Wednesday, March 20, 2019

iMac 2019


Apple today updated its iMac line with up to 8-core Intel 9th-generation processors for the first time and powerful Vega graphics options, delivering dramatic increases in both compute and graphics performance.


The 21.5-inch iMac now features 8th-generation quad-core, and for the first time 6-core processors, delivering up to 60 percent faster performance.

The 27-inch iMac now for the first time features up to 9th-generation 6-core and 8-core processors, delivering up to 2.4 times faster performance.

It’s great to see an update, and without a price increase, but I’m not sure this is what people were hoping for. The case seems to be unchanged, and so likely doesn’t address the dust or thermal issues.

There’s no T2 support and, if Apple keeps the same schedule, that means two more years to wait. I understand that the T2 might be too expensive for a lower end model, and not applicable to the hard drive configurations. But for a 27-inch iMac that’s $1,899–$5,249 with an SSD? Even the $799 Mac mini has one.

Then there’s the mystery of no SSDs in any of the base configurations. Sure, have an optional Fusion Drive for those who don’t want to pay for a 2 TB SSD. But the default configuration should be an SSD. They really are not that expensive to buy third-party, and Apple must get better deals than we do. Is this the case of perfect being the enemy of good—insisting that all Mac SSDs must be high-end ones, even though cheaper SSDs are still way better than hard drives? Or is it just all about margins?

Lastly, I wonder whether Apple planned to hold out on SSDs for so long. If the standard configuration is going to have a hard drive, then the case should be designed for it. But since 2012 the 21-inch iMac has only supported slow laptop hard drives. The case, the OS, and the file system were not optimized for hard drives, and yet that’s what the default configurations include.


After nearly two years, Apple has released new iMacs, and Jason has an exclusive interview with Apple’s iMac product manager, Colleen Novielli.

Jason Snell:

The $1099 base model non-Retina iMac remains unchanged, the desktop equivalent of the $999 MacBook Air—an old model anchored to a low price.


What this means is that these new iMacs have closed a bit of the gap between the highest-end iMac and the lowest-end iMac Pro. You’ll need to pay extra in configurable options, but the highest-end eight-core iMac should creep close to iMac Pro territory in terms of processor and graphics performance.

Of course, all that performance comes in a familar shell—it’s the same iMac cooling system as before, which means if you stress out the iMac you will hear the fans. My friend Stephen Hackett ended up switching from a high-end 5K iMac to an iMac Pro in order to get a computer that was silent under heavy load, thanks to the iMac Pro’s superior (and quiet) cooling system.

Marco Arment:

Nice to see an iMac spec-bump, finally.

Shame they haven’t included the T2 and its huge security benefits. I was hoping to see all Macs with T2 chips by the end of the year.

Maynard Handley:

So option 2 is use cheap low-end slow flash and driver. Personally that’s the path I would take. Sure, there’d be mocking about the slow flash, but IMHO it’s a better tradeoff than HD!

Paul Haddad:

The 6 core CPU is non hyperthreaded, which is crazy on a $2300+ machine.

Wojtek Pietrusiewicz:

iMac early 2019. 1TB SSD = $700. Samsung 2TB NVMe M.2 = $500.
Samsung 1TB 970 Pro = $350. 970 Evo = $250.

Colin Cornaby:

The weird thing is the Vega GPUs Apple is using... don’t exist? If they’re custom slower versions of real Vega, that’s a big bummer. Still not shipping a high end consumer GPU on the iMacs?

I’d guess it’s a power and heat thing. Vega requires a good amount of power and runs hot. Unless they really wanted to up the power supply in the iMac full Vega might not be an option.

Ian Spencer:

It took two years for this? It’s a $450 upgrade to not have a three year old GPU that was slow even when it was new. And that upgrade isn’t even to the mid-range Vega 56. Yikes.

John Gruber:

This is an industrial design that deserves to last years. It still doesn’t seem possible to get displays of this caliber at these prices in the PC world — or at any price for 5K in an all-in-one.

Llyod Chambers:

Why would you go with 32GB memory from Apple, when it costs less to install 64GB?

