Which 2019 iMac 27" for Photoshop?

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by pavinder, Apr 26, 2019.

  1. pavinder macrumors regular

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    Jan 16, 2009
    #1
    Looking at the 2019 lineup of 27-inch iMacs, wondering which will best serve my needs.

    My main use is for Photoshop, sometimes working with large files of 100 layers or so, up to 2-3 GB. I do absolutely no gaming nor video processing.

    I use external drives for my main storage and only use the internal drive for the OS/Applications and current work.

    I’m looking at buying the base model 3.0GHz i5/8GB iMac and then bumping the RAM up. As I’m only working with stills, it seems that should be plenty good enough spec for what I need.

    I see many suggestions on various threads (mainly people processing video or gaming) that upgrading to an internal SSD rather than Fusion drive will help speed things up.

    Given that I don't do video or gaming, and that the fusion drive already has an SSD component, would this be enough? Would an internal SSD actually make a noticeable difference for my usage? I already have an external 500GB SSD, so would using this achieve basically the same benefit (if any) as an internal?

    Any suggestions would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance.
     
  2. jaduff46 macrumors 6502

    jaduff46

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    #2
    I have the 2010 iMac and if I were upgrading to a desktop (probably will go MBP but same applies there), I would go all SSD rather than Fusion and bump the memory to 16 or 32 GB. I’d also do 512 SSD. I do love the screen.

    I5 chipset should be fine since you’re not doing any video editing or gaming.

    Use the external SSD for photo storage/backups.

    Best of luck!
     
  3. iluvmacs99 macrumors member

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    Apr 9, 2019
    #3
    If you are working with masking and layers, you will need a really strong GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) more so than more cores. 6 cores are more than enough for stills. More than 6 cores will benefit if you're editing and exporting 4K HQ video. You will also needs lots of memory; min 32Gb of RAM (not 16Gb RAM) or 64GB RAM (ideal) would be best as layers (if you're working with Nikon D800/Sony A7RIII/Canon 5DSR files) work best when everything is in internal RAM rather than disk swapping even if you have the fastest TB3 SSD or internal SSD. Radeon Vega or Pro X with minimum 4Gb. The more the better -- minimum 8Gb RAM if you plan to work with AI software like Topaz DeNoise AI, Topaz Sharpen AI or Gigapixel AI as plug-ins or be prepared to wait a very very LONG TIME with multiple layers like what you are after.

    Hope this helps..
     
  4. dwig macrumors 6502a

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    #4
    The iMac on my desk at work is used primarily for that type of work. Many of the files that I work on are very large, frequently beyond the limits of the PSD format forcing me to use the PSB (Large Document Format) instead. The iMac is a "fully outfitted" mid-2015 iMac (1tb SSD, 4Ghz i7, 32Gb RAM, M295Z GPU). The SSD is used for apps, email, and temp file storage. All primary file storage is on external USB3.0 drives (~12Tb total, at present). It does the job well, but occasionally I bump up against its performance limits, encountering UI lag and slow rendering of Filters on Smart Objects.

    For your use, I wouldn't recommend anything less than a 3.5Ghz or faster 4 core or larger i7. Also, I would recommend 32Gb minimum and at least a 500Gb SSD.
     
  5. gilby101 macrumors regular

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    #5
    If you really want a Fusion drive make sure you get the 2TB. The 1TB has a tiny SSD. But we would all recommend getting an SSD - 512GB or more.
     
  6. pavinder thread starter macrumors regular

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    Jan 16, 2009
    #6
    Thanks for your comments so far.

    I’ll be buying an extra 2 x 16 GB of RAM, which will give me 40 GB total.

    Regarding the SSD, please excuse my ignorance if this is a dumb question. Is the speed benefit of the SSD purely due to having the OS and applications installed there? If that’s the case, would having the OS and applications installed on my external SSD and booting from that give me the same benefit?

    As a secondary (maybe dumb) question, as far as I understand the regularly used files are copied to RAM, so if I have 40 GB of RAM this would be more than enough to hold the OS files, Photoshop application files and image data - so would a large internal SSD (rather than the smaller amount on a Fusion drive) actually make much difference?

    Thanks again for your help.
     
  7. dwig macrumors 6502a

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    #7
    No, because the data path between the external SSD (USB or TB) and the CPU will be slower than the data for an internal SSD.

