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iMac vs Mac Pro: I can't decide what mac to buy?

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 

Hey guys,

 

I was wondering what everyone thought about these two options. I am not sure what I should go for. I am looking to upgrade and I am looking for a machine that will last me 5 years plus.

 

I currently have a 2007 PC with a Core2Duo 1.8ghz, 2gb ram and onboard intel graphics. I have prolonged the life of this machine by upgrading to an SSD. Connected up to an Acer 23" monitor. Running Lion in hackintosh form.  It runs mostly okay.

 

I will be asking a little more of the new machine though. I want to get into Logic Pro and music production as I am a keen guitar enthusiast and I want to get into producing and making music as well as midi keyboards, home recording etc. My current machine does not run Logic Pro and doesn't work very well with most music applications I have tried. 

 

I also do graphic design and web design work and I am planning on doing a huge amount more of this in the future. My current PC doesn't preform too bad at this, although it is far from ideal either. Iw ork with big files sometimes and it does slow to a crawl.

 

This will be both a work computer for the music and design stuff as well as a home use computer for viewing media, browsing, email etc.

 

I was looking at the iMac 27", upgraded to an i7 CPU and either a fusion drive or SSD. If i went with the SSD how much faster is it than the fusion drive? And could I possibly use the 2tb network hard drive I already have to run my Sonos system for media via the ac wireless, would this be fast enough to load media from? Or is the fusion drive a good enough and worthwhile system?

 

I have also been tempted by a Mac Pro but then I saw the benchmarks and saw it actually runs Photoshop slower than a spec'ed up iMac I was a little disappointed, I would assume this would change as applications are optimised to work more with the GPU, although the GPU in the iMac is not bad either so it might also benefit from optimised applications just not as much? It seems also positive that the Mac Pro looks much more upgradable than anybody thought, including internally and the Mac pro has the benefit of Thunderbolt 2 vs Thunderbolt 1 on the iMac. 

 

The Mac Pro is certainly a great machine, but is it worth the cost considering a decent screen would be extra when the benchmarks are showing it as being currently slower in at least one of my main uses of the machine, would the iMac 27" be futureproof enough? Will it be a fast machine? or should I go for the killer Mac Pro hmmm...

post #2 of 16
The iMac would be fine, I suspect your 2GB of RAM is causing problems although 2007 Intel graphics won't help. If you check here and click 64-bit multi-core:

http://browser.primatelabs.com/mac-benchmarks

down the bottom there's a 2007 Core 2 Duo. The top iMac isn't quite 10x faster but not far off it. The GPU back then was GMA 950. You can compare this to the iMac GPUs here:

http://www.notebookcheck.net/Intel-Graphics-Media-Accelerator-950.2177.0.html
http://www.notebookcheck.net/NVIDIA-GeForce-GT-750M.90245.0.html
http://www.notebookcheck.net/NVIDIA-GeForce-GTX-780M.88993.0.html

The next iMac will use 800 series but you can see even the lower-end 750M, Cinebench shading on the GMA is 274, 750M is 6711. 25x faster. The top iMac GPU can be up to 3x faster again but it depends on the test.

The Fusion is ok to get the extra space but when the SSD storage (usually 128GB) runs out, then you are back to slower HDD speeds. You still get the benefit of a fast cache but the other thing to keep in mind is the drive is sealed inside the machine as the display is glued on. If it breaks during ownership (HDDs have a typical lifespan of 5 years), the whole thing has to go back to Apple for repair. It's much better to have just an SSD inside a sealed machine and it means when HDDs are all disconnected, you don't have to wait on drives spinning up (Fusion still has to spin up). This means faster booting and responsiveness.

A network drive can be fast enough if it's gigabit ethernet. You'd be much better off with a USB 3 drive though.

If you get the quad-i7 iMac, the top GPU, 16GB RAM minimum (you can install this yourself but Apple's $200 charge isn't bad), 512GB SSD, AppleCare (it's only $169) you'd be looking at around $3218 and then get a $200 3-4TB USB 3 drive.

You could quite easily get the lower quad-i5, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD with 755M and AppleCare for $2368 + external HDD. This would still do what you needed. Anywhere in between these two would be fine.

If you aim for the higher end, the Mac Pro would be a suitable option. $3099 with 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD, you can get AppleCare but it doesn't have a display so I'd say less likely to have problems. You can get an IPS display off Amazon for about $400, keyboard and mouse $100, so $3599 vs $3218 for the iMac.
post #3 of 16
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the information. It is helpful :)

 

I am also wondering if now is the best time to buy? It's my Birthday in April but I see the iMac is kinda in mid cycle, although I guess there isin't much going to be in the next update? Minor processor bump, thunderbolt 2, next gen graphics etc? Maybe they will improve the fusion drive more though? Fusion with 256gb would be awesome.

post #4 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Smarky View Post

I am also wondering if now is the best time to buy? It's my Birthday in April but I see the iMac is kinda in mid cycle, although I guess there isin't much going to be in the next update? Minor processor bump, thunderbolt 2, next gen graphics etc? Maybe they will improve the fusion drive more though? Fusion with 256gb would be awesome.

