27" iMac: Am I kidding myself with i7?

daanodinot

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Original poster
Mar 26, 2015
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I'm looking to buy a 27" iMac. My usage will switch between light usage (browsing, office work, media consumption) and gaming.

The one part of the configuration that I'm still unsure about is the CPU. I'm the type of person that likes to spend a whole bunch of money on a product and then stick to it for a long time (I'm talking at least five years). So if the i7 CPU offers any advantage over the i5 in terms of future-proofing my system I'm all in. But if it doesn't, and the i7 offers no advantage for gaming either, I might save myself 300 bucks.

What would you advise me?
 

keysofanxiety

macrumors G3
Nov 23, 2011
9,536
25,262
With regards to both longevity and performance, you should get an SSD first - not Fusion but pure SSD if you can afford to. The HDD will always be the bottleneck and an i7 chip on a 7200RPM drive will be nowhere near as 'quick' (with regards to real-world performance) compared to an i5 on an SSD. :)
 

daanodinot

macrumors regular
Original poster
Mar 26, 2015
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With regards to both longevity and performance, you should get an SSD first - not Fusion but pure SSD if you can afford to. The HDD will always be the bottleneck and an i7 chip on a 7200RPM drive will be nowhere near as 'quick' (with regards to real-world performance) compared to an i5 on an SSD. :)
I'm currently using 689GB of storage. I might be able to slim it down to 512GB but it wouldn't leave much free space. A 1TB SSD is way to expensive for me.

I was planning to go for the 2TB fusion drive. Is there any reason to for the 512GB SSD instead of the 2TB fusion drive? It seems, with the fusion drive, you get the best of both worlds.
 

Samuelsan2001

macrumors 604
Oct 24, 2013
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Well as more games begin to use hyperthreading the i7 will become more important over time (at the moment almost no games use it). However for gaming the best GPU you can afford will help most for the forseeable future.

If you want to use windows in bootcamp a fusion drive will limit the windows partition to the HDD and so slow down that side of things for loading games and levels etc that is where a pure SSD will help most. If you are staying in OSX a 2TB fusion will be absolutely fine.

Most people who go pure SSD say 256Gb or 512Gb usually keep all their music video and other media files on an external HDD freeing up the SSD for software.
 

keysofanxiety

macrumors G3
Nov 23, 2011
9,536
25,262
I'm currently using 689GB of storage. I might be able to slim it down to 512GB but it wouldn't leave much free space. A 1TB SSD is way to expensive for me.

I was planning to go for the 2TB fusion drive. Is there any reason to for the 512GB SSD instead of the 2TB fusion drive? It seems, with the fusion drive, you get the best of both worlds.
The 2TB Fusion Drive only has 128GB SSD, so it's worth considering your usage. If you have a lot of data like pictures, music, then the Fusion Drive is fine to store that. If you're running lots of things like plugins/VMs, however, you'd suffer with the Fusion Drive because it'll take a long time for all of that to load from the drive.

So it's less a case of how much storage you use, but what you store. If it's all applications/caches/plugins that are filling up the drive, go for the pure 512GB SSD. If it's mainly pictures/music/videos, the 2TB should be fine.
 
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daanodinot

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Original poster
Mar 26, 2015
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Well as more games begin to use hyperthreading the i7 will become more important over time (at the moment almost no games use it). However for gaming the best GPU you can afford will help most for the forseeable future.

If you want to use windows in bootcamp a fusion drive will limit the windows partition to the HDD and so slow down that side of things for loading games and levels etc that is where a pure SSD will help most. If you are staying in OSX a 2TB fusion will be absolutely fine.

Most people who go pure SSD say 256Gb or 512Gb usually keep all their music video and other media files on an external HDD freeing up the SSD for software.
Oh, wow, I didn't know the Windows partition has to be installed on a HDD with the fusion drive. That pretty much rules out a fusion drive for me.

I was also thinking that I rarely have to access my media files, so having all that on an external drive seems actually quite sensible. I can't imagine having to use more than 256GB for apps, so I'm currently leaning towards the 256GB pure SSD.
 
