Swapping MacBook air for iMac

Discussion in 'iMac' started by Visionblue, Sep 23, 2017.

  1. Visionblue, Sep 23, 2017
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2017

    Visionblue macrumors member

    Jun 16, 2013
    Hey all! I’m currently rocking a MacBook Air 11” from 2013. It’s the entry level model with 4GB ram and a 128 GB SSD. I recently began taking courses on treehouse for web development and so far I’m loving it! I have an interest in graphic design and further exploring coding as well. Unfortunately my MacBook isn’t cutting it with screen size, power or resolution.

    I originally bought the 11” for its portability but since I bought an iPad the mba’s purpose has felt redundant and it’s rarely the first device I reach for. It’s lightening fast for web browsing but running more than a few applications significantly slows it down.

    I was thinking about switching my set up; grabbing a keyboard for the iPad and swapping the air for an iMac. If this set up works, I will eventually upgrade to a new 27” from 2017 and spec it out thouroughly. But since my budget doesn’t allow it at this current time (and won’t for another 6-8 months) I’m considering buying a used 21.5” from 2010-2013. My minimum specs would be 8GB ram and an SSD (hopefully 256+)I’d consider trying to upgrade the ram and HDD myself on models that allow it, but I hear that’s rather difficult.

    TLDR; I want to upgrade to an iMac but my budget only allows for a used model at this current time. I need a larger monitor than my current MacBook. I’m curious if an older model is worth it, specifically how far back I can go before the CPU and screen resolution make it not worth it. Any input is appreciated!
  2. EugW macrumors 603


    Jun 18, 2017
    It's up to you, but I personally find it impossible to use an iPad as a laptop replacement, even when that iPad is paired to a good wireless keyboard. It's better for watching videos and sometimes better for checking email, but it's about 10X worse for using MS Office. I have an iMac, a MacBook, AND an iPad.

    As for the iMac, if you're thinking about buying used, it isn't such a bad idea, because 2018 should bring 6-core i5 models. The main problem for you is that you're not going to find too many old iMacs with SSDs in them. Are you prepared to disassemble an iMac? I consider myself moderately handy and I personally didn't want to disassemble my 2010 27" iMac to add an SSD. Too many horror stores out there.

    In any case, you'll probably want something with at least USB 3 so that means 2012 or later.
  3. Visionblue thread starter macrumors member

    Jun 16, 2013
    I actually never thought I’d be satisfied using a tablet for as much as I do currently. I thought tablets in general were sort of silly until I bought the new iPad about 4 months ago. It’s certainly not as powerful as a full blown laptop but I do believe I could get by with an iMac and an iPad.

    It seems the fusion drives may be the best of both worlds? I found a 2012 with a 1TB fusion drive and 8GB of ram for about $600. Any experience with the fusions?
  4. EugW, Sep 23, 2017
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2017

    EugW macrumors 603


    Jun 18, 2017
    I don't like Fusion drives. Especially the 1 TB ones. Or at least the recent 1 TB ones with 24-32 GB SSD. (The recent 2 TB and 3 TB models have 128 GB SSD.) Some of the older 1 TB ones had 128 GB IIRC which is much better but I still don't trust them. They are inherently more risky for data integrity due to the complexity. And Apple does not support APFS on Fusion drives. Or at least, not yet. High Sierra at launch will only install using HFS+ on Fusion, so clearly they have problems with Fusion as well.

    If I had a 128 GB SSD-based 2 TB Fusion drive, I'd probably just separate it out and run it as a standalone SSD, and use the HD as a data drive. Better control of what goes where, and less risky in terms of data integrity. Plus if you wanted, you can run the High Sierra APFS boot on the SSD portion.

    As for the iPad-as-a-laptop-replacement thing, maybe that will work for you, but maybe it won't. I know in my case I tried to make it work, but there were just way too many drawbacks. I actually preferred lugging around my ancient and uber heavy MacBook Pro than use my iPad Air 2 with wireless keyboard. In the end I bought a MacBook which is 2 lbs and actually more portable than an iPad + keyboard combo, and a heluvalot more functional IMO. However, I have the luxury of being able to own an iMac, a MacBook, and an iPad. Mind you, if I had to drop one of the three, it would be the iPad. YMMV.
  5. kschendel macrumors 65816

    Dec 9, 2014
    Consider a 2012 or later iMac and an external USB3 SSD.

    The biggest problem IMO with the fusion drive is that it's extremely hard to predict when it will be fast and when it will be slow. Your usage might tend to hit fewer, smaller files more often, which is a good workload for a fusion, but you just never know until you try it. I'm not too concerned with data integrity, caching filesystems have been around since Solaris's cachefs in 1993 if not before, it's hardly new technology and Apple has had a few iterations of OSX to fix bugs. The lack of FD support on APFS is likely prudence rather than difficulty, they need to get APFS right before laying more stuff on top.
  6. Visionblue thread starter macrumors member

    Jun 16, 2013
    Thanks for the advice. Would an external SSD be able to run the OS etc or would it be better to use it as file storage and keep the OS on the fusion? I’m very tempted to plan on performing surgery...it seems difficult but I have experience and I’ve seen videos where people have done it pretty quickly
  7. suzyj macrumors newbie


    Dec 30, 2014
    I'm in pretty-much exactly the same position. I bought a top-of-the-woz 11" air in 2011 (i7 CPU, 4GB RAM, 250GB SSD) along with a thunderbolt monitor. I saw it as a killer combo - great screen when hooked up to the monitor, yet still plenty portable.

    Since then I've bought an iPad pro as well, which gets used on the sofa, so the air never really got used except plugged into the thunderbolt display. And it's getting pretty slow and creaky.

    So rather than spend a pile of dough on a MacBook or MacBook pro, I just bought a 5K retina iMac, as that's most of the use case sorted. I can either use my work computer (15" MacBook pro) or old 11" air if I need a real computer that's portable.
  8. Fishrrman macrumors P6


    Feb 20, 2009
    You can boot and run nearly any Mac from an external SSD with the OS on it.
    It will be quite speedy.
  9. Spudlicious macrumors 6502


    Nov 21, 2015
    Bedfordshire, England
    I would definitely say keep the MBA if you get an iMac
    Rather than swapping your (cute as hell) MBA for an iMac l think you'd be better off with both so you have a mother ship on your desk and a portable resource. That way you'll have full functionality if one of the Mac's is out of commission for any reason. To me, and I have certainly tried, the iPad just isn't a viable notebook substitute. In a keyboard case it's a horror, and productivity apps such as Office are so sawn-off in their iOS guises that I can hardly use them. Nothing wrong with treading the pre-owned route, but my advice would be to aim fairly low, perhaps at a 2012/13 model, so you don't put too much cash into a short-term solution.
  10. EugW macrumors 603


    Jun 18, 2017
    If you want to run an SSD with a Fusion system, then just split the Fusion drive into its native SSD and HD. Run the OS off the internal SSD, and keep the HD for data.

    However, this would require a minimum of 2 TB Fusion drive, because it would have a 128 GB SSD. The 1 TB Fusion drives have a piddly 32 GB Fusion drive.

    It seems rather pointless to run the OS off an external SSD if you already have a faster 128 GB SSD built right into your machine. If you want to get an external SSD, then use it for data.
  11. Visionblue thread starter macrumors member

    Jun 16, 2013
    I've considered what everyone has had to say and appreciate all the advice. Now I'm considering buying a desktop setup over time for the MBA and then eventually swapping the air for a pro. Seems to be the best of both worlds. The only problem I foresee is if updating to a modern MBp in the future the conflict of I/O ports.

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10 September 23, 2017