    Those files are held in RAM only while in use and they are copies of the files on the storage device. The RAM copies are thrown away when you close a data file, quit an app and/or shutdown the computer. The originals stay on the storage device at all times.
     
  8. pavinder thread starter macrumors regular

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    Jan 16, 2009
    #8
    I understand. Thanks for the explanation.

    So does that mean once everything is loaded, the work will be fast, but opening/closing/saving apps and data will be the slow part?
     
  9. phrehdd macrumors 68040

    phrehdd

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    #9
    I would not be concerned so much about the graphic card as I would be about cpu, RAM and file/work space access speed.

    I think that for your work, a quad or hex core cpu (4 core or 6 core) would be fine. RAM should be at least 32 gigs and ideally 64 to 128 gigs. As for hard drive - I would personally skip over fusion drives. You may want to start with 512 ssd internal and via usb 3.1 or thunderbolt add ssd external drives. The number of history states you speak of and file size really does suggest SSD and lots of RAM are what is going to make your work a bit smoother and more responsive.
     
  10. iluvmacs99, Apr 27, 2019
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2019

    iluvmacs99 macrumors member

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    #10
    The speed benefit of the SSD is not only purely do to having the OS and applications in there, but the main reason is that the OS uses the main boot disk as its swap disk. Ideally to have good performance, you should allocate about 50Gb of free space. The best performance I found is 100Gb of free space even if you have lots of RAM. And the reason is that you are not only loading the image files into memory; it only includes copies of the images you use with the filter (smart filters) in Photoshop in non-destructive editing and the app and OS may determine that even 40Gb of RAM is still not enough. I used to work in the digital imaging industry for close to 30 years before I left for a different career, but before I left I work with the best top photographers likened like Joe Mcnally (I was with Nikon) and they all use maxed out computers with tons of ram. Which was why I said 64Gb ram is the best so you don't and never will encounter any slowdown in your workflow. Also, you need to remember that if you plan to use this new machine for a few years, apps and needs and features are coming out using AI (Artificial Intelligence for image editing) and that would require even MORE ram than you are planning right now. Which is also why those newer Mac Pros can go up to 128Gb ram and people who need them do max them out. But in your case, I think you can start with 32Gb and that would be fine.

    In regards to disk space, I would highly recommend that you divide your storage in 4 separate categories. First category is your boot drive; this will contain your main OS, the apps you plan to run and a large enough free swap space for 50Gb to 100Gb storage. I would not recommend a fusion drive, because of its smaller SSD size (I think up to 128Gb of SSD in 1Tb of storage?!?). Anyhow, the fusion is only fast when everything is accessed through its built-in SSD, but slows down when some things are on the HD platter, thus negating your performance advantage of your faster computer. A fusion drive is meant to be a hybrid option for those non-power users who would benefit from faster boot times, but still enjoy the large storage single space. These people don't usually run multiple storage options anyhow.
    The second category of your storage option is a "scratch disk". This disk is dedicated for apps like Photoshop or other imaging apps that can use another drive other than the boot drive to prevent certain tasks from being bogged down. This scratch disk ideally should be a very fast SSD drive with fast write speeds and with RAM cache (slower SSD does not have RAM cache and they are a lot cheaper). Or if you have lots of ram (like 64Gb RAM of memory) and you only need 40Gb, you can allocate the remaining 24Gb as a super fast RAM disk for scratch and filters purpose. RAM disk is much faster than any external storage options because you are accessing RAM internally, plus you don't need to do any trimming with RAM disk, because once you turn off your computer, the content in the RAM disk will be gone. Speeds up your disk management workflow as well.

    You want to separate the scratch disk from your boot drive as you don't want both Photoshop and the OS to be swapping files on the same drive thus bogging down your performance. The third storage category is the media storage drive. This drive exclusively stores your media (your multiple sources of original RAWs) and can be a small SSD drive, but big enough to accommodate all your RAWs for your workflow at the moment. You want to focus on buying the SSD drive with a faster read specs and large RAM cache on either a TB3 external case or a USB 3 external HD dock to help with read speed. I personally use the USB external dock so I can swap the media drives (for photo or video editing). Then lastly, the fourth category is the media storage drive. This can be the slowest drive in your workflow; like a RAID HD array or a single large HD. This is where you store your finished work/workflow. In my case, I have 2 RAID 4 HD storage array both backing up each other so I have triple redundancy protection (Raid 5 + 2 RAID boxes so if the RAID box fails, the other RAID box should still be ok).
    Never focus all your work on just 1 or 2 drives, because if 1 drive crashes (happened to me a number of times over a span of my career in digital imaging), you're screwed if you have all your work in just one basket especially if you're dealing with super large PSD files.
     
