iMac 27″ 3.4GHz i7

Having briefly mentioned this last week, I suppose it’s time I went into a bit more detail about my new improved computing environment. I bought my first iMac in June 2009, and it served me well for a long time, especially after having its RAM upgraded to what seemed like a quite large 8GB. As with any computer, I’ve had the occasional issue, but overall it’s been stable and reliable and has generally melted into the background and let me get on with stuff.

But in the last six months or so, I noticed a distinct slowdown. Well, I don’t think it was so much the iMac getting slower as the things I was asking it to do getting bigger and more complex. Starting Lightroom was taking what seemed like ages, for instance. I even resorted to splitting my catalog into smaller ones, which did speed things up, but removed the convenience of being able to work on photographs from any time since 2006. Another problem was loading my weight tracking spreadsheet in Excel, which was getting distinctly grungy.

As the machine already had as much memory as it could take, and I didn’t really want to perform the more serious surgery involved in replacing the hard disk, and well, it was getting on a bit, the time had really come to consider a replacement. Ideally, something a bit whizzier, which should last me at least as long. And ideally, available soon enough for the first iMac to still have a moderate resale value.

So when the latest iMac models were announced, I was interested. There are numerous reviews and comments around about the extreme slimness of the cases, the less reflective screens and so on, so I’ll pass over those more obvious details. What I wanted was a major performance boost, and that was definitely on offer. Nicely zippy processors, and in the case of the larger iMac, a maximum RAM configuration of 32GB. But what seriously interested me was Apple’s take on hybrid SSD/HDD storage, which they call a Fusion drive. Basically, you get a 1TB or 3TB hard drive with a smaller solid state drive linked to it. This appears as a single drive, which the user doesn’t have to think about. Instead, the operating system does some nifty stuff which involves putting frequently used applications and data on the SSD fro maximum performance. This sounded interesting, and I knew I wanted one.

Anyway, after some dithering, and despite a quoted lead time of three to four weeks when I made my decision, I ordered a build to order model direct from Apple. I went for the 3TB Fusion drive on the grounds that I was getting to the point where I’d have so little free space on the old machine’s 1TB HDD that I’d have to start shuffling data around, which I prefer to avoid. I also specified one of the whizzier graphics cards. But I went for the minimum 8GB RAM, as Apple still like to charge silly prices for memory. Instead, I ordered a 32GB kit from Crucial, who have always been my preferred memory supplier.

I then settled down to wait. I had an estimated delivery window of 20-28 February, so I wasn’t seriously expecting it to arrive until this week. I did wonder if I should revise my expectations when I got a dispatch notification on February 14, but as that estimated delivery on 25 February, I decided not to hold my breath. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when it was actually delivered last week, a day earlier than the earliest originally estimated date. By a totally random coincidence, the extra RAM arrived the same day, which was convenient.

The previous iMac came in a box that was just about manageable. As I recall, I walked along Grey Street and caught the bus[1] home with it. But this was just a wee bit bigger, which made that seem like a bad idea, so I got a taxi home[2].

After unboxing the computer, and freeing up some desk space and an ethernet cable, I plugged it in and gave ti a quick test. First impressions were pretty good, so I shut down and installed the new memory – this involves pressing a little button located where the mains lead goes in[3], which makes a little hatch pop out. Inside the hatch are a couple of levers, which can be used to swing out the four memory slots. Two were occupied by the standard 8GB RAM, which I removed and then filled all the slots with my new Crucial RAM. Once those were properly seated, and the iMac plugged back in, this was the happy result:



Then came the moderately boring bit of copying my music library over the network and letting iTunes sort itself out. While that was going on, I set up my email accounts, which was the usual simple task, as quite intelligently recognised my domains as using Gmail and configured the server settings for me. Then came the really fun job: importing my photographs into Lightroom. I decided to revert to a single catalog, as the split thingy I’d done on the old machine was purely to get around the limitations of the hardware. I used Lightroom’s “Import from another Catalog” function, which ensures all the metadata comes across. As I had eight of the things to import, this took a while, but I was able to do other things while the computer did its stuff, so that wasn’t a problem.

I finished off installing software and copying data, took a final updated backup of the old iMac, then  connected the 20″ secondary display. It’s a funny thing, but when I bought my first 20″ display, it seemed huge. Now it looks, well, tiny:

Big and small screens

Big and small screens

Camera: BlackBerry 9780

Anyway, everything is now nicely set up, and I’m actually using the new iMac, which leads to my first impressions thingy. OK, this thing is fast. The Fusion drive magic does appear to work. Lightroom, which used to take minutes to get to a usable state, now loads and is ready for work in about seven seconds. Excel, which used to take what seemed like forever to load my only moderately large weight record spreadsheet, now takes hardly any time at all.  Photoshop CS6 is similarly quick.

Nice kit, does what I was hoping for.

[1] I always have things delivered to work, much easier than missing deliveries, having to rearrange them, etc
[2] Not something I do often
[3] So it’s physically impossible to open the memory hatch with the machine powered on

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