Refurbed Mac Pro or new 21.5 inch iMac w Fusion drive?
November 20, 2012 6:04 PM   Subscribe

Refurbed Mac Pro or new 21.5 inch iMac w Fusion drive?

The new iMacs are coming soon. In theory. But there's been a lot of grumbling about how performance has been sacrificed simply to make the computer look good (and perhaps preserve the market share of the Pro line).

So the question is this: Would it make more sense to pick up a refurbed Mac Pro instead of waiting around for the iMac?

I don't care what the machine looks like, or how loud it is. I need it for video editing, movie-watching, and some gaming. And I need it for whatever demands future software, as it inevitably bulks up, will demand of it -- I'm not interested in buying a computer that is basically out of date a week after I purchase it.

So between these roughly cost-equivalent options, which is the better choice?

21.5-inch iMac
2.9GHz quad-core Intel Core i5
Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz
8GB (two 4GB) memory
NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M with 512MB
Fusion drive

Mac Pro
2.8GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon "Nehalem" processor
3GB (3 x 1GB) of 1066MHz DDR3 ECC memory
1TB Serial ATA 7200 rpm
ATI Radeon HD 5770 with 1GB GDDR5 memory
posted by Hobbacocka to Computers & Internet (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I came here thinking I had a clear answer, but the more I think about it, I'm as torn as you!

Mac Pro Cons:
- I don't know much about the high-end Xeon processors, but the Mac Pro you mention is pushing 2.5 years old, which is pretty old IMO. It won't be out of date quickly, but it's much further along than a new iMac or 2012 Mac Pro.
- You will probably want to upgrade the RAM on the Pro right off the bat. Extra $$.

Mac Pro Pros:
- Already has a DVD drive. Save $30 for not having to buy external DVD drive for iMac, put towards extra RAM.
- User upgradeable. Maybe have fusion drive installed in the future?
- Monitor size is not limited by the machine itself. If you have multiple monitors already, you can keep using all of them.

iMac Cons:
- That smallish 21.5" screen. I'm not a fan, but maybe you're not as picky as me. It will be a gorgeous screen to look at, though; just on the small side.
- RAM won't be user upgradeable, but you may never need to do it anyways.
- I can't say for sure, but the screen might not be fixable either, if something happens. The screens on the Retina MacBooks are fused to the body (to keep things extra thin, I think), so who knows if they're going that route on the new iMacs.
- Need to buy an external DVD drive, probably.

iMac Pros:
- This video does a pretty good job of showing how ridiculously fast the Fusion drive is relative to the standard 5400 rpm HDD, so depending on your needs, it may or may not be a must-have. I just bought a new Mac Mini and opted to skip the Fusion because the only real-use benefit I'd probably see is a boot time of 15 sec instead of 30 sec. I can't say what benefits you might see using a Fusion drive for video editing or gaming.

Personally, I think the Mac Pro is a better option, but that's based on my needs and preferences. They will be refreshing the Mac Pro sometime in 2013, so I think your best option is to wait to see what's in store. You would at least be able to get refurbed June 2012 Mac Pros at a better price, which would probably be worth it for the processor + RAM upgrade.
posted by puritycontrol at 8:07 PM on November 20, 2012

On Hypercritical, John Siracusa described the new iMac as something like "laptop hardware inside a really nice display", which is fair comment, although laptop hardware these days is pretty impressive for most users. He's waiting for whatever replaces the Mac Pro; right now, the hardware is aging, and you don't get the improvements of recent years like Thunderbolt for I/O and display, or native SATA III or USB 3.0 or PCIE3. I wouldn't say it's "out of date", but it's a dead end in many ways.

If you have to buy right now, I'd also think in terms of potential resale when the mythical replacement comes along, and my guess is that while there's a small but constant market for Apple tower hardware from people who need drive bays and I/O ports and card slots, a lot of old towers will hit the market and the resale price will plummet, whereas a nearly-new iMac will probably hold on to more of its value if you decide it's not up to snuff. (Not that computers are anything but depreciating goods...)

If you're doing serious video-editing, you'll probably want some kind of external drive setup anyway.
posted by holgate at 9:21 PM on November 20, 2012

And sticking with the 5by5 posse, Marco Arment's blog post on buying a "new-old" Mac Pro in June:
This new-old Mac Pro will make me very happy for the next 12–18 months until the next model comes out, and then I’ll decide what to do. If the next one sucks for some reason, I can skip it. And if it’s good enough to buy, I’ll sell this one, probably losing about $1000 on it. To me, it makes sense to buy 12–18 months of high-end computing happiness for about $1000.
posted by holgate at 9:36 PM on November 20, 2012

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