  11. pavinder thread starter macrumors regular

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    Jan 16, 2009
    #11
    Absolutely fantastic and in-depth response, Iluvmacs. Thank you. And thanks to everyone else for your input too - all really helpful points.

    I'm seeing the distinct benefit of having both an internal SSD along with plenty of RAM, so I think I'll be going for both.
    As I always look to using a machine for 5 years or more, it makes sense to spend a bit more up-front even if I don't "need" all its capability yet. So I've decided to go for the 3.7GHz model. Once I've upgraded to the 512 GB SSD it will end up costing the equivalent of $300 more than the base model, but that works out at only $1.15/week over its planned lifetime - well worth the extra power and resale potential.

    I already manage storage using 2 of the 4 categories you suggest, Iluvmacs. But thanks for the suggestion of using an exclusive "scratch disk" for Photoshop - I'd never considered that but it really makes a lot of sense with the large files I'm using filled with smart objects. I often run batch processes on large numbers of files too, so it could help speed that up too. For this, I'll hook up the external SSD I already have.

    Your help is much appreciated, everyone. I love these forums!
     
  12. Not-Sure Suspended

    Not-Sure

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    Mar 6, 2019
    #12
    Yeap, get SSD no matter what, everything runs way faster, too much. That is why many people still using old Mac Pros, because the old mechanical drives were the bottleneck in the system, with SSD now people can use the full potential of 10+ year old systems. Even if you use Photoshop, the entire system will run faster, reboot times takes a few seconds... A FEW! File management, searches, cache.

    Get the ram somewhere else, it will be cheaper. 32 MB of ram I think it will do because Photoshop does not use all the ram, actually, it uses the hard drive most of the time. And you are going to need video ram but that comes fixed.

    There are many reviews on Youtube about the best computer for Photoshop. Take a look at those. Because current iMac models are not the best ones, they can do the job but older macs can perform better and way cheaper, like less than half the price.
     
  13. pavinder thread starter macrumors regular

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    Jan 16, 2009
    #13
    Yes, RAM to be bought elsewhere - makes no sense to pay so much more to get it pre-installed.

    Can you provide a link about this? The benchmarks of the current lineup seem to be better than the previous models.
     
  14. shaunp macrumors 68000

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    Nov 5, 2010
    #14
    I follow a similar approach to what iluvmacs99 has said, but on a PC. the principals are still the same though regardless of OS.

    SSD for boot drive and apps

    SSD for scratch disk (I use several SSDs in Windows storage space, but you could use an external RAID enclosure connected via Thunderbolt 3). You want both speed and some form of redundancy on the disks here as these are your live projects.

    Separate SSD for your catalogue if using Lightroom - ignore if not

    NAS connected over 1GB ethernet (minimum, preferably 10GB) as the final resting place for your images. These typically have RAID for some disk protection, and normally have a way of syncing data to a cloud account or another NAS for offsite backup. You might not need the 10Gig Ethernet, but you will be grateful you have it when you are working on lots of projects and have to move stuff off of your scratch disk. It's also quick enough if you need to edit anything from the NAS directly. I found importing images to a NAS from SD cards was very slow (latency issue that I think I've resolved now), but importing to the SSD scratch disk was fine so I've kept that.

    SSDs have come down enough in price now that they can be realistically used in your workflow. I'd still choose big HDD's in a RAID configuration for longer-term storage though.

    As for CPU, you can't upgrade it later so get the most you can afford. The new 8-core i9 doesn't thermal throttle like everyone expected it would so it looks a good bet. Upgrade the RAM yourself. It's easy to do and you can grow this bit as you need to.

