iMac late 2013 vs. riMac: Side-by-side comparison

Discussion in 'iMac' started by tom0511, Nov 6, 2014.

  1. tom0511, Nov 6, 2014
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2014

    tom0511 macrumors member

    Nov 1, 2014
    As I am looking for a new iMac, I have been struggling what to get for weeks now. So I finally made it to go to a local store and do a side-by-side check up on the non-retina vs. the retina iMac.I played around nearly two hours, and even though this is not an exhaustive user test, it might give you a feeling on where to rank the riMac.

    Some preconditions first:

    - I compared the late 2013 27" i5 3.2 GHz, 8 GB RAM to the base version of the iMac 5k
    - I did not use an iMac so far, so I am not accustomed to any screen, Apple is offering so far.
    - No budget constraints for me, so there was no influence (not even implicitly) from this point.
    - The two iMacs were really side-by-side, so same ambient light, same viewing angle, same WiFi speed, etc.

    Let's start with the subjective impressions I got:

    My first thought was: Hmm, this is the retina? It was not really striking me at all at first sight. But when you get really close to the screen, you can see that there are literally no visible pixels on the retina iMac, whilst they became obvious on the late 2013 model.

    This impression continued when reading through documents or web pages. The riMac looks slightly better, but with a certain viewing distance, it did not make that much of a difference to me, even thought there is a visible difference.

    I also looked at a bunch of photos and got the feeling, that the riMac has a little bit of richer colors, but with a nearly untrained eye, this was the only difference I could tell.

    So all in all, the riMac looks slighly better, slightly, I would call it more natural than the late 2013.

    Whilst this impression really is a very subjective opinion, there are also some hard facts to it:

    Stories about lags on the rimac are everywhere. And I have to confirm, that Yosemite had some UI lags on the riMac whilst there were hardly any on the late 2013. But this is nothing which could not be fixed by an upgrade to the OS.

    Furthermore, and strange enough, I encountered some more "beachballing" on the riMac than on the late 2013 during standard operations (moving zoomed-in pictures around, opening Edit-options in iPhoto, looking up "About this iMac", ...). Nothing disturbing, but still it is there.

    Now, the thing which struck me the most has been fast-scrolling through some content-loaded websites like the riMac page on Whilst the late 2013 model was supersmooth, the riMac lagged pretty bad (and I mean like REALLY bad, with scrolling sometimes being stopped for a second or so). I cannot imagine that this really is Yosemite, this is either the GPU driver needing an urgent update or something else I don't even want to think about: lack of performance to drive the display. And even though this test for sure is not 100% real life compatible, it might give you a clue that there is at least something which MIGHT be an performance issue.

    So, in a nutshell, the riMac looks slightly better (to me), but also leaves some concerns in terms of performance to drive the display.

    It feels some kind of odd to buy "old technology", but it even feels more strange to buy new technology which might not be at the peak of maturity.

    So I decided to go for the late 2013 model, but this really is based on subjective impressions. If you have to make the same choice like me and have the chance to, I would really suggest to go and check out the two iMacs to get your own impressions. There are Pros and Cons for both of them and in the end, it all comes down to on what compromise you want to spend your money on.

    I hope that this little review can help some guys making their choice, if not, nevermind and thanks for reading! :)
  2. jazzer15 macrumors 6502

    Oct 8, 2010
    Thanks for this. While I appreciate these things are very subjective, it is nice to get different opinions and experiences. I am in the same situation and struggling with what to do. I think you summed up my dilemma well -- it is odd to consider buying older technology, but also difficult to spend money on the newer technology that may still have issues. Each person will make his/her own decision. I am considering buying a 2013 refurbished iMac, but am definitely going to go to the store and try to do a comparison as you have.

    What types of things do you use your computer for?
  3. tom0511 thread starter macrumors member

    Nov 1, 2014
    I do every day computer stuff: Mail, Web, listening to music, watching videos, documents, some Photoshop, some Lightroom. So nothing really fancy.
  4. jaybar macrumors 6502a


    Dec 11, 2008
    Has anyone tried to compare them at lower resolutions. I currently have a late 2013 iMac. I run at 1280 x 720 because of my vision. If I were to purchase a Retina iMac and run it at the same resolution, would I see a significant improvement, sitting about 18-20 inches from the screen?


  5. Waa1207 macrumors newbie

    Nov 6, 2014
    I have the same question.

    Should I spend the extra 700 bucks on a retina dispay?
    Is there a significant difference between the retina display and non-retina display in normal business work usage(email, word processing, etc)?

