Last month my wife and I bought a brand-new iMac to replace our aging 2013 kitchen computer. Two weeks ago we returned it because it wasn’t any faster than our seven-year-old machine.
An Apple iMac with a MacBook and an iPhone
Photo by Devon Janse van Rensburg on Unsplash
You buy a new computer for a lot of different reasons, but one of them is typically speed. You expect your new computer to be faster than your old computer … and you expect that difference to be completely obvious.
Especially when there’s a six to seven year gap between them.
But our new iMac didn’t feel any faster. And while sometimes it’s hard to know for sure how long starting up or logging in on one computer compares to another, I decided to do an actual full-on video test:
2013 iMac versus 2019 iMac speed test:
One thing that’s really obvious: iMacs take a long time to boot up. I’m used to working on my MacBook Pro, which has a solid state drive, and it’s much faster.
The new iMac was faster to book, getting to a log-in screen in 93 seconds, but not massively. The 2013 iMac booted to a log-in screen in 107 seconds … just 14 seconds longer.
For actually logging in, the new iMac completed in a fairly fast nine seconds, twice as fast as the old iMac at 18 seconds. Again, not a huge difference, though, at least in absolute amount of time.
Interestingly, the 2013 iMac was faster to load Safari, Apple’s web browser.
The older machine was also faster to load Mail, Apple’s proprietary desktop email client.
It’s not just about perceived or actual speed, however. It’s also about the frustration factor when using technology. It should always be faster than you need … but it isn’t.
�� 2014 Bloomberg Finance LP
One thing that should never come up on a brand-new Apple machine is the spinning beach ball of death … your Mac’s way of telling you it’s busy, working hard, and overburdened. That spinning beach ball came up on the new machine doing nothing more than closing System Preferences.
The new machine was the clear winner in opening Apple’s Podcast app, however.
Ultimately, both machines are slow, and both machines are slow because they use old-fashioned spinning hard drives, not solid-state drives. Traditional hard drives are cheap but slow. Solid-state drives are much faster — up to eight times faster at accessing data — but they’re much more expensive.
They do, however, make booting up and other disk-intensive tasks much quicker.
The odd thing is that Apple still sells iMacs without one.
Apple does offer what it calls a “Fusion drive,” which offers the best of both worlds. Fusion drives have a small solid-state drive for commonly-accessed files and quick startups. I tested an iMac with a Fusion drive in an Apple Store, and it booted in probably less than a third of the time of the iMac I had bought.
It wasn’t the cheapest machine: about $1,800 Canadian, or almost $1,400 USD. And it had a 3.6 GHz quad-core Intel i3 processor with retina screen. But it felt just as slow as our old iMac … a 2013 iMac 2.7 GHz quad-core Intel i5.
And that is a bad experience for new iMac owners.
If you’re in the market for an iMac, you will have to spend the extra cash for the Fusion drive if you want good performance.
One other option?
Keep the old machine and add an external solid state drive just for the operating system.
“Absolutely love my 2013,” a YouTube commenter responded to my video. “I strapped a Samsung T5 to the stand and installed Catalina on it. Mine boots in 27 seconds and the computer just runs beautiful now.”
That’s a good way to save $2,000.