Finally getting an iMac, after a bajillion years. Lead me?
January 26, 2015 9:58 PM   Subscribe

So four years ago, I wrote this love letter to Steve Jobs when he died. I admired that man, but the major thing missing was that I didn't own anything made by Apple, apart from an old generation iPod. I said, someday. Well that day has finally arrived. Any tips to make my transition easier? What other accessories/necessities should I buy?

I have been using Windows my entire life. Currently using an HP desktop + HP Pavilion dv4 laptop. Both running on Windows 7. Once I buy an iMac I will be giving up the desktop, but probably keep the laptop. I also bought an iPhone 5S last year. That's about the extent of my Apple knowledge.

Key things I use everyday: Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, MS Office, Google Chrome, Dropbox. For entertainment I use VLC player and MediaMonkey. I also use Western Digital external hard drives and Transcend thumbdrives. I am a writer and graphic designer.

Would I still be able to use these on a Mac? What are some of the things I should consider/ask before making the purchase?

More things that I am still not clear on:
- Do Macs still have a CD/DVD drive? How about USB ports?
- Do I need to buy antivirus software stuff or no need anymore?
- Would the mouse/keyboard combo be enough or should I also get the trackpad?
- I should get Apple Care, right?

I already read this ask, but the OP was thinking of a laptop. I'm getting a desktop, so if there are other tips and tricks (especially from those who are also designers and writers) that you think might be useful, please do send them my way!
posted by pleasebekind to Technology (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Food for thought: You can get desktop functionality by using an external monitor and hooking it up to a laptop. That way you can get however big a screen you want but still be able to carry a laptop around if necessary. I've recently transitioned from a 24" iMac to using my work laptop more or less like this and it's easy as pie. (I am on my second MacBook Pro at home.)

All of those programs (well, I've never used MediaMonkey) will work on a Mac. Macs are pretty standard with the designers I know; I work in communications/creative services and our whole office is on Macs.

I am looking at the newer iMacs and it doesn't look like they have CD/DVD drives, but an external one will be fine if you need it.

I've never bought antivirus software for a Mac. I run Disk First Aid and something like MacKeeper or whatever my computer lady tells me to run every so often, but nothing like Norton.

Mouses and keyboards are fine as is. I have a coworker who does that same laptop setup I have but uses a trackpad (aside from the one on the laptop itself) and I have no idea why.

Yes, you should probably get AppleCare. Sometimes there's some weird jiggery thing with a port or something (note: this has only happened on my iPhones) and it's just worth it. My brother got his laptop screen replaced for like 20 bucks instead of $200.

You might consider a USB extender cable. There are two little hidden USB ports on the keyboard, but sometimes the space is too skinny for some cables, for some reason. But there are at least two other USB ports on the back.

The sound of an iMac is pretty darn good. With my laptop, I use an external speaker -- my husband got me a Bose SoundLink Color (Bluetooth) for Christmas, and it's pretty nice for the size.

I don't know where you're planning on getting your computer, but definitely consider the refurbished ones. There's absolutely no reason to pay full price, although you may have to bide your time a little bit to see if one will come up with the features you want. Shouldn't take too long, though. If you do get antsy, do you work for or attend a school or university of some sort? You may be able to get educational pricing. The refurbs are cheaper than that, though.

You will LOVE this machine. One of us! One of us!
posted by Madamina at 10:21 PM on January 26, 2015

Go "Cold Turkey" keeping one leg into the windows world will make it really hard to make the transition to a new language.
Things are much more intuitive in OSX but it will take some adaptation to get used to it. Once you are in you don't want to go back :-)

Best thing you can do is to sign up for the One to One program. And go from day one. Don't try to keep your pride by wanting show up (off) on the first session. Let them help you to guide you trough the transition.

You will quickly learn the logic behind OSX and that most applications have the same structure.

Have fun!
posted by Mac-Expert at 10:42 PM on January 26, 2015

Get an external hard drive and set up Time Machine from day one.

