Which iMac Should I Purchase?
August 4, 2014 7:30 AM   Subscribe

Help me figure out which iMac I should buy.

Greetings all,

My desktop computer at home is dying. I need a new desktop. I have a MacBook Air for work that I enjoy, so I am planning on getting an iMac for my home desktop set up. I am looking at buying a 21.5" model, so based on this, I appear to have 3 options:

1. The NEW (cheaper) 21.5 model (1.4GHz, 8GB Memory, 500 GB Hard Drive, Intel HD Graphics 5000) for $1,149 (Canadian)

2. A 21.5 model (2.7GHz, 8GB Memory, 1TB Hard Drive, Intel Iris Pro Graphics). I believe these were originally released in Sept 2013 for $1,349 Canadian (I could get this refurbished on the Apple Canada website), or

3. The older 21.5 model (refurbished from Oct 2012) which has (2.9GHz, 8GB Memory, 1TB Hard Drive, NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M with 512MB) for $1,239 (Canadian, refurbished).

Since, I would prefer a 1TB Hard Drive, I will omit the first option (the newer iMac) and go with either option 2 or 3. The 2 differences I can see from option 2 and 3 is option 2 has 2.7GHz and the Intel Iris graphics, while option 3 has the 2.9GHz and the NVIDIA graphics (but its a year older and refurbished). I certainly don't mind buying refurbished from Apple, so I am wondering if I should just get a new #2 model or to save a couple of bucks, get the #3 refurbished, which also has 2.9GHz?

Just curious as I don't know much about the specs, etc.


posted by dbirchum to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The usual question: what will you be using it for?
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:35 AM on August 4, 2014

Nothing too fancy - mostly for work related things (word processing, spreadsheets, powerpoint, email) and just surfing the internet at home. I want to use it as the hub/base for my iTunes library (which is located on my old PC now).

I don't play any games and don't edit videos (or photo's) or anything like that (yet...maybe that will change?), so I am assuming I won't need a lot of processing power?
posted by dbirchum at 7:43 AM on August 4, 2014

You can get a Mac mini (2.3GHz Mac miniSpecifications2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7,4GB memory 1TB hard drive1 Intel HD Graphics 4000 OS X Mavericks, $799.00. You already have the monitor. You can get 16GB of ram for ~150 from many suppliers.
posted by prk60091 at 7:56 AM on August 4, 2014


I am going to go with the iMac thought.

The monitor I have now is OLD and small.
posted by dbirchum at 8:17 AM on August 4, 2014

The new and refurb'ed models are so close in specs, why not go with the refurb and use the savings to get a decent external drive for Time Machine?
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:46 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, get a Time Machine. It should be mandatory. It has saved me a few days pulling stuff down from the cloud already once.

The only reason I might consider a newer machine is the terrible cycle of Apple de-support. It's somewhat likely that the 2012 machine will be de-supported before the newer ones. I would suspect that the late-2013 machine is safe in that regard, but maybe not.

That said, I think we reached desktop sufficiency more than a long time ago, where just about any computer that isn't garbage to begin with will be "good enough" for years to come. My mother is still using my first-generation Intel iMac (early 2006) for email, web browsing, etc., and frankly, if it were still getting OS updates, it would be good for a long time still.

The point is: if you don't need it for some specialized purpose, I would get the lowest-spec hardware in a recent generation (although the new bottom-tier iMac is meant to be sort of a dog, so ... maybe test-drive it at an Apple store if you can).
posted by uncleozzy at 8:58 AM on August 4, 2014

Do NOT get the "new" model with the dual core CPU. It's a ripoff of a machine for over a grand. Even if you don't think you need the quad core, you want the quad core. Intels iris pro-equipped cpus are not only quad core, but also have a massive on chip cache that gives a big speed boost to everything. Even ignoring the 500gb vs 1tb issue, the dual cores just do not make sense as a value proposition for what you get for nearly the same price getting a refurb.

For you, there won't be any real difference between the 2012 and the current one. I'd suggest getting the current one just for its own sake and to get newer hardware, but if price is a big issue get the 2012 instead of getting the new cheapie dual core model.

The performance differences between the 2.7 and 2.9ghz CPU should be negligible. They'll both turbo boost to about the same speed, and pull down about the same benchmarks in geekbench or whatever. Ditto to the intel graphics Vs the 650m, especially if you don't game.

The one major difference between them would be power draw, and heat output. The newer one should run much cooler, and draw less power since it isn't running a ~50 watt under load graphics chip.

It's a difference of basically $100, i'd get the new one unless i was strapped for cash. The older one is not a bad choice for any reason though, and in real life will work almost exactly the same.

Another good point is, when i look i'm seeing some cheaper models. What about this 640m equipped one for $1099? Or this $1149 current one? Another option to consider would be this, which while $300 more, includes the fusion drive. The hard drives apple uses in these are terrible, slow laptop drives and they drag the whole machine down. I hate hate hate hate them. Then again, i've been spoiled by SSD equipped macs at home and an SSD bootdrive machine at work. If you haven't been tainted by the awesomeness of it, you'll probably be fine.
posted by emptythought at 4:58 PM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just went through this, helping someone else pick a desktop Mac. I went with the older 21.5 inch 2.7GHz model. I agree that the new low-end 21.5 inch model (your option #1) seems like a bad idea (in particular because of the graphics performance). I went with an Apple refurb plus AppleCare, which is slightly cheaper than buying new without AppleCare but gives you 3 years of warranty and support (which was important given the person I was shopping for).

I would say go refurb (from Apple) regardless of which option you pick. If the price difference from #2 to #3 isn't much, and you play video games, I would spring for #3 to get the NVIDIA graphics.
posted by madmethods at 6:44 PM on August 4, 2014

I think the the knocks against the slower dual core model are generally overstated. Most people would get a better user experience by putting the money towards adding an SSD for a fusion drive. That said, unless you are really sweatig over $150 or so, a quad core model with a fusion drive is worthwhile.

Of the choices I'd say go for wither of the last two options. I wouldn't worry too much about them not supporting the older machine for as long. They tend to support macs for a long time. When they do drop support, it is usually when there is some major difference in the older hardware. That machine iisn't that different from machines they are shipping today. One of the key components leading to dropped support in the past, the GPU, is based on an architecture still shipping in current macs today.
posted by Good Brain at 10:13 PM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, Time Capsules are great when you have laptops. With a desktop, I'd just leave an external USB drive atatched for Time Machine backups. It is cheaper and faster.
posted by Good Brain at 10:16 PM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

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