Which Mac next?

Three years ago, I had to buy this iMac in a bit of a hurry, when the graphics card in my previous one died. I had hoped that last week Apple was going to release something suitable with which to replace it. This article considers the difficult choice which I now face.

Because I couldn’t wait for a built-to-order iMac three years ago, this one is far from ideal. It only has an i5 CPU and 8 GB of memory, but I couldn’t wait to get an i7 with 16 GB. As it is coming up to three years of age, its AppleCare will expire next month, and its components start to have rising risks of failure.

My preferred replacement would have been an iMac 5K with an eighth generation core i7 CPU, a modest GPU, 16 GB of memory, a 1 TB internal SSD, and four Thunderbolt 3 ports. It shouldn’t have been beyond reasonable expectation for Apple to have offered that by the end of 2018, but it chose instead to leave the iMac range untouched, and to maintain the high premium for a basic specification iMac Pro.

The closest that I can get by way of one of Apple’s old iMacs falls short in two main respects: it still has a seventh generation CPU, the 4.2 GHz quad-core i7, and only has two Thunderbolt 3 ports. Given that, it isn’t cheap by any means at £/$/€ 3199.

By comparison, the base model of iMac Pro meets my requirements in every way, exceeding them with 32 GB of memory and a rather good graphics card, the Radeon Pro Vega 56. But it would cost a serious £/$/€ 4949. That is a very big gap which Apple has left open for the last year.

From this week, though, I have a new option: one of the latest Mac mini systems. I could get that built to order with an eighth generation 3.2 GHz 6-core i7 CPU, and it does have four Thunderbolt 3 ports. But its only graphics card option is a dire Intel UHD 630, which I would need to replace with an external GPU (eGPU) costing £/$/€ 599. That would only add the same Radeon Pro 580 which is fitted to the top-end iMac, though.

Unlike the iMac and iMac Pro, a Mac mini requires an external display, which would have to be an LG UltraFine 5K with its Thunderbolt port, costing a quite reasonable £/$/€ 1179. Add in a trackpad and keyboard, and the total cost of an alternative centred on a new Mac mini comes to £/$/€ 3975. That isn’t a mini price.

However, the biggest problem in considering a mini is availability of the display. I could take delivery of the mini and eGPU by mid-November, but would have to wait at least another month before Apple could deliver the display, and might not even get it until the New Year. Quite how I would use that mini in the meantime is an issue that Apple doesn’t seem to have considered.

The LG display is available from its UK importer via Amazon, but for that I’d have to pay an extra £/$/€ 160, taking the mini ever closer to the cost of the base iMac Pro.

Apple’s new Mac models are very welcome, indeed long overdue. I am delighted that it has at last breathed some life back into two important Mac ranges, the MacBook Air and Mac mini. But I’m amazed that it has left its flagship desktop systems so outdated and overpriced, and leaves customers like me in a quandary, unable to buy a system which meets a fairly undemanding specification.

Maybe next year someone in Apple will notice.