Back to my Nerd Roots: Upgrading my iMac

After 7 years, it was finally time to replace my mid-2011 21.5″ iMac with something larger and more powerful. The transition to using Adobe Lightroom to process my photos, and the slow performance even when exporting JPEGs from the original RAW files was the driving factor toward making the purchase. It’s my declining eyesight that convinced me to go with a 27″ iMac over another 21.5″ model, not to mention the lack of user-accessible RAM in the current 21.5″ iMac.

While I was ready to purchase the current Late-2017 iMac, I was offered the opportunity to save hundreds on an up-spec’d Late-2015 model. Because of this, I consulted with a friend of mine who owns the same vintage machine on his opinion of it, who had nothing but effusive about it. His demands are far higher than mine, using not only Lightroom extensively, but also Adobe Premiere to cut 4K video. Based on his opinion, I decided the advantages of the 2017 iMac were outweighed by the cost savings of the Late-2015 model, those features being Thunderbolt 3 and desktop-grade GPUs. I was able to get a similar configuration that currently retails at $2700 for half price, $1350 out the door.


Once it arrived, I loaded it up with more RAM, increasing the total to 24GB. The new, sealed design puts a huge obstacle in the way of exchanging the HDD for an SSD. At least the benefit of Thunderbolt 2 allows me to use an external SSD at full speed, and while it’s less elegant a solution, it’s far easier with no tangible detriment other than being a secondary drive rather than a single working disk. The coincidental benefit is that it becomes my first level backup, adding a layer to my data protection scheme with no effort. The savings also afforded me a Thunderbolt 2 RAID disk for a second layer of data protection and space for high capacity, fast access storage. Finally, I was also able to replace my WD MyCloud NAS with a Synology DiskStation DS418 NAS with double the capacity, and disks, to shoulder the full responsibility of both backup and media server on my home network that’s accessible on my LAN at home and WAN while away. However, I’ll probably talk about the Synology DiskStation later in another blog post dedicated just to it.

Once I got it set up, I ran it through its paces in Lightroom and came away suitably impressed. The increased desktop space, resolution and speed allowed me to navigate through Lightroom much more confidently than before. Despite downgrading my experience from an internal SSD in my old iMac and the Fusion Drive in the new iMac, all of the other improvements combined helped to mitigate the impact of that bottleneck. It now feels like the computer is waiting on me, rather than me waiting on it, when going through my post-processing workflow. Considering I spent $1350 rather than the $2700 I was prepared to spend, I’m ecstatic.

Turning back toward the old iMac, I’ve salvaged the 1TB SSD from within it and will be replacing it with a spinning disk of similar capacity to what was originally fitted when bought so many years ago. After reinstalling macOS, I’m hoping to reclaim at least $300 by selling it. It’s probably worth more selling outright, but far less trading it in. Of all my computers, it’s by far the most hassle-free I’ve ever owned. Here’s hoping the new iMac is as trouble-free and lasts just as long or longer.

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