The best time to buy is just after they update it but the next one might still be further out. Haswell refresh comes in April but Apple could still hold back on updating the iMac. I reckon they'll move the iMac to 4K eventually as well as the Thunderbolt display but only when the panel is cost-effective. Spec for a refresh should be very close to the current model, no more than 10% performance boost I'd say.

I'd still avoid Fusion due to the internal drive being sealed in and spin up times. If they improved the SSD price, 512GB SSD would be best internally.
post #5 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post

The iMac would be fine, I suspect your 2GB of RAM is causing problems although 2007 Intel graphics won't help. If you check here and click 64-bit multi-core:

http://browser.primatelabs.com/mac-benchmarks

down the bottom there's a 2007 Core 2 Duo. The top iMac isn't quite 10x faster but not far off it. The GPU back then was GMA 950. You can compare this to the iMac GPUs here:

http://www.notebookcheck.net/Intel-Graphics-Media-Accelerator-950.2177.0.html
http://www.notebookcheck.net/NVIDIA-GeForce-GT-750M.90245.0.html
http://www.notebookcheck.net/NVIDIA-GeForce-GTX-780M.88993.0.html

The next iMac will use 800 series but you can see even the lower-end 750M, Cinebench shading on the GMA is 274, 750M is 6711. 25x faster. The top iMac GPU can be up to 3x faster again but it depends on the test.

When it comes to basic creative suite design work, the ram is going to hurt him more than anything, especially on CS5 or newer. CS6 and Creative Cloud like to take advantage of ram over scratch disks where possible. If his drive is older with less contiguous space, that makes it even worse. As a temporary fix disabling spotlight on all private directories should stop the crashes as long as there is adequate disk space. The problem there is that spotlight and mdworker can cause problems with Photoshop's scratch disk system. It's not as bad on recent versions of OSX. Around Tiger and Leopard it was a real issue. Further if the OP owns a copy of disk warrior it wouldn't hurt. Outside of certain functions Premiere and After Effects, Creative Suite doesn't really scale that well with GPU power. It relies on not having to fight for framebuffer memory, but other than that you won't see much performance difference between Iris Pro and a 780m in real world use. Benchmarks are different, but they are generally unrealistic. As for ram I would probably start at 16GB. It's not terribly expensive, and it allows the system to barely touch the disk even if you have other applications open. Creative Suite caches a huge amount of stuff, so it can be deceptive. Most people are fine at 16 and more comfortable than at 8. With a new machine that may be kept for several years, I think it's worth it. If it's purchase from sources other than Apple, it's a good idea to look at customer reviews on the reliability memory and test each stick. I typically buy Crucial.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post

I'd still avoid Fusion due to the internal drive being sealed in and spin up times. If they improved the SSD price, 512GB SSD would be best internally.

I think the fusion option is kind of expensive when you figure that you now have two drives that could potentially fail, and both are difficult to replace. That is more a weakness of the machine than anything, but it's a hefty upgrade price with that limitation in place.

post #6 of 16
Thread Starter 

I have priced a fully spec'd up imac, i7, 512gb ssd, 780m 4gb gfx etc vs the standard config Mac pro and they are about the same.

 

If i went the MAc pro option, I would have use the screen I have now and upgrade at a later date.

 

I really do not know what to do. There is also the thought thatiMac is mid upgrade cycle so might not be the best to go with.

 

Also the reality is this is a home machine, not a high end video editing workstation, so maybe I shouldn't be even looking at the mac pro? But it seems so tempting.

post #7 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Smarky View Post
 

I have priced a fully spec'd up imac, i7, 512gb ssd, 780m 4gb gfx etc vs the standard config Mac pro and they are about the same.

 

You really should forget about the futureproofing issue. It's the most clueless possible concern, and it's going to strain your budget with little return. You could probably obtain a mini, then get a nice display for it later. There's nothing about your work that explicitly requires a mac pro. The older ones had certain advantages. You had room for extra drives and had more options when it came to connecting an NAS or DAS for storage/backup, as for a designer opening large comp files could be time consuming. As it is, you don't need the top spec imac. It probably won't last you a day longer than the bottom one, assuming the screen size is adequate. In the unlikely event that it is underwhelming, you have something like 10 days to return it if purchased directly from Apple.

post #8 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Smarky View Post

I have priced a fully spec'd up imac, i7, 512gb ssd, 780m 4gb gfx etc vs the standard config Mac pro and they are about the same.

