$2K absolute max for a new Mac

Started Jan 11, 2013 | Discussions
Pasmia Contributing Member • Posts: 536
$2K absolute max for a new Mac

My white iMac (1st gen Intel) is just not cutting it and the wife has OK'd a $1500 upgrade.  I have a camera fund (we all do right?) that currently sits at $500 and though I'm dying to get a new camera, I really don't want to end up with a mediocre computer.

My current iMac has 3GB Ram (don't ask), 2.16 Core 2 Duo processor, ATI Radeon X1600 128 MB, with 256GB HDD and a 1TB WD USB 2.0 external HDD.  I've had it for around 7 years. As of late, I find simple tasks in LR and PS to be painfully slow.  My files/catalogs are extremely unorganized because I just don't want to deal with the how long it takes.  I've been into photography for just over a year (but used PS for quite some time now for graphics/design) and any type of photo editing is just dreadfully slow.  I've been getting into video editing lately and want to do more, but my computer practically refuses to let me edit videos so I've stuck to stills for the time being.

Now, with that being said.  I do play some games on occasion (RPG, FPS, and RTS) but it's not my priority to have an optimum system for gaming, just one that's do-able.  My current computer can't keep up with fast FPS games or if there's too much action in a certain scene.  My main priority is to be able to use Adobe products.  Though I do not know too much about video editing at the moment, I am planning on getting into it and I would assume I'm going to continue using Adobe as well.  LR4 is my number one used app with photoshop and a bunch of plug-ins (Nik, Photomatix, Topaz, etc).

I am somewhat technically savvy, but one thing I do not understand is Video cards.  I understand that bad ones make hardcore games crash and good ones make them run smooth.  That's about it.  I really don't want to get into the 27" iMac due to price, but the 21.5" doesn't offer an upgrade option to the NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M 512MB GDDR5.  I can max out the RAM at 16GB, get a 1TB Fusion drive and the i7 processor but I'm stuck with that video card.  Is this going to be enough for the things I want to do? I know a better video card would help out with games (which I barely care about), but does it make a difference in any type of photo or video editing or graphic designs (ie: Illustrator)?

My other option is to get the 27" iMac with...

  • 3.4GHz Quad-core Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz
  • 8GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM - 2x4GB
  • 1TB Serial ATA Drive @ 7200 rpm
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 675MX 1GB GDDR5

I hear that the Fusion drive is awesome and I'd be missing out on that by going with this option but at least it's a 7200rpm HDD.  I can always upgrade the RAM later.

I've been sticking to the i7 options simply because I've read that the processor means more than anything else as far as speed goes in Photoshop.  Am I putting too much emphasis on this?

Any help would be much appreciated... again, I have $2k MAX.  Oh, and I also get a student/faculty discount via my amazing wife.

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Bill Wallace Veteran Member • Posts: 6,978
Re: $2K absolute max for a new Mac

To me I'd go with the 27"option , ram is user upgradeable but I believe you are stuck with whatever video card you choose. I think since you seem to be able to take or leave the games go with the standard card. I believe the 21 will get old quicker than the 27" since you are maxing out the processor and can upgrade ram with the 27.  The hd question I can't help you with, to me tho bigger is always better.

Bill

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OP Pasmia Contributing Member • Posts: 536
Re: $2K absolute max for a new Mac

As far as "bigger is always better", are you referring to the HDD?  Both options have 1TB.  The 21.5" has 5400RPM but with Fusion (which, supposedly rocks) whereas the 27" has 7200RPM but no Fusion.  I can't push my budget anymore than it is.  I can downgrade the processor back to an i5, and upgrade the HDD to Fusion ($2100), but I really think i7 is the better choice, if not mandatory.

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KCCjr New Member • Posts: 11
Re: $2K absolute max for a new Mac

I have a Late 2009 27" iMac with 2.8Ghz Core i7 and 16GB of RAM with the stock HD. The graphics are ATI Radeon HD 4850 512 MB. For years I ran with 8GB with not an issue, but recently added a virtual machine which sucks up some RAM. I use Aperture and Final Cut Pro and still quick happy with the processing speed. I'm not a media pro, but I enjoy my photography especially.

The current crop of 21.5" iMacs do not have upgradable RAM. The 27" does have user configurable RAM. Buy what you can afford (maybe skimp on RAM until you can buy more a little later on the side...). The processor speed is not worth the price IMO, spend your money on something else - like the bigger screen. I can't be happier with having this large a display. The i7 was worth $200 more for me because it went from dual-core i5 to quad-core i7. Now, they are both quad core. Considering you've had your current Mac for 7 years, I wouldn't think the modest speed increase worth the money over something more substantial - like screen size.

