Tell me which iMac options to buy
June 5, 2017 5:29 PM   Subscribe

With today’s announcement from Apple of new iMacs, we’re going to upgrade our early 2009 iMac. This computer has worked for us for a long time now, and we’d like to keep this new one a long time, too. Which processor and graphics options should we get that would enable us to do so?

- Processor: Quad-core Intel Core i5 (3.4-3.8GHZ) or i7 (4.2GHZ)?
- Graphics: 4GB of VRAM (Radeon Pro 570/575) or 8GB (Radeon Pro 580)?

This will be the 27-inch 5K iMac, and we’ll likely get the 512GB SSD for storage, and 16GB memory (and upgrade that later on—the iMac site says it’s user accessible). How much of a difference would the i7 and 8GB VRAM make?

We use it for web browsing, iWork/Office, Photos.app, and music/videos. Any of these options would be fine for now, but which will enable us to keep this for a long time?
posted by jroybal to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
With your needs, the lower spec iMac will be absolutely fine for a very long time. I don't think you'd notice the difference with the i7 and the better graphics any time soon.

There may be some future point where you find you can keep using your computer for an extra year or so in 2024 because you have that slightly faster processor and graphics, but really, since you are spending so much more to get them now, you'd be better off to put the extra hundreds in the bank and use them to buy that new computer one year earlier. In other words, don't spend an extra 20% or so to get most likely less than 20% extra lifespan.

With the RAM upgradeable, I'd even stick with 8GB and plan to upgrade in a few years (even buying it right away from someone else will be cheaper than buying the upgrade directly from Apple).
posted by ssg at 5:55 PM on June 5, 2017 [4 favorites]


$.02: I just did this. I ordered the i5 because I'm not worried about the difference there. i5 vs i7 benchmarks are really close except in a very few situations, and if you don't already know why you'd need the i7 you probably don't need it. OTOH I ordered the 580 with 8GB of VRAM because I am worried about how Apple software tends to rely a lot on hardware acceleration and I feel like that's a part that would make a difference (also I suppose if I want to add a display however far down the road it gives me more options). I just have to steal a 5K display from somebody (of course then I'll regret not getting the VESA mount iMac …).

FWIW I got the base 8GB RAM option and ordered a 32GB kit from Crucial for $240. I also just got the base Fusion drive because my current editing computer has a small SSD and a large spindle (in two separate partitions) and I have felt 100% A-OK about it since doing the upgrade. Well, except for the two separate times our power dipped and the SSD got corrupted, but it's on a UPS now and it feels much better.

I will probably split the Fusion drive and run separate boot and storage drives like I'm doing now, just so any storage failures are compartmentalized like they are now. Somehow the SSD got corrupted twice but the spindle is fine and no, I don't know how that worked, but I know it's true, and I'm happy I didn't have to restore all my photos both times I had to rebuild the SSD.
posted by fedward at 6:32 PM on June 5, 2017


My feeling is that it’s pretty hard to notice the difference between an i5 and and i7 for most computing tasks on a current Mac, whereas going from an old fashioned hard drive to an SSD is like night and day.

If you want to do your own RAM upgrade, make sure whichever model you pick actually allows for that; some of the new models (and some of the current models) don’t. Upgrading the RAM yourself is absurdly easy and much cheaper. I would slightly disagree with ssg though and say that you should max out the RAM right from the start—it really only takes a few Chrome tabs to burn through 8GB these days.

...you'd be better off to put the extra hundreds in the bank and use them to buy that new computer one year earlier.

Agreed. And you’d be smart to put one or two of those extra hundreds into a clone drive, Time Machine drive & offsite backup subscription like Backblaze.
posted by bcwinters at 6:33 PM on June 5, 2017 [3 favorites]


The 21.5 inch model does not have user-upgradeable RAM, but the 27 inch model does. Also Safari uses less RAM than Chrome.
posted by fedward at 6:45 PM on June 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


The 21.5 inch model does not have user-upgradeable RAM, but the 27 inch model does.

And yet: RAM in the New 27-inch iMac Isn't Upgradeable by Dennis Sellers for AppleWorld.Today. So double-check before purchasing.

Also Safari uses less RAM than Chrome.

Sure, I'm just saying that I see plenty of use cases where "ordinary" users ("All I was doing was watching a video, pinning some photos, and doing some online shopping") are burning through 8GB pretty easily. Everyone else's mileage may vary.
posted by bcwinters at 7:01 PM on June 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


The iMac specs page for the 27-inch iMac says "8GB (two 4GB) of 2400MHz DDR4 memory; four SO-DIMM slots, user accessible" for all the 27-inch configurations.

The post linked by bcwinters may be referring to the iMac Pro, which is an entirely different beast?
posted by heeeraldo at 7:15 PM on June 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Dennis Sellers has conflated two different pieces of information. The iMac Pro, ironically, will not have user-upgradeable RAM. The 27" iMac does.
posted by fedward at 7:34 PM on June 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


FWIW I got the base 8GB RAM option and ordered a 32GB kit from Crucial for $240.

They have now updated their selection tool, and they say the RAM I bought is not compatible with the iMac. They say it needs this RAM instead. I'm probably going to try the stuff I bought anyway (once my iMac gets here) because I have it already and the compatible RAM isn't in stock, but I apologize for handing out what seems to have been bad information. (Who knew DDR4-2400 SODIMMs weren't all the same? Not me.)
posted by fedward at 2:13 PM on June 9, 2017


Update to the update, in case anybody finds this thread later: I went ahead and installed the RAM I bought before Crucial had updated their configuration tool for the new iMacs, and it's working fine.
posted by fedward at 2:43 PM on June 23, 2017


We ended up getting the base model with the 512GB SSD, and then upgraded the memory from Crucial via Amazon. All the "Made for Mac" memory products were out of stock on Crucial and Amazon, so I ordered one, like fedward, that looked exactly the same. Just installed it--good so far.
posted by jroybal at 9:44 AM on July 2, 2017


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