Why I Won’t be Buying Apple’s New iMac

| John Martellaro's Blog

I have been buying and using Apple products for a long time. Whenever the occasion has come up to investigate and shop for a new Mac, it's been a delightful experience. Juggling the various options and price plus fantasizing about the new technology is always a fun process.

However, to tell you why I won't be buying one of the new iMacs, I have to tell you about the previous one. My workhorse iMac is a 2010 27-inch iMac with an i7 CPU and a 256 GB SSD, factory installed by Apple. I paid the extra $400 at the time of purchase for that SSD because I thought it would pay off in speed and time saved from the hard disk spinning up. It worked, and that iMac has been a joy to use.

Now I want to replace it with a new 2012 27-inch iMac, and pass the current one down to my wife -- who has struggled with a much older iMac with a slow 1 TB hard disk. Her iMac takes forever to boot and is constantly waiting on the disk

A Nasty Surprise

While I pondered whether I wanted to stick with a 256 GB SSD or move up to a 512 MB SSD, I eagerly loaded up Apple's online store and checked my storage options. They look like this:

Options are bleak.

I was stunned and annoyed that I could not pick a reasonable SSD at a reasonable price (compared to 2010). Now, Apple wants to soak me for US$1,300 for a 768 GB SSD.

It's outrageous. It's larceny. It's obscene.

Never Going Back Again

All my Macs boot from SSDs. Recently, I upgraded the sturdy, old 2009 Mac Pro with the Accelsior 480 GB SSD that sits on the PCI bus and is bootable. It's a dream. Fast and quiet. Did I mention fast?

Throughout the years, I've come to believe that SSDs are the way to go, and I will never buy another Mac that has a rotating hard disk. Even Apple has promoted this, bravely starting with a 64 GB SSD in the original MacBook Airs in 2008. Okay, I'm signed up.

I'm not going back in time, and I'm never going to own another computer that boots from or has an internal hard disk. But Apple suddenly, for the sake of an apparent money grab, wants to take away reasonable SSD options in order to soak me for an additional $1,300 for 768 GB. That's $1.69/GB. Otherwise, all in the name of the Fusion technology which is touted as some kind of breakthough, and it isn't, shove a hard disk down my throat. Hard disks, by any name, are dead to me.

According to Computerworld, the going rate today for SSDs is 80 to 90 cents per gigabyte, and there is even a new SSD, announced at CES, that's 1 TB for less than $600.

Let's do some math. I paid an extra $400 for a 256 GB SSD in 2010. Three times 256 = 768 and 3 x $400 is $1200. One would think that, over the last 2.5 years, the natural reduction in SSD prices would bring that price for 768 GB well below $1,200. And it has in all other circles. Instead Apple has increased the price, in proportion, to $1,300. Nonsense.

None of the options presented to me are going to happen.

Potential Options

If this has been a 2011 iMac, I could have taken advantage of a special upgrade program from Other World Computing. You can:

  • Upgrade the SD card slot to a high-performance eSATA port
  • Upgrade to say, 16 GB  RAM (for much less than Apple's price)
  • Add internal SSDs, for example 2 x 240 GB
  • Maintain the Warranty via OWC
  • A shipping box is provided.

Our Jim Tanous did this, all for less than Apple is charging for the 768 GB SSD today. But the newer 2012 iMac is glued together, has a very low serviceability (3/10) according to iFixit -- if the 21.5-inch sibling is any indication --  and could be very hard to upgrade the SSD by a third party.  (For the 2012 iMac, OWC is still working on a kit because Apple has changed the wiring to prevent the use of standard SSD connectors.)

Another option is to buy the iMac with the cheapest hard disk, keep it dismounted, and connect a bootable SSD of my choosing via the Thunderbolt port. That's inelegant, but should work. Could I convert the internal hard disk to be the Time Machine drive? Looks ugly.

The third option is to cave in and accept the Fusion drive and literally go back in time with an Internal hard disk -- with the attendant reliability and maintenance issues if it crashes hard. That's not going to happen. Ever.

My Stand

Apple has always restricted options to keep things simple. But when I bought the 2010 iMac, I had a tempting and desirable option for a mid-range SSD, market priced. Now, nearly three years later, Apple has taken away sensible state-of-the-art options for mid-range, pure SSDs, tried to drag me into Fusion hard disks, forced me to consider some ugly, backwards and undesirable configurations, or else get soaked for a credit card crunching extra $1300, an SSD whose price is way, way out of line even by Apple's premium standards.

