Getting new iMac for Photography

Discussion in 'iMac' started by gonzali7, Aug 31, 2013.

  1. gonzali7, Aug 31, 2013
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2013

    gonzali7 macrumors newbie

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    #1
    My wife is a photographer and does a lot of work in Lightroom 4 and Photoshop CS5 using Raw files. This is "crushing" her current 3.06 GHz Late 2009 21.5" iMac with 8GB. So we're trying to decide on a new one while trying not to break the bank. One option I'm considering is the 2.7 GHz 21.5" with 16 GB of RAM. The thing that concerns me the most here is the 5400 RPM hard drive. My understanding is that Lightroom is very hard drive intensive. Does anyone know if this will be a significant issue? Another option is the 2.9 GHz, 27" with 8 GB RAM and 7200 RPM HD. The extra real estate is great, but the biggest issue is speed. Will the 27" with 2.9 GHz and 7200 drive be a lot faster? Where can I get the most bang for my buck speed-wise (processor, RAM, hard drive)? what about the 1 TB fusion drive option for the 21.5 v. the 7200 in the 27"? Which is faster? Would we be better off running a 250 GB SSD externally with USB 3.0 and using that as her primary HD? Is that possible? Would it be fast? It seems like a pretty inexpensive option ($180 for the SSD and $35 for the enclosure) if we found that the 5400 was running slow. We keep almost all her files stored on tradition external drives (e.g. Seagate goflex) anyhow; so she just needs enough space to work on her latest shoots. Sorry for the long post. Any thoughts are GREATLY appreciated.
     
  2. sinphase macrumors newbie

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    May 27, 2013
    #2
    I'm sort of in the same boat. From what I understand the standard 27" model will handle Lightroom and CS5 fine. I'm planning on going with the 27" because RAM is upgradable unlike the 21" and then booting the OS and certain apps off an external SSD. I'm going with the SSD because I don't think you can program the fusion drive to store programs and files that you don't use frequently. Plus the SSD is always upgradable and from what I've read, via thunderbolt the difference between booting internally and externally is pretty indistinguishable. I'm going with a refurbished model to save money.

    Hope this has helped.
     
  3. Bear macrumors G3

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    #3
    My suggestion would be a 27" with Fusion Drive, I like the extra space for editing photos. If speed turns out to be an issue even on the Fusion Drive, then get a 250GB SSD and move the Light Room catalog to the SSD, and keep the photos on the Fusion Drive. You will run into speed issues with the 5400 RPM drive even if it's a Fusion Drive. And you want the Fusion drive for general usage to get the speed boost there.

    I had a chance to play with a 21.5" w/5400 RPM drive and it was noticeably slower loading photos then my late 2009 i7 w/7200 RPM drive. With a FUsion Drive(FD), you would be loading photos from the HD portion of the FD unless you've read it in enough to get moved to the SSD potion of the FD.

    I have thought about this and based on today's iMac models, I would get a 1TB Fusion Drive (for the general speed boost it provides) and a 250GB SSD to store Aperture databases and a few applications that I want the speed of the SSD for. I would actually only need about half the SSD currently, but I would want room for growth. However, depending on the configurations and options available at the iMac update my choices may change. One of the reasons I've thought about this is my iMac is no longer covered by AppleCare, so if it needs repair, I would decide by cost whether to replace it or repair it.
     
  4. sinphase macrumors newbie

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    #4
    I'd love to get a fusion drive, but I've never seen them on a standard 27" on the refurb store. So I'll probably end up investing in the 675 graphics card instead.
     
  5. Bear macrumors G3

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    #5
    In the refurb section, I'd get the 680MX/i7/Fusion drive. If I had to order new, I would order with an i5 with 680MX and Fusion.
     
  6. sinphase macrumors newbie

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    #6
    I'd love to get a 680MX/i7/Fusion config, just don't have the funds, also don't think I'll be needing that much power.
     
  7. Bear macrumors G3

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    #7
    I can understand all of that. The only reason I'd get the i7 in the refurb model is because it's less than the i5 new. And I do need the 680MX.
     
  8. glenthompson macrumors 68000

    glenthompson

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    #8
    Have you run Activity Monitor to see if she is having memory, CPU, or disk xfer bottlenecks? That would help determine the best route for upgrades.

    It may be possible that a memory upgrade along with a SSD would make her current machine acceptable for a lot less cost.
     