    I need to buy a 2 desktops(one for office and one for home office). I am in the medical field. I am not a high demand graphics user. I do not do any video editing, and I certainly do not work with 4K video. I do light photo editing in iPhoto. I primarily log in remotely via either citrix or Microsoft Remote Desktop to do my work.
    Thanks in advance,
  6. Frozone9 macrumors member

    Oct 21, 2014
    Zürich, Switzerland
    Its not only the screen which is better in Retina. Its a faster CPU and GPU.
    As well if You think in upgrading Storage its not 700 anymore, as it comes already with a fusion drive in standard configuration. And nobody wants a HDD only option anymore, or?
  7. westonm macrumors member

    Jun 19, 2007
    In my experience the difference between the screens is striking. After playing with a Retina iMac my current 27" is nearly headache inducing.
  8. thagomizer macrumors 6502


    May 26, 2005
    For what it's worth, I tried the riMac page on the Apple site as you suggest, and I see zero lag. Scrolling through the page, and the JavaScript zoom effects that are on that page, are very smooth. I have a 4GHz/M295X model with 24GB RAM. I'm not seeing problems with Mission Control, either, as some others have reported. Gaming at 2560x1440 with all settings maxed out on Borderlands 2 is very smooth, no lag or FPS slowdown, even with a lot of enemies onscreen. I also tried Starcraft 2 at native 5k resolution and it was also smooth, although I didn't follow through into mid-game with a lot of action. Admittedly these are somewhat older games.

    Scrolling through the front page of is very smooth in Safari, but choppy in Firefox.

    By comparison, my 3.4GHz Core i7 3770 PC at work, with an ATI HD 5770 card and 16GB RAM, struggles to scroll through with any browser. It's running Windows 7.
  9. robo74 macrumors 6502


    Feb 6, 2004
    Near Chicago
    Thanks for the write up. Also, thanks for your bravery. Often negative speaking hear gets all the pots and pans thrown at you because naturally, you are doing it wrong and/or you dont know what your talking about.

    Everyone makes their own decision, the "old" technology is good technology.
    Once the retina model was introduced, I made the decision to buy a refurb "old" technology. This machine screams, I saved a bunch of money and despite what people like to think.. it still works!
    Not everyone needs the latest and greatest and the latest and greatest is not always proven to be the best.

    Enjoy your new machine!

  10. rainydays macrumors 6502a

    Nov 6, 2006
    Yep. "Old" technology isn't that old anymore. Most people use machines that have more power than they will ever utilise.
    In fact, buying older models might be the most economical thing to do. They don't lose value that quick and it's cheaper to upgrade to the next "old" model.

    There are a few people who really benefit from the latest tech. But those are actually quite few. Living a couple of years in the past isn't that bad unless you need to stay competitive.
    If you are happy with the technology you have today, why wouldn't you be in five years from now?

    I just helped a friend to upgrade her almost 7 year old iMac with an SSD and more RAM. That thing is actually pretty quick for regular use. Sure it's not crunching numbers very fast, but few people need that. And best of all, it's dirt cheap. You don't get a new computer that is as good for that kind of money.

    For me though, the retina display is a huge selling point. Otherwise I could have done just fine with an older model.
  11. powerslave65 macrumors 6502


    Mar 21, 2011
    Sherman Oaks CA

    I did the same thing. The 2013 27 iMac is quiet, cool, fast, and a workhorse for video. Could not be happier.
  12. Kayan macrumors 6502

    Jul 7, 2010
    I read your post out of interest (since I'm sitting on a brand new RiMac, 4.0, 32GB, 3TB, M295X) and tried out your scrolling experiment on I went to the iMac content-full pages you mentioned and scrolled up and down as fast as I wanted. No lag, beautiful images/videos flying by on this beautiful screen. So I don't know if the iMac you tested out maybe had too many apps open and was consuming RAM or there were too many tabs open and the machine only had 8 GB RAM, but everything looks fine here.

    Also, about the screen, I'll admit that when I first powered it on, I was not as "wowed" as I thought I would be. However, the more I look at it, the more I notice the sharpness of every lined and richness of colors. The biggest difference to me came when I went back to looking at a normal resolution screen, I could tell a big difference. So I now never want to go back to looking at normal screens again (except for work which I have to do). So while you may not notice it at first, I believe that after you stare at the newer screen for a while, you'll see a huge difference in trying to go back. It's like when I look at old video games nowadays, the graphics are so horrible, but at the time, they looked great.
  13. sharon22 macrumors regular

    Oct 19, 2014
    Do you think your great grandkids will be happy with your choice?
  14. dandrewk macrumors 6502

    Apr 20, 2010
    San Rafael, California
    If the OP doesn't think the screen is worth the extra $500, then that's a valid choice. However, it's totally beyond me why this isn't a critical factor. Most who compare the two screens will say it's dimensionally better in every respect.

    Even though the comparison seems valid, it is mostly apples to oranges. You simply cannot compare machines while in a retail store. The "lag" that was noticed in the RiMac is mostly bandwidth issues. That Apple page dynamically increases resolution (and thus, image size) based on the machine that is displaying the page. Naturally, those pages will require more bandwidth to download and scroll smoothly when they are 4x as large as in the non Retina model.