[I have since learned that one reason that SSD is so expensive is that it is the same very dense unit used for the Retina MacBook Pro. So it's over-enginered, overly costly for the iMac.]

Apple: see that money burning a hole in my pocket? It's staying right there until I have modern, realistic options. Or until the new Mac Pro comes out. That is, if the new Mac Pro promised by Tim Cook isn't similarly hosed up.

 

Comments

vpndev

John, I would expect that the Fusion drive would give you the speed you are looking for.

That’s an opinion, based upon comments I’ve seen, not personal experience. Since I’m looking at similar (not the same) possibilities, I am very interested in having community feedback. In my case, it would be a Mini with Fusion drive.

John Martellaro

Fusion technology is a step backwards, in my opinion, compared to a pure SSD. I won’t have one.  Rotating hard disks are sooooo dead. DOA. I won’t have one inside my Mac.

And after getting all our family Macs converted to SSDs, it would be extra annoying to step backwards to Fusion drives. Not gonna happen.

haineux

John, the Fusion Drive is EXACTLY what you want.

It is as fast as an SSD, for the price of a rotating hard drive.

No, really. Ars Technica did extensive testing, as did MacWorld. It really is really fast.

BONUS: It gives you SSD performance over the entire 3TB drive. In other words, it’s a HUGE bargain compared to SSDs.

John Martellaro

haineux. Yes, but it ROTATES.  It’s a moving part.  It can crash. It can fail. It’s so yesterday. It’s NOT exactly what I want.  What I want is a 512 GB SSD.

vpndev

This is going to be a good thread. It’s really nice to have good discussions rather than the drivel that so often occurs elsewhere.

John - I’m interested in why you’re so firmly against rotating disks. I’m not trying to change your opinion but just understand why you hold it. Is it speed, or reliability, or something else??

geoduck

I agree with John. Sure you can get similar speed out of Fusion drives but the reliability is not going to be as good. I could update my MBP to a hybrid drive today but I won’t. It will get a full SSD when the price drops a little more.

Kerri

Ok, so trying to comment on this site while on an iPad sucks.

That aside, seriously? SSDs can fail just as badly and as often as HDDs. Never leave data on either kind of drive that isn’t already backed up somewhere else.

Now, my personal thought would be to get a small SSD for the OS and then run everything else through thunderbolt. That way I can get whatever works for me. Files that I don’t use regularly don’t need to be accessed with the same speed as my OS, apps, and commonly used files.

John Martellaro

Hard drives, in my experience, fail - either in time, or earlier, when you least expect them to. I’ve had drives fail over and over, at the most inconvenient times.  They’re OLD technology. I bought a TB drive a few years ago that completely died after 13 months.  Fortunately, it was in my MacPro Bay and was backed up to another drive.

They take time to spin up.  They’re not a technology I want to invest in for the long run. 

I can see how Apple is trying to provide a high performance, low cost option.  But it’s not one I want to invest in for the long run. So, for goodness, sake, give me sensible, modern options like they did in 2010.

 

John Martellaro

Kerri:  My strategy is to have an internal SSD backed up to a cheap, replaceable external hard disk via Time Machine.  It’s worked great.

haineux

Just so you know: SSDs wear out.

Each section can only sustain a certain number of writes. After that, the drive notices, and silently moves the data to a new section of storage. Every SSD contains “spare” storage for this purpose.

So which is more reliable? Some power users have (apocryphally) reported SSDs not lasting as long as rotating media, but that’s not real data. I assume that Apple will make the SSDs last as long as an AppleCare contract.

Mind you, $500 for a 1TB SSD with reasonable speed IS a breakthrough, if it pans out. And if it does, maybe Apple made the wrong choice doing Fusion drives. I guess we’ll know next year.

John Martellaro

haineux. Right.  I have AppleCare on the iMac, so Apple’s betting they won’t have to replace the SSD for three years.

And I do know about those issues with SSDs.  My 256 GB Apple SSD has been spectacular.  I just want another one for the new iMac at a sensible price, considering how hard Apple makes it to do customer upgrades.

Mark Greentree

Great opinion piece John.

Interestingly, the 21.5 inch model now comes with a 5400 rpm rotational drive. Previously, this was always a 7200 rpm drive as standard. My late 2009 21.5 inch iMac has a 7200 rpm drive. Therefore, based on disc speed alone, upgrading would be endorsing old “slow” technology.

