 21.5″ iMacs is best done when buying the machine. Upgrading to 16GB of RAM in both he 21.5″ and 27″ iMac models via the Apple Stores costs £160 and replaces the 2x 4GB chips with 2x 8GB chips.

You can however buy an addition 16GB of RAM (2x 8GB) from a third party seller such as Kingston or Crucial for around £120 and adding these to the 27″ iMac is easy. Not only is that a saving of £40 but it means that you can add this additional 16GB of RAM to the 27″ model on top of the standard 8GB, giving you a machine with 24GB of RAM. Going for the 27″ model can therefore save you £40 on RAM upgrades and leave you with an additional 8GB of RAM too. Yet another reason why the 27″ model gives you more than just a larger screen for your money.

OK, 8GB of RAM would probably be enough, but that’s what I currently have and it’s always good to have more RAM – I want to upgrade after all. I was looking at going up to 16GB, I won’t complain at 24GB instead though.

Graphics

The bottom of the range 21.5″ iMac comes with integrated Intel Iris Pro graphics chip whereas the other models in the new iMac range come with a variety of the NVIDIA GeForce GT 7 series chips. I’m not too bothered by this as all will be sufficient for my needs. The larger screens obviously benefit from a better graphics chip, but again they are all sufficient for the tasks at hand.

Hard Drive

All of the new iMac models comes with a 1TB hard drive as standard. The 21.5″ models have a 5400 RPM drive whereas the 27″ models have a faster 7200 RPM drive. This is another benefit of the larger screened iMac. Configuration options include

  • 3TB Hard Drive (27″ models only)
  • 1TB Fusion Drive
  • 3TB Fusion Drive (27″ models only)
  • 256GB SSD
  • 512 GB SSD
  • 1TB SSD (27″ models only)

I’ll be quite happy with 1TB, but would quite like to get some of the advantages of an SSD. I can’t afford the 1TB SSD as that costs a whopping £800 extra, but the Fusion drive is supposed to give you the best of both worlds at an additional cost of £160. It includes a 1TB spinning hard drive (5400 RPM in the 21.5″ iMac and 7200 RPM in the 27″ iMac) along with a 256 GB SSD drive. The fusion software built into the Operating System then manages these as a single drive and automatically stores the OS and most frequently used files on the SSD drive allowing faster access to them. This should improve the general performance of the computer in day to day tasks as well as speeding up boot times.

New iMac Decision Made

With these things in mind my preferred choice of configuration options is a 27″ iMac with a 3.2Ghz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor. I’ll upgrade to the 1TB fusion drive and will then buy 16GB of RAM from elsewhere and install it myself to give me 24 GB in total.

Peripherals

Hopefully I won’t need to upgrade too much in the way of peripherals despite the fact that the new iMac no longer supports FireWire and I can’t afford any Thunderbolt devices. The new iMac still has plenty of ports and backwards compatibility with most of my peripherals.

New iMac Ports

New iMac Ports

Input Devices

I’ll get a bluetooth keyboard with the new iMac and might go for the Magic Trackpad simply because I’d like to give it a go and I already have a Magic Mouse that I can use if I don’t get on with the trackpad.

Monitors

As I mentioned above, I already have a new 24″ display that I will use as a second monitor attached to my new iMac. This has both VGA and DVI-D input ports. The new iMacs have two Thunderbolt ports that are backwards compatible with mini-display port. I’ll therefore plug either a ‘mini-display port to VGA’ or ‘mini-display port to DVI-D’ adaptor into one of the thunderbolt ports in order to power the second monitor

External Hard Drives

I currently have 4 external FireWire 800 hard drives connected to the FireWire port on my iMac. The new iMacs don’t have a FireWire port so I will have to get a Thunderbolt to FireWre adaptor and use the second Thunderbolt port on the new iMac to connect my Hard Drives. I hope this works fine, it should do but it will mean that I have four external drives attached to a single Thunderbolt port on my new iMac, and of course transfer speed will only be those achievable via FireWire 800, not the blazing speeds of Thunderbolt.

