Retina iMac - Upgrade CPU or Video Card?

Discussion in 'iMac' started by icemantx, Oct 27, 2014.

  1. icemantx macrumors regular

    Mar 16, 2009
    So I am getting close to deciding on my next iMac but am stuck on one decision in particular - upgrade the processor or video card - or neither?

    I am coming from an aging early 2009 24" iMac with a DIY Fusion drive (filled up 1.6 TB of 2.25 TB total + 600GB of movies on an external drive) so even without upgrading the processor or video card on the Retina iMac, this will be a big upgrade from what I have.

    However, being that I will likely keep the iMac 5+ years, I want to be wise about the choices I make today. I need to keep the price right at $3000, so going all out with pure SSD, i7 and 295 processor is not going to work out for me.

    I will likely get the 3TB Fusion Drive and either the processor or video card upgrade. I mostly use my iMac for iMovie, iPhoto, occasionally Aperture, Mail, Safari, occasional Handbrake (not often), streaming HD movies from iTunes to Apple TV, iWork and other built in apps that come with the iMac.

    I am not a power user, but my biggest reason to upgrade is that my screen is starting to dim and look a little yellowish plus beach balls are driving me crazy in iPhoto - especially working with 20MB photo files captured from my Sony RX-10.

    So my choices look like this...

    iMac Retina+ 3TB Fusion: $2649
    iMac Retina+ 3TB Fusion + 295 GPU or i7: $2899

    Optionally skip the fusion all together:
    iMac Retina+ 512GB Flash: $2799
    iMac Retina+ 512GB Flash + 295 GPU or i7: $3049

    I am unsure if upgrading to the 512GB Flash will benefit me much over the fusion being that my iPhoto library is 200GB and growing and would need to be on a slower external HDD as would my home movies like they would be on the HDD portion of the Fusion drive...

  2. Djay1 macrumors member

    Nov 7, 2011
    Middle Tennessee
    I am coming from a late '09 27". My usage is primarily still photo processing. I selected the upgrade in the GPU & SSD and kept the CPU standard. My external storage will be a 4tb HD tethered via Thunderbird 2.

    That might be a good choice in your case since you made no mention of video editing and rendering.

    Regardless, coming from an '09 you will likely be very pleased! :)
  3. xgman macrumors 601


    Aug 6, 2007
    SSD is the best bang for the buck and the most noticeable upgrade you can do. For bulk storage, either a USB3 external enclosure or TB external would be fine. Buy a little more than you can really afford and you'll be happy.
  4. robgendreau macrumors 68040

    Jul 13, 2008
    Complicated question.

    But first, your photos. iPhoto isn't your best choice. I don't know that it's slower per se than Aperture, LR, Capture One, etc, but you definitely need to get that organized more efficiently since it can impact what you need to buy.

    With any of the more capable photo applications you can store photos on both the SSD and a slower HDD. There is simply no reason to waste more expensive SSD space with gigs of photos you aren't working on. Most Aperture users split up where they store photos; if need be you can easily move them to the SSD for editing purposes.

    What this means is that you should look hard at what SSD size you need. If you are factoring in storing many gigs of photos on that, don't. The library or catalog of Aperture or LR or whatever would only use a fraction of that, including previews and a more limited number of working photos. The rest onto an external, where in a USB 3 enclosure you'd be hard set to see a difference. That means a 256 SSD at most (or even the 1TB Fusion), saving you some money for the processor/gpu upgrade.

    Since you're using the stock Apple applications, I'm guessing you're not gonna stress the stock GPU that much. It will benefit video, gaming, and stuff like 3D the most. OTOH, a faster CPU generally benefits more of what a computer does overall.

    But it's early yet. Let some others experiment and keep reading; we need to see more direct comparisons of the GPUs in particular (the riMac's screen and graphics are more unique and new and harder to assess than the CPU IMHO, which is more of a known entity).
  5. nrubenstein macrumors 6502

    Aug 5, 2008
    Washington, DC
    Well, I did a basic comparison on gpuboss, and here's where things spec sheet out:
    The M290X is basically 3-5 times as powerful as the base video card in the late 2009 27" (Radeon 4670).
    The M295X is theoretically 5-10 times more powerful.

    So gross extrapolation suggests that if you want better graphics performance than a late 2009 at native resolutions, you want the GPU upgrade.

    On the same token, it also suggests that if a late 2009 provides adequate performance (and for me it did - the only real performance issue was the stock hard drive), the base video card should be fine of you. 4x the performance for 4x the pixels.

    The reality is that these machines are probably going to be GPU constrained before they are CPU constrained. I got the i7 upgrade because, well, why not on top of the cost, but if I had to pick between the two, I would pick the M295X.


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