iMac purchasing advice

jazzer15

macrumors 6502
Original poster
Oct 8, 2010
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An older relative is planning to purchase a new iMac (current computer is a very old Dell with an AMD chip running Windows 10 ... slowly). Needs are extremely basic -- email, web, viewing photos taken by others, a little word processing and perhaps an app or 2 (e.g., she uses family tree maker for genealogy) or a coupld of simple games (we are talking solitaire and puzzles here, not WoW).

My first thought was even the base level 21 inch is more than enough, but given the hard drive in it, I don't think I can recommend one, even for her very simple usage and the 1TB fusion isn't too much better with its small SSD partition). Unfortunately, there is no way to get a 2TB fusion drive in one to get the 128gb SSD, which I suspect would be more than enough, if overkill on the HDD storage. If she goes the 27 inch route, a 2TB fusion is available, but the price of the machine goes up considerably (she hasn't decided if she prefers a smaller or larger screen yet).

Would you suggest a BTO of either a base 21 inch or 27 inch with a 256GB SSD? Some other option?
 

danielwsmithee

macrumors 65816
Mar 12, 2005
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I'd BTO one of the base models with a 256GB SSD.

The base 21" non-4K $1299.
21" w/ 4K $1499.
Base 27" 5K $1899.

Really comes down to your budget. If you are willing to spend the extra $600 the 27" 5K is extremely nice, but all 3 configurations are reasonable for basic computing.
 

Einz

macrumors 6502
Feb 14, 2008
255
8
Miami
The iMac is over kill. Does she really needed a desktop? She could do what she has been doing on an iPad.
 

Ph.D.

macrumors 6502a
Jul 8, 2014
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The iMac is over kill. Does she really needed a desktop? She could do what she has been doing on an iPad.
I have to agree. But if a desktop is what is desired, then a base 21 or 27, depending on budget, with a small SSD would be the way to go. If Apple had a little more of that famous "courage" then spinning disks would be dead already.
 

danielwsmithee

macrumors 65816
Mar 12, 2005
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The iMac is over kill. Does she really needed a desktop? She could do what she has been doing on an iPad.
Most of the Genealogy related applications are written for OS X and not iOS. My parents and grandparents are all heavy genealogists. I'd stick with an iMac or a refurbished MacBook Pro.
 

jazzer15

macrumors 6502
Original poster
Oct 8, 2010
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Most of the Genealogy related applications are written for OS X and not iOS. My parents and grandparents are all heavy genealogists. I'd stick with an iMac or a refurbished MacBook Pro.
This is true. She actually has an iPad also (and an iPhone), but prefers using a desktop. I agree, it's overkill, but I think she will be happier with it.
 

EugW

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Jun 18, 2017
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If not a Windows 10 PC, yet money is tight, then I would recommend a 21.5" iMac 4K with 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD.

And yes, 4K. Why? Because that way if she wants, she can change the resolution setting to increase the default font size and UI elements' size without having them looking like ass. This is quite helpful with older eyes. For example, here are the size options to increase UI elements, etc. on my 27" iMac.

Default:

iMac_5120x2880_resized.jpg


Larger:

iMac_4096_2304_resized.jpg


Largest:

iMac_3200x1800_resized.jpg


And even if she doesn't need this, then still get the 4K one, because it's just easier to look at than the non-Retina screen.

If she doesn't get the Retina screen, then much of the benefit for her (besides the genealogy software) is lost with going for the iMac. May as well get a Windows 10 PC.
 
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trsblader

macrumors 6502
May 20, 2011
422
158
An older relative is planning to purchase a new iMac (current computer is a very old Dell with an AMD chip running Windows 10 ... slowly). Needs are extremely basic -- email, web, viewing photos taken by others, a little word processing and perhaps an app or 2 (e.g., she uses family tree maker for genealogy) or a coupld of simple games (we are talking solitaire and puzzles here, not WoW).

My first thought was even the base level 21 inch is more than enough, but given the hard drive in it, I don't think I can recommend one, even for her very simple usage and the 1TB fusion isn't too much better with its small SSD partition). Unfortunately, there is no way to get a 2TB fusion drive in one to get the 128gb SSD, which I suspect would be more than enough, if overkill on the HDD storage. If she goes the 27 inch route, a 2TB fusion is available, but the price of the machine goes up considerably (she hasn't decided if she prefers a smaller or larger screen yet).