It's not perfect, but for a set-it-and-forget-it backup solution it's incredibly painless.
posted by Nerd of the North at 10:43 PM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I highly recommend the drives from G-Technology. GOod quality with a fan less heat sink. More importantly the drive goes to sleep when not needed. Most drives keep spinning and will die shortly..

2nd back-up on a portable drive using Super Duper. Store this emergency back-up in a fireproof location prefably in a different home or office.

Doing so you will have 2 different back-up systems on 2 separate drives each stored in a separate location.

For ongoing back-up of daily working files use iCloud or Dropbox. This way the data is synced to the cloud and also backed up to the external drives.

Cloud based back-up doesn't work that well with libraries like iPhoto or iTunes..
posted by Mac-Expert at 10:50 PM on January 26, 2015

Best answer: Key things I use everyday: Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, MS Office, Google Chrome, Dropbox. For entertainment I use VLC player and MediaMonkey. I also use Western Digital external hard drives and Transcend thumbdrives. I am a writer and graphic designer.

Would I still be able to use these on a Mac?

You may need to buy Mac versions of the commercial software packages (Adobe, MS Office) but all the software on your list, except for MediaMonkey, is available for OS X. You may as well use iTunes — it is nowhere near as bad as some people like to make it out to be, these days.

Because the drives are almost certainly formatted for use with Windows computers (so-called "NTFS" format), you can use your hard drives and thumb drives in read-only mode.

My recommendation is to back up the drives' files to your iMac's hard drive, reformat the drives for a Mac (so-called "HFS+" format), and then copy the files back to them. When reformatted, you'll be able to use them in both read- and write-mode.

- Do Macs still have a CD/DVD drive? How about USB ports?

New iMacs no longer have a CD/DVD drive, but you can buy and plug in a USB optical drive from pretty much any vendor for about $100.

If you want something nice, you can get the Apple SuperDrive, but it doesn't read BluRay discs, and you can get a decent external BluRay optical drive for the same price — this will let you watch BluRay movies through VLC.

New iMacs come with four USB 3 ports. You can see the back of the iMac in the photo at the bottom of this tech specs list.

- Do I need to buy antivirus software stuff or no need anymore?

No, you do not need antivirus software, although some antivirus software companies will try to convince you otherwise.

There are "trojans" out there, but you have to actively agree to install them on your computer. Generally, so long as you don't automatically type in your username and password any time it is asked for, and you don't download pirated software, your computer will be fine.

- Would the mouse/keyboard combo be enough or should I also get the trackpad?

I would suggest getting the trackpad, unless you absolutely prefer a mouse. The trackpad has multitouch swipe features that the mouse does not. Those swipe features are really useful for switching between application windows and between different applications. It's worth a few minutes of time learning the trackpad, and the System Preferences application will show you some three-second movies of how to use your trackpad — it's pretty easy stuff.

- I should get Apple Care, right?

I would suggest you get it. It is pretty inexpensive for what you get. At 2 years and 11 months, you might set up an appointment with the Apple Store and get your iMac checked out. Then if there are any hardware issues, you can get them fixed within warranty.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:52 PM on January 26, 2015

Applecare on a desktop is pointless. I've only seen a handful of failures in imacs, and all of them were the very first gen of that body style/processor/etc(like the very first white intel ones, or the first G5s). My iMac is 8 years old and runs perfectly, my friend has another one from the same generation and it's also flawless despite moves, drops, never being cleaned out and being stuffed with cat fur and dirt... I've never been called in by a client to service one EVER unless it was a software issue.

The imac speakers, as mentioned above, are shockingly good. They rival my big jambox, and many other media-speaker-box-mabober things i've used or owned. It fill my entire living room with pretty rich sound. No wall shaking bass, but it's not tinny or hollow. It sounds like a good tabletop radio like a tivoli.

- Do Macs still have a CD/DVD drive? How about USB ports?

Nah, but don't buy apples. It's a $80 ripoff. Buy the very cheapest one available on newegg, it'll work fine. You can even get a blu-ray this way and it'll STILL cost less than apples. This LG is advertised as being fully mac compatible, and they don't get much cheaper than that. My similar cheapest-on-newegg rosewill drive is still going fine years later.