Honestly, I can’t understand their reasoning for this downgrade. Sure, you can add $250 more for the fusion drive, but many consumers simply can not afford this option. I know I would struggle justifying it to my better half. Plus the 21.5 inch model does not offer any dedicated SSD option at all.

Don’t get me started on the lack of an optical drive in a desktop system. Or the more difficult RAM upgrade path post purchase in the 21.5 inch model.

Is design really worth these sacrifices?

John Martellaro

Mark, at least the (2012) 27-inch iMac has user upgradeable RAM via an access door.

Robbo

this may be a double post….

I have a 2012 MacMini and my next job is to install a couple of SSD’s. I reckon it will be as fast as my old MacPro 2008, a ton smaller and much greener to run. I already have an Apple Monitor, but that is being replaced with a new 24” from either Dell, Asus or NEC.

It’s not an iMac, but when I wanted to replace my MP, I too looked at the 2012 iMacs and decided the MacMini was the better shot.

David

John, I agree in principle that the sad options are too limited and overpriced. However, how long so you keep your systems, and what is the real risk if this is a three year investment?

David

Damn autocorrect on the iPad .. SSD not SAD.

John Martellaro

David: I’m prepared to wait another year, until Apple loses interest in Fusion drives—and SSDs become more or less the standard. It’s my wife’s older iMac that needs replacing.  But the rule is, *I* am the editor so *she* gets the hand-me-downs.

vpndev

Hhmmm ... Robbo is also looking to replace a 2008 MacPro with a Mini. There seems to be a pattern here smile

I’m also thinking about a Synology NAS so I can offload much of the storage I have on the MacPro. Probably DS 213+ with 2TB drives.

If Apple wants to sell me on the new Mac Pro then they should hurry.

Tiger

As someone who keeps their Mac an average of 9 years, wow. Three years and you’re done? I passed my then 9 year old Mac on to my sister. That was 2 years ago. Yep, it’s 11 years old and still going strong. My 2010 iMac boots in 25 seconds. If that’s too slow, stop and take a breath. My office PC takes nearly 2 minutes to boot!

SSD…Flash. They fail all the time. In fact, I’m surprised they don’t fail more often. Do I wish spinning hard drives were faster? Sure, but they have been really reliable for me (having replaced one each in two Macs over 18 years).

But hey, whatever floats your boat (said tongue in cheek as I’m here in Louisiana with a city that’s flooding everywhere!)

John Martellaro

Tiger.  Remember who I work for.  I have to keep up with the latest technologies, or I can’t write about them and keep the readers informed.

Jack

Buy a Thundebolt case, put an SSD in it, and boot from that. Use the internal, default spinning drive for backup.

Scott

It’s funny—when I saw this headline in my RSS feed, I came to the site hoping it was yet another person, like me, who objects to the idea of a desktop Mac without an optical drive, in the name of some useless “thinness”. I still need to play DVDs from time to time, and it annoys me that if I get a new iMac (although I’m happy in year 5 of my 24” iMac), I’d have to get a klunky external optical drive to take up space on my desk.

So it’s ironic that John’s objection is on the other side of the spectrum—not only are optical drives useless things of the past in his book, but so are standard hard drives.

Another point for the continued idiocy of Apple’s quest for “thinness” in a dimension that absolutely does not matter: the relocation of the oh-so-convenient SD card slot from the side (which started with the model after mine—cursed again!) to the back, where it loses all ease of access.

Those are two reasons why I’m going to be delaying replacing my iMac for as long as possible. That, and the fact that I’d much rather be running Snow Leopard, as I am now, than anything Apple’s made since then. If I want an iPad or iPhone, I’ll buy one. Stop trying to turn my Mac into one. Every new OS X release seems to lose useful features and gain pointless ones.

graxspoo

I hear you John. I’ve been feeling this way for some time, ever since Apple started moving away from user serviceable machines. I had a 2006 white MacBook, and it was great. I was able to max out its memory, add a bigger hard drive, and even personally repair the Wi-Fi card when it failed (thanks to iFixit!). No-can-do with any of the current Apple laptops. Apple has always charged an unreasonable amount for extra storage and memory in their computers, so to me what you are annoyed with here is nothing new. The piece that is new is, -you have no option-. In the past you could just buy the cheapest configuration, then do the upgrade yourself. And, in a larger sense this is a metaphor for everything I dislike about Apple these days. The whole ecosystem is getting less a-la-cart and more and more monolithic. I suppose this is good for technophobes, but it requires Apple to be “the best” (or at least highly competent) at an unreasonable number of things (look no further than Apple Maps to see what I mean). I’d rather be tied in to a mix-and-match ecosystem, so that I can pick the solutions that work best for what I’m up to, rather than having all those decisions made for me.

