Subjectively - how slow is iMac 21.5" 5400rpm disk?

Discussion in 'iMac' started by erikbailey, Dec 7, 2012.

  1. erikbailey macrumors newbie

    Jul 23, 2012
    Hi - I'm looking to replace an old Windows XP machine as a media and file server (also serving iTunes for our AppleTV 1), and also be a small family computer. The new iMac 21.5 suits my needs perfectly (also considering a Mac mini, but like the integration of the iMac). I will also be supplementing this with a rMBP 13 in the coming months to do Lightroom work, so the target for this machine really is just as a server and light family use.

    I have used SSDs exclusively for years, so going back to a pokey spinning disk doesn't thrill me. But $450 is a significant premium to pay for an SSD ($200 jump from base 21.5 to higher model, and another $250 for the Fusion disk). I have a 2x1TB Thunderbolt disk I'll be using as a RAID 1 storage array regardless of what internal drive I use.

    Does anyone here have the base model new iMac with the 5400 disk? How is standard usage? (boot time isn't really an issue, since as a server it will be on 24x7) For example, web browsing, word processing, etc. Nothing fancy. [hopefully the display can turn off without the computer going to sleep...]

    I know that I can also add a TB SSD as a replacement disk, but would like to avoid that if possible.

    Thanks! --Erik
  2. GoCubsGo macrumors Nehalem


    Feb 19, 2005
    Do you mean "objectively?"

    Honestly, by now I would have hoped 5400 rpm drives would have seen their way out for good. With 7200 rpm being more of a standard in everything. Not so much I guess but I certainly wouldn't want a 5400 rpm drive especially if you're going to be using it as a media server.

    And how slow is a 5400 rpm drive? It runs at about 5400 rpms.
  3. tann macrumors 68000

    Apr 15, 2010
    Nottingham, England
    I have seen videos on youtube (I think TLDToday did one) showing the iMacs 21.5" disc speed (according to blackmagic disk speed test app) and I believe it came to over 100MB/s.

    This actually seemed really good to me because my 2010 mbp which came with a 7200rpm driver only managed about 80MB/s. Though it is Sata 2 vs 3 which might make the difference visible.
  4. erikbailey thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 23, 2012
    :) No, "subjectively". Benchmarks are easy to come by. Harder is "Safari opens quickly enough for me" vs. "I have to wait forever for web pages to open". That sort of thing is very subjective, and I wouldn't expect two people to react the same way to the same performance. I'd wager that most folks here are rather impatient with slow computers :p so if it's really too slow for use, I'm sure folks will speak up...
  5. photoz macrumors member

    Jun 17, 2006
  6. sno1man macrumors regular

    Oct 24, 2011
    Regardless of what some here say (like the post above), for what you are describing as the usage model, I think you'd be hard pressed to notice any difference.

    Additionally just the overall speed is likely to be a jump over the XP machine you had just due to the overall faster architecture of new hardware.

    To be more specific, I also have a retina macbook pro.

    For web browsing, Office 2011, Itunes and even most iPhoto stuff I'm hard pressed to notice any difference at all.

    Three places where the mbpr is noticeably faster
    1. Bootup and shut down
    2. Heavy image work in Aperture with 36MP images from a Nikon D800
    3. Playing Diablo III (and that probably has more to do with the greater VRAM than anything)
  7. erikbailey thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 23, 2012
    And there you have it... :) Thanks - maybe I need to spend that $450... *sigh*
  8. teerexx52 macrumors 68000


    May 1, 2005
    Florida West Coast
    I have a retina MBP 15" so I am use to SSD. I have the base iMac and for what I do it is fine. I really am happy with it. I think it has much to do with what you are going to use it for. I tend to do some light photo work and rip and burn some dvd's surf and email. Works fine for that. Boot time is about 45 seconds for me.
  9. WilliamG macrumors G3

    Mar 29, 2008
    Having been SSD only in my house for about 4 years now, using any spinning disk is painful, and that includes the Momentus XT 500GB/750GB disks, which are pretty speedy 7200rpm drives. No system of mine will ever have a spinning disk ever again as an OS drive.
  10. lali macrumors regular

    Oct 14, 2007
    funny timing that you ask this at the same time that I just returned from the Apple store. I played a bit with the new iMac 21 with the 5400 rpm drive and it feels slow to me. I have an older iMac which I am aching to upgrade (to the new 27") and it is going to have to be a fusion drive for me or an external tbolt ssd for the boot drive

    i suggest you go try one at an apple store or best buy. it was fast enough in a few tasks but opening up the applications folder felt like my old iMac - not fast

    i really suggest you go try one before making your decision
  11. erikbailey thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 23, 2012
    sno1man, teerexx52 - thanks - your feedback is really helpful (esp. since you are comparing to rMBPs). That means that I am probably going to be fine.

    lali - thanks as well. I certainly acknowledge that it will be much slower than the upper model with the Fusion drive (which also has a faster processor).

    This is really helpful, since the former list is things that I would do on this, and the latter list is things that I would not. It also means that I can put the $450 toward the rMBP that is my "want to have" (this server is the "have to have" since I can't keep fixing iTunes on the headless XP box via VNC so the Apple TVs work...). 90% of the time no one will be on the console of this, so as long as it is basically functional (and it sounds like it is), I'm going to be good.

    Appreciate all the help - love these forums! --Erik
  12. toddzrx macrumors 6502a


    Nov 20, 2012
    If so, then why are you buying an iMac? Not criticizing; just don't understand the point of paying for an iMac when it sounds like a Mini might do.
  13. erikbailey thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 23, 2012
    Absolutely valid question. A couple of reasons:

    The most important is that I want to change from headless (stored in the basement) to full computer. The current media server is a huge old-style tower (Pentium III 865MHz if you can believe that! :)) with a Buffalo Terastation 4x250GB RAID array. Large, loud, and slow. It has the master iTunes account, so maintaining playlists et al for our two Apple TVs and the kids' iPods has to be done via VNC (since iTunes doesn't truly "share" playlists - once the first iTunes has it locked; all others that access it are read-only). It's a hassle to do things like rip CDs into the master library, and no one else in the family can figure out how to maintain iTunes...