- Do I need to buy antivirus software stuff or no need anymore?

Nope. And don't listen to anyone who tells you to. Just leave the default security settings on that prompt you to install/run for the first time apps and disallow some stuff. It's plenty locked down out of the box.

- Would the mouse/keyboard combo be enough or should I also get the trackpad?

The trackpad is the nicest input device i've bought in years. If you want a mouse sometimes, use one you already have. I use an ancient logitech gaming mouse the rare times i want one.

My advice would be to buy a refurbished imac direct from apple. They're literally more heavily tested than the brand new ones, come with the same warranty, and basically just cost less. If the config you want isn't available, check out and set an alert.

My second piece of advice on that front is do NOT buy one without a fusion drive. The 21in models use terrible laptop hard drives and feel soooo painfully slow. The 27in ones use real desktop drives, but it's still just not a good value to not get the fusion drive on a machine that costs that much. Also note that what amount of ram you buy on the 21in model is what you have forever, only the 27 accepts aftermarket upgrades. I really feel for the amount of money they cost that should be a standard option from the lowest spec model on up, but oh well. It looks like none of the ones worth getting on there have that right now, by the way.

And to elaborate on that, for ps/illustrator 8gb of ram is kinda the minimum. You either have an SSD(/fusion drive) and 8gb of ram, or you have 16gb of ram. If you can swing a 27in model with a fusion drive and add more ram later that would be ideal. I, at this point, kind of regret buying a base model machine with 8gb of ram(although it was cheap, and i wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth too much). My next machine will have 16.
posted by emptythought at 10:54 PM on January 26, 2015

Because MacKeeper has been mentioned in this thread, please allow me to encourage you to read the MacUpdate comments before using it. Macs don't necessarily need system cleaning anyway, but if you want to give it a go, the programme I see recommended most often is Onyx.

The one piece of advice I give to every person buying a Mac to max out the RAM.
posted by Georgina at 10:59 PM on January 26, 2015

Maxing out the RAM is also a good idea.

If you get this upgrade through Apple, you'll pay more, but it will be covered under the AppleCare warranty.

Otherwise, you can get your memory from a third-party (like Crucial) and install it yourself.

If you DIY and ever need to send your iMac back for repairs, you'll want to first take out the third-party memory, but this is easy to do.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 11:03 PM on January 26, 2015

You'll be fine. The differences between Mac and Windows aren't as profound as they used to be, and the apps you list all work almost identically in both. MediaMonkey isn't available for Mac... I like Clementine Player. iTunes is a disaster.

I don't use MS Office, but there's a Mac version (again!) nowadays. MS is abandoning their long-held "not our operating system, not our problem!" attitude -- you can even get Word for iOS now.

When I first got a Mac after a lifetime of using Windows, it was mainly the file management that tripped me up... keyboard shortcuts in Finder are quite different from Explorer (for example, Enter renames a file instead of opening it).

They don't come with optical drives anymore. Unless you have a particular use case in mind, you probably won't miss it.

It's a myth that Macs don't get malware. That said, OS X generally has a better security model than Windows does. It's not necessary to give administrator permissions to install most apps, so it's less likely for nasties to sneak in.

I second the advice to possibly consider a Macbook instead, if you can afford one. Apple makes very nice laptops, and as someone who types a lot (coding, not writing, but same thing right?) the keyboard is aces, IMO.

Not sure about the trackpad on a desktop (haven't tried it), but amusingly I do catch myself trying to "use the trackpad" on my Windows desktop sometimes if I've been spending a lot of time on my Macbook.
posted by neckro23 at 11:09 PM on January 26, 2015

Best answer: All your Adobe and Microsoft products as well as Dropbox will work, arguably even better. VLC is a beauty on the mac. Get a utility like USB Overdrive and you have your second mouse button back, too.

CD/DVD drives can be bought from Apple but are not in all models anymore. USB works like a charm but you will end up loving Thunderbolt even more. It’s wonderfully fast and small.