Would you suggest a BTO of either a base 21 inch or 27 inch with a 256GB SSD? Some other option?
This is true. She actually has an iPad also (and an iPhone), but prefers using a desktop. I agree, it's overkill, but I think she will be happier with it.
I honestly see no reason not to get the absolute base model 21.5". Fusion drives are not that bad and are quite speedy even in 1tb configuration for most people. For email and word processing there is no reason to go for an ssd.
 

danielwsmithee

macrumors 65816
Mar 12, 2005
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I honestly see no reason not to get the absolute base model 21.5". Fusion drives are not that bad and are quite speedy even in 1tb configuration for most people. For email and word processing there is no reason to go for an ssd.
While I think you are right about the performance of the 1TB fusion, I'm never going to buy or recommend a computer again that uses a HD in a difficult to access location.

In the ~12 years I've owned iMacs I've had to open them 4 times for failed drives. Once I went all solid state it hasn't happened since.

For this application the base 4K iMac with SSD, could easily last 10 years without ever having to be opened...
 
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jazzer15

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Original poster
Oct 8, 2010
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I honestly see no reason not to get the absolute base model 21.5". Fusion drives are not that bad and are quite speedy even in 1tb configuration for most people. For email and word processing there is no reason to go for an ssd.
I thought the base and mid level models unless BTO came with a standard non-fusion HDD. Am I mistaken?
 
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trsblader

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May 20, 2011
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In the ~12 years I've owned iMacs I've had to open them 4 times for failed drives. Once I went all solid state it hasn't happened since.
I've only owned since 2008, so only around 10 years and my 2008 MacBook, 2009 MacBook pro, and 2011 iMac all with 5400rpm drives still run strong and never needed opened up so far. It's like most things in life though, someone will say the product sucks and some will say it's amazing and neither are wrong. I bet you can find someone that swears the SSD's Apple uses are the devil and fail all the time too just because it's Samsung.

I thought the base and mid level models unless BTO came with a standard non-fusion HDD. Am I mistaken?
You are correct, which is why I put a period between thoughts lol. I'd still say the base model is absolutely fine and still great just to look at pictures and check email. That said, a 1tb fusion still performs plenty fast and has very good benchmark speeds if you want to upgrade. An SSD still seems hard to justify just to read email and write a text doc base on my own experience.

I still use my 2011 iMac daily and even with the 5400 rpm drive I cannot say that just surfing the net and reading my own email has ever felt so slow that I wanted an SSD for it. I can't remember the last time I saw a beachball, and opening pages or numbers still only bounces two or 3 times before popping up. For that use alone I can't see an SSD even being that beneficial.

I'd even argue that a Mac in general is overkill. a $600 pc from Walmart of all places would probably be just fine lol.
 

EugW

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Jun 18, 2017
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I thought the base and mid level models unless BTO came with a standard non-fusion HDD. Am I mistaken?
That is absolutely correct, so the Fusion drive represents a CTO upgrade. The difference in price between the Fusion drive and 256 GB SSD is all of $100.

I can tell you that even just for surfing and email in Sierra, using a HDD is painful. There is so much OS lag it’s nuts. Fusion can sometimes be OK but the base Fusion drive comes with only 32 GB solid state so it’s borderline at best.

Just do everyone a big, big favour and get the SSD and the Retina screen. So again:

4k 21.5” Retina / 8 GB RAM / 256 GB SSD

If you don’t get at least this configuration then maybe forget the iMac completely and get a Windows 10 PC.

I still use my 2011 iMac daily and even with the 5400 rpm drive I cannot say that just surfing the net and reading my own email has ever felt so slow that I wanted an SSD for it. I can't remember the last time I saw a beachball, and opening pages or numbers still only bounces two or 3 times before popping up. For that use alone I can't see an SSD even being that beneficial.
I have a 2010 Core i7 27” iMac with 7200 rpm hard drive. It’s sometimes OK and it’s sometimes horrible, even just for basic usage.

At one point I started using a FireWire 800 SSD and even that half-assed upgrade was a tremendously improvement. In your shoes with a 2011 iMac I would have gone with a Thunderbolt SSD ages ago.

I contemplated upgrading this iMac with an internal SATA SSD but in the end just decided to put the money toward a new modern iMac and will use this 27” 2010 as a second monitor to my new 5K 2017 iMac. That new iMac has a 1 TB SSD by the way, and even for just logging in, surfing, email, and MS Office, the performance improvement is ginormous.
 