If i went the MAc pro option, I would have use the screen I have now and upgrade at a later date.

I really do not know what to do. There is also the thought thatiMac is mid upgrade cycle so might not be the best to go with.

Also the reality is this is a home machine, not a high end video editing workstation, so maybe I shouldn't be even looking at the mac pro? But it seems so tempting.

The next iMac update should be Haswell Refresh with an 800 series GPU. Haswell Refresh is 100MHz faster. NVidia is rebranding some of the mobile GPUs again though so they are pretty much the same GPUs, just clocked differently. The performance difference will likely be minimal.

I think the Mac Pro is a good option at this price range though. While you'd be able to get the entry i5 27" with AppleCare, keyboard/mouse and new display for under $2700, the entry Mac Pro with 512GB SSD and no AppleCare is $3299. You'll have peripherals already so it's a $600 difference and the Mac Pro is closer to the higher-end iMac in performance.
post #9 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post


The next iMac update should be Haswell Refresh with an 800 series GPU. Haswell Refresh is 100MHz faster. NVidia is rebranding some of the mobile GPUs again though so they are pretty much the same GPUs, just clocked differently. The performance difference will likely be minimal.

I think the Mac Pro is a good option at this price range though. While you'd be able to get the entry i5 27" with AppleCare, keyboard/mouse and new display for under $2700, the entry Mac Pro with 512GB SSD and no AppleCare is $3299. You'll have peripherals already so it's a $600 difference and the Mac Pro is closer to the higher-end iMac in performance.


I don't debate your words on the mac pro, but I do debate the wisdom of this purchase overall. The OP has a 2007 era lower end box. He now thinks a mac pro is a requirement. A mini with 16GB of ram would fly for this stuff. My notebook (not my only machine) is specced comparably. I'm typing from it right now. For the absolute vast majority of that stuff, it flies. The OP is just so low on ram that he's probably hitting scratch disks constantly. He thinks it's something else, yet it's ram and probably too many history states with a big file. The programs have to cache those somewhere. It's even worse with CMYK because you pick up an extra channel. With an old hard drive that is probably too full, that's brutal. Anyway it's his money. I just don't see the need to over-purchase, especially when the difference between gpus is minimal in all of those applications (as much as I dislike his testing methods, see Digiloyd for reference).

post #10 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by hmm View Post

A mini with 16GB of ram would fly for this stuff. Anyway it's his money. I just don't see the need to over-purchase, especially when the difference between gpus is minimal in all of those applications

I agree somewhat but there are other considerations. The Mac Pro is whisper quiet all of the time and it has a PCIe SSD, the Mini is still on SATA. If people have the money to invest in a machine that they won't upgrade for a while then the Mac Pro would be a good investment. I'd even say better than the iMac because it will allow upgrading to 4K displays later on where the current iMac and Mini won't.

The main consideration should always be depreciation and not initial outlay. Say the Mini and MP drop in value by 50% in 4 years. A $3k Mac Pro would be worth around $1500 losing $1500. A $800 Mini will be worth $400, losing $400. The difference would be $1100 and not the $2200 purchase difference. The Mac Pro tends to depreciate less too.
post #11 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post


I agree somewhat but there are other considerations. The Mac Pro is whisper quiet all of the time and it has a PCIe SSD, the Mini is still on SATA. If people have the money to invest in a machine that they won't upgrade for a while then the Mac Pro would be a good investment. I'd even say better than the iMac because it will allow upgrading to 4K displays later on where the current iMac and Mini won't.

The main consideration should always be depreciation and not initial outlay. Say the Mini and MP drop in value by 50% in 4 years. A $3k Mac Pro would be worth around $1500 losing $1500. A $800 Mini will be worth $400, losing $400. The difference would be $1100 and not the $2200 purchase difference. The Mac Pro tends to depreciate less too.

 

If he's only running into problems at high resolution or on larger files, I don't think any of the current models will be a problem. Lots of ram also helps if you're running with an HDD. SSDs are a bigger factor if

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post


I agree somewhat but there are other considerations. The Mac Pro is whisper quiet all of the time and it has a PCIe SSD, the Mini is still on SATA. If people have the money to invest in a machine that they won't upgrade for a while then the Mac Pro would be a good investment. I'd even say better than the iMac because it will allow upgrading to 4K displays later on where the current iMac and Mini won't.