I think you will not need AntiVirus but you should consider an extra firewall (OSX has one you can switch on in system preferences). My choice is Little Snitch from Objective Development. It basically asks you every time an app wants to connect to the web if that is ok. The first week it will ask you all the time but it learns the rules and then you are set up.

Consider the 27” Retina iMac. I know it’s expensive but the screen is beyond gorgeous. You will love it. Have you worked with a Wacom before? They work like a charm. Final piece of advice: get the max RAM and a solid state drive over the fastest processors. These two make all the difference in the world.
posted by krautland at 1:48 AM on January 27, 2015

Oh yea, that's one thing i forgot to add. Do NOT buy this version of the retina imac. The non-retina version has had its shakedown cruise and is solidly powerful and reliable. The retina version is pushing the limits of the hardware available hard.

I have the very first revision of the retina macbook pro and... ugh. It's mostly awesome, but you can tell when you run in to the walls of it where it's pushing the intel GPU to the max, and it runs hot when you switch to the dedicated GPU. It also has graphics driver glitches that weren't present in earlier versions of OSX on mavericks and the latest OS version, yosemite/10.10.

The reason i bring this up is that the general "enthusiast" consensus i've seen other places is that only the VERY top of the line GPU available can really handle the retina screen even when it comes to moderately intense stuff like photoshop. 5k is a TON of pixels, even compared to 4k. Photoshop on my machine wont even try to run without firing up the big GPU, and even stutters a bit sometimes then.

The second and third gen retina models on the other hand just haul ass. My friend got one for christmas and i set it up for him, including installing creative suite and playing around with it. It never stuttered, or hesitated, or anything.

If you really really want the retina one, buy a non-retina one now and wait a year or so... then sell it when the refurbs of the 2nd gen retina model show up on the store. You'll get almost all your money back.(i paid $1300 for this machine almost two years ago and got a very good deal. I could list it as a buy it now for $1300 and... get my money back, right now. imacs, and especially the 27in imacs hold their value absurdly well too).

The only 1st gen of new tech apple products i haven't gotten angry at, or at least disappointed with were the iphone 1 and the original ipod(mine still works! it'll turn 14 this year!). buying the 1st gen of apple tech is never the greatest plan, because they always push the envelope pretty hard with stuff like this and overclock/modify some components and make from scratch others. No GPU officially supports that resolution, and next year something will probably come along that can handle it a lot more comfortable.

I want one too, but i'm probably just going to wait it out for quite a while(maybe even like 2016-2017) since my erm, distinguished old imac still works perfectly fine.
posted by emptythought at 2:47 AM on January 27, 2015

I just want to say congrats!!! I left Windows in 2010 and never looked back. (My first Apple was a MacBook Pro and I bought a new MacBook Pro w/ retina display last August.) It took me about 3 days to get used to the Mac, but wow. So much simpler. A few tricks that I learned early on (and forgive me if they've already been mentioned, TLDR);

To screen shot a portion of your screen: Shift+Command+4
Backspace is the Delete key
Fn+Delete deletes everything after the cursor
To display the emoji keyboard while typing, Command+Control+Space😊

The top 3 were the ones that baffled me at first.
Good luck!!!
posted by Amalie-Suzette at 3:36 AM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a 27" iMac from 2010, and only recently upgraded RAM to 12GB (why 12 GB? I originally had 4 GB, and then added 4 GB to each of the two remaining memory slots - when upgrading RAM you have to do it in pairs). I got the RAM from Crucial, who have very good instructions for upgrading RAM, as well as letting you find out which RAM upgrades are compatible with your system. The process is fairly straightforward on a 27" iMac. I didn't get upgraded RAM from Apple when I bought the iMac because their RAM price was really expensive at the time and I figured I'd buy third party RAM later. Which turned out to be much later, but anyway, definitely max out the RAM. I think at some point last year having extra RAM installed from Apple wasn't that much more expensive than going third-party, but this depends on what RAM prices are at the time.