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Bob418

macrumors member
Sep 10, 2015
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Singapore
For example, here are the size options to increase UI elements, etc. on my 27" iMac.
I notice you're running some system monitoring program. Is it iStats menu? I have no experience on this kind of software other than Apple's Activity Monitor. But I'm interested to monitor temperatures and fan speed in my coming iMac, after reading comments in this forum (and many of them were from you :)). Do you have any recommendation? Is this kind of software stable? Will it take too much system resources? Thanks in advance.
 

EugW

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Jun 18, 2017
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I notice you're running some system monitoring program. Is it iStats menu? I have no experience on this kind of software other than Apple's Activity Monitor. But I'm interested to monitor temperatures and fan speed in my coming iMac, after reading comments in this forum (and many of them were from you :)). Do you have any recommendation? Is this kind of software stable? Will it take too much system resources? Thanks in advance.
Yes, iStat Menus. It's stable and doesn't use much system resources.
 

danielwsmithee

macrumors 65816
Mar 12, 2005
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I've only owned since 2008, so only around 10 years and my 2008 MacBook, 2009 MacBook pro, and 2011 iMac all with 5400rpm drives still run strong and never needed opened up so far. It's like most things in life though, someone will say the product sucks and some will say it's amazing and neither are wrong. I bet you can find someone that swears the SSD's Apple uses are the devil and fail all the time too just because it's Samsung.
The difference is I'm not making this recommendation based solely on brand preference or even just personal experience there is hard data to back it up.

I worked as an engineer in the storage industry for years. The anual failure rate for a typical hard drive is usually around 4 to 6%. For SSDs the anual failure rate is In the range of 1/10 of 1%. [1] You are literally 40 to 60 times more likely each year to have to open the iMac to replace a Hard Drive then one with an SSD. it is simply the nature of moving parts.

That being said SSDs do have their own set of issues. The uncorrecable bit error rate is higher on an SSD then a HD. [2] So you are more likely to get corrupted data on an SSD, but much less likely to have a complete drive failure. Hence the recommendation to not use HD in a place that is difficult to physically access.

Now you do the math what happens when you combine the qualities into a Fusion drive. I don't think anyone has ever done an exhaustive study outside of likely Apple. My guess is it does improve the hard drive reliability by some factor due to reduced wear, but I doubt it is a 40 to 60 X improvement.

[1] http://www.networkworld.com/article/2873551/data-center/debunking-ssd-myths.html

[2]https://www.google.com/amp/www.zdnet.com/google-amp/article/ssd-reliability-in-the-real-world-googles-experience/
 

MacScott

macrumors regular
Jan 27, 2012
109
29
Indiana
I like the 27 inch so I can change the resolution and be able to read the screen without having to hold my nose against it.
 

Fishrrman

macrumors P6
Feb 20, 2009
17,200
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MacScott wrote:
"I like the 27 inch so I can change the resolution and be able to read the screen without having to hold my nose against it."

This becomes a VERY important consideration for the OP, because the new iMac is for an older person.

How's her eyesight?
If it's beginning to deteriorate, it will be much easier for her to use the 27" iMac as the years pass...
 

mcomp112

macrumors regular
Jan 1, 2017
111
28
Base 21.5 inch iMac w/256GB SSD would be the way to go. The upgrade to a 256GB SSD is absolutely essential.

If the budget allows, swap the magic mouse 2 for a magic trackpad as well. The magic mouse 2 is considered very un-ergonomic by most users here. But, this upgrade is not as essential as the SSD.
 

EugW

macrumors 604
Jun 18, 2017
7,312
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MacScott wrote:
"I like the 27 inch so I can change the resolution and be able to read the screen without having to hold my nose against it."

This becomes a VERY important consideration for the OP, because the new iMac is for an older person.

How's her eyesight?
If it's beginning to deteriorate, it will be much easier for her to use the 27" iMac as the years pass...
As I was alluding to earlier (in post #8), you can do this on the 21.5" Retina 4K as well. That is a big reason why I was saying the 4K 21.5" is strongly preferred over the base 21.5".
 

jazzer15

macrumors 6502
Original poster
Oct 8, 2010
368
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Her eyesight is actually pretty good, but I agree that a 4K or 5K machine is the way to go. In fact, I have been using my 27 inch 5K machine in default resolution for some time and as a result of the reminder from this thread decided to make things larger. The small text was really beginning to become difficult for me :)