The main consideration should always be depreciation and not initial outlay. Say the Mini and MP drop in value by 50% in 4 years. A $3k Mac Pro would be worth around $1500 losing $1500. A $800 Mini will be worth $400, losing $400. The difference would be $1100 and not the $2200 purchase difference. The Mac Pro tends to depreciate less too.


The mini holds out pretty well in value too, but that wasn't my focus. I wouldn't necessarily advocate the potential for 4K to someone running an old Acer display. They are not very good. While graphic designers can benefit from a strong display, he won't end up with one if the budget is eaten by the box itself. Issues like the ability to reproduce difficult colors as closely as possible, appropriate gamma regardless of brightness setting, and strong uniformity do make a difference. Uniformity specifically comes into play if dealing with a layout including raster media viewed full screen. Minor issues with uniformity tend to look like part of the image rather than the screen itself. Anyway to me he is still having a kneejerk response. He assumes that because his 6 year old system no longer cuts it, that his needs are significant. That the problems occur on large layouts means he's hitting scratch disks rather than ram too much. His disk is probably too old and too full to accommodate such usage patterns. I've seen the same thing many times.

 

There is an area where I might favor the mac pro. It's for logic pro use, depending on how he intends to use it. I'm not that big of a fan of the imacs. They have too many problems, even if some people are fine with them. I'm slightly conflicted on this one, but the gpu concern is not very informed. The only place it matters is possibly vram in photoshop. Even then 2GB is enough to future proof it for some time. I hate suggesting a mac pro paired with a cheap screen for that kind of work. It's not as bad as it would be if he had to do finishing work on one sheets or something comparable, but cheap screens are still irritating. The difference is noticeable.

post #12 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by hmm View Post
I'm not that big of a fan of the imacs. They have too many problems ...

 

Could you point out some of them? I thought these machines were quite solid.

post #13 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by PB View Post

Quote:
I'm not that big of a fan of the imacs. They have too many problems ...

Could you point out some of them? I thought these machines were quite solid.

He just means he doesn't like them. The sealed in hard drive and bundled display can be considered problems but they are just compromises Apple has chosen.
post #14 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post


He just means he doesn't like them. The sealed in hard drive and bundled display can be considered problems but they are just compromises Apple has chosen.


That is correct. I think there are better options for a screen, and I hate captive boot drives. There have been a few reported issues with some of the 2011 models, similar to what was happening with the macbook pros of that year. I'm not sure how widespread they are though.

post #15 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by hmm View Post

I think there are better options for a screen, and I hate captive boot drives. There have been a few reported issues with some of the 2011 models, similar to what was happening with the macbook pros of that year. I'm not sure how widespread they are though.

The screen issue is irrelevant because when you say there are better options, you mean better non-Apple options. It doesn't matter to Apple that you want to buy someone else's monitor and they give you the option to hook up a better monitor to it for the handful of people that would use one. All they need to do with the storage is put it where the RAM is and put soldered RAM where the storage is. When the iMac moves to DDR4 this year, I reckon it would be best to drop the HDD, put the SSD in an accessible panel somewhere and solder the RAM in. It's 32GB for $600 from Apple and $400 from OWC so not all that big of a deal. Storage will always wear out so it should always be user accessible. No matter what happens with the machine, pop out the SSD and drop it into another machine.
post #16 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post


The screen issue is irrelevant because when you say there are better options, you mean better non-Apple options. It doesn't matter to Apple that you want to buy someone else's monitor and they give you the option to hook up a better monitor to it for the handful of people that would use one.

Here it was only for clarification. I understand the motivation behind business decisions, and I've acknowledged that before. I get the point of building the machine to ensure a certain minimum sale. They offer the mac pro for that. I understand some of the reasoning for certain choices there too. They made it very well aligned with FCPX, so they have the power to ensure that something is exceptionally well aligned with the machine from day 1 (makes better use of dual gpus than most software).

 

Quote:

All they need to do with the storage is put it where the RAM is and put soldered RAM where the storage is. When the iMac moves to DDR4 this year, I reckon it would be best to drop the HDD, put the SSD in an accessible panel somewhere and solder the RAM in. It's 32GB for $600 from Apple and $400 from OWC so not all that big of a deal. Storage will always wear out so it should always be user accessible. No matter what happens with the machine, pop out the SSD and drop it into another machine.

 

 

That may happen, although I don't know if they have the logic board area to stay with the current ram capacity. DDR4 might change that. Soldering in general was a way to thin out the notebooks, but I could see them going that way with the next design change on the 27". That way they don't have to design a way to access it. I think it's more likely that they would do away with the design constraint of any internal access. It's not what I would prefer, but it seems to be their general direction. Even when they had points of access, they often tried to hide seams, presumably for visual appeal.

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