  9. flux73 macrumors 65816

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    May 29, 2009
    #9
    Don't let me stop you from getting a new computer, but I'm a bit puzzled as to why that setup would be "crushing" your computer. I have a 2010 Mac Mini with 8GB RAM, 250 GB HD, hooked up to a 30" monitor via dual-link DVI, and it runs Lightroom 4 fine. I process RAW photos from my Sony RX-1 which has 24.3 MP so they're not small files. It's not super fast and I'm considering an upgrade myself, but it's definitely quite usable.

    Is it possible you're running out of HD space? Or possibly something else using up the CPU? You could try running Activity Monitor while she's using LR to see what's going on during these slowdowns. (edit: what glenthomspon also suggested).
     
  10. gonzali7 thread starter macrumors newbie

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    #10
    It is a constant battle to keep her internal HD from filling up but we use a lot of external drives and I try to keep 200 GB available on her internal HD. I've tried any number of things to speed things up (limiting Spotlight indexing, cleaning up her Desktop, repairing permissions, etc). I may have improved things a bit and bought us some time to decide what we're going to do. But we have other problems such as the bottom section of her monitor starting to "yellow." Bad news for a photographer.
     
  11. gonzali7 thread starter macrumors newbie

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    #11
    I've never run Activity Monitor while she's working. I did do some experimenting on my own and seemed like Spotlight was using a whole lot of CPU. We have multiple external drives hooked up otherwise she fills up her internal HD really fast. So i limited Spotlight to indexing only her primary working drives. I must admit I don't really understand how the iMac uses memory. I upgraded from 4 to 8 a year or so ago, yet didn't see a significant increase in her available free memory. As I type on her computer in Firefox she has Lightroom and Photoshop open and her memory reads Free: 60MB; Wired: 928MB; Active: 3.5GB; Inactive: 3.5GB

    I didn't just upgrade to 16 GB RAM originally because an Apple tech told me that the late 2009 iMac couldn't really use 16 GB effectively. I tend to trust a salesman when he tells me NOT to buy something. Plus he told me not to buy from Apple. Regarding an SSD are you talking about an external one or installing one? I wouldn't think that getting an external one would help much do to limitations of USB 2.0 & Firewire transfer rates.

    How do I tell if I have a xfer bottleneck?
     
  12. d0nK macrumors 6502

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    UK
    #12
    The fusion drive is, physically, an SSD drive and a mechanical drive inside the iMac so you can't also fit an extra SSD inside it.

    I also use Lightroom heavily (as well as many audio programs, a 3D program, development programs, etc, etc) and wouldn't want to have a laptop-sized 5400 rpm HD in my desktop. No way.

    I'm waiting for the iMac updates, but I still doubt that Apple will start putting 7200 rpm full-sized HD's inside the 21.5", unfortunately.

    I'd wait for the update and go for the base 27" if I were you, and hope that Apple adds the fusion drive as standard and updates the GFX card ram to at least 1 Gig.
    Fingers crossed here.

    Then I'll have to also look into reliable external storage which I'm not looking forward to as I have bad experiences with reliable external storage.
     
  13. comatory, Sep 2, 2013
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2013

    comatory macrumors 6502a

    comatory

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    #13
    To me it seems also strange that your old iMac is having difficulties.

    iMac is really constrained when it comes to upgrades,you almost always break the bank to get good amounts of ram or ssd.

    I have an idea for you. You could use your 2009 iMac as display via target display mode (http://support.apple.com/kb/HT3924). For computer you can use quad core i7 Mac mini (its like having 15 macbook pro performance - still about 3x faster than your current iMac). Fill the mini with 16GB of RAM. Quad core mini comes with two 1TB drives,you can switch one of them with SATA3 SSD.

    This will cost you probably the same as entry level 21.5 iMac but you will already have all the upgrades.

    ---

    Or for the same price you could buy used quad core 2009 Mac pro that will definitely handle everything. You can put all the harddrives into the box and get loads of cheap RAM.
     
  14. glenthompson macrumors 68000

    glenthompson

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    #14
    You really need to run Activity Monitor while she's working and see what the various numbers show. It doesn't sound like the 8gb is causing problems. Look at the page outs count to see. Best to start with a reboot before she starts working so that you know it's just from her activity.

    If you're not getting page outs and the CPU is not running at high utilization then the logical place for sluggishness is the hard drives. If she is loading raw images from external USB 2.0 drives, that will be a major bottleneck.