    Also, IMHO the base GPU, with half the VRAM, is overmatched for this sort of test. This is why anyone who has an RiMac with the upgraded GPU do NOT have any issues with lag.
  15. forg0t macrumors member

    Aug 13, 2014
    even if you're not in love with the screen, there isn't a reason to buy a 2013 Mac when it's almost 2015 now.
  16. Cbdboz macrumors regular


    Oct 31, 2013
    Finally got around to seeing the was next to a smaller iMac.

    Flicked through the pictures and a few videos that were loaded on both be fair, both looked good...but would not say retina looked that much better.

    ...that said, when just looking at text in was night and day different!
  17. Frozone9 macrumors member

    Oct 21, 2014
    Zürich, Switzerland
    If its not a higher resolution Video it won't look better on iMac.

    But pictures should look much better. (of course they need to have enough pixel as well) Maybe its because u looked at a smaller Screen that You couldn't see the big difference?

    But as You wrote: There is a big difference in reading text. Apart from using the riMac for Video and Foto editing i think this is main reason to by this screen. Its much more comfortable to read text.

    I have a MBPr and I was always missing a better screen when connecting to cinema display.
  18. rainydays macrumors 6502a

    Nov 6, 2006
    The 2013 iMac is only a year old, and except for the screen the RiMac isn't a significant leap forward in technology.
  19. jaybar macrumors 6502a


    Dec 11, 2008
    I raised the issue about whether I was likely to see an improvement if the Retina iMac ran at a reduced se solution of 1280 by 720 and nobody has yet responded.
  20. Roman2K~ macrumors 6502a

    Mar 11, 2011
    @OP Thanks for sharing your comparison.

    I'm one of those who are fond of the (desktop/laptop) Retina displays. I can see the difference from more than 1 meter away, it's striking even from there. I got accustomed to the improvement to the point that I can't work comfortably on a regular resolution display. In your case, if you have to get close to the screen to see the difference, you might as well go with the classic, indeed.

    There must have been something wrong going on in the display model you tested. I've used two iMac 5Ks, a Fusion Drive one and a pure-SSD one (in signature), granted both i7 / M295X but both worked absolutely flawlessly, smooth everywhere, snappy (I'm *very* lag-intolerant), no slowdowns, no hiccups whatsoever. Except for Mission Control and About this Mac, same jerkiness as on my work rMBP (late 2013 with Iris Pro) so it's a flaw in Yosemite.

    I think you're drawing conclusions too quickly. Generalising your experience with one particular machine to all Retina iMacs (all models, all units). My experience is the iMac 5K feels as mature and polished a product as the rMBP, namely one hell of a gem :cool:.

    There have been times where Apple cut their teeth on first gens, but nowadays they seem to get it exactly right the first time, at least on some products, like the first rMBP (15", mid-2012). This iMac 5K is one more example.
  21. FredT2 macrumors 6502a

    Mar 18, 2009
    1280x720 works fine. Text of course is huge and isn't as sharp.
  22. jaybar macrumors 6502a


    Dec 11, 2008
    The previous post did not quite answer my question. Will I likely see an improvement if I am running a late 2013 imac 27" at 1280 x 720 and then go to a Retina iMac at that same resolution?


  23. Roman2K~ macrumors 6502a

    Mar 11, 2011
    Same workload, beefier specs on the riMac. So on paper, you will see an improvement (assuming performance can be improved in whatever you're doing at that resolution).
  24. Orangediva macrumors member


    Nov 1, 2014
    Midlands, UK
    I have just been into my local Apple Store to compare the retina and non-retina 27" iMacs - largely because I have just ordered the non-retina version via my workplace salary maxing scheme and wanted to make sure I haven't made a mistake (I'm in my two week cooling off period before delivery and my scheme doesn't have the retina iMacs available so I will have to cancel the whole thing and pay upfront if I want retina).

    It all got rather confusing in there - not least because one of the sales assistants told me that Apple were only selling retina versions of the 27" now and that the non-retina has been discontinued (!)

    Luckily I know that isn't the case so had a look at the two 27" versions side by side. TBH it was pretty obvious to me which one was the retina and which the non-retina on close inspection (though the sales girl kept telling me they were the same!!) but standing at my usual viewing distance from the screen the differences were far less obvious (as others have said). I don't think I do enough high end stuff like video and picture editing for it to make spending what will effectively be £1000 more for the retina version (cheapest retina is over £400 more than the configuration I have ordered and my scheme saves me £600 off the purchase price) so I'll happily stick with what I ordered.

    For someone coming from a 2007 Dell Inspiron laptop and 9 year old Dell desktops at work the non retina 27" iMac is like a dream come true for me! Can't wait for it to arrive now.
  25. jaybar macrumors 6502a


    Dec 11, 2008
    That's the key. If I do the same task on both iMacs, will the text be more readable on the Retina iMac if both are at 1280 x 720 resolution?

    Also will 8GB of RAM be sufficient for what we do which is word processing, surfing the net, email, playing music, viewing photos. Basic stuff.


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