Gareth Harris

I agree John. Apple totally missed the timeline on SSDs. Plus they have always irritated me about gouging on disks and RAM. SInce they normally please customers, one would think they would not cause us the inconvenience of having to order disk and RAM elsewhere and add them in ourselves with their pricing games.

Personally, while waiting for a new Mac Pro, I changed from Mac Pro to Macbook Air 13” - maxed out. It is faster than my old MacPro with rotating storage. I have a Thunderbolt screen attached when at my desk. As I fill my 256 G internal, I am stalling, waiting for SSD prices to drop so I can add some external SSD to my Thunderbolt chain. Meanwhile, I back up using 2 spindles of USB 2.0 [arghh!] - one time machine and the other carbon copy cloner. I always have multiple spindles of backup.

My main complaint: I give portable presentations using a TB to HDMI cable from MBA to microprojector, and cannot use TB for anything else since the MBA has only one TB port. Somebody is not thinking things through at Apple.

geoduck

IMO Fusion is like a Prius. A great technology (I have one) but really a bridge. An interim step until the newer technology (SSD in this case, all electric in the case of cars) matures. SSD is rapidly dropping in price and gaining in reliability. It is where the market is going.

There was a period when flat panel displays were competing with CRTs. For a couple of years CRTs were less expensive and LCDs weren’t as reliable, but after a few years that had changed. I think in just a couple of years we’ll be down below 50 cents/Gb maybe even 25 cents /Gb, and the reliability will be significantly better than platter drives. Then they will be the default option on most systems.

Stan

Well, I got an emotional diatribe against hard drives without a clue as to why they’re “dead” and why SSD is so much better (I’ve read a few grumbles about them, too, that don’t make them very interesting in comparison).  With the emotionality, I really don’t understand why one should be dead vs. another that is mysteriously the only way to go these days.  Since I haven’t read back articles to learn what you’ve said before, all I have now is your emotionality to guide me.  That’s not going to work.  I’ve never had an iMac and haven’t been interested because fussy photo people prefer other displays (which I haven’t willingly paid for) but own a now old (2006) Mac Pro with a 21” display that is only adequate for the fussy photo people.  Maybe the newer Mac Pro has to be my next upgrade choice.  Carry on, John, but get hold of your emotions and try some analytical comments to help me out.

graxspoo

Stan, it’s a matter of the reliability (or lack thereof) of hard drives. Hard drives have precision moving parts that are very delicate, and because of this hard drives fail. It’s a fact of life. And when they do it’s sometimes catastrophic. Even if you have backups. For example, I’ve had Time Machine repositories become silently corrupt, so that everything -seemed- like it was being backed up, but then when I needed to restore I was SOL. SSD is faster, more reliable, more shock resistant, lighter, smaller and uses less power.

John Martellaro

Stan,
Because you’re not a regular, you’re not up to speed on my technical writing at TMO over the last seven years. The bio above gives a clue. And I figured some of the readers would weigh in as well. (Thanks graxspoo.)

There are times when a little bit of technical passion makes perfect sense—and good reading.

Paul Goodwin

I think I read where the new iMac doesn’t have user accessible RSM slots either. The new iMac is a bummer. I have been buying iMacs since my 1998 Bondi Blue model, g4 Flat Panel, and my mid 2010 21.5”. All great machines. The lack of the built in optical drive, the RSM amd SSD prices will make me upgrade my 2010 for as many years as it will still perform good enough. My 2002 Flat panel got me nearly 8 years with some RAM and drive upgrades. The new iMac doean’t look good to me at all. Hopefully, when buyers stay away in droves. They’ll get the message. This model reminds me of those once-in-a-while losers Apple used to come out with that never sold.