    This can, of course, be accomplished perfectly well with a mini (plus monitor). And I had been planning to go that way for a year or so (I actually have a headless mini in my server room at work, using iRAPP TS to enable four people to concurrently RDP into it, so I'm comfortable with the mini). But that means getting a monitor (I don't have any spare ones), which leads to...

    ...the undeniable "cool" factor of the iMac form. It's really nice looking, and it will look great on my Ikea desk.

    So - there's the answer... :) --Erik
  14. Fishrrman macrumors G5


    Feb 20, 2009
    If you buy the iMac, and find yourself dissatisfied with the relative speed of the internal 5400rpm drive, then I suggest you buy a modest-sized (128 or 256gb) SSD "bare drive" and an external USB3 enclosure, and use that as your "external booter".

    It will be significantly faster than the internal, and it's always better to have a second bootable drive close-at-hand.
  15. zhenya macrumors 603


    Jan 6, 2005
    More important than the 7200rpm to 5400rpm drop is the switch from 3.5" platters to 2.5" ones. It's a slow laptop drive in there. If you are used to SSD's, this drive is going to be painfully slow.
  16. erikbailey thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 23, 2012
    Thanks - as with all of the replies, that's very helpful. Maybe I should do a mini after all (which I can easily upgrade to an SSD)... Decisions, decisions! :)
  17. IGregory macrumors 6502a


    Aug 5, 2012
    Here's a Youtube Fusion Drive with 5400 HD vs. a 5400 HD video. Very reflective of the slow speed 5400.
  18. barefeats macrumors 65816


    Jul 6, 2000
    I've been jumping between an iMac with 5400 rpm HDD, Mac mini with Fusion Drive, and MacBook Pro with SSD. The iMac is noticeably slower to respond when a disk based task is executed.

    And the benchmarks tell the tale on both small random and large sequential transfers compared to the the other two drives:
  19. Andy2011 macrumors newbie

    Feb 28, 2011
    Any idea how fast that ssd approach would be compared to a thunderbolt drive?
  20. Bunker macrumors member

    Oct 28, 2007
    I am in a pretty unique situation now to give my input.

    You see, I have 1 HDD (5,400rpm) + 1 SSD in my mid 2009 MBP 13" with 8GB RAM. Each drive installed with own Mac OS for different purpose: Work and Personal.

    The SATA cable broke and I had to take my HDD out leaving the SSD in there in the superdrive slot. The HDD is now sitting in an external case.

    I boot up the HDD via USB2. Runs Aperture doing usual import / export and little touch up work.

    The SSD of course is much faster to boot up.

    The HDD over USB2.0, takes a little time to boot up, but not that slow too... I get going in under 5 mins with everything booted / loaded up. Once booted up, program launching is a tad slower than when it's sitting inside connected via SATA cable.

    I don't even get irritated because the speed over USB2.0 is actually acceptable.

    Thus, back to modern machines with plenty of RAM, the 5400RPM spinning disk in the iMac won't be a pain at all in my context when compared to USB2 drives. :)
  21. blanka macrumors 68000

    Jul 30, 2012
    It is horrible. An old Core2Duo with 7200rpm 3,5 inch drive will boot twice as fast.
  22. Yebubbleman macrumors 68030


    May 20, 2010
    Los Angeles, CA
    Really, Fusion is not THAT big of a dent, and you'll largely offset most of what sucks about going from SSD to a spinning disk drive, let alone one that spins at only 5400RPM. Though if it is just a family computer/server and won't be seeing heavy use; and if you are going to get a 13" retina that you'll be using for yourself, it probably doesn't matter a whole lot. But if that sort of thing is likely to bother you, I'd say get a Fusion drive and then you'll largely have nothing to worry about; just be sure to get a time machine drive for it.
  23. erikbailey thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 23, 2012
    That's a pretty sobering video... :) Repeating what I wrote a few posts ago - thanks everyone for the great input (the barefeats benchmark data was also great - I hadn't seen those). I really do wish an SSD (regular or Fusion) were available on the base model - pity it's not.

    I'm starting to re-evaluate my iMac preference... For about the same cost as the base iMac, I can get the mid-model Mini (including keyboard and mouse), plus add-on 8GB + 128GB SSD from Crucial, and a monitor (looking at the Dell U2412M which has the benefit of having more vertical resolution than the iMac display). That would give me basically the same power (minus the graphics processor, which I don't need) with the SSD. The only thing I'd lose (I think) is the nifty iMac form factor. I think I'd get over that :) and probably be happier in the long run going this way. (the extra internal storage of the Fusion drive doesn't matter to me - all data will go on the external RAID TB disk regardless of which machine I get).

    Plus, I could use it for LR processing far better than the base iMac while I wait for my future rMBP purchase. :cool:

    I'm definitely tending away from the 5400rpm disk. This has been really helpful! --Erik
  24. rnb2 macrumors regular

    Jan 23, 2006
    West Haven, CT, USA
    Erik - one quick note: I agree that the mini is probably a better fit for what you want to do, but be aware that you'll need to buy 16GB of RAM (rather than 8GB), since there are only two slots in the mini.
  25. erikbailey thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 23, 2012
    Hmm - looks like I can do 8GB (4x2GB), at least according to Crucial... 2.5GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5 - Late 2012 (sorry that this is now going off-topic for iMac)

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