The flash drives are awesome. I replaced my wife's dean laptop drive with one. Amazing how fast it boots and starts apps and saves her battery life.

My priority rank of features would be: 1) 27" screen 2) RAM 3) FLASH drive

But the only user-configurable option is the RAM. For me, the stock video is fine. I'm not a gamer at all. I don't have enough time for my photography and video-editing. 

If you buy a refurbed one (an excellent option), check the following table: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT3011  But, look at refurbs frequently and often, they don't last long. My mom bought a reburbed 13" MacBook Air for the price of a new 11" one. The reburb was indistiquishable from new.

Good luck!

Tom_N Forum Pro • Posts: 12,796
Re: $2K absolute max for a new Mac

Pasmia wrote:

As far as "bigger is always better", are you referring to the HDD? Both options have 1TB.

The 27" Mac can be custom-ordered with a 3 TB HDD.  The 21.5" one can't.  No stock iMacs come with the Fusion Drive; that's a custom-order option whether you're talking about the 27" or 21.5".

The 27" Mac can take 32 GB of RAM and the RAM is still user-upgradable.  The 21.5" iMac now has sealed-in, non-user-upgradable RAM, and it will cost you $200 to custom-upgrade to 16 GB.  (On a 27" iMac, you'd just order an 8 GB module for $40 or $50 and put it into one of the two free slots.)

Another option you might consider is buying a refurbished iMac through the Apple Store.  If you buy a previous-generation 21.5" iMac this way, you would gain user-upgradable RAM slots, an onboard optical drive, and a Firewire 800 port.  (You would, however, lose USB 3.0 ports and the changes to reduce the reflectivity of the screen.)

Len_Gee
Len_Gee Veteran Member • Posts: 9,686
Re: $2K absolute max for a new Mac

KCCjr wrote:

I have a Late 2009 27" iMac with 2.8Ghz Core i7 and 16GB of RAM with the stock HD. The graphics are ATI Radeon HD 4850 512 MB. For years I ran with 8GB with not an issue, but recently added a virtual machine which sucks up some RAM. I use Aperture and Final Cut Pro and still quick happy with the processing speed. I'm not a media pro, but I enjoy my photography especially.

The current crop of 21.5" iMacs do not have upgradable RAM. The 27" does have user configurable RAM. Buy what you can afford (maybe skimp on RAM until you can buy more a little later on the side...). The processor speed is not worth the price IMO, spend your money on something else - like the bigger screen. I can't be happier with having this large a display. The i7 was worth $200 more for me because it went from dual-core i5 to quad-core i7. Now, they are both quad core. Considering you've had your current Mac for 7 years, I wouldn't think the modest speed increase worth the money over something more substantial - like screen size.

The flash drives are awesome. I replaced my wife's dean laptop drive with one. Amazing how fast it boots and starts apps and saves her battery life.

My priority rank of features would be: 1) 27" screen 2) RAM 3) FLASH drive

But the only user-configurable option is the RAM. For me, the stock video is fine. I'm not a gamer at all. I don't have enough time for my photography and video-editing.

If you buy a refurbed one (an excellent option), check the following table: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT3011 But, look at refurbs frequently and often, they don't last long. My mom bought a reburbed 13" MacBook Air for the price of a new 11" one. The reburb was indistiquishable from new.

Good luck!

Hello,

I'm basically in the same boat as the OP, except my budget is $3000.  So I am following this thread with interest.

What do you mean FLASH drive?  Do you mean the Fusion Drive?

Thanks for explaining.

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KCCjr New Member • Posts: 11
Re: $2K absolute max for a new Mac

The Fusion drive is a hard drive mechanism with the standard platters, but with also FLASH memory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flash_memory). The Fusion drive keeps the frequently accessed files (like the operating system, applications, etc.) in FLASH for quick access, and less frequently accessed stuff on the hard drive platters. There are also drive mechanisms that are composed entirely of FLASH memory, too. The computer handles what is on FLASH and the traditional platters. You don't need to worry.

Jen Yates Senior Member • Posts: 1,414
Re: $2K absolute max for a new Mac

Throwing this into the mix...

A 650m is 'good enough' for casual FPS gaming. I have a 15" retina and very occasionally game on my 27" screen. It can't push 2560x1440 at max res in all new games but if you adjust the res a bit and lower the settings a bit when needed it's fine. Battlefield 3 plays fine for example.