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DaakuMaujii

macrumors member
Oct 25, 2015
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Oh, wow, I didn't know the Windows partition has to be installed on a HDD with the fusion drive. That pretty much rules out a fusion drive for me.

I was also thinking that I rarely have to access my media files, so having all that on an external drive seems actually quite sensible. I can't imagine having to use more than 256GB for apps, so I'm currently leaning towards the 256GB pure SSD.
I don't think a Core i5 will limit your experience when it comes to gaming. I still play games like Civilisation 5, Sims 4 and Elder Scrolls Online at highest settings on a first-generation Core2Duo X6800. Still the CPU load during actual gaming hardly ever reaches 100% (except during loading, but than you just have to be patient and wait a little longer before you can play). The graphics card will more likely become a bottleneck in the future.

And yes, Fusion drive only work for Mac OS X. You'll need to install Windows on a separate partition of the HDD. Or get a separate external SSD, one you can attach to the back of the iMac or something like that. You could use the 128GB SSD that comes with the 2TB Fusion drive for Windows, and use the external one to boot Mac OS X or combine it with the 2TB into a Fusion drive.

Personally, I went with 512GB (so I'd split it equal into 256GB per OS). At first I thought 256GB (128GB per OS) would be enough, but soon realised Windows 10 is consuming quite a bit of disk space by itself and games like Elder Scrolls Online easily take up 40GB. Current Windows machine takes up ~112GB with just a couple of games installed. Although it is always possible to remove/reinstall games when needed (Steam and GOG make this very easy), or consider splitting the 256GB SSD into something like 96GB for Mac OS X and 160GB for Windows. And attach an external HDD for file storage of course.
 

whodatrr

macrumors 6502a
Jan 12, 2004
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Aside from hyper threading, the i7 also gives you a cycle bump. While many don't appreciate hyper threading (I do), the 20% cycle bump is also significant.
 

Samuelsan2001

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Oct 24, 2013
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Aside from hyper threading, the i7 also gives you a cycle bump. While many don't appreciate hyper threading (I do), the 20% cycle bump is also significant.
Yes all true but the OP has a basic use case with some gaming his money is far better spent on graphics...
 

daanodinot

macrumors regular
Original poster
Mar 26, 2015
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Thanks for all your responses! Given the fact that I plan on using bootcamp, a 512GB SSD would probably be wise. I could then simply split into 2x 256GB. I'm still not sure about the CPU. Is there any chance the i5 will be a bottleneck (now or in the future) over the M395X for gaming?
 

desmond2046

macrumors regular
Jun 2, 2015
191
377
Columbus, OH, United States
I'm looking to buy a 27" iMac. My usage will switch between light usage (browsing, office work, media consumption) and gaming.

The one part of the configuration that I'm still unsure about is the CPU. I'm the type of person that likes to spend a whole bunch of money on a product and then stick to it for a long time (I'm talking at least five years). So if the i7 CPU offers any advantage over the i5 in terms of future-proofing my system I'm all in. But if it doesn't, and the i7 offers no advantage for gaming either, I might save myself 300 bucks.

What would you advise me?
For light use, I suggest i5. The difference between the MSRP of i7-6700K and i5-6600 is $97. However apple charge $250 for the upgrade which, in my opinion, is overpriced.
For gaming, it is all about the balance between the GPU and CPU. I think i5-6600 pairs excellently with Tonga (M395/M395X). Upgrade to i7 will not benefit gaming much.
For photo/video editing, scientific simulation, game live streaming, etc., I recommend upgrading to i7. The difference is clearly explained in
http://www.anandtech.com/show/9483/intel-skylake-review-6700k-6600k-ddr4-ddr3-ipc-6th-generation/17
(Note that the tested one is i5-6600K, with base freq 3.5GHz, while the one in iMac is i5-6600, with 3.3GHz)

PS: My experience with the 2TB Fusion Drive is excellent. I have been using SSD for 5 years. I can not tell the difference between the SSD and Fusion Drive during my daily use.
 
