Made it: running on a new iMac

Life is full of holes, and I hope that I have just climbed out of one.

As I reported here, four days ago the iMac 27″ which I use for much of my work, and on which I prepare these articles, died. Well, it probably hasn’t died, but is just in a deep coma. Either way it became suddenly unusable.

Thankfully I was able to move everything of importance over to the little old MacBook Air which is my fallback and travelling system, and keep going to a degree. But editing these articles, and accompanying graphics files, is not easy on such a cramped display. I was also spending a lot of time trying to resuscitate the iMac, to no avail. I expect that it will come off life support, but that is going to take more time yet.

When it was clear that the iMac was not going to bounce back, and bearing in mind that it is over four years old, we agreed to dip into our savings and to get a replacement. Having costed up various options, including a MacBook Pro and mini, I decided that the only sensible way ahead was to get another iMac 27″. Unfortunately the delay on build-to-order systems would have resulted in delivery just this side of Christmas, so it had to be a standard out-of-the-warehouse configuration.

My old iMac was an iMac 12,2 model with a Quad core i7 processor running at 3.4 GHz with an AMD Radeon HD 6970M graphics card and built-in 27″ (non-Retina) display, 16 GB of memory, and an internal 2 TB hard drive. The latter was around half full.

I ordered an iMac 17,1 model with a four core Intel Core i5 processor running at 3.3 GHz with an AMD Radeon R9 M395 graphics card and built-in 27″ Retina 5K display, 8 GB of memory, and an internal 2 TB Fusion drive (consisting of a 120 GB SSD and 2 TB hard drive). Following migration, the latter is now slightly less than half full.

Viewed like that, apart from the display, there should have been relatively little difference in terms of performance.

Running benchmarks bears this out: using Geekbench, my old iMac turned in an overall score of 3160 for a single core, and 12058 for multi-core (higher is faster). The new iMac attains 4136 and 12993 respectively. These are in fact not optimal scores, as they were run with other apps open, but I think remain a fair comparison.

In practice, though, the new iMac is not just significantly quicker, but far more consistent.

Over the four years of heavy use, the old iMac had gone through OS X 10.7 Lion, 10.8 Mountain Lion, 10.9 Mavericks, 10.10 Yosemite, and finally reached 10.11.2 El Capitan. It had accumulated a lot of cruft over that time, and although there was still copious free space on its hard disk, I suspect that had become fairly fragmented.

One major difference between the old and new is the Fusion drive. I suspect that all of OS X and its multiple cache files are stored on the SSD rather than the hard disk component, which will greatly accelerate most operations involving disk storage. I had noticed that the old iMac was stopping and thinking about things rather more often than it should, and the dreaded beachball popped up for a brief spin every now and again. There wasn’t anything sinister in the logs, though. Copying files often started very slowly too, despite the vast amount of free disk space.

The Retina display is just awesome. My old 27″ display was impressive enough when viewing images and high definition movies, but this is in another league. High-definition movies such as FilmBuff’s Jerusalem (iTunes Store) are shown in stunning detail.

Migration went well, if not entirely according to plan, although it is tedious necessity to have to authenticate when starting every App Store app for the first time. A few passwords seem to have fallen through the cracks, but most were moved across seamlessly.

I am sad to have lost the internal optical drive, although as I already had an Apple external drive, that is no significant loss; DVDs play very well in that. Compensation comes in a much more compact unit, which is also considerably lighter: the old iMac 27″ was quite hefty to lift around.

The only hardware problems which I have experienced so far are with Thunderbolt and my old Apple Magic Trackpad.

As I remarked here, I have been unable to mount my old iMac in Thunderbolt Target mode on my new iMac. I do not understand why, nor do I know whether this is a general problem. At least I can still mount it on my old MacBook Air.

The Magic Trackpad issue was also a puzzle. I had wanted a new Trackpad 2 to ship with this iMac, but that again would have delayed its delivery, so I accepted the offer of a new wireless mouse 2, which is the best mouse that I have used to date. I thought that it should be easy to pair my old (version 1) wireless Magic Trackpad, but it took many many attempts before it finally worked. Knowing the Bluetooth issues in OS X 10.11.0, I even left serious attempts to pair until after I had updated to 10.11.2, but it was still a pig. I wish I could pass on a helpful tip, but I just had to try, try again until it worked.

What will happen to my old iMac? I am afraid that a long queue has already formed: it looks like it will be passed on to our son, who can perhaps unravel the mystery of its sudden sickness, and wake it again. It should still be a superb computer, but I am rather pleased that my hand was forced, and I have upgraded.