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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

One week with my Retina iMac

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

The other day I wrote about my workspace in the aftermath of getting my new iMac. Left out of that post was the iMac itself. A few weeks back I reviewed the stock configuration, based on a review unit loaned to me by Apple. But now I’ve spent a week with the top-of-the-line configuration.

This model, for the record, has a quad-core 4GHz Intel Core i7 processor, ATI Radeon M295X graphics, a 512GB solid-state drive, and 8GB of stock RAM (with 8GB more on the way from Other World Computing). It’s the most expensive computer I’ve ever bought in terms of sheer dollars, though if you factor in inflation, a few of my first Macs might beat it. Fortunately, I had a little money from my former employer to help me on my way, and the Retina iMac was released at just the right time.

I ran the same tests on this system as I did the stock model, and the results are updated in the original review for your perusal. The long and short of it: Yep, it’s faster. In many cases, quite a bit faster. It’s not as fast as an eight-core Mac Pro when it comes to multi-core tests, but that 4GHz clock speed means this thing cooks at single-core tasks.

GeekBench Single Test Results

Having a Mac with a fast, quad-core processor can lead to some pretty unintentionally funny moments. (Keep in mind, I’m stepping up from a dual-core MacBook Air.) The first time I perform a task on the iMac that was pretty common on the MacBook Air, I anticipate being impressed by just how fast this computer is. Most of the time, I’m not disappointed. There’s a command-line utility I use to help sync up podcast tracks (not yet publicly released, sorry) that will use as many processor cores as you can throw at it, and it flies on the iMac. But every now and then I try something and realize that this particular task is single-threaded—I’ll launch Activity Monitor and look for all that unused CPU power as I imagine a sad-trombone sound effect playing in the background. Four blazing fast processor cores are less impressive when three of them are idle.

GeekBench Multi Test Results

Speaking of blazing, a bunch of people have asked about the fan noise on the Retina iMac. Under heavy load, the fans will spin up, but they never seemed as loud to me as my MacBook Air’s fans did, or the fans on the Retina MacBook Pro. That said, if you push the GPU heavily, it will get hot and the fans will really crank up. This model, with the faster GPU and processor, will throw off more heat and the fans will have to run more often or loudly, but I don’t think it’s a big deal unless you’re constantly maxing out the processor and GPU power while simultaneously being very sound sensitive. The only time I’ll be concerned about fan noise is if I’m trying to record a podcast while simultaneously live-streaming video of that same podcast. That might leave me with a bit of fan noise, but I’m not sure it will even be audible on a microphone, and if it is, that’s what SoundSoap is for. (If only it was properly multithreaded!)

Moving from my MacBook Air went better than I had feared. I had attempted to use Apple’s Migration Assistant to copy my files to my iMac review unit and it had stalled on “18 minutes remaining” for hours and hours, until I gave up. This time, I followed Jim Lindley’s Yosemite installation advice and moved the few thousand files in /usr/local out of the way. Did that do the trick? I have no idea, but my migration (via Target Disk Mode and a Thunderbolt cable) took less than an hour from start to finish, and was seamless. This iMac felt like home to me—albeit a larger, faster, higher-resolution home—immediately.

Over the past week I’ve recorded, streamed, and edited podcasts as usual, with no problems. Editing in Logic Pro X has been responsive, though I forced the app into low-resolution mode in order to counteract sluggishness when I zoomed in and out. Other apps don’t seem to suffer from this, so it appears to be a Logic-specific problem.

This week I had to prep a three-hour-long 720p video in Final Cut Pro X and then encode it and upload it to YouTube. This was one of those cases where the iMac’s speed advantage over my old laptop made me laugh. The video would’ve taken all night to encode on my MacBook Air, fans blowing wildly. The iMac ripped that video out in no time. When I came back to check on the status of the encode, it was already done. Pretty great stuff.

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