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2020 iMac (27-inch, i9) GPU configuration advice (80% music production, 20% gaming)

TheJuice89

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Sep 27, 2020
14
3
Hello all! New to the forum here!

I am going to buy the new 27-inch iMac, and I would like to hear some thoughts on the configuration I have in mind.

The main use of the iMac will be music production, with use of a lot of tracks and third party plugins. I would like to game a little too on the iMac, using Bootcamp to install Windows.

I don't want to make any concessions with regard to the processor and amount of cores, and I use a lot of third party software (also from smaller companies), so I am sure I want an Intel-based iMac with the i9. I will pick the lowest amount of RAM (8GB) install an extra 32GB of RAM from Amazon or something.

So the things I have to decide on are the GPU and the SSD. And I came to the conclusion that me wanting to play a game occasionally will lead to a significant higher iMac-price. To explain: for music production, the GPU doesn't really matter at all, so I could go with the Radeon Pro 5300. As for SSD space, more is always better, but 1TB should be just about enough. Total price of this build: EUR 3.179. When I consider the gaming use (I want to play modern games in a nice way the upcoming years) I came to the conclusion I should go for the Radeon Pro 5700XT, and a 2TB SSD because modern games seem to require a lot of space so I figured I would need at least 500GB for Windows. Total price of this build: EUR 4.479. So, in my country (The Netherlands), the price difference between these two configurations is exactly EUR 1300. And that's pretty insane if you ask me if you look at the hardware you get in return (let alone: the hardware UPGRADE).

So now I'm stuck because I don't know what to do. Here are some randomly organized thoughts. For the price difference of these two builds I could buy an entire mid-tier gaming PC, also based on the 5700XT (with AMD Ryzen 5 3600, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD). I already have accessories like a monitor and stuff. So wouldn't it be better, as well as for gaming as for my music production, to have the whole gaming thing on a separate Windows PC? Would that be faster to game on than through Bootcamp? It's a bit annoying to need an extra spot to put you gaming PC, but if it's a lot better it's worth it. Or should I choose the middle road, and get the Radeon Pro 5700 instead of the 5700XT? The 5700XT is EUR 250 more expensive, which is an awful lot if you consider the EUR 50 price difference when you buy the (non-Apple) GPU's separately, and for around a 5-10% performance boost (I have yet to see a good comparison between the Imac 5700 and the 5700XT though!). I could also go for the 1TB SSD, what would save me EUR 500 compared to the 2TB SSD (EUR 500 for just 1 extra TB SSD in 2020...thats idiotic right?) and install Windows on an external 1TB SSD of EUR 150. This middle-build would be EUR 3.729. But I don't know how smooth gaming from an external SSD would be, because Bootcamp is not made to run Windows from an external SSD and when I spend around 3 or 4k on a computer I want everything to work perfectly.

Any thoughts or new insights are very welcome!
 
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MikkelAD

macrumors regular
Feb 17, 2018
185
25
I don't want to make any concessions with regard to the processor and amount of cores, and I use a lot of third party software (also from smaller companies), so I am sure I want an Intel-based iMac with the i9. I will pick the lowest amount of RAM (8GB) install an extra 32GB of RAM from Amazon or something.

It's obvious that you have spend some time looking at different configurations of the iMac, but I think the generel consensus is that the i9 isn't worth the extra money for most people. Maybe for some virtualization work. Furthermore it thermal throttles in the iMac 2020. i7 vs i9 in the iMac is not equal to i7 vs i9 in a standard PC...

As far as I know your workflow can potentially benefit from more RAM so 64GB or 128GB would be ideal. Upgrading to at least 1TB of storage seems a good choice no matter what when you are a professionel.

It's true that the 5700XT is great and can be used to a pretty good gaming experience, but I think you are "forgetting" one key element. Most people that buy the 5700XT do it because they can utilise the power in their daily workflow. Then it becomes a "plus" that their machine can put out some great FPS in games too. For you it's different. From what I can understand you are more or less buying a substantially more expensive GPU "just" to game a little.

The iMac display is precise but won't provide more than 60hz and to some that will hurt the gaming experience. Considering that you have mouse, keyboard and a adequate display a separate gaming PC seems the better choice.

I think you will get the best overall experience and a good money wise decision by buying a 'tier 3' iMac. Upgrade the storage to 1TB and buy 64GB or 128GB(maybe with time) third-party ram.
Build a PC that meets your needs in terms of gaming experience(game titel, fps, monitor).
 
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TheJuice89

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Sep 27, 2020
14
3
Thanks for your reply! Makes a lot of sense.

About the i7 vs i9: from what I understand there is a 10% performance difference between the two, is that right? For me, a 10% performance boost would be worth it. I did see some Logic Pro Benchmarks, like the one in the Max Tech i7 vs i9 compare video (
) and there wasn't a notable difference. However, I don't think that's a good benchmark. When producing music I use a lot of plugins on a lof of different tracks. The program I use (Ableton Live) uses a core per track. When it's they more or less have the same clock speed per core, I figured I would have 20% more performance because those two extra cores can take on 20% more tracks. But maybe that's thinking too simple? Is that thermal throtteling thing a big issue?
 