Howard Oakley:

The one feature about them which concerns me is their continuing use of rotating hard disks, alone in the cheaper configurations, or as part of a Fusion Drive if you need more and faster storage. There are two issues which you need to consider: using the APFS file system on a hard disk, and the Fusion Drive itself.


APFS works on hard disks, and has done so in release form for around a year now, but it hasn’t been designed to get the best out of them, in contrast with HFS+. Although I haven’t been able to find good performance comparisons, all those who I know who use APFS on hard disks consider its performance to be relatively poor.


If almost all data read from and written to the hard disk in the Fusion Drive passes through the SSD as a temporary buffer, the SSD will see a great deal more write activity than would be expected for its size. […] Evidence from some with older Fusion Drives is that this can lead to worryingly early failure in SSDs, which appear to have aged much more quickly than would be expected.

Nick Heer:

Snell asked Novielli about the base-model iMacs that retain a spinning hard drive. She acknowledged that it’s a cost-based decision; I still think it’s indefensible. The drives Apple uses in the base-model iMacs, and even the Fusion Drives in the step-up models, don’t perform acceptably running Mojave. The base model iMac is simply not a good product and should be purchased by nobody, so it’s hard to see why it’s still available.

Tom Bridge:

And they also ship by default with old, slow 5400rpm hard disks that came to the marketplace in 2007 in 1TB capacities. When Hitachi released the first Deskstar with 1TB that year, at a whopping price of $399, they boasted a cost-per-GB of $0.40. Now you can have a SATA SSD for less than $0.25 per GB, and an M.2 SSD for $0.35 per GB.

Chance Miller:

Apple has also quietly lowered select upgrade costs. For the MacBook Air, Mac mini, and MacBook Pro, SSD upgrades are now slightly cheaper, while RAM upgrades for Mac Pro have also seen a price drop.


Update (2019-03-21): tipoo:

And even with all those constraints imposed, a hybrid hard drive would have gone a long way too. Feel a bit bad that some unknowing people will get a worse macOS experience than 5 year old systems with an SSD.

Colin Cornaby:

Fusion Drives being standard on iMacs would be less of an issue if you could upgrade to a full SSD post purchase.

Update (2019-03-26): Stephen Hackett:

However, the outside of the iMac could use a refresh as well. The design is fine, but I think it could be modernized in a couple of areas. The bezels were fine in 2012, but seven years later, they look ridiculous. The integrated foot is sturdy, but I miss the days of more adjustable desktops. The built-in iSight camera is...not great, and the fan noise generated by high-end models is a non-starter for many of us.

Update (2019-03-29): Juli Clover:

Geekbench’s John Poole this afternoon shared a series of 2019 iMac benchmarks, giving us a look at the performance boosts offered by Intel’s 8th and 9th-generation Coffee Lake chips.

All of the new 27-inch 5K models offer superior performance compared to their 2017 counterparts, with single-core performance up an average of 6 to 11 percent and multi-core performance up 43 to 49 percent for six-core models. The higher-end models with 3.6GHz 8-core Core i9 chip offer the biggest boost in multi-core performance, with speeds up 66 percent.

Update (2019-04-01): Adam Chandler:

The 2019 iMac arriving tomorrow scored 6157 Single and 32293 Multi-Core blowing away all of my previous Macs in a massive way! Now that it is 100% SSD, the difference in performance with the new iMac and the top of the line MacBook Pro is enough that I’ll continue running a two machine setup for the foreseeable future. No reason to work on only one machine and while I require the portability of a MacBook, I love and would hate to give up the flexibility of also having a desktop that is many double-digit more powerful.


When ordering the iMac, I did consider an iMac Pro. I was within $750 of a base iMac Pro but I’m glad I didn’t. Looking at this Geek Bench blog post, it’s clear I made the right decision.

Rob Griffiths (tweet):

As with the prior comparison, this is not a review of the 2019 iMac—I’ll leave that detailed work to others who do it much better than I. I’m mainly interested in comparing this machine’s performance to my current iMac—and for the Geekbench 4 tests, with the 10-core iMac Pro.