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cynics

macrumors G4
Jan 8, 2012
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It seems you have a lot of "media" so I'm assuming a lot of it is video/movies? If you encoded it yourself then an i7 can be beneficial but isn't a requirement.

The video card will be your bottleneck for gaming. And as games get more and more demanding in the future it will remain the bottleneck. Like a user mentioned above I RARELY see the CPU max out when gaming (I have an i5) meanwhile the GPU is running at 100%.
 
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DaakuMaujii

macrumors member
Oct 25, 2015
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I heard the CPU is 'user-replaceable' (as in, not soldered onto the logic board). At least, I thought I saw a thread on MacRumours not too long ago. Can anyone confirm this is possible? It would still be a hell of a job to upgrade the CPU on your own, but it would probably be a lot cheaper, especially a couple of years from now.
 

desmond2046

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Jun 2, 2015
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Columbus, OH, United States
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bent christian

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Nov 5, 2015
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We are reaching a point where system requirements for most users have plateaued. i5 quad core, with 8GB of RAM and maybe a solid state drive are going to be all most people will need for light use, for the foreseeable future (five, eight, ten years out). I work professionally in design, and these are the machines we use (no sold state drives yet, 7200). Many people are throwing away money to spec a machine they don't really need. Depending on what gaming means in a specific situation an i7 might be beneficial. The OP probably doesn't need it.
 

DaakuMaujii

macrumors member
Oct 25, 2015
76
35
We are reaching a point where system requirements for most users have plateaued. i5 quad core, with 8GB of RAM and maybe a solid state drive are going to be all most people will need for light use, for the foreseeable future (five, eight, ten years out). I work professionally in design, and these are the machines we use (no sold state drives yet, 7200). Many people are throwing away money to spec a machine they don't really need. Depending on what gaming means in a specific situation an i7 might be beneficial. The OP probably doesn't need it.
Agreed, if you look at system requirements for games they typically only report minimum of two cores, and recommend quad core systems. They don't even bother with reporting operating frequencies anymore, or VRAM for that matters. I think part of that may also be that games adapt to the system they are run on, you just get less fancy effect and less detailed textures if your system cannot keep up with the high demand. But you'll still be able to play the games. These days an i5 (or possibly even i3) is more than sufficient for gaming.
 

shaunp

Cancelled
Nov 5, 2010
1,811
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Put the difference between the i5 and the i7 towards an SSD. I would also max out the RAM if you are going for the 24" version as you can't upgrade it later. For general 'stuff' you won't see the difference between and i7 and an i5 but you will notice the difference between a HDD and an SSD. If you think the capacity of the SSD will be limiting then consider a fusion drive.
 

Samuelsan2001

macrumors 604
Oct 24, 2013
7,694
2,121
Thanks for all your responses! Given the fact that I plan on using bootcamp, a 512GB SSD would probably be wise. I could then simply split into 2x 256GB. I'm still not sure about the CPU. Is there any chance the i5 will be a bottleneck (now or in the future) over the M395X for gaming?
For gaming the bottleneck on this machine will always be the graphics card, even the 4Gb vRAM M395X is still just a mobile graphics solution and not up to the mark of a medium level dektop graphics card.

At the moment nothing on the i7 will give a boost to gaming that may well change in the future but graphics will still be your bottleneck.
 

daanodinot

macrumors regular
Original poster
Mar 26, 2015
153
255
Thanks guys, there seems to be a clear consensus that the i7 is a waste of money in the case of gaming. I'll then spend the difference between i5 and i7 towards a 512GB SSD (and that's still a bit cheaper).

As I have all my movies/tv shows on a NAS and a large amount of garbage that I can throw away, I might even be able to fit all my data on the 512GB SSD. This would save from having to buy another external HD (besides the backup drive I already have). Would you recommend this? Would performance suffer if the SSD is filled up versus having hundreds of GB of free space?
 

