iMac 5k retina . Is it the right solution?

iMac Retina – My observations

Now I must say that i road tested the standard out of the box iMac retina. No upgrades like listed above. I got the $3000 2GB graphics card and 8GB RAM. There is no way in hell i’d ever stick with a machine with only 8GB RAM. I have that on my upgraded MacBook now (which also has a 256SSD and 1TB HDD), So i want this computer to be significantly faster. I have to assume that with the extra grunt on the upgraded model it tackle 3D challenges at least somewhat faster.

The first obvious thing is that screen is absolutely epic, and for many this will be enought reason to buy it. The only other 5k screen currently is a Dell, which costs $2500, which is almost as much as the iMac. If you work with hi-res video then it is amazing. If you work in high end 3D only, you are probably better off with a PC. If you do both like me, then you need to decide what is more important to you.

I have written my needs and then the results of some simple tests that I did below. I have basically compared it to an equal spec PC and seen how I could make an identical machine for a cheaper cost, either running as a hackintosh or natively.

iMac retina specs.





My goals/ needs in a computer

So its coming to the point where my old laptop cannot satisfy my needs to get all my work done and i’m in the market for a new computer. My main work is graphic and web design, but I do dabble in 3d work and also make the odd video now and then. I am totally obsessed with Virtual Reality and the Oculus Rift, which i have, and the performance of 3D on my laptop is absolutely horrible. I wrote a blog post about setting up your Oculus Rift on OSX (see here) which goes into a lot of detail about that.

I am a total power user on the computer, and have much bigger needs than the average user.

So here are my needs

  • Photoshop – complex and large image files
  • InDesign – Multipage magazines
  • Illustrator – Detailed illustrations for various purposes
  • 3D – either Maya for OSX and Mudbox. Also 3DSMAX using Bootcamp (particle simulations and real time lighting placement hopefully)
  • Video – 360 degree stitched videos (super high resolution) and other drone video shots. Also promo videos.
  • Oculus Rift – 3D gaming and simulations, running at least 60fps rendering both eyes, which is on par with rendering 2 screens.
  • probably some other complex shit

I have a super smart friend who showed me I can make a pretty amazing PC for less than the iMac retina investment. We went through many possible options and I was actually surprised that it cost quite similar to put together a similarly powerful computer. Well that’s not 100% true, as if I bought a PC id definitely get an Nvidia card rather than the AMD card that come with Apple products, which give up to 25% more 3D rendering power within the same cost frame. Another reason the cost was almost similar was that I costed the iMac screen at around $1200, so you could run a windows 8.1 PC on a much cheaper screen.

Here is the technical specs of both the computer I would put together compared to the iMac Retina


I apologize that its pretty small, but you can see all the info in there. Ill point out the most obvious differences.Even at Full spec the PC is $1000 cheaper if you are buying in Australia. Australian prices are horrible compared to other countries in the world. As i travel a bit, and i’m a massive eBay fanatic, I tend to consider global prices available to me. Realistically, I may not be able to go overseas to buy a computer, but id be willing to visit Japan or America for the weekend and buy a computer and get the free travel experience.


The main importance is the Video card. Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 (8.6/10) vs AMD Radeon R9 (6.6/10) – These ratings are basically for 3d output. They both prices video lightning fast and wouldn’t see as much of a difference there. Apple would probably be slightly ahead for 2D processing.

Ram speed is much faster on the PC 2400MHz vs 1600MHz on the iMac. Truthfully i dont know much about how ram loads data but as RAM is universal. Higher numbers are better. and this is a 33% speed increase. of course your motherboard need to be able to handle the data flow but of course the motherboard we(he) chose can do just that.


Easy to transport
– All in one piece so no extra parts. Screen is the actual computer and weights only 9.5kg.Dont need to buy things like power supply or case. these are not overly expensive and the whole still comes in cheaper for the PC still but its all Apple quality. An extra handy feature is if one component breaks you can take it to apple rather than have to contact each company separately.OSX – While I don’t mind windows 8, id certainly rather stick to OSX as its what i know and love.

Just about everything else is on par with each other. But don’t take some of these number lightly because hard disk speed, RAM speed and Video Card are what really makes a computer tick. Its obvious for the price I can make a better 3D machine on a PC, but having a retina screen and one single enclosure is truly the realm of the mac.



