CPU or Graphics Card? What's the better upgrade?
December 20, 2012 4:34 PM   Subscribe

I'm buying one of the new iMacs. I'm torn between paying for an upgrade to the CPU or an upgrade to the video card. Help me decide!

I'm buying one of the new 27" iMacs. Yeah yeah, I know I can get a similar spec PC for less money, but I'm still getting one.

I'm configuring the options in my order. I can't decide whether to upgrade the CPU or the graphics card.

The base CPU is a 3.2GHz Quad-core Intel Core i5. I can pay an extra $215 to get that bumped up to a 3.4GHz Quad-core i7.

The base video card is an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 675MX 1GB GDDR5. If I pay an extra $175 that gets bumped up to an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680MX 2GB GDDR5.

Both feel like a worthy upgrade for a PC I want to last me a while (I don't buy a $2000+ new Apple computer every year). But I can't decide which would be the better one. I'll be playing a lot of games on it, so the video card seems like the right choice, but damn, that CPU is nice too.

But then i also worry one is going to bottle neck the other. It's a hard choice!

Theoretically I could get both but money is tight and I'd rather get one or the other.

What's your view, MeFites! Please help me decide!
posted by Effigy2000 to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a question: what are you doing about disks? If you haven't thought about it, I'd recommend using the money for a Fusion Drive. Take a look at some benchmarks and you'll see even though it isn't pure SSD, a Fusion Drive will have an impact. And from my experience, faster disks are usually much nicer in the long-term. (The stock 1TB drive is the one at the bottom of those charts.)
posted by Fortran at 4:49 PM on December 20, 2012

Response by poster: I am definitely mulling the idea of upgrading to the 1TB Fusion drive. It's actually part of the reason I'm asking whether the CPU or graphics card is the better upgrade. If I only get one, i can definitely afford the Fusion drive upgrade. Getting both would make getting Fusion impossible.
posted by Effigy2000 at 4:54 PM on December 20, 2012

Hmm. Well, if you are a gamer, I'd probably go with the GPU. The 680MX is actually a bigger upgrade than the "5" extra would indicate. The 680MX is a PCIe 3 part, not PCIe 2 like the 675MX, more cores, etc.

The main difference between the i5 and i7 part are slightly higher clock and the i7 has hyperthreading enabled. So unless you know you can use the 8 "cores" over just 4...

Also, remember the 27" iMac still has user-replaceable/upgradable memory, so get the smallest amount you can and upgrade it yourself. (Mainly going by past Apple memory upgrade prices which were laughable.)
posted by Fortran at 5:21 PM on December 20, 2012

To answer your specific question based on the way you asked it: I'd take the video card. So few things are CPU bound, but you'll know quickly if a game is video bound. The difference between the i5 and i7 is not enormous; the significant boost is hyperthreading, and for normal consumer workloads I don't think you'll notice a big difference over the i5 with 4 cores. (Hyperthreading actually works, but only if you've got more than 4 processes trying to run at once.). Here's the hardware specs on the two graphics chips, and the difference there is significant. Particularly if you want to run the game at that nice native 2560x1440 resolution

Now if I may take the liberty.. Are you really going to be playing a lot of graphics intensive games? Are you familiar with the limited game catalog on MacOS or maybe you are planning on using Bootcamp to boot to Windows? No offense intended, if you know the deal with Mac gaming then good on you. But if this is your first Mac gaming machine you may be in for some disappointment.

I agree with commenters above on other upgrades. 8 gigs of RAM is enough IMHO but 16 is definitely nice; just don't buy the RAM from Apple. And the Fusion drive is an enormous improvement, I'd take that as an essential upgrade before either the CPU or GPU. (FWIW I just got the low end 2.9GHz 27" iMac. Despite being slightly slower than every way from my 2011 top end iMac, it still feels super fast.)
posted by Nelson at 5:29 PM on December 20, 2012

The CPU upgrade is a waste of money for 99% of users. Go with the vidya card and get the Fusion drive and cackle with glee at your fancypants new computer!
posted by Sternmeyer at 6:35 PM on December 20, 2012

The bottleneck in almost all systems these days is the disks. Get the Fusion drive, then the video card if you can afford it. Unless you're doing virtualization, there's no reason the consider the CPU upgrade.
posted by paulg at 8:48 PM on December 20, 2012

As soon as the shiny 27" iMacs arrive in Queensland, we plan to smear one with our mango-juice covered paws.

Before you all persuade us to go with the i5, is there any difference in the L2/L3 cache between the i5 and i7 CPUs?

My instinct is to spend money on fast cache as close to the CPUs as possible. Our current plan is:
i7 = More Local Cache (IS THIS EVEN TRUE?)
8GB RAM , more to be added later
Fusion drive

Screw the Graphics upgrade - we don't play bleeding edge 3d shooters

I welcome advice
posted by Combat Wombat at 6:24 AM on December 21, 2012

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