John Martellaro

Paul,
The 27-inch model does have a panel for user RAM upgrades. “four user-accessible SO-DIMM slots, Configurable to 16GB or 32GB”.

http://www.apple.com/imac/specs/

davebarnes

John,
Relax.
Smoke a J.
It is legal in Colorado.
,dave

KurtG

Hi John.  Whoa - don’t blow a gasket on this one.  I’m about your age and I know how easy it is to blow a gasket.  I do have lots of Macs, including a 2011 27 inch iMac with a 256 SSD and 2 TB hard drive.  That was before fusion so I had to use Terminal to set it up.  Amazingingly fast machine with incredible start up times.  Been running 24/7 for almost 2 years without a glitch (touch wood).  Best iMac I have ever had.  I’ll certainly buy a new version in a year or so, and I will ensure I have both a large SSD and HD in it. 

I really don’t think you’re really rational about this -but what the hey, it’s your prerogative.  As you note you have tons of experience, and are usually very calm.

I must say I did enjoy your comments, though!

And you received a boatload of responses!

Lancashire-Witch

Good rant John,  I enjoyed it - and all the comments.  This is the post-PC era so maybe any iMac is the wrong choice.

I think I’d stay with the Mac Pro for the heavy lifting and use a MBA or iPad for everything else.  But then, my needs may not reflect yours.

(I use a G5 and an iPad, or iPhone most of the time - what a combination! …  I rarely use my 2009 iMac….  but I think I should have bought a MBA; not an iPad)

Vitor

2 options for HD, 2 options for Fusion, but just one option for SSD? I agree the lack of options are unacceptable.

It’s funny that I feel the exact opposite of you John. I refuse to buy an SSD until their reliability is proven. I have read some stories of people who have been frustrated by SSDs consistently dying on them. People who have gone through 6 in a year. That doesn’t give me confidence.

Although that may have been in 2011 and the problems may be solved by now, I have never had a HD fail on me. (OK, just one failed when the computer was a week old.) Have you seen a pattern with your failed HDs?

There may come a time when SSDs are favored so much that HD build quality and the resulting reliability will be reduced. Maybe then, I will upgrade; or when the prices become comparable to HDs. Until then, my current HD is fast enough, responsive enough, and reliable.

Paul Goodwin

John thanks. Yes the 27 incher has the RAM slots but it’s $500 more and the screen is too big IMO for sitting on a desk right in front of you. Also gone is the Firewire 800 port, so you have to buy a Thunderbolt adapter (more clutter) at $29. Also, the S/PDIF audio in/out is gone. No audio in at all and only a headphone out. So you need to go buy an analog to digital converter. The ones with digital inputs are not cheap. Now the clutter is up to an Optical drive, a thunderbolt adapter and an ADC. This is a ridiculous model.

I urge everyone here to give Apple direct negative feedback on this model.

http://www.apple.com/feedback/

Paul Goodwin

Plus, if you want quality audio out, you need a DAC. A full digital I/O audio processor can run some serious bucks. On Apple’s website, the specs don’t say whether the headphone output also serves as a digital out interface. If it isn’t, then and the 27 in iMac are audio losers.

Edward Stern

This new iMac is basically being held hostage by Apple. the fact that you can’t buy a stock imac and upgrade RAM & HD is awful. After the warranty runs out and you need a repair your only choice is to go back to Apple. it seems that they consider the iMac to be a larger iPad.

Thomas

I am with you John,

Instead of ordering one of the 2012 iMacs, just before Christmas bought an Apple ‘refurbished’ 2011 iMac, 27” with the 3.4GHz i7, and I am having OWC do their magic so I’ll have a 240 Gb SSD as my main drive, 32Gb of RAM, and the external eSATA port. My younger brother has one like this and it ‘screams’! grin

Too bad about the ‘full glare’ screen, I had to put a curtain up in my computer room doorway so the living room lights didn’t show up on my screen, but at least I have an internal optical drive.

- Thomas

anovelli

Good job John, and certainly you are entitled to your opinion. I’m not sure I ever run into objectionable disk-related speed issues on my 2011 MBP, but I have nothing to compare it against. If I could, I would go with the DataDoubler from OWC to experiment. My primary curiosity is that you want the iMac to run solely on SSD yet back up to a rotational drive. If reliability rather than speed is your primary concern, I would expect to hear of a different backup strategy? I would also be interested on your take for best approach to long-term backups. thx

KitsuneStudios

I’m also not happy at the upsell on the 27” just to get 2GB of VRAM (I do 3d animation as well as gaming. I don’t need the 27” monitor thanks to a 21” cintiq.

I really hope Apple introduces a new Mac Pro this year.

Paul Goodwin

I read the new iMac specs again and the headphone port still does digital audio out - at least they didn’t omit that one. But you still need to buy an external audio input processor and an external optical disk.

