Archive for December, 2012

Slight of Hand: Look Closely at 21.5 inch iMac Reviews

I couldn’t figure out at first why not much was being said about Apple dropping to 2.5 inch 5400 RPM hard drives in these new models but then grew suspicious that nearly every reviewer is being supplied with models equipped with optional Fusion drives.  In all the reviews I looked at…especially where they touted the new machine’s speed..this indeed did prove to be the case.  Worse, in the large majority of these reviews, the authors were missing the fact that the option added another $250 to the price, and the option is not available on the low end $1299 model at all.  So, if your intent is to purchase the low end iMac and your intent is to do any kind of serious (read Photoshop) work on it and you don’t like waiting around for it to finish, you need to think again.

If you want to see what kind of performance hit I’m talking about, go to, look at their Photoshop CS6 benchmarks and be sure to look at the chart at the bottom of the article.  On this chart, the SSD filled up so that scratch activity fell onto the native hard drive, so you see there the kind of performance hit representative of 5400 RPM hard drive performance alone.  While I do understand that this is what’s going to happen once you use any mechanical hard drive, there would still be a noticeable performance gain if there was a 7200 RPM hard drive in the machine.  (Yes, I’ve seen the arguments about data density on the 2.5 inch drives making up for the slower rpm but haven’t seen any data showing that it’s made up for the slower platter speeds nor does that match up with my experience.)  Better, Apple could have used Seagate 7200 RPM hybrid drives in their base configs, though the baseline config would then have been a 750GB machine.  The company could still have offered a 1TB 5400 RPM drive as an option and insured the buyer knew what they were getting.  (UPDATE 12/5/2102: has published a more in depth look at this issue.)

I also will remind people that the 21.5 inch iMac does not have a connector for an SSD, something that does exist in the 27inch iMac, even if you don’t order one with it. That doesn’t mean you can’t put an SSD in it; but whatever you do, one SATA hard disk of some type is your only option.

If you’re just buying one of these machines for basic office work, then you’ll be happy with it; but if your intent is to purchase one for anything else, read the current sets of reviews with an analytical eye.  Save yourself from going home and finding out that what you bought wasn’t what you needed; and while that is nothing new, I feel like it’s a bigger thing to be poking at with these machines.

Too Much Form Over Function: Is the new 21.5 inch iMac Too Pricey to Care?

Like a lot of people, I am trying to understand the design changes to Apple’s latest series of iMacs.  It’s said it has something to do with Apple’s vision for the future.  I‘m just not so sure the rest of us agree or are willing to go along. Sales numbers will ultimately tell the tale.  It may not matter much to Apple’s bottom line but it will help determine the ultimate future of the Mac computer.

An article at Macworld said this was just another bump along the road of “hiding the computer”, always at the heart of Apple’s quest.  Fair enough.  I like cool designs as much as the next guy; iMacs do usually look very good in the home and office and I admit that is part of their appeal.  But to think that is the major reason behind my decision to buy Apple products is to misread my intent.  Ultimately, I look for performance and value.

That’s where I think the latest design changes, especially for the 21.5 inch iMac, break down.

We’ve all known that Apple has been pushing for deletion of the optical drive in all their machines.  Apple did the same thing with the floppy and new computers no longer carry them.  Indeed, advances in storage technology and the inflation of file and program sizes as CPU’s matured made them obsolete.  Apple now thinks that the days of optical drive software and media distribution are numbered and they probably are; but anyone who has ever experienced the too often breakdowns of Internet service or Apple’s App Store knows too well the frustration, inconvenience, and , in the worst cases, lost worktimes that come with them.  As do users of Apple’s latest computers, when a hard drive fails and you no have no way to get back and reload your operating system because it’s out the Net instead of on a shiny CD in your office.  (Which is why I have a Mountain Lion installer burned to dual-layer DVD; sorry, Apple.).   From my perspective, the removal of optical drives is premature, especially in a desktop that was, up until now, an “all-in-one”. I buy iMacs because I want that integrated functionality; now, I have to spend money on and find desk space for an optical drive, too.  That causes even more of a wince of pain when Apple accompanies this move by raising their price points one hundred dollars.  They have, in fact, increased the cost by almost $200 over the older models if you have to also buy an optical drive because they no longer include one (though it depends on what kind of a burner you go after; some are a lot cheaper than a century bill).

The Apple website touts that these iMacs take “Performance and Design.  Right to the Edge”.  Of what?  Mediocrity?  Why in the world would anyone put a 2.5 inch 5400 RPM notebook hard drive in a desktop, like Apple has done with all 21.5 inch iMacs?  That is beyond me!  You mean, for the extra hundred dollars everyone’s paying, they couldn’t slap in 2.5 inch 7200 hard drives, or was that expecting too much?  (I have a 5400 rpm hard drive in a 2012 Mac mini and it is almost painfully slow.)  What were those extra RPM’s going to do?  Cause too much heat?  Too much vibration?  If either of those are true for this desktop, then Apple’s lost it.  No, this looks like simple greed, a way to squeeze a few more bucks out of the design and possibly another $250 out of the consumer who may need to purchase the Fusion Drive option to make the machine perform worth a damn.  (And you can’t even do that on the low end machine.) Why did Apple think the performance was good enough and why didn’t they give a damn about trying harder?

I would not recommend to anyone they spend the money on a new 2012 21.5 inch iMac, especially the low end one.  Of course, a reason for you to move up and spend more is exactly what Apple wants.  It doesn’t take too much imagination to think their ultimate goal is to get everyone on a 27 inch iMac, and they’ll nudge you in that direction by handicapping the 21.5 incher, just like they did when they eliminated their smaller Cinema Displays, leaving users who wanted to stay with Apple no choice but a 27 inch Apple branded display costing a grand.  It worked once, why not again?

If you’re not yet willing to jump ship back to Windows or Linux, the smarter move is to buy a MacBook Pro and hook it to a keyboard and screen you already have or invest in a 27 inch Apple Thunderbolt display (Yes, I know that hurts!).  You can not only get better performance since you can get i7 CPU’s at lower price points (see the refurbished section of the Apple website for the best deals) but the MacBook Pro’s are now more expandable and easier to fix or expand.  Yes, you may spend more setting up a MacBook Pro and a Thunderbolt screen, but my bet is you are better future-proofed and you have more flexibility since you can operate the notebook as a desktop or as a notebook.  And, no matter what, hauling around your MacBook Pro is going to be easier than moving your iMac, no matter how thin it is.

Not only that, but the coup de grace is that replacing the pokey 5400 rpm hard drive in your MacBook Pro is no pain at all.

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