Better cards will be even better of course.

kb2zuz Veteran Member • Posts: 3,202
Re: $2K absolute max for a new Mac

Just a couple thoughts. First RAM is the most important thing for most of photoshop. There are certain filters that are more processor dependent, there are some filters that are more GPU dependent, but far any away the biggest thing overall is RAM. The nice thing is if you go with the 27" you can upgrade later as you need to extend the life of your computer. Jumping up from 3 to 8GB of RAM will give you a huge impact. If you do decide on the 21.5" make sure you max out the RAM as it's not upgradeable in post.

As far as GPU keep in mind that the 27" has 77% more pixel than the 1080p display, so if you play at full resolution, don't think that the 1GB video card won't give you a 2x advantage. I have been told the 650M is pretty good (and it's leaps and bounds above your 128MB Radeon).

As far as i5 vs i7 I think this is where you are going to see the smallest difference. The biggest difference between the two is i7 has hyperthreading which only benefits threaded applications, and even then it only benefits them in certain situations.

I too have a 2006 Core Duo iMac and finally pressed the purchase button on a 27" iMac, 3.4GHz i7, 8GB of RAM, 1TB fusion drive, GTX 680MX 2GB, and apple Care (which I probably wouldn't have gotten without the educational discount).

The i7 what the last thing I decided to add on (and I had already put aside money in my head to upgrade the 8GB of RAM). The better graphics card will have a bigger impact on lightroom and many games, the fusion drive will have a bigger impact on starting applications. Even the apple care was a greater value to me than the i7, as while I've not had a single issue with my iMac i had 1 or 2 keyboards and a couple mice (stupid ball in the mighty mouse) go on me the first 3 years I had the computer, and those replacements paid for the apple care.

If your budget is strict, keep in mind if you live in a state that has an apple store, you will have to pay state sales tax even if you buy online. My order I estimated to cost just under $2600 came in over $2750 because of sales tax.

One other thing to consider is Apple does offer (through Barclaycard) interest free financing for 12 months on purchases under $1999 and 18 months on purchases $1999 and up (just make certain the balance is paid in full by the end of the term) maybe considering that the wife will let you stretch the budget a little.

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OP Pasmia Contributing Member • Posts: 536
Re: $2K absolute max for a new Mac

No state sales tax in OR.

I think I'm set on the 21" iMac with i7, 16GB RAM, and 1 TB fusion drive.  The 16GB ram is a huge leap from my current 3GB but I do admit that I'm a little scared about not being able to expand to 32GB.  I just wasn't too sure about the video card being so mediocre, I know it's leaps and bounds above my current card, but in comparison to what's available, it seems weird for Mac to have such a weak point.  The 5400 HDD is also kind of scary to consider as an "upgrade", but I've heard/read that the fusion drive makes all the difference and will out-perform 7200rpm HDDs or even 10,000rpm HDDs.

I've contemplated on building a Hackintosh, but unfortunately, I don't know anyone personally that can help me should things go wrong.  I also find that I'm hard pressed to find an affordable monitor equivalent of an iMac that makes the price justified.

I really love apple products but the direction of the current iMac is questionable.  There's really no need for such a thin setup at the expense of performance and user upgradeable RAM.  Unfortunately, I am in dire need of an upgrade, and between an iMac, Hackintosh, or a Win8 system, I'm simply taking the lesser of all evils.  Almost feels like voting...

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kb2zuz Veteran Member • Posts: 3,202
Re: $2K absolute max for a new Mac

Sounds good, and good deal about OR's no sales tax.

I too contemplated a Hackintosh and while I'm confident I could do it, I don't want to live constantly worrying that a software update might cause headaches that I'd have to find a fix for.

I'm in the exact same boat as you and I agree, I really wish they'd offer a 21.5" with more options, or better yet a mac Mini that could be configured with more ram and high end video cards. Lesser of the evils...

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KCCjr New Member • Posts: 11
Re: $2K absolute max for a new Mac

Have you actually tried using a 27" screen at an Apple store? Take a sample photo with you to edit and try the two screen sizes. Even try your favorite game. I find it interesting that the part you interface with by far the most (the screen) is the part lowest on the priority list (and essentially the one part you cannot reasonably change).  Anyway good luck with your choice.  The iMacs are quite nice. It's difficult to go astray.

-KCCJr

OP Pasmia Contributing Member • Posts: 536
Re: $2K absolute max for a new Mac

KCCjr wrote:

Have you actually tried using a 27" screen at an Apple store? Take a sample photo with you to edit and try the two screen sizes. Even try your favorite game. I find it interesting that the part you interface with by far the most (the screen) is the part lowest on the priority list (and essentially the one part you cannot reasonably change). Anyway good luck with your choice. The iMacs are quite nice. It's difficult to go astray.