    I'd also max out the GPU, not because of gaming performance but because we are about to enter a new megapixel war with cameras and the chances are your next camera will have more of them and as a result your images sizes will increase. For example I moved from a Canon 5D3 with images sizes of around 20-30MB to a Sony A7R3 and the images sizes are now over 80MB each. And if you ever decide to exploit any of the video capabilities (you never know what your next client will ask you for) this will also require more GPU and GPU to process.

    So in a nutshell, get the fastest computer you can afford if it cannot be upgraded, and separate out your storage. My day job is as a storage professional and whenever building any servers which require a lot of throughput we spread the load out across several devices for performance, growth and to allow for some form of redundancy. I see the same recommendations again and again from multiple manufacturers on totally different applications on different operating systems and every time we do this it works. Whenever someone cuts corners and tries to lump things together to same a penny it always causes performance issues later. It might cost you more at first, but you will build something you can live with for years.
     
  15. phrehdd macrumors 68040

    phrehdd

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    #15
    Unless something has changed (always possible), Photoshop really didn't do much to exploit either Open GL or later CL. Only a couple of filters seem to benefit and the rest...well lets just say the CPU along with RAM again should be the focus and the SSD will be a standard "must have" for work.
     
  16. shaunp macrumors 68000

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    #16
    Considering the GPU cannot be upgraded and there is no way of knowing what future customers could require you to produce (video, etc) I'd max out the GPU. So 'lets just say' its essential on a non-upgradable computer hand have done with it. :)
     
  17. phrehdd macrumors 68040

    phrehdd

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    #17
    I follow your logic though admittedly, I would do different. If/when Adobe adds real profound changes that make the GPU a real measure of productivity (adds true value to the process and speed), most likely the options today for the iMacs will be considered 'yesterday's news' and one could examine the option of eGPU as some Mac Mini fanciers do. I'll just say there is no right or wrong here just different means to an end.
     
  18. shaunp, May 2, 2019
    Last edited: May 2, 2019

    shaunp macrumors 68000

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    #18
    Or get a PC and you don't need to mess around with eGPU's or worry about cooling, etc.... ;)

    Adobe don't put much emphasis on the GPU, but it's not irrelevant either. My view of any of Apple's products is if you don't know what you will be doing in a year or so, then max out the bits you can't change/upgrade. Especially if you are using the machine to earn money and there is a good possibility the requirements from your customers could change - it would be a shame to be offered a job but then miss a deadline because you skimped on the hardware.
     
  19. TheGenerous macrumors 6502a

    TheGenerous

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    #19
    For only running photoshop I'd get a custom made Windows PC and a good 4K display. That's because you asked for a desktop Mac like the iMac. For instance, my brother is stuck with his iMac's display for eternity while I have an older Mini (2012) but with a 4K display and more RAM.
     
  20. phrehdd macrumors 68040

    phrehdd

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    #20
    I said that if one wanted a GPU later if changes of a nature suggested an upgrade, it can be done externally. Nothing wrong with a Mac Mini being used. I think that a small footprint PC is a better deal and certainly plenty of them around but then (unless you want a distro of Linux or a hackintosh) you are stuck with Windows. I've built a fair amount of PC years ago from small to large and tall. The Mini and its PC counterparts are quite elegant solutions for those that want a truly minimalist approach yet enough power. My only concern about the latest Minis is how they handle heat when put to serious task.
     
  21. shaunp macrumors 68000

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    #21
    I think you hit the nail on the head there with how they handle serious tasks. If at that point you need to use an eGPU that is anything but elegant. There are plenty of small form factor PCs that would do a much better job as a photo editing platform with Adobe products, or CaptureOne for that matter and they are around the size of one of these eGPU cases, but will perform better as you get full PCI-e bandwidth, not just TB3. Been stuck with Windows isn't the pain that it used to be, but you are right you are 'stuck' with that as the only realistic choice on PC for photo editing as none of the mainstream apps are available on any flavour of Linux. Which is a real shame.
     
  22. phrehdd macrumors 68040

    phrehdd

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    #22
    Pretty much in agreement save for the fact if one wants a Mac, choices are very limited. The Mini remains a good (if heat is managed) player for Adobe's Photoshop with no need for eGPU. However, as you mentioned CaptureOne, it can indeed exploit GPU and by chance AMD/ATI offerings which are Open CL.
     
  23. shaunp macrumors 68000

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    #23
    Indeed. Let's see what the Mac Pro brings, if anything.
     

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