Two lines stand out here—those for the RSA verifications per second, where the new CPU is roughly 33% slower than the old CPU. I tried to discover why, but had no luck with a number of web searches. My only theory is that the RSA verification is so relatively simple (compare the results with DSA verification; RSA is about three times faster) that CPU clock speed is the gating item—and the new CPU runs at 3.6GHz versus 4.0GHz for the old.

Update (2019-04-08): Josh Centers:

Louis Rossman takes the piss out of Apple for its new iMac, and they honestly deserve it.

Update (2019-04-09): Rob Griffiths:

Wrapping it all up, I’ve found the new iMac with the ADM Pro Vega 48 to be a more than decent games machine. Its one downside is fan noise—they will spool up and be noticeable in anything that pushes the video card hard. How can this be avoided? Well, you could stick to old games that don’t stress the GPU as much.

Alternatively, you could give Apple $5,799 (instead of the $3,449 I spent on my iMac plus third-party RAM) to buy the 10-core iMac Pro, which has a totally different thermal management system.


Other than the fan noise under load (which my old iMac shares), I’m very happy with the new machine. It’s wicked fast in every day use, I like the wider color gamut display, the added RAM will be very nice to have, and I finally have a capable gaming machine that’s the same as my primary work machine.

Update (2019-04-30): Rob Griffiths:

The real time saver is in the video transcoding: The new iMac was over twice as fast as the old one. This is where the extra cores in the Core i9 processor really pay off—even more so than I was expecting.

Overall, the new iMac saved nearly 30 minutes compared to the old iMac. In percentage terms, that’s 35% faster.

What you don’t see in the table, though, are the test conditions. I gave the old iMac every advantage possible. I had already removed all my background apps and cloud services, Time Machine is disabled, there’s nothing running in the menu bar, and the only tasks the iMac had running were related to the test.

On the new iMac, on the other hand, it was business as usual: I had all my background tasks running, all my cloud services were connected, I had 18 apps running with about 40 open windows, and I was actively working, switching between browsers and email and chat and Excel.

9 Comments RSS · Twitter

> iMac Pro in order to get a computer that was silent under heavy load

Sadly iMac Pro isn’t either. Started that way, after a few macOS updates (and the stories about MacBook Pros being low-performance) it too spins up the fans under moderate load.

I think there will be a new iMac, redesigned and has SSD as default, possibly after the introduction of Mac Pro, potentially at WWDC or the end of the year.

Although I would have rather they hike the price by an additional $100 and has SSD as default. Currently it is hard to recommend any (Default) Mac Products to my Friends. iMac , MacBook, .........

I ordered one although I am worried about thermals, particularly when there was no i7 option only an i5 or i9.

@Clark I'm interested in how the thermals turn out as well. These Coffee Lake Refresh parts exceed their TDP a good bit when using turbo boost (from 95W → 110W or more, based on a cursory search). If I had to guess, these CPUs won't be able to remain in a turbo state as long as the Kaby Lake parts in the previous iMacs.

@Clark and @remmah:

Apple tunes their systems so that the fan remains inaudible except when the system is on the verge of burning out. If you're willing to change the minimum fan setting (w/utilities like macs fan control) from "essentially inaudible" to "very quiet", that should be enough to address any issues with thermal throttling and let you enjoy the full capabilities of the CPU.

At least that's been my experience with Mac minis and Mac laptops - it only takes a small increase in the fan RPM floor to bring the idle temperature down to around 30 C and make the load temperature be in the 60's instead of the 90's.

Yeah, I run fan controls on my MBP. I may well do that on the iMac and put a quiet fan behind the iMac to circulate cooler air from the room to the intake. An air filter in the room presumably will help keep dust out as well.

@Glaurung Yep, SMCFanControl was always part of my loadout for my Macs, though the downside of a higher fan speed is pushing more air/dust through the machine.

An other issue is how small the hard drives they offer are. My 2012 iMac had a 3G fusion drive. That amount remains after 7 years the largest drive you can put in. I get some people wanting spinning disks given how expensive large SSDs get. But at least offer 6G or 8G drives!

> This is where the extra cores in the Core i9 processor really pay off
so it looks like Intel Quick Sync is not that helpful?

Leave a Comment