Another dog in fancy dress.
Long time readers will know of my raft of iMac, MacBook and iBook failures which drove me to having a friend build for me not one, not two, but three Hackintoshes, machines which have proved themselves to be robust workhorses over a long time now. These use standard, inexpensive, PC parts but run OS X.
On Tuesday Apple announced its latest iMac with the usual attendant hype and my advice to all photographers, having studied the design and specs, is that you avoid it like the plague.
The fall 2012 iMac.
Why do I say this?
First, the slimness thing is a head fake. Apple has simply deleted the optical DVD drive – you can still use an external one – and gone to a 2.5″ hard disk drive from a 3.5″ one. Look at the rear panel and you will see it bulges out substantially in the center to accommodate the pieces. Only the edges have been slimmed down. But yes, there is an overall slimming nonetheless and this raises crucial questions about heat management, the iMac’s bugbear. Changing to a 2.5″ drive will reduce heat output but the design does not use the rear alloy plate as a heat sink for the CPU or, more importantly, the GPU. It’s the GPUs which literally melted in my many failed Macs. Mac laptops do use the base as a heatsink which is why they tend to get so warm on your lap, whereas the iMac uses one fan (one fan – think about that) to cool the whole interior. For comparison my Hackintoshes have seven fans each – box intake, box exhaust, power supply (two fans), disk drive fan, CPU and GPU. And we are talking fans, not toys. 5 inch diameter quiet fans.
Second, ergonomics. The iMac sticks with the hopeless stand which has no height adjustment, so if you do buy one, add the cost of a couple of reams of paper on which to support the machine, because it will almost certainly sit too low on your desk. There goes your 21st century-looking work desk.
Third, pricing remains way too high. While Apple has yet to disclose pricing on the 27″ Intel Core i7 model (the i5 is $1799 with 8GB of RAM which is user upgradable – RAM in the 21.5″ model is not user upgradable) I would guess that the i7 with 16GB will run $2,400 and you are still stuck with that ghastly, glossy screen. Apple claims that reflections have been cut “…70%…” whatever that means and you can count me skeptical on that.
Fourth, be prepared to upgrade to a proper keyboard. The stock Apple chiclet keys one is a perfect example of form over function.
Fifth, base spec 21.5″ buyers beware. The HDD has been downgraded from 7200 to 5400. What a gip!
And last, but not least, unless you really want carpal tunnel, add another $50-100 for a good mouse because the Magic Mouse which comes with the machine is magic for the medical profession only.
I simply cannot recommend the iMac for photographers. The stress to which you will subject the innards when doing thermally challenging tasks like advanced Photoshop processing (Content Aware Fill, selective blur, etc.) will crank up the heat in your new toy, with repeated cycling threatening its very survival. And if you propose to rip movies, you would be insane to use this machine. It’s simply not capable of handling the repeated load. Even my superbly cooled Hackintoshes will crank up the CPU to 158F (service limit is 190F) when using Handbrake to rip/compress a DVD. With an iMac with its cooling compromised by Apple’s obsession with slimness, you will hit the service limit every time. That’s like running your car flat out daily. As for the whole slimness thing, it strikes me as odd that the world’s most obese nation would seek slimness in its hardware rather than in itself.
What I have written in the past, for photographers with heavy duty processing requirements who have no time to worry about machine failure and who want to be able to replace any failed part at a moment’s notice, rather than losing their machine to Apple for days, there has never been a better time to build a Hackintosh. The newest tools for making OS X run on a home built PC are better than ever and the cost of the whole thing, with a couple of decent matte IPS displays will be very competitive with what Apple is asking for its latest piece of sub-functional jewelry. It bears adding that part failures in my three Hacks are exactly zero to date and these machines all run 7/24.
A note on Apple’s ‘new’ Fusion hard drive: Rarely have I heard such BS as Apple is spewing about its revolutionary Fusion hard drive. This is simply a hybrid HDD like Seagate has been selling for years. 128GB of RAM is added to the HDD’s circuitry to cache frequent events – opening a browser, checking email, etc. – the hope being that this will speed the machine’s performance. Rarer events – opening or saving a photo file – are dealt with in the traditional way (direct save to spinning disk) with the addition of a cached RAM version of the saved file. Of course, when you are saving 60mp files from your D800 that cached version will quickly be removed by the next file, as you only have a limited RAM cache. Operational speed gains for photographers? Zilch. The only difference between Apple’s Fusion drive and Seagate’s hybrid one is that Apple places the RAM on the mother board rather than inside the drive. The RAM module is the same one used for memory in the Mac Book Air. This is about as far from innovation as it gets. Your best bet for storage is an internal solid state drive (and Apple will hose you down for that) to store the OS and applications, with an external USB3 drive (Thunderbolt is ridiculously overpriced, still) for data storage, with a backup, of course. Don’t even think of upgrading the internal drive – these machines are not built to be dismantled.
Disclosure: Long AAPL bull option spreads 2013 and 2014.