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 Barefeats.com, 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: Barfeats.com 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.