I alternate between Windows and OS X during my workday. There are some differences in the Microsoft Office UI which still throw me, but nothing major. The UI differences might get more annoying if you are an Excel power user, though. Oh, and having to remember it's ctrl-[key] on Windows while command-[key] on OS X.

I never had to use Applecare with my desktop machines. I definitely wouldn't go without it for laptops, though.
posted by research monkey at 3:48 AM on January 27, 2015

I recently switched from using an iMac to a Macbook Pro + external screen/keyboard/trackpad. This is somewhat more expensive, but in terms of performance and usability, there's really no reason for most people not to use a laptop as a desktop. The new retina iMac is tempting but expensive. The one drawback with the Macbook Pro is that it is only available with solid-state storage, and that gets expensive. I'm storing all my video content on an external drive to save space on the internal. iMacs are available with "fusion" drives that are best-of-both-worlds. If you get an iMac, consider that option.

Pointing devices are very personal. I have come to prefer using Apple's freestanding trackpad to a mouse, but a mouse is better for drawing. You can use both at once.

I wouldn't bother with Applecare for a desktop, but for a laptop, yes.

I just read this report yesterday on hard-drive reliability. Looks like HGST (Hitachi) mechanisms are the best. Mind you they might appear in lots of differently branded enclosures; you can get an empty enclosure and stick whatever kind of mechanism you want in there.
posted by adamrice at 7:58 AM on January 27, 2015

Not sure if you looked closely at the Mac mini, but you may want to before you buy. They're relatively inexpensive and powerful, and you can set up a KVM switch to go between it and your PC (sharing the keyboard, video display, and mouse, hence the initials) if you want to make the transition gradually or even keep the PC going for games. That, in fact, is exactly the sort of set-up I have at home.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:38 AM on January 27, 2015

Get a utility like USB Overdrive and you have your second mouse button back, too.

I feel obliged to point out that you don't need a third-party utility to use your right mouse button.

That said, I do use SteerMouse (which seems similar to USB Overdrive, which I'm not familiar with) to compensate for the fact that the way OS X treats the scrollwheel is really fucking stupid. It "accelerates" the scrolling, so how many lines get scrolled depends on how quickly you're doing it. Very annoying.
posted by neckro23 at 11:09 AM on January 27, 2015

Mouse or trackpad?
I don't like Apple mice, so I recommend getting the trackpad from Apple, and get a mouse from Logitech or whatever kind of mouse you like.

My anecdotal comment is that I used it exactly once for each of my recent Macs (iMac & Macbook Pro), for rather large repairs. So I find it useful and I always get it. If I remember correctly, you have 1 year to buy it, you don't have to buy it right away.
posted by kidbritish at 11:53 AM on January 27, 2015

1) I like a Macbook pro and an external monitor.

2) Get the slowest processor on whatever you choose. There's not much real life difference, this is where Apple makes their money.

3) Def get one with a SSD--makes a HUGE difference

4) Get your ram from a third party, like OWC

5) Def get Apple care. I've always come out ahead with it.
posted by Murray M at 2:24 PM on January 27, 2015

MS Office for Mac blows. Another option for you, besides Bootcamp, is to install something like Parallels and Windows 7 to run programs that you absolutely need but are not well supported on the OSX side. However, you will need to really max out the ram and SSD so that it is smooth. I went with third party all the way for the upgrades. I chose very carefully the model of macbook pro on the capability of being upgraded. Also, if you go this route you will need to run anti-virals on the PC side.

I went refurbed, and glad that I did so. You can get a i7 duo core macbook pro enahanced to 16GB or RAM and sweet SSD to a killer external monitor for not much more than an imac. You definitely want Applecare if you go the laptop route. There is also the option of getting one-to-one service so that you get a face-to-face with an Apple genius every week to hone the skills.

Chrome on the Mac is problematic but you could run in the virtual machine, if needed. The magic pad is pretty slick but I am more a trackball person and Logitech is reliable on that front.

If you go laptop and want to do presentations be sure to get the correct set of dongles for it.
posted by jadepearl at 2:59 PM on January 27, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your responses. I've a lot to chew on. Right now leaning towards a 27" retina display, at max RAM (32GB).