3D on the new iMac Retina

I installed windows and used 3DSMAX. I also installed Maya for OSX. I tried some particle flow experiments with the new water tool Bifrost. I was expecting them to happen at lightning speed with my expectations for thew new iMac, but i was sorely mistaken. They took ages. They are extremely complex simulations, and I am a novice with it so may not have optimized the settings, but i did leave the settings pretty low. The actual simulations weren’t that slow, but skinning the water droplets and rendering was a very slow process. Mainly the rendering. This is a task where it certainly helps to have many multithreaded cores, so the Mac Pro or a PC would be easier to get to fulfill that task.

Now to accurately rate the performance i would have to run the exact same simulation on multiple computer systems and compare. I didn’t get to do that, so this is a sample size of 1, but is a general indication of what this computer can do.

I also ran a bunch of GPU tests on it.They went pretty well and if you fdo have multiple computers I suggest you use this test to compare as its available on multiple platforms
download it here: and get more info:

Next I played some steam games, and also ;played some Oculus Rift demos. In general it was pretty much flawless for the game demos i played. Even the Oculus, that has to render each eye independently (which is like rendering two screen simultaneously) worked at over 60 frames a second most of the time.

So my general consensus is that it renders optimized games well, but maybe not the first choice if you need real-time lighting.I would definitely recommend at least a 4GB graphics card for any full scene 3d work. This is basically due to their choice to go with the AMD Radeon R9 M295x over Nvidia graphics, which scored a 6.6/10 compared to the Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 whcih got a 8.6/10 (for these tests the Nvidia Titan was considered the baseline 10/10 spec).

See these examples


My particle test animation I made in MAYA for OSX using Bifrost.


And this is a simple animation i made


Working with Photoshop and Web Images

One of the major advantages of having such a high resolution screen is that you can work on video and images at 4k resolution, and still have room to have navigation and tools, and of course the operating system GUI. There were also a couple of things that stood out to me as being not quite what I am used to.

One thing you will certainly notice is that when you take screenshots, if you paste them into regular documents they will be absolutely massive. In fact i noticed that the screenshots are now in 144 dpi (dots per inch)and therefore are much larger in file size (4 times as the resolution is doubled in two directions). Its an easy fix and you can just drop them to 72dpi in Photoshop, but an extra step you will have to go through. When using some websites, depending on how they are made, you will realize that, if the site does not have retina ready images ( which requires the site designer to have  whole separate set of images) the images will be slightly fuzzy and often the backgrounds will shrink to a quarter their size ( as displaying at 144dpi). This is something that retina MacBook Pro’s will already encounter and be fixed over time as people update their sites. As a web designer it also means a whole lot of extra work to be done in the design process.

In fact the whole resolution thing is quite different on a retina screen. for example they do not give you the regular resolution options for the screen, as the pixels are not actual pixel sized, and do what can be imagined as a more high res version of “pixel doubling” where one display pixel may take up more than one actual pixel on the screen. If you leave it as “best for display” you will not see these options, but switch to  “scaled” and you will see the options. Believe me, you will not need to go any higher than the standard unless you like really tiny text. See the image below and you will see that when you put your mouse over an option it just says “looks like 2560 x 1440″.

As s side note, you can also see that i am using the screen at its almost lowest brightness. Turn it up to full and you will totally get sunburn. This b#&ch is bright.




Problem Solving

Mail accounts in Yosemite

So for about one week of the two weeks I had the iMac, I could not understand why i could not add any more gmail accounts to Apple Mail. This was driving me bonkers, until I found this little fix.

I have always had problems with my Apple mail, and to be fair i thought it was due to me computer being overloaded and confused, but it was just the same on the new retina iMac. Mail would not load a couple of my gmail accounts, and would not let me add them. I realzied they got added but not activated. It was an easy fix but took me a while that i had to go to System preferences to “Internet accounts” and turn the mail function on.



Other changes in OSX 10.10.2

Specific to the Retina iMac

As you can imagine, there are other effects that the retina screen has, and the computer itself has specific functionality. Some of these differences are quite trivial, but also can create a unique user experience, and for someone who lives on a computer most of the time were incredibly apparent. I have included a few differences here, compared to my 2009 MacBook (5,1).

I am not 100% sure that this was added functionality due to it being an iMac retina, but possibly functions that were not added to my MacBook  due to the OSX install being an upgrade rather than a clean factory install. Either way there are a few fascinating discrepancies.


Handoff – Does not appear in the upgraded version on my MacBook

This is a pretty big deal to a lot of us and can be extremely handy in particular with viewing web pages. As soon as i entered my iCloud info on the demo iMac, if i used my iPad it adds a small icon to the dock, just left of the smiling Mac finder logo asking me if i want to continue on the iMac. This is handy but i soