Intel vs M1 iMac with Parallels/Windows partition
September 20, 2021 10:37 AM   Subscribe

My wife's current iMac is starting to show its age and, as it's a work tool, she'd rather replace it sooner than later. We have questions.

The main thing is that for work my wife uses software that is available for Windows only and switching to different software isn't an option because most of her clients require this particular software. But she hates Windows, has terrible experiences with Windows customer service and for literally everything except work vastly prefers Mac. (In fairness, she'd prefer Mac for working too, if that were an option.)

Currently she has an iMac with Parallels running a separate Windows partition for all her work stuff. We were initially worried that that solution would no longer work once all Macs were using their own chips instead of Intel chips but apparently Parallels newer/newest versions still work even with the M1 chips. Yay!

So first question: Has anyone with M1 Macs and Parallels/Windows noticed any problems running Windows or particular windows applications? If you happen to be a translator with experience running SDL Trados Studio this way, your input is particularly appreciated but any problems/hiccups people have had with any software will be good to know about.

Second question: Apple does still sell iMacs with Intel chips and the M1 iMacs seem a bit smaller/under-powered in comparison—or maybe they're not? I'm not great with hardware specs—so are there any major downsides to sticking with an Intel iMac for the next 4-5 years?

I think those are the major concerns but we'd be happy with whatever other M1/Intel pros/cons people feel like sharing and personal experiences with one or the other or both.

posted by Mister_Sleight_of_Hand to Computers & Internet (8 answers total)
There's more evidence of this out there, but this is the first link I could easily dig up: Parallels Desktop 16.5 runs Windows 10 on an M1 chip much faster than an Intel MacBook

Generally the raw hardware specs aren't going to tell you the whole story with the M1 upgrade — a lot of the speed boost comes from the work they've done to optimize the chips to work with macOS, and that doesn't show up in the MHz

It is absolutely worth trying to track down an M1 mac that you can try Parallels + SDL Trados Studio, though, or find someone in a similar situation who has tried it, as there can always be issues with specific software.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:13 AM on September 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

Parallels newer/newest versions still work even with the M1 chips. Yay!

This is not totally true - currently, you can only run ARM versions of Windows on Parallels or VMWare Fusion on a M1 mac. The ARM version of windows will run many x86 and x64 apps, but not perfectly, and it's not clear that Microsoft is actually going to support this configuration.

Another option is to get a cloud-based windows PC, such as Windows 365 Cloud PC
posted by soylent00FF00 at 11:29 AM on September 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Yes - it’s important to realise that the only version of Windows that can run in Parallels on an M1 is the insider preview of Windows for ARM, and that Microsoft don’t consider that a supported scenario and could pull the plug on it working at any point. And whilst it does have an x86 compatibility layer, it’s nothing like as performant or reliable as Rosetta is on Macs.

If long-term support for Windows is a priority, I wouldn’t buy an M1 Mac right now (unless the cloud-based solution suggested by soylet00FF00 is suitable)
posted by parm at 12:06 PM on September 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

My personal experiences with prior versions of Parallels have not been great. M*-based support is going to be a mixed bag from the get-go, until and if technical and licensing issues are resolved.

If I wanted a reliable, vanilla Windows 10 installation on a Mac, I would get a Mac that is Intel-based and run Windows 10 via Bootcamp on a separate partition.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 12:22 PM on September 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: To this question: "Apple does still sell iMacs with Intel chips and the M1 iMacs seem a bit smaller/under-powered in comparison—or maybe they're not? I'm not great with hardware specs—so are there any major downsides to sticking with an Intel iMac for the next 4-5 years?"

I own an M1 Mac mini as well as the latest intel iMac -- the one released in August 2020. The intel iMac is much faster than the M1 for the things I do. It performs far better on the "multicore" and GPU benchmarks by 2-3x, and can hold a lot more RAM (128GB in my case.) Like you, I rely on Intel virtualization so working at all is infinitely faster than not working. And there's no M1 Mac that has a 27" screen like the intel iMac.

Buying an intel iMac today is definitely not a problem. For a corollary, Apple dropped support for their last "old" CPU (the PowerPC line) 6 years after the last PowerPC computer was sold during the intel transition.

For sure, the M1 type chips are Apple's future. For the price, the lower end M1 iMac and minis and laptops are amazing computers. But since you already rely on a slightly "weird" approach that works for you on intel, I'd stay there for now and come back to the M-series in a few years when things like Windows compatibility are better sorted.

Lastly, I found a thread of people having your issue on the SDL forums. It reads to me like it's certainly possible to run Trados, but it's still a work in progress and if I needed to rely on this software for work, I'd wait to get an M1.
posted by neustile at 1:33 PM on September 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everybody! I was leaning towards recommending she stick with Intel for now so it's good to hear about other people's experiences.

neustile, she's leaning towards possibly getting an Intel mac mini and was wondering what you use as a screen with yours? Most of what she's finding is super expensive which makes getting the iMac seem like the better deal but she'd really like to have something on an adjustable arm.
posted by Mister_Sleight_of_Hand at 11:32 AM on September 21, 2021

Best answer: There is an Intel iMac with a VESA mount. You'd need to provide the VESA arm.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 12:05 PM on September 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ah, thanks! We were actually looking for something like that but somehow missed it and thought Apple didn't offer it for some reason. Good to know it's available.
posted by Mister_Sleight_of_Hand at 6:17 AM on September 22, 2021

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