Vincent

I feel your pain, John and agree. There’s no excuse for Apple milking their customers; they already make a nice profit on all their devices so this doesn’t make sense unless you go with pure greed. There’s also no excuse to make a non-serviceable machine. Updating RAM and drives on all models should be simplicity itself, always.

John Martellaro

anovelli: That backup strategy I use:  a fast, internal, Apple SSD with no moving parts backed up to an external, cheap, rotating hard disk (that can be easily replaced) via Time Machine is perhaps worthy of an article it itself.  Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I’d like to hear your thoughts on that strategy. Anyone else?

KurtG

Hello John.  Excellent backup strategy.  Have a few retina MacBook pro’s with 768 GB SSD’s which back up to cheap 2 TB HD’s.  I use SuperDuper daily with them since they are mainly for travel.  For desktop I use 2 cheap 3TB HD’s.  One runs Time Machine hourly, and one runs SuperDuper daily.  Has worked well so far.  Nice to have both Time Machine and a bootable copy.

anovelli

Thanks for your response John. Well, being a premium subscriber of Mac Geek Gab, I have been convinced of the value of multiple backup sources. Ideally, my situation is this: 1) weekly clones of my MBP to a portable 2.5 OWC Mercurcy HDD using Carbon Copy Cloner; Offloads to other rotational and static media (CF cards more frequently now) of infrequently used or bulky media (I shoot tons of digital photos and vids, easily crushing my drive); Time Machine backups running daily when I am at home; DropBox syncing for new or updated files within the last week, and under 20 MB, excluding multimedia. I also from time to time still try and transfer photos and music to DVDs, which I am still relying on for long-term storage (kept dark and stable). Obviously with the scenarios above I am sacrificing speed (and bandwidth) to security, though thankfully haven’t had to rely on it much. My bet is high quality (OWC et al) rotational media for mid- to longer term storage, flash for transferring and short term storage and recovering disk space, and hopefully something like Fusion to speed up the system. I also am looking at other things like SugarSync to redundify things a bit more smile

BurmaYank

I hope you, John (& the rest of us TMO readers), won’t mind my repeating here the cautionary note I gave to those would-be Fusion Drive buyers who might be wanting to run Parallels Desktop 8 on it, in my comments to Jim Tanous very helpful Jan. 7th, 2013 article, “Apple Now Offers Fusion Drive on Entry-Level iMac, Saves $200”:

“Apparently, installing Parallels Desktop 8 (at least, using the latest version, per its downloaded installer) onto the latest i7 MacMini with a Fusion Drive and latest MacOS will always cause the total deletion of all non-opened apps (as well as the Applications folder), without leaving any trace/vestige/remnant on your hard drive.

It has done this 6 out of 6 times, the last two of which were witnessed and extensively recorded & probed in real time, using “LogMeIn” VPN dynamic screensharing, by 2nd Level Engineers of Parallels’ Tech Services. 

 The problem is still as yet awaiting resolution.”

 

guest

I’m just happy to see someone REALLY call them out for the lack of options. Usually it’s a fight between “fan-boys” on either side. Your article is completely accurate.

John Martellaro

BurmaYank: Thanks for that important note.  We’ll be following up.

Eolake Stobblehouse

I hear you. I’m in about the same situation. My old Mac Pro (five years?) is getting slower and more unreliable every month. And the disks are full.

I’m half pinning my hopes on the upcoming new Mac Pro. But for some reasons (like the reasons I’m still stuck in Snow Leopard, no Rosetta, and the iOSifications) I am not very hopeful that they will do right by their old faithful pro customers, now that their trillion dollars is mostly paid by iPhone users.
If they get it right though, I’ll praise it loud.

wab95

John:

This discussion thread needs another comment like a millipede needs another foot. Two quick points.

First, I too have moved away from rotational drives for the past four years. Won’t buy another. Then again, my MBP gets rough treatment out in the field, where, despite its being housed inside of a ballistic grade Brenthaven backpack, it still endures shock and trauma, and is frequently, out of necessity, tossed (inside the backpack) from person to person (don’t ask) and bounced around in the boot of ground transport along bumpy roads. That shock stress has resulted in two successive premature rotational drive failures in earlier MBPs, and as soon as the SSDs were available, I migrated, and haven’t had a failure since. The first instance was nearly catastrophic, and I could not retrieve my data for two months until I was back in civilisation.