Apologies, but I have more questions. I've read up on a lot of stuff but these still confuse me:

1. In terms of storage, what is the difference between a fusion drive and flash storage? My idea of "flash storage" is the thumbdrive. So I'm confused. In the configure page it says "Your iMac with Retina 5K display comes as standard with Fusion Drive, which combines a high-capacity hard drive with high-performance flash storage. For even greater performance, choose flash storage." I'm wondering if the 1TB Fusion Drive is enough or should I upgrade to 3TB? I also don't get why the 1TB Flash storage costs like a much-needed kidney in the black market?

(Right now I have gotten by on 640GB storage on Windows. I supplement it with three 2TB external hard drives yeah.)

2. What do I use the Thunderbolt cables for? Is it just compatible with external hard drives with Thunderbolt capability? Meaning - if I continue to use my Western Digital hard drives, then basically these are useless, right?

3. What is Time Machine and Time Capsule? From what I've read it has something to do with backing up devices. I backup my stuff that primitive and with Apple there's a better way of doing it?

4. What the hell is a Mac mini? Is it like a CPU?

5. Yes, this powered USB hub is something that I'm looking for. Thanks for the suggestion. My friend has recommended this one, too. What do you guys think?

6. Dammit on MediaMonkey not supported by Mac! I'm just--I really loathe using iTunes on Window because it eats up a lot of my memory. I'll explore Clementine, but in the meantime have you guys had any issues with iTunes? Do you use any other software? (I like MM because I can organize music files by batch + add plugins).

posted by pleasebekind at 7:03 PM on January 27, 2015

32 GB is probably overkill.

1. A fusion drive is exactly what the text you quote says it is. Flash storage (in the context of primary storage for computers, it's also called a solid-state drive or SSD) is much faster than hard-drive storage, and uses less power, but is a lot more expensive. A fusion drive combines a regular hard drive with a small SSD, and moves your most frequently-used files onto the SSD so you have faster access to them.

You would need a thunderbolt cable if you had any thunderbolt devices. Thunderbolt hard drives are very fast, but you don't need to get one. USB 3 is fine.

Time Machine is Apple's backup software and it just runs automagically every hour and you should almost certainly enable it. Time capsule is a hardware product that combines a wifi node, ethernet hub, and target disk that Time Machine can back up to.

A Mac mini is a small, self-contained Mac. You can check it out on Apple's website. Lower power but sufficient for lots of people, cheaper.
posted by adamrice at 7:21 PM on January 27, 2015

If you just need to read files from CDs I believe you don't need to buy an external optical drive since you're keeping the Windows 7 laptop. OS X Yosemite supports optical drive sharing with a windows 7 machine, but it carries some restrictions on the types of media.
posted by homesickness at 9:07 PM on January 27, 2015

Belated additions:

- Thunderbolt is a really, really fast data connection. It's like FireWire or USB3, except even faster. Unfortunately, it hasn't really caught on outside of Apple's products, and it's pretty expensive too. The Thunderbolt port also doubles as a video output (Mini Displayport).

- Before you skimp on the memory intending to buy it for cheaper afterwards, know that Apple likes to permanently install memory in their systems these days, so they can't be upgraded. I know for sure the Retina Macbooks are like this. I think the older-style, non-Retina Macbooks are still upgradeable though. The new Retina iMac is definitely not user-serviceable at all.

- "Flash memory" is really an SSD (solid-state drive). SSDs are ridiculously fast compared to a regular hard drive. It's seriously the best upgrade you can get for a computer these days. It's also a fair amount more expensive than a hard drive, as you've noticed.

- Fusion Drive is a fancy Apple thing that has both an SSD and a regular hard disk. OS X automatically moves your most-used stuff to the SSD for better performance.

Personally I'd skip the Fusion Drive, go for the SSD-only option, and use external hard drives for extra storage, but I'm stubborn like that.
posted by neckro23 at 3:51 PM on January 29, 2015

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