-KCCJr

Yes, I'm completely aware of the benefits of having a 27" screen.  However, I'm pretty firm at not exceeding $2k.  The base price of the 27" iMac (upper end) is already $1900.  I can stretch and upgrade the Video card to: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680MX 2GB GDDR5 for a total of $2034 but I'm stuck with the regular 7200rpm 1TB HDD and i5 processor.  The lower end 27" doesnt' have an option to upgrade the video card and seems pretty low for a screen of that caliber.  But again.... video cards are my weak points.  If I go this route, I can get the fusion drive (1TB) but I'm still stuck with the i5 (and even a bit slower than the previous option at 2.9 vs 3.2).  I just figured a maxed out 21" would give me better performance albeit, in a smaller screen.  I'd rather have close to fast/seamless computing on a small screen than load times, lag, and choppiness on a bigger screen.  Even though it may run fine now, I'm also looking at 2-5 years down the road.

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KCCjr New Member • Posts: 11
Re: $2K absolute max for a new Mac

Pasmia wrote:

KCCjr wrote:

Have you actually tried using a 27" screen at an Apple store? Take a sample photo with you to edit and try the two screen sizes. Even try your favorite game. I find it interesting that the part you interface with by far the most (the screen) is the part lowest on the priority list (and essentially the one part you cannot reasonably change). Anyway good luck with your choice. The iMacs are quite nice. It's difficult to go astray.

-KCCJr

Yes, I'm completely aware of the benefits of having a 27" screen. However, I'm pretty firm at not exceeding $2k. The base price of the 27" iMac (upper end) is already $1900. I can stretch and upgrade the Video card to: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680MX 2GB GDDR5 for a total of $2034 but I'm stuck with the regular 7200rpm 1TB HDD and i5 processor. The lower end 27" doesnt' have an option to upgrade the video card and seems pretty low for a screen of that caliber. But again.... video cards are my weak points. If I go this route, I can get the fusion drive (1TB) but I'm still stuck with the i5 (and even a bit slower than the previous option at 2.9 vs 3.2). I just figured a maxed out 21" would give me better performance albeit, in a smaller screen. I'd rather have close to fast/seamless computing on a small screen than load times, lag, and choppiness on a bigger screen. Even though it may run fine now, I'm also looking at 2-5 years down the road.

Stop "figuring" and go try them out!    If you were going to spend $2k on a camera, would you just buy on specs alone? BTW, I use an iMac slower than any of the options you mention and do not suffer slow load times, lag or choppiness on my 27" screen. I frequently edit 100MB scans and old negatives, I'm not dragging...

-KCCjr

OP Pasmia Contributing Member • Posts: 536
Re: $2K absolute max for a new Mac
1

KCCjr wrote:

Pasmia wrote:

KCCjr wrote:

Have you actually tried using a 27" screen at an Apple store? Take a sample photo with you to edit and try the two screen sizes. Even try your favorite game. I find it interesting that the part you interface with by far the most (the screen) is the part lowest on the priority list (and essentially the one part you cannot reasonably change). Anyway good luck with your choice. The iMacs are quite nice. It's difficult to go astray.

-KCCJr

Yes, I'm completely aware of the benefits of having a 27" screen. However, I'm pretty firm at not exceeding $2k. The base price of the 27" iMac (upper end) is already $1900. I can stretch and upgrade the Video card to: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680MX 2GB GDDR5 for a total of $2034 but I'm stuck with the regular 7200rpm 1TB HDD and i5 processor. The lower end 27" doesnt' have an option to upgrade the video card and seems pretty low for a screen of that caliber. But again.... video cards are my weak points. If I go this route, I can get the fusion drive (1TB) but I'm still stuck with the i5 (and even a bit slower than the previous option at 2.9 vs 3.2). I just figured a maxed out 21" would give me better performance albeit, in a smaller screen. I'd rather have close to fast/seamless computing on a small screen than load times, lag, and choppiness on a bigger screen. Even though it may run fine now, I'm also looking at 2-5 years down the road.

Stop "figuring" and go try them out! If you were going to spend $2k on a camera, would you just buy on specs alone? BTW, I use an iMac slower than any of the options you mention and do not suffer slow load times, lag or choppiness on my 27" screen. I frequently edit 100MB scans and old negatives, I'm not dragging...

-KCCjr

Haha, good point... To the stores I go!

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