    A SSD needs to be internal to get the best performance. I just ordered one for my wife's mid-2011 iMac.
     
  15. magilla macrumors regular

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    Aug 3, 2013
    #15
    Not that I know anything about these new-fangled iMacs (just got my 1st i3 refurb this week) but try running a photography business on an antique PM8600 w/G4 upgrade card w/ PS6 unser OS 9! Actually, it worked (and still does) fine for me for all these years but I guess even the Pyramids got to be "old skool" after a couple of centuries.:D

    Bill
     
  16. gonzali7, Sep 2, 2013
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2013

    gonzali7 thread starter macrumors newbie

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    #16
    I looked at it while she was flattening a photoshop file and I gotta believe it's the HD. The CPU was only running at 60% and RAM didn't seem maxed out either. Honestly it seemed like it wasn't doing much of anything for about 20 sec and then ran quickly. Seemed like maybe it was just waiting for the HD to respond. Also had a strange thing happen where at one check the HD appeared to have only about 266 GB (of 500) used. About 5 min later it read 415 GB used. Gonna try and get things cleaned up, but it's just weird. That bit of weirdness aside, I'm actually starting to wonder if it's overheating because it seems to work ok for awhile. Then it starts to slow down. I've got a small house fan blowing on the back to see if that help. I think it might be. Jury's still out.
     
  17. flux73, Sep 2, 2013
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2013

    flux73 macrumors 65816

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    #17
    I re-read his original post and just realized that the images were being loaded from external hard drives. My bet is on that. RAW images from any camera with enough MP are big enough to choke the USB 2.0 connection. You could have your wife copy a few of the same RAW images to the iMac's internal drive and then see if still feels sluggish.

    Just for reference, the iMac 2009 has SATA 2 which has a throughput of 300 MB/s.
    If you're using a USB 2.0 cable for your external HD, it has a throughput of about 35 MB/s (at BEST). Nearly a magnitude of difference.
    A 5400 RPM HD should be capable of transferring data at about 80-100 MB/s. Thus, a USB 2.0 interface would almost certainly be the limiting factor. Not so important if you just use an external hard drive as backup or to archive stuff, but not to do work off of it.

    USB 3.0 has throughput of up to 400 MB/s. So that should work much better, though I don't know for sure if there would be differences in CPU overhead using USB vs SATA. If you're not too technically averse, you might consider swapping out the internal hard drive with a much bigger one. But that does take some work and careful reading if you haven't done it before.

    Then again, if you just want a new computer, there's no need to tell your wife any of this and just say that only a new iMac will help. ;)
     
  18. comatory macrumors 6502a

    comatory

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    #18
    There you go - you dont need newer iMac, CPU handles the load just fine. The difference in HD used might be because the hard drive is failing, that would also explain the 20 sec hiccups. Or it could be some kind of Photoshop (or whatever software she uses) cache that is being saved on your harddrive.

    I totally missed that too. USB 2.0 is a very limiting connection for such big files! For now you should tell her to store her work files on internal hard drive and move the finished work to external drive to make free space. You will definitely see the difference!

    I don't think she needs a new computer, that'd be a lot of money for something that is easily fixable. CPU is plenty powerful and it seems she has plenty of RAM, you still havent told us if there are any page-outs in activity monitor.
    I believe 2009 iMac uses regular 3.5 inch SATAII hard drives. Since you would be opening the iMac you can consider these three options:
    1. 2TB 7200RPM harddrive - brand new speedy hard drive that will have plenty of space and should be faster than current HDD. There are also special harddrives that have "flash cache" that can speed some things up as well but I dont know much about them
    2. Replace old HDD with SSD drive. Even though you have SATAII interface, you can buy any SSD drive - there are 256GB SSDs that are reasonably priced nowadays like Samsung 840 Pro or Crucial M4, Intel series SSDs aret the best (but also more expensive). It will be much much faster and your computer will act as if it were new. Only downside is that the capacity is smaller so you cant keep everything internal but if temporarily put work files on that SSD (and OS X as well) it will be very fast.
    3. Combination of both: you must replace your DVD drive with special bracket. This way you can have both SSD (which can be smaller, just for OS X, maybe 80GB or so), I would still advise getting 1 or 2TB regular drive for work. Its a bit more money but you will squeeze out much more life out of old iMac and benefit from speed and capacity. (more info http://www.ifixit.com/Guide/Installing+iMac+Intel+21.5-Inch+EMC+2308+Dual+Hard+Drive/8641/1)
     
  19. Outrigger macrumors 68000

    Outrigger

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    #19
    just so the OP knows. it would have to be the i5 3.2 not the 2.9 in order to have the upgrade option of the 680mx.
     