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MikkelAD

macrumors regular
Feb 17, 2018
185
25
About the i7 vs i9: from what I understand there is a 10% performance difference between the two, is that right? For me, a 10% performance boost would be worth it.

"I'm in the camp with the i7. $400 seems a big premium for the gains. The 2020 with i7 seems to be slightly faster than the i9 in the early 2019 iMac. The only time the i9 is going to be meaningfully faster would be if you're are using software that fully exploits the additional cores and threads. For someone who is doing something like heavy duty video editing and rendering as part of their job, then the i9 might make sense. I've used this example before. Let's say you're doing a task that fully exploits all cores/threads and it takes you 60 minutes. with the i9 you're getting a 25% increase in cores/threads so let's say the i9 will do that same task in about 48 minutes (and the real difference is probably going to be closer to 6 minutes). If you're doing that several times a day and nearly everyday, that's a big benefit. If you're doing it only once in a while the difference becomes trivial. You won't notice any difference in normal everyday use. Heck, the i5s will do all of that with elan. So my view of the i9 is that it's not worth $400 for the vast majority of us. The high end gpu is almost certainly a better upgrade for most folks. I've never seen one of the new screens so no opinion on the value of that."

"I work in Audio with Logic Pro X and some powerful plugins. I also do light video editing and I went with the i7. I also do not think the cooling on these machines is significant enough to go with 10 cores. The i9 will throttle down when hot enough and they didn’t add any new fans or anything To prevent that."

"I've been trying decide between those two as well. I've now seen multiple reviews that show the i7 to perform better. Apps that only use single core benefit from the higher frequency. The i9 seems to slow down more than the i7 when running heavy loads over time, causing the i7 to run at a higher frequency. So I think only very specific situations would cause the i9 to be a better choice."

"I don't believe that to be the case, but am willing to be corrected. From what I've gathered, when using software that utilises multithreading such as Ableton or Logic more cores are better. They don't have to be running at max load to be beneficial. For instance, if I have a session with 150 tracks, it will distribute the processing more efficiently reducing the chance of a single core bottlenecking. The i9 has two additional cores and 4 threads, I can't see how that wouldn't benefit my workflow."

"I'm using an i7 for music production and i'm not getting even close to juicing all the 8 cores or feeling any reduction in performance. To me, for music production probably RAM is much more important than cores if you're going to use many plugin instances.
If you think an i7 won't be enough for a production probably you're in the market for another kind of gear (run plugins on DSP ready hardware etc...). Maybe what you save could go into some of that external hardware..."


Just some thoughts from this thread:


If a potential 10% provement at best is worth it to you then go ahead. Just be aware that most people wouldn't because of the money/performance relation of the i9 especially in the iMac 2020 and the money often can be used for something "better".

At the end of the day it's your money buddy :)
 
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TheJuice89

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Sep 27, 2020
14
3
Thank you so much for your extensive reply! Interesting topic. I couldn't stop myself and I read the entire thread you mentioned haha. Even though, like you said, the i7 seems to have a clearly better p/q ratio, I have to admit I am still leaning towards the i9. I think I can get a noticeable performance increase with Ableton, but it's still a guess because there are not tests or benchmarks that really represent what I do with it. And I think having 10 cores just feels very nice...
 
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MikkelAD

macrumors regular
Feb 17, 2018
185
25
Thank you so much for your extensive reply! Interesting topic. I couldn't stop myself and I read the entire thread you mentioned haha. Even though, like you said, the i7 seems to have a clearly better p/q ratio, I have to admit I am still leaning towards the i9. I think I can get a noticeable performance increase with Ableton, but it's still a guess because there are not tests or benchmarks that really represent what I do with it. And I think having 10 cores just feels very nice...

You are welcome 👍

I have read your detailed answer in this thread:


I think it makes pretty good sense that you want to try the i9 based on the available information. I know money probably is a pretty important factor and I don't know your budget, but as a professional in the audio field the iMac Pro 2017 or Mac Pro 2019 would probably be more optimal. A more optimal solution in terms of cooling and noise.

Make no mistake both the i7 and i9 are fast but will always be limited by the iMac design. You will get performance but with your demanding workflow it will be at the price of a "hot" CPU and a good amount of noise. Which could be a problem if you also record different stuff.

Just to make the decision even more complicated :)
 
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TheJuice89

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Sep 27, 2020
14
3
Haha yeah I now have one extra point I'm not sure about lol. But it's important and I like to nerd out about these things. It's too bad the iMacs don't have a better cooling system, but the step to the Pro line seems too big. Maybe when I made so many hit records that I don't have to care about money..
 
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MikkelAD

macrumors regular
Feb 17, 2018
185
25
Haha yeah I now have one extra point I'm not sure about lol. But it's important and I like to nerd out about these things. It's too bad the iMacs don't have a better cooling system, but the step to the Pro line seems too big. Maybe when I made so many hit records that I don't have to care about money..

That was what I thought :)

Well, you have the "advantage" of not needing a powerfull GPU for music production so that won't contribute to heat/noise compared to some video editor with the i9/5700XT configuration...

It seems like the 'tier 2' iMac 2020 with 1) i9 2) 64-128 GB 3rd party RAM 3) 1 TB storage is the most optimal configuration for your needs considering that you haven't quite made it to Hollywood yet ;)
 
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