Retro Future Electrics

A page about retro electronics, from the introduction of electricity until 1970-something. We refit old gadgets with new tech, and wonder at the makers who came before us.

2019 iMac with Intel 9th generation i9 and Vega 48 graphics vs 2013 iMac 5k with 3.5Ghz i5

Here at retrofuture HQ we’ve been using a trusty 27” iMac for over 5 years. This is the longest I’ve ever used a single computer as my “main” computer, but as desktop advances have slowed it hasn’t made sense to upgrade. Apple recently released their new iMac line, and the addition of Vega 48 graphics and a 9th generation i9 processor option made it a good chance to move up. Given the progress of desktop chips I expect that we’ll be using this new machine for 7+ years, so I splurged on the higher processor and video card options.

Processor Comparison

So for the first comparison I used a pretty processor and storage intensive task: Compression. Given the small size of my new SSD this might come in handy. The program I use is Keka (App store link) which is a nice & cheap interface to many kinds of compressions. For this test I used the 7zip algorithm (Wiki Link) which is a nice open source compression algorithm. For this test I tried compressing 30 pdf files at a time which were 578.1MB to start and roughly 230Mb to finish. Keka launches a new thread for each file, so this is a good test. My i5 with 4 cores w/hyperthreading gives us 8 processes at a time, the screen shot below shows 10 keka processes on the 2013 i5

2013 i5 3.5 GHz top screenshot

Times:

TestTimes
i5 30 files 7Zip2min 34 seconds
i9 30 files 7Zip39 seconds!

So wow, 2 and a half minutes to 39 seconds! I guess it really is a smidge faster! Interestingly below you can see that it was using over 150% on 8 threads, I guess this is a case where hyperthreading is really helping out. As these were all somewhat large files, it makes sense there would be a lot of I/O time. Also note the load averages, in both cases I did a few compression cycles before the screen shot to get good times, the i9 finished so quickly that the load is minimal.

Graphics comparison

Graphics comparisons are a little harder with my software set, other than synthetic benchmarks which you can find on many sites. So I’ll do a subjective comparison here. My test is Civ 5 and Civ 6. On my 2013 i5 iMac Civ 5 is fully playable on good settings, the fans spin up quite a bit during some animations, but mostly smooth. Civ 6 is playable only on lower settings, it’s very jerky on the higher settings.

Well I think you’ve guessed that it works a bit better on the i9/Vega combo. Silky smooth graphics from start to finish. The fans didn’t even spin up, although the vent was hot to the touch which brings me to fans…

Fans?

One of the best features of the Apple products is their lack of noise. Many windows machines are getting there these days, but Macs still excel at this. I noticed during some of my set up that fan noise seemed high, that it would quite often spin up the fans to a noticeable (but not excessive) level during tasks. Now that the iCloud is synced, searchlight and Alfred know what is in my files, it seems to have calmed down. Today I haven’t noticed the fans at all, even when playing Civ 6, which made the previous iMac go into vacuum cleaner mode.

Dongles?

So the iMac has a decent selection of ports, including 2 Thunderbolt 3 and 4 USB 3 “A” style ports. Mrs. RFE and I both have a Caldigit port expander to give us added flexibility, she absolutely needs it on her MacBook with only Thunderbolt ports, but it’s also nice on the mac as a sort of USB hub on steroids. I haven’t tested it yet on the imac i9, but on the i5 the ethernet port is about 10% faster in real use. It’s also nice to have powered USB ports and an SD card reader that’s front accessible. It’s a luxury on the iMac, but a nice one.

The Good

  • Very fast processor cuts thru tasks quickly and easily
  • SSD drive read/write speeds are impressive
  • Crisp, color accurate 5k display is a joy to look at
  • User accessible RAM slots means this is an upgrade to get on your own ( I recommend Other World Computing who have been making Mac upgrades for over 20 years, cheaper RAM is also available from Timetec, a less known brand but $50 cheaper (as of March 2019) and Amazon will help you out if it’s bad)
  • Vega 48 makes desktop animations buttery smooth, and game graphics quick and fluid

The Bad

  • Apple’s expensive but fast SSDs means the prices are very high. I went from a 3TB fusion drive to a 512Gb SSD which required additional external storage. I used a 1TB Crucial M.2 SSD in a USB 3.1 10Gbit M.2 external case
  • Lack of 802.11ax wifi and 10Gbit ethernet is surprising, especially since 10Gb ethernet is an option on the Mac Mini

Conclusion

The iMac i9 was a welcome upgrade after nearly 5 years. As the outside case is identical it looks the same in my work space, just faster in every way. As an added bonus due to Apple’s high resale value I was able to sell my old 27″ iMac 2014 for a little over $900, covering a third the cost of this new iMac. (not including the RAM and external HD upgrades)

Note on Affiliate links: The Amazon and other links above may have our referral code in them, which means the non-orbiting HQ of retrofutureelectrics gets a small percentage of the sales price, at no additional cost to you. Amazon offers this on all items, so it did not influence our reviews above in any way.

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