  20. gonzali7 thread starter macrumors newbie

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    Jul 31, 2013
    #20
    Evidently we got off the track somewhere here. Yes I store most of her files on external drives to keep her internal HD clean. But I'm not using USB 2.0; I'm using FW 800. Also, I have her do most of her editing/retouching with files on her internal HD and then move them to external. I think we got off track when I asked whether or not an SSD run externally would give me any boost given that the best I can do is FW 800. My main point of this post was to get advice on where to spend my money on the new iMac (CPU v. RAM v. HD) and to find out if the 5400 RPM drive on the iMac 21.5" would be problematic. Performance problems aside her screen is yellowing from the bottom up so she definitely needs a new machine. Though tips to help with performance in the meantime are appreciated.
     
  21. Outrigger macrumors 68000

    Outrigger

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    #21
    I think the best bang for your buck would be the base 27 with fusion and add after market ram yourself.
     
  22. comatory macrumors 6502a

    comatory

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    #22
    I've read about people here using Firewire 800 enclosures with SSDs inside to run operating systems. The results are actually pretty good, of course you will not be getting SATA3 speeds, not even SATA2 but for small sequential files that OS actually uses it's fine.

    With that out of the way, I think you should probably look for new computer. Your screen is going bad, your internal hard drive maybe too plus investing in reasonably sized SSD with Firewire 800 enclosure might be too much for this old machine. I'd retire 2009 iMac and look into getting either Mac mini quad or new iMac (you seem to be inclined towards iMac).

    I'd wait a bit as there seem to be refreshes coming around. 2012 iMac is a nice machine but it is first generation of new design, they usually are not perfect so getting Haswell 2013 iMac will be better I think. New CPUs are not a big improvement but you will be getting faster wi-fi and probably new GPU options.

    From my point of view the best deal is base 27" iMac. Now prepare that everyone will tell you to get the higher model with i7 CPU, 680MX GPU and 512GB SSD - I think that will bring pretty steep price tag.
    Even for Photoshop work, quad core i5 CPU is still very good, hyperthreaded tasks are faster with i7 but unless you're running a business, you'll be giving Apple a fat stack of cash for few seconds shaved on processing.
    512meg GPU is fine as well, Photoshop isn't that much optimized for GPU anyways, especially on Mac.
    the only upgrade I would consider would be 1TB Fusion drive as that will speed up the computer tremendously while allowing to store large amounts of data. the good thing about 27" model is that you put your own (cheap) RAM inside, so in case you run out of memory it is easily expandable up to 32GB of RAM but I think you'll be fine with stock 8GB. if you ever feel it's not enough, putting one 8GB stick will bring up the machine to respectable 12gigs while costing usually around $20-$30.
    also reusing your Firewire 800 drives is pretty straightforward once you buy Thunderbolt to Firewire 800 dongle. I hope my humble opinion is any help to you. some folks on this forum want to have always the high-end spec iMac but I think in this case its not really worth it - I have been doing professional graphic and video work on base 27" iMac with 8GB RAM and it worked like a charm.
     
  23. keigo macrumors regular

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    Nov 6, 2006
    #23
    I'm also a photographer and fully understand why you keep running out of space.

    one thing I like about thunderbolt is the speed. Putting a 7200rpm HDD via thunderbolt and you will not feel the different if the HDD is inside iMac or outside.

    That why I go by the option of 256 SDD for my iMac where I load all the application in my iMac SSD and all my media/data file on the thunderbolt HDD.

    They load and run fast without you able to tell the different. And if you want faster then HDD then just swap the thunderbolt HDD to SDD.
     
  24. gonzali7 thread starter macrumors newbie

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    #24
    Thanks, this is probably where I'll end up, though I may hope that the latest model 2012 goes down in price when the new one is released and then buy that. Regardless i think what my wife has right now is so bad anything will seem blazing fast in comparison. Not even really worried about keeping our FW 800 drives. She's burning through about 1 TB every 3-4 months so they don't last long.
     
  25. AppleDroid macrumors 6502a

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    #25
    This! Pick up a refurb 27in with an i7 processor. The i7 have better max boost speeds and support hyper-threading which PS and LR support. If you can get one with at least the 1TB fusion drive that would also be the best option.
     

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