George Dawes

macrumors 6502a
Jul 17, 2014
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I'm not 100% convinced by the fusion drive as I'm sick of the heat and noise the hd bit makes. I leave my mac mini on at night recording tv shows and wish I'd bought it with ssd now. If you can go ssd go for it. I bought my dad an iMac with 1tb SSD , will be interesting to see what the noise/heat is like on that ...
 

makrom

macrumors regular
Nov 4, 2015
154
29
Thanks guys, there seems to be a clear consensus that the i7 is a waste of money in the case of gaming. I'll then spend the difference between i5 and i7 towards a 512GB SSD (and that's still a bit cheaper).

As I have all my movies/tv shows on a NAS and a large amount of garbage that I can throw away, I might even be able to fit all my data on the 512GB SSD. This would save from having to buy another external HD (besides the backup drive I already have). Would you recommend this? Would performance suffer if the SSD is filled up versus having hundreds of GB of free space?
To be honest, I consider the whole iMac a waste of money in regards of gaming, you pay like 3 or 4 times as much as you would for an equivalent PC.
I'n not saying you shouldn't use it for gaming, but I definitely wouldn't gear my iMac towards it and spend a ton on upgrades to make a bad situation marginally less bad.
Unlike many people here, I am much more pro FD. It's cheap and for most use cases, it gives you almost SSD performance. The usual scenario is that you have a hand full of data that is read often, and a ton of data that doesn't require high speeds (typical consumer media files). Obviously this isn't the ultimate truth and there are some users for whom a pure SSD would make much more sense.
True, if you really want bootcamp on an internal SSD, you pretty much have to go pure SSD. Most games wont benefit that much from it, but especially for older versions of Windows you will save a significant amount of time when booting. That being said, I really wouldn't make Windows that much of a priority on my iMac.
You can disregard this if you know from experience that you are going to use Windows frequently. I just wanted to provide some food for thought.

An often missed aspect: if you are planning to ever upgrade your Mac, only the FD models seem to come with both a PCIe as well as an SATA port.
Personally, I have happily used the older 1 TB FD as well as the newer 2 TB one. I have used Bootcamp, it's useable but obviously not ideal. But if I ever want Windows with an SSD, I'm just going to use an external SSD.
 

makrom

macrumors regular
Nov 4, 2015
154
29
I'm not 100% convinced by the fusion drive as I'm sick of the heat and noise the hd bit makes. I leave my mac mini on at night recording tv shows and wish I'd bought it with ssd now. If you can go ssd go for it. I bought my dad an iMac with 1tb SSD , will be interesting to see what the noise/heat is like on that ...
Noise seems to be a bit of a controversial issue here, but while the HDD in the current model doesn't really annoy me, if I would go pure SSD, this might very well be the prime reason.
Still, for a 3.5" drive, it's rather quiet and more or less on the same level as the idle fan. Therefore I can handle it for now and might upgrade it to an SSD somewhen in the future.
 

iemcj

macrumors 6502
Oct 31, 2015
419
133
I'm an avid gamer and a professional photographer. I can tell you straight up you will not need the i7 for gaming. You just wont.

Why? Because the gpu is going to be your bottleneck, it's as simple as that. There are very few games that are more cpu than gpu dependent and even then, they don't need THAT good of a gpu. The benefits of the i7 are mainly for video editing, kinda sorta for photographers, and hardly at all beneficial for gamers. The i5 beats the recommended specs for Battlefront, Fallout 4, Sim city, ect.

If you're unable to run a game, it's going to because your gpu is too slow, not your processor. 90% of imac buyers honestly have no real need for the 4.0 i7, it's going to make near zero difference in their lives. Spend that extra money on a bigger SSD and the best graphics card if you want to future proof yourself my friend (or future kinda proof yourself haha)
 

kkr0nn0s

macrumors newbie
Nov 9, 2015
9
2
Oklahoma City
Oh, wow, I didn't know the Windows partition has to be installed on a HDD with the fusion drive. That pretty much rules out a fusion drive for me.

I was also thinking that I rarely have to access my media files, so having all that on an external drive seems actually quite sensible. I can't imagine having to use more than 256GB for apps, so I'm currently leaning towards the 256GB pure SSD.
exactly what I do with all Macs now - get a 128GB or 256GB pure SSD in the Mac, and store all media files (photos, music, videos, etc) on a NAS.
 
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