iMac Purchase : Configuration for virtual machine

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by shpongle11, Oct 4, 2017.

  1. shpongle11 macrumors newbie

    Oct 4, 2017
    Hello everyone!

    I am a PhD student in physics. I want to purchase a 27 inch iMac with an SSD. However I am confused about which configuration to buy. Underneath I have listed my uses and needs:

    • Running windows 10 on a virtual machine (VMware fusion). Inside the windows on the virtual machine, I will install and run Matlab and Matlab related executables.
    • Majority of the time, I would not use the virtual machine. During these times, I will use the Mac OS for document editing and web programming.

    Could someone please suggest what would be the right RAM, GPU and processor configuration for my needs.

  2. cruisin macrumors 6502a


    Apr 1, 2014
    Everything except Matlab will not strain the machine.

    I don't know what part of Matlab uses the GPU, but all iMac versions have OpenGL support. Unless your need to run a lot of OpenGL based code, any GPU you choose will work.

    Unless you currently run big Matlab functions that take a while to finish, the base model of CPU will be fine. The only issue is if you need multi-threading, then you might need one of the quad core models.

    While you can easily fit Mac and a virtual machine in 8 GB, it really depends on what you will do. Windows and Mac both need 2 GB at minimum. Matlab either needs 2 GB, or 4 GB with Simulink, or 4 GB per core with Polyspace. So the basic Matlab wold work with 8 GB, but any of the other modes might not run well in 8 GB.

    The 27 inch model can add RAM after purchase, so you don't need to get RAM from Apple if you want to save some money that way. Or you can try 8 GB and buy another 8 GB if you find you need more. I would get 16 GB, as a 8/8 split will work well and you can easily go to 12/4 in favour of the virtual machine if you don't expect to do much on the Mac side.

    For SSD size the minimum Windows 10 install size is 20 GB, then add 10 GB for updates and about 5 GB for Matlab and other things you might need. To be safe, let Windows have 40 GB (although this is a minimum, your results may vary). Then check how much space you are using on your existing machine, and add it to the Windows part, which will give a good estimate of how much space you need without being worried about running out. You can also get an external drive for music/photos/etc. as they can take up a lot of space but don't need the speed of a SSD.

    Hope that helps.
  3. kohlson macrumors 68000

    Apr 23, 2010
    Keep in mind that there is no magic regarding virtual machines. You are running two different OSs on the same hardware. So system requirements are additive, not complementary. Whatever Matlab requires on Windows is the same hardware requirement needed when running on Mac OS, which also needs to run Mac OS and any Mac apps, too.

    Also, try and set up your windows environment such that any changes (such as to data files) happen on the Mac filesystem, not the Windows fs. If the latter, it's hard for backup systems to differentiate, and you end up backing up the entire VM for every file change.
  4. theluggage macrumors 68040

    Jul 29, 2011
    I don't know much about Matlab, but I do know a "how long is piece of string?" question when I see one :) Odds are, a 5-year-old Macbook Air could do what you need and a base 5k iMac would be more than enough. If in doubt, then you need to talk to someone who understands what you'll be doing with Matlab.

    I assume that there is a good reason why you can't use the Mac version of Matlab. In that case, if you do start hitting performance problems, the next step is to switch to "bootcamp" dual booting instead of VMware - its a lot less convenient (you have to reboot to switch between Windows and MacOS, and you have to semi-permanently split your drive into fixed Mac and Windows partitions, which is far less efficient than a VM's 'expanding' virtual drive) but it means that Windows gets full use of the hardware and performs better.

    Nothing else on your list is going to strain a base i5 iMac 5k with 256GB SSD. I'd go for the 512GB SSD if money permits, simply for convenience (and especially if you end up using bootcamp and need to partition the drive), but otherwise its just a case of being organised about keeping bulky stuff (music, videos, archives) on cheap external storage.

    You could probably do with more than 8GB of RAM, but don't get more than 8GB from Apple - the 5k iMac is the last Apple computer with expandable RAM, and you can easily add (for example) an extra 16GB of third party RAM from the likes of Crucial - giving 24GB - for less than Apple want for their upgrade to 16GB.

    At the end of the day, the simple advice for most people is that the cheapest model will probably get the job done, but upgrading will get you a nicer/faster machine which is more future-proof and versatile and/or will sell for more if you move on. Decide how much you can comfortably afford to spend, balance the budget between CPU, GPU, storage (RAM less so on an iMac because you can upgrade at any time), maybe avoiding the eye-wateringly expensive top end (you'd need a really good business case for Apple's 2TB SSD, for example) and get the best that you can.
  5. 960design macrumors 68030

    Apr 17, 2012
    Destin, FL
    Could not you just run MatLab natively on the Mac?
    I believe the latest version runs via Java.

    No need for a virtual machine. That's like sitting in the driver's seat of a Porsche, being towed on a trailer by a tractor. I have not used MatLab in years, I could be completely crazy. Please ignore my ignorance.

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4 October 4, 2017