In my own research of storage options, once I discovered that the engineers at NASA opted for flash media in their Mars rovers for their superior resilience to shock and other stresses, that was good enough for me to give them a try, and I haven’t been disappointed.

Currently, I have a 0.75TB SSD in my 15” retina MBP, and didn’t care about the cost. I need data security and guaranteed performance, and find it good value for money (the cheap Dells onsite out here don’t last anywhere near as long); a sentiment supported by my paying less for this machine than I paid for my equally tricked out 17” MBP (also with a 0.5TB SSD) 18 months prior. Superior machine, bigger SSD, less cost. Good value.

Second, regarding backup strategies, I too back up to triple redundant and inexpensive rotational external drives (two of which can fit into my backpack or even my pocket), as well as a Time Capsule, and two off-site cloud solutions, in addition to iCloud for my Pages and other documents. Triple redundancy, given the inexpensive nature of external rotational drives, is, again to my thinking, good value for money and far less costly than the irretrievable loss of my data. While most user will not need that level of redundancy, and mine is driven by professional requirement, and the fact that several international collaborating teams rely on these data, some redundancy is still a good strategy and affordable in one form factor or another.

Still, I’ve not been put off of the new iMacs. I personally only use portable solutions, but have been thinking of getting a low-end fusion drive-supported iMac for my daughter (she doesn’t do well with laptops, or more accurately, they haven’t done well under her care), assuming she agrees.

wab95

Burma Yank:

Many thanks for that important tip. I seem recall hearing about this. My daughter does not use Parallels, so a fusion driven iMac may not be a problem for her, but I will take that under advisement.

Vitor

@ Eolake Stobblehouse

You should try reformatting your MacBook. I don’t expect computers to become slower over time, unless something in software is keeping them from running fast. 5 years old isn’t that old in today’s computing market.

When you restore, only restore personal files, don’t restore anything else, otherwise you may be copying the slowness back to your MacBook.

Glenn Stewart

John, linking to a Seagate Momentus XT and saying the Fusion is just similar to it shows you’ve been caught out by the dumbing down of Apple’s explanation. Like me, you’ve been in IT for more decades than one can remember, and with this in mind you know research is important.

I agree…. I hate waiting for platters having lived with SSD’s.
But you’re always going to have to pay a premium for speed versus space.

I think the Fusion is a very good compromise.

Let’s get one thing out of the way. Your research is lacking by comparing the Momentus and the Fusion and calling them the same thing.

Firstly, the XT uses a miniscule 8GB of NAND flash. It’s a write-through cache. All data has to be written out to and read from the hard disk.
This is the bottleneck and why benchmarks aren’t that much faster than a any other 7200rpm drive by comparison.

But you’re also not paying for more than a cheap cache attached to a hard disk.

For Fusion you’re paying for two drives:
- The hard disk
- The SSD

It’s actually a clever way to get rid of small SSD stock than are too small for MacBooks.

The Fusion drive is an SSD disk and a hard disk combined into a single volume.

The writes will always be written to the SSD, and only written to hard disk if (a) the SSD is full and (b) the file written isn’t a commonly accessed file (4 times required for “often”). The OS ensures the SSD always has at least 4GB free for future writes.

The only time an current write is made to the hard drive is if the single file being written is greater than 4GB in size.
Even then, the first 4GB will be at SSD speeds and the remainder will be at hard disk speeds.
Even you’ll admit most files aren’t greater than 4GB in size.

But I suppose the main advantage is that most of the files will write SSD speeds, and the writes are done and dusted.

Going back to the XT, the write-through cache doesn’t actually add to the size of the volume, and writes are always going to have to be written to (and read from the hard disk).
In practice you also have to read many times to have any files available in the NAND cache for a read.

Speedwise, the Segate really only achieves around 100MB/s read or write (and the read, only once pushed).
Just going off this figure alone, the Fusion blows the XT out of the water. Benchmarks are not too dissimilar to SSD speeds - roughly 3-5x the XT.

The only area where is complete demolished the XT though is in sequential read-writes.

In the end, any combinations of SSD/NAND cache and HDD to form a hybrid (in whichever form it ends up in) is a compromise.

768GB of SSD scaled with Apple’s pricing is going to cost you over $1000 regardless of whether it’s in an iMac or Macbook Pro. They charge a premium.

I personally will go with the iMac. I need the speed and the space for a decent price. I know it’s a compromise - but I accept the cons and pocket the change required to achieve similar performance/size with an external array.

John Martellaro

Mr. Stewart. That’s an excellent synopsis of the situation and it clarifies very nicely what Apple has achieved. Of course, I didn’t mean to suggest that Fusion is nothing new or is without merit. Instead I wanted to focus on 1) my interest in getting away from rotating storage and 2) Apple’s denial of choice.

Your detailed explanation is very much appreciated.

Glenn Stewart

Thanks John,

Completely agreed. Their choice does need to open up.

Like many, I look forward to viewing all the options available on the yet-to-be-announced-will-they-hurry-up-and-stop-ignoring-the-pro-market Mac Pro.

Until then, we should expect a mark up on SSD’s. Do a side by side comparison of the Macbook Pro Retina and iMac and the price of a 768GB SSD is both is roughly a similar component cost (yes - a mark up to what is on offer in the market place).

Furthermore than choice of SSD sized is lacking in the you cannot choose anything other than a 128GB (with HDD set up as Fusion - although it is possible to break them apart), or the 768GB.

On the positive flip side, I did like the fact that they used the minimum number of RAM slots possible when choosing 16GB for example. The install 2 x 8GB allowing the user 2 free slots.
There are many other manufacturers that would intentionally fill the slots with the cheaper memory disallowing an upgrade route
(and sure, this is the least Apple can do given that the iMac is really a non upgradable machine apart from this).

toefats

Although I’ll agree that Apple options can be frustratingly limited, I’ll chime in on the “reliability” issue of drives.  I also have 2 ~10 year old PBs,  a 6 year old PB, and 2 newer ones.  I personally haven’t had a hard disk fail since my IBM AT.  Yes these notebooks were moved a lot and one of the 10 year old PBs (a lombard) was smashed into the ground fast enough to bend the metal frame behind the (broken) plastic.  It still worked fine.  My wife recently bought an Air with the largest SSD available at the time.  It was too small; she has already traded it in for a MBP with rotating drive.  My info is anecdotal, and therefore nearly useless.  But “rotating hard drives can fail at any time”, is also not data.  I would guess statistics on rotating hard drive failure are available for some models at least.  Given I back up once a day, and more often when working on something critical, I simply don’t see HD failure as much of a problem, relative to the cost/size ratio for SSD.  Thanks for the column though, it’s resulted in very informative comments by the various pro’s.

Dave

Something which has not been mentioned is the Apple Firmware & specific internal temp monitoring on iMac Hard Drives since 2009. It’s hard enough to take iMacs apart without finding that good quality, large cache, 7200 RPM, 5 year warranty Hard Drives can’t be installed within. I’ve just started having my customers bring in 2009 iMacs with these Hard Drives having failed and you have to get special Apple Firmware HD’s with 1 year warranty at an exorbitant price many times that of a quality high performance HD.

So John, this is another good reason to go with SSD’s which don’t have temperature issues. Oh yeah no SSD’s only, have only the Fusion option and I’ll bet that setup has been made proprietary so when the spinning part fails only a special, expensive Apple replacement can be used.
And having to cut the new iMac’s in half with a special Apple knife to gain access inside…?? This is bound to give grief in the future. Spinning Hard Drives fail… frequently. I know ‘coz I’m the guy that does the replacement. It’s sad to tell someone all their wedding/baby/family pics are gone because a drive failed. Yes, they should have a backup. However I do have a good deal of success in data recovery but 10-20% of the time the important data is lost to silicon heaven.

I think the problem you will be worrying about John, if Apple does give you a full SSD option, is that you will just have a big iPad running Mac OS 10.x. There will be no access inside, no RAM upgrades possible, when something fails just throw it away. It is made of recyclable glass and aluminium for a reason. It’s not meant to be repaired or upgraded. Just toss it and consume another one.

Count me as another person keenly waiting on the new Mac Pro replacement so long as I can get inside and replace stuff and it has Thunderbolt.

Dave

Saga

What a lively discussion! =)

The fusion drive is the way to go here, indeed. If you fear failure then do regular backup and Apple will exchange it in case of the rare failure.

Alex

John, now you have that option back.
An 256/512 SSD is avaiable for an extra 300/600$

John Martellaro

Alex:  I saw that.  In fact, Bryan wrote a news item about it, but I haven’t had a chance to reference the new options in this article.

http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/article/apple-adds-256gb-512gb-ssd-storage-options-to-imac

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