Hard Drive Usage

Hard Drive Usage

Currently my  hard drives consist of:

  • A 2TB hard drive with two partitions: A 1TB partition for a Daily Clone of my internal hard drive and a 1TB partition as a spare drive.
  • A 1TB drive with two partitions: A 500GB partition for a Weekly Clone of my internal hard drive and a 500GB partition as a monthly clone of my internal hard drive.
  • A 1TB drive containing a Time Machine backup
  • A 320GB drive containing various files that aren’t too important

Seeing as my new iMac will have a 1TB internal hard drive, I’ll have to reconfigure these. The partitions that contain cloned backups will have to be increased to 1TB and the Time Machine backup will have to increase to 2TB. I can just about do that with my current drives, but it might make sense to buy a new 2TB drive so as to give me plenty of storage for backups and such like. I’ll then have a spare drive that can be used for something else (more on that later).

There’s seems to be little point in getting a new hard drive with FireWire 800 though as the new iMacs don’t support FireWire. A Thunderbolt drive would be nice, but they are far too expensive, so it probably makes sense to get a much cheaper USB 3.0 drive. The iMac has 4 USB 3.0 ports so I should just be able to connect it to one of these and will get transfer speeds comparable to those of FireWire 800 through it.

USB Devices

That brings us on to the other USB devices that I have. These include a printer / scanner, chargers for my other Apple devices, a Garmin ANT+ stick and a hub that allows me easy access to a USB port for memory sticks etc. At the moment some of these are connected via a USB 2.0 powered hub but they are all only USB 2.0 devices so I’ll only get USB 2.0 speeds with them however they were attached to my new iMac. They should all work fine as USB is backwards compatible. If I get any USB 3.0 devices in the future then they should be able to plug into the USB 3.0 ports on the new iMac, but if I get a few I may need to invest in a USB 3.0 hub at some point.

Connectivity

The new iMacs come with 10/100/1000BASE-T Gigabit Ethernet connectors and 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking. The latter is backwards compatible with 802.11 a/b/g and n. I tend to connect wirelessly these days (since BT changed the way broadband is routed around our house!), so that should be fine. Our new router is a/b/g and n compatible too, but not 802.11ac. That shouldn’t matter though as wi-fi only ever works at the speed of the slowest device connected to the network and as we still have several older devices it won’t be running any faster than the speeds associated with 802.11b or 802.11g networks.  I don’t think the Wi-Fi speeds are too much of an issue though as the speed of the Internet connection itself is the main limiting factor here. It would be nice to get faster transfer speeds between connected devices on the network, but we will be limited by the speed of the slowest device on the network and therefore won’t be able to take advantage of the faster connectivity protocols built into the new iMac.

A new iMac – Yes, yes, yes!

So, I think that’s my mind made up.

  • Yes, it is time for a new computer
  • Yes, it will be an Apple Macintosh
  • Yes, it will be a desktop and therefore a new iMac
  • Yes, it will be the larger 27″ model
  • Yes, it will have a 1TB Fusion Drive
  • Yes, I’ll  buy and additional 16GB of RAM from a third party seller
  • Yes, my peripherals should all work with it

Now I just have to find the money to actually pay for it.

What to do with my old iMac?

Well, other than the fact that I’ve had some issues with it connected to a second display it seems to be working perfectly and it has a hard drive in it that is only 18 months old. I could sell it and probably get around £350 for it, but we are also stuck for what to get Morgan as his ‘big’ Christmas present this year.

He’s quite an “Apple Fanboy” himself (I don’t know where he gets that from!) and I think he would love to have his own Apple computer. I still have all of the boxes and packaging for it so I can wipe it’s hard drive and restore it to the way it was when it came from the factory (although I’ll try to do that in such a way as to leave OSX Mavericks on it).

This is of course all a secret as far as Morgan is concerned but I think he’ll be quite excited to find a large present under the tree and then to find an immaculate iMac that will be all his!

We’ll have to find somewhere to set it up in the living room or dining room for him so that we can monitor his use of it and we will impose some rules and some parental controls on it, but it’ll be good for him to learn how to use it properly . I’ll probably give him one of my External Hard drives as well so that he can keep things backed-up as that will be a useful lesson for him too.

So, that’s it sorted, I’ll get a new iMac with all the latest features and improved performance, and we’ll have a cool present for Morgan at the same time. Perfect.

 

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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.

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