Was hoping for a new iMac model... Now what?
November 2, 2018 4:21 PM   Subscribe

It's time to replace my wonderful 2010 15" MacBook Pro. I don't necessarily need portability, so I have been biding my time waiting for a new iMac model. These were last updated in mid-2017. I was hoping that Apple would have announced new iMacs at their October 30 event ... but they didn't. They did update the Mini. Is that my best option?

I am very drawn to the all-in-one nature of the iMac, but the Intel processor is one generation behind that on the Mini. If I buy a Mini, then I need to look at speakers, a monitor, keyboard; I also have to make a separate space on my desktop. I mean it's small, but it's still something that takes up space and will have a bunch of cords coming out of it.

Here are the specs on the iMac I'd buy: 3.4 GHz quad core 7th Gen Intel Core i5. Turbob oost up to 3.8 GHz. Memory: 16GB 2400MHz DDR4. 512 GB SSD Harddrive. This includes a 21.5" Retina 4k monitor.

For the Mac Mini, similar price will get me: 3.2 GHz 6-core 8th gen Intel Core i7. Turbo boost up to 4.6GHz. Memory 32 GB 2666 MHz DDR4. 512 GB SSD storage. (need more money to buy a separate monitor).

I'm mostly using this for graphic design work (Photoshop and InDesign).

How much of a difference is there in the Quad Core 7th Gen Intel i5 vs the 6-core 8th gen Intel Core i7? Where will I see this difference?

If I go for the Mini, do you have a recommendation for a nice 4k monitor that's reliable? What is a good source for the dongles I'll need to be able to connect accessories to the Thunderbolt 3 slots?

Would I be crazy to buy an out-of-date iMac?
posted by hydra77 to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
What about an iMac Pro? I’ll be ordering one if Apple doesn’t have a new proper Mac Pro machine announced by the end of Q1-2019.

iMac Pro was last updated December 2017.
posted by Construction Concern at 4:59 PM on November 2, 2018


Honestly either of those configurations would be more than adequate for your needs. I'd hold on any purchasing decision until black friday in case Apple does a stealth update of the iMacs or, at a minimum, for any possible deals on hardware.

One thing to consider with the iMacs is that you can't (easily) upgrade the RAM on the 21" models -- only the 27" models have user accessible RAM. The RAM in the new Minis is user accessible; you can easily save $100+ if you buy aftermarket RAM and install it yourself.
posted by nathan_teske at 5:09 PM on November 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


Just checked on the RAM -- Apple charges $600 to go from 8GB to 32GB of RAM in the Mini. OtherWorld Computing will sell you 32 GB for $330.
posted by nathan_teske at 5:12 PM on November 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


MacRumours maintains a buy/don't buy buyer's guide.

The iMac Pro is close to what you want, but it ain't cheap at $5K. It gets a "neutral" rating as it's not that new a model either.

It advises against buying the old iMacs.

I think the new Mac Mini is very close to what you want. I've seen recommendations for this Dell 4K monitor for Mac usage which comes factory color calibrated, so I assume it's good for Photoshop work. I do not own one.

How much of a difference is there in the Quad Core 7th Gen Intel i5 vs the 6-core 8th gen Intel Core i7? Where will I see this difference?

You'd see it in video rendering for sure, but it should keep up better for regular Photoshop work as well.

And buy memory expansion somewhere else. Thankfully the new Mini uses non-soldered RAM again so it's easy to upgrade.
posted by GuyZero at 5:15 PM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


What is a good source for the dongles I'll need to be able to connect accessories to the Thunderbolt 3 slots?

Depending on what monitor you get it may act as a USB hub, saving you from dongle-itis.
posted by GuyZero at 5:17 PM on November 2, 2018


I'd hold on any purchasing decision until black friday in case Apple does a stealth update of the iMacs or, at a minimum, for any possible deals on hardware.

I'm in the same boat, and for me the Mac Mini is probably a better fit (I don't render video, don't care much about the really-great screen on the iMac, don't need a real GPU). But this is what I'm doing, anyway, because I'd rather have the all-in-one if it gets a surprise spec bump.

If it doesn't, I think the Mac Mini is a better deal at the moment -- with the caveat that we still need to see how the thermal / noise issues are next week when it arrives for real.

(Also the Mini ships with 3 Thunderbolt and 2 USB-A ports, so you might not need dongles at all, especially if, as GuyZero suggests, you get a monitor that connects over Thunderbolt and provides ports. The HP Z27 is on my radar, and sports 3 USB-A and one USB-C port.)
posted by uncleozzy at 5:44 PM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


I am you, or close enough. Wrestling with this same decision.

nathan_teske (or anyone else) — on what authority do you have it that the new mini has user-upgradeable memory? I don’t recall anyone actually coming out and saying that during the presentation, though it did seem like they wanted to give that impression. Since I didn’t see it spelled out in the specs, I did a chat with an Apple salesperson/bot and asked the question directly; the answer I got was a solid NO.

Based on that info, I’ve been leaning towards a refurbished 27” iMac, though waiting for as long as I can in hopes of a stealth speed bump / processor refresh, which seems unlikely but not impossible. But if I (or, for that matter, you) can get an 8gb mini and then load it up with memory, that changes everything.

The 27” iMac makes it really easy to upgrade the memory, as I understand — almost as easy as some of the older laptops where you just had to pop up the keyboard. Is it that the mini doesn’t necessarily make it easy for you to get into the guts of the machine, but they’re expecting power users / iFixit to figure out how to do so and so they have the memory in standard slots for their benefit?
posted by sesquipedalia at 8:10 PM on November 2, 2018


The 27" memory upgrade is trivial -- totally a user-done operation. But opening both iMacs (21.5 or 27) is not that hard. Especially if you have one of the "pizza-cutter" tools that come with the OWC memory upgrade kit.

I've opened my 27" a couple of times to install SSDs (1TB doesn't go as far as it seems like it will at first!) and my 21.5" once (SSD and memory) although I had swap out a first set of bad RAM in the 21.5 (you have to mostly disassemble the machine to get to the memory, even if you haven't re-adhered the screen).

A couple of pro-tips if you get a 21.5":

* Remove the screws across the ledge at the bottom of the screen and take out the rubber bumper underneath. You can wiggle the power supply out even if you don't, but it's much easier if the bumper is out of the way.

* When you re-assemble the machine, don't stick the screen back in place immediately. Instead, use some masking or duct tape to hold it in place, and use the machine for a few days to make sure everything's stable. Otherwise, you'll have to buy a new set of adhesive tape after you open, fix and re-assemble.

Incidentally, both of my iMacs were refurbished models. If you buy from Apple, they're really clean; I didn't see any evidence of use on either. (Perhaps they provide brand-new keyboards & mice?) You save a couple hundred bucks on refurbs, which is about enough to upgrade the RAM. And if you're in there anyway, you might as well put in a big SSD. Both upgrades are way cheaper to DIY than to have Apple ship it to you that way.
posted by spacewrench at 9:30 PM on November 2, 2018


nathan_teske (or anyone else) — on what authority do you have it that the new mini has user-upgradeable memory? I don’t recall anyone actually coming out and saying that during the presentation, though it did seem like they wanted to give that impression. Since I didn’t see it spelled out in the specs, I did a chat with an Apple salesperson/bot and asked the question directly; the answer I got was a solid NO.

They're wrong. The old Mac Mini had soldered RAM. The new Mac Mini pages say, explicitly: "Memory8GB
of 2666MHz DDR4 SO-DIMM memory"

SO-DIMM modules are the ones used in laptop and are user replaceable. I watched the whole keynote, they also explicitly called it out and highlighted it on one slide.

Or you could read this article from 3 days ago: 2018 Mac mini has User Upgradable RAM which convienetly has a screenshot of that slide from the keynote.

it's upgradable.
posted by GuyZero at 11:36 PM on November 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


SO-DIMM modules are the ones used in laptop...

Yes.

and are user replaceable.

Not so fast. Just because it is a part that is not soldered onto the motherboard doesn't mean that an end user will be able to replace it. The only confirmation I've seen one way or the other is ZDNet quoting an anonymous Apple spokesperson, who said:
Yes, Mac mini is configurable up to 64GB and uses industry-standard DDR4 SO-DIMMs. While we don't consider the memory directly end-user accessible, service providers can access the internals of the Mac mini to upgrade the memory.
For the record, I'd be pleasantly surprised to find out that all one needs to do is remove the bottom, which the Mac Observer article states as fact, since I preordered one with minimum RAM on the theory that I'd be able to replace it later. But that was how you did it on 2010-2012 models, and Apple has a support article with detailed instructions, indicating they consider that to be end-user replaceable. Their quote about the 2018 model does not jive with that.

2018 Mac mini has User Upgradable RAM which convienetly has a screenshot of that slide from the keynote.

Can you highlight where on that slide it says "upgradeable" at all, much less user upgradeable? A better slide would be the one that says SO-DIMM, though still not "user-upgradeable".

And there are screw holes around the ring on the mini in that picture, which looks identical to the opened bottom of the 2014 model. On the 2014 model, to get to that point, you had to pry the bottom off and then remove three TR6 Torx Security screws.

By contrast, the bottom on the 2010-2012 minis simply twisted off, essentially, and as noted earlier, Apple considers those models to have user-accessible RAM.

Hopefully once you get the thing open, it's not a process as involved as adding a second drive to the late 2012 mini, but that's possible, too.

It's also worth noting that since Apple doesn't consider RAM to be user-accessible on the 2018 model, it most likely voids your warranty and AppleCare to do so as a user.

it's upgradable.

That I agree with; upgradeable by whom is the question.
posted by tubedogg at 7:25 PM on November 4, 2018


Apple hasn't updated their help centre with any info for the 2018 Mac Mini so anyone who thinks they're being misled into buying a Macintosh-flavoured lemon wait 4 days, head over your local Apple store and flip the thing over like a turtle to see what's up.
posted by GuyZero at 9:19 PM on November 4, 2018


How much of a difference is there in the Quad Core 7th Gen Intel i5 vs the 6-core 8th gen Intel Core i7? Where will I see this difference?

The newer i7 gets you two more physical cores and eight more processor threads (the i5 is 4 cores, 4 threads; the i7 is 6 cores, 12 threads). It's also going to run a bit hotter and consume a bit more power, neither of which is probably much of an issue for you. The real question is whether you'll see much improvement in performance. Photoshop is mostly dependent on single core performance, so the base frequency and "turbo boost" matter more than the number of cores and threads. The newer i7 has a lower base frequency (bad) but a higher "turbo boost" (good). The i7 also has slightly faster memory access. For bursty tasks (say, applying an adjustment) and general multitasking the i7 would probably range anywhere from "faster, but hardly enough to notice" to "noticeably faster, but not life changing."

Would I be crazy to buy an out-of-date iMac?

Not really? The newer generation is "better" but not by as much as Intel or breathless tech sites would want you to believe. The core architecture is pretty much the same. The new generation gets you more cores (which feels a little Spinal Tap to me) and a slightly faster RAM bus. If you're using apps that actually take advantage of multiple cores and multiple threads, the i7 would make a bigger difference. The tradeoff is that any sort of "more" in a processor consumes more power and generates more heat, and the power and heat envelope starts to become more of a limiting factor. You can see that in the reduced base frequency of the i7, in fact. In order to shoehorn more cores into the die, they had to reduce the clock a little just to keep the heat manageable. Turbo boost only comes into effect when the processor is working in single core mode, losing you the multitasking advantage of having all those extra cores. The good news is that they increased the maximum turbo boost frequency with this generation; the bad news is that if the system can't cool it well enough even that will be throttled. Mmmm, tradeoffs.

As a jump from a 2010 model, either one of these is going to be a huge improvement for most purposes. The differences between the two are potentially important in use cases other than Photoshop, but when single core performance matters you'll see only a little bit of improvement with the newer i7. I think for me the bigger determining factor would be whether it's worth buying separate components (Mac mini + new display) in order to spread out the risk of a component failure. If you assume you get three years out of either computer (with AppleCare), then the marginal cost of a failure in the fourth or fifth year might matter more. If your display or logic board fail outside of warranty, with the iMac you're in for an expensive repair or replacement. With the Mac mini the replacement cost would only be for whatever part failed, and you might get more life out of the rest. That said my last standalone display looked pretty bad next to modern ones when I caved in and bought a 27" 5K iMac last year. The cost of a standalone display that would have matched the one in the 5K iMac was still prohibitive, so I bought the all-in-one. And AppleCare.
posted by fedward at 9:20 AM on November 5, 2018


From AppleInsider's review of the 2018 Mac Mini:
Our base model came with 8GB of RAM, though it can go all the way up to 64GB. Considering Apple's costs on memory upgrades, the fact that the chips are slotted and not soldered into the board is giant.

This means a user can actually open up the bottom and upgrade the RAM themselves.

It's a fairly simple procedure, though not as easy as some of the previous minis from 2012 and earlier, necessitating a spudger, and a set of security Torx drivers. We'll be going into the upgrade process at a later date.

Should you opt to upgrade the RAM yourself, you won't void your warranty, but if you happen to somehow damage the machine in the process, you will be out of luck.

You should also keep the original RAM handy because Apple straight won't service the mini without that original pair of chips. Luckily, since they are relatively easy to swap, it isn't a big deal to pop them back in when taking into the Apple Store or Apple Authorized Service Provider —and frankly, if you're troubleshooting some problem, going back to the original RAM is a good test.
posted by GuyZero at 1:07 PM on November 6, 2018


Here’s a video of the RAM swap. It’s not hard, but you do have to take the whole damn thing apart.

Not worth it unless you’re going above 16GB, and even then... questionable.
posted by uncleozzy at 3:34 AM on November 8, 2018 [2 favorites]


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