A New Mac in the House

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This is the first blog entry for the Mac section of my website and it turns out that it's timely to report on the arrival of a new iMac into our household. The new iMac, a late-2015 27-inch retina display model, is an early Christmas present for my wife, Huguette, who has been using a now 8-year-old Mac Pro (which I affectionately call "the Beast"), and the time has arrived to upgrade.  The Beast has been a trusty workhorse since early 2008 when it first arrived to replace an earlier vintage Mac Pro (one of the Bondi Blue models that came out in the mid-90's when Apple first released its new candy-colored iMacs).

The Beast is so-called because it is a brushed-aluminum tower design (weighing in at over 40 pounds) that sits on the floor, sucking in dust and cat hair, while the 30-inch monitor sits on the desktop.  It is equipped with 4 drive bays and contains 4 1TB drives.  Bay 1 is the main production drive, Bay 2 is a SuperDuper (full volume bootable) drive backing up Bay 1, Bay 3 is a Time Machine drive backing up Bay 1, and Bay 4 was designated for video storage but not used due to some earlier reliability issues.

Eight years is a long time in computer terms, so this is a significant upgrade   on all fronts: much faster processor speed (more than double the performance as measured by a well-known benchmark), more memory (32 GB of RAM vs. 8GB in the current Mac Pro), improved hard drive capacity and performance (the new iMac has an internal 500GB solid state flash storage, which reportedly can deliver 10-30 times the read-write speed of a spinning disk hard drive).  A 3-terabyte (TB) external Thunderbolt hard drive provides much needed additional space beyond the internal solid state drive without sacrificing too much read-write speed. 

Most importantly for the artist/photographer who will be using this new iMac, it has a 5K retina display, which extends the high resolution screen technology originally available only on the iPhone and iPad, and later MacBooks, to the 27-inch desktop.  As a result, the clarity and color gamut (range) of photographs and video is nothing short of astounding.

The new iMac arrived on Thursday afternoon and that evening I set about the task of setting it up to replace the aging Mac Pro.  Things went quite smoothly, until midday Friday when I discovered that I had made an error in ordering the internal drive configuration for the iMac (I had used my Apple Store iPad app to place the order and didn't realize that I had inadvertently replaced the internal 3TB fusion drive I specified with a 500GB solid state flash drive - similar to what is used on iPhones and iPads - storage that uses no moving parts.  Flash storage is much faster - as I noted above - but it is also considerably more expensive per gigabyte of storage.

I discovered this error in the process of configuring the new machine during the day on Friday, when it gave me a "not enough disk space" message when I attempted to transfer 300GB of photos and other data files from her old computer, after having installed all the needed apps and some other data.  I initially thought the error message was incorrect, but I soon discovered that the internal drive was indeed not what I thought I had ordered.

Thus began a discussion with Applecare support to explore options for either returning or exchanging the computer via the online store or at a local Apple Store (in my case, the South Shore Plaza store in Braintree, MA).  While they had a unit at the local store that had a 2TB fusion drive, the 3TB version I initially wanted would need to be ordered and delivered later.  Even if I did purchase a replacement computer and return the one with the solid state flash drive, I would have had to transfer all the applications and data I had already installed on the solid state drive, which represented several hours of configuration work already invested.

After discussing the options with Huguette (settling for a 2TB fusion drive vs. 3TB had its own drawbacks), we decided one a two-drive solution.  Leaving the 500GB solid state drive installed as already configured, I headed off to the local Apple Store and found a 3TB LaCie external desktop drive to connect to the iMac via Thunderbolt.  Thunderbolt is the latest (and fastest) way to shuttle data to and from the RAM (working memory) on the computer.

Many other data transfer technologies have preceded Thunderbolt, including SCSI, Firewire, USB 1.0, 2.0, and now 3.0.  However, Thunderbolt can transfer data at up to 20GB per second, compared with a maximum of 5GB per second with USB 3.0, so the decision was an easy one, considering the long term speed benefit.  Since we would be depending on the external 3TB drive for a good part of Huguette's "production" storage, this was a worthwhile investment.

So, at this point on Saturday afternoon, everything has been configured and transferred to the new computer (and associated external drive) and we are officially "cooking with gas".  Huguette is already enjoying not having to wait for her old computer to do whatever it needed to do before allowing her to proceed to the next step.

The other driving factor for making the upgrade when we did it is that the subject matter for Huguette's next series of artwork is lichen, which requires a relatively new photographic technique called "image stacking" to make composite photos that have the full depth of field desired for macro views of such small specimens.  With her new iMac, she is now set to explore this new venture fully and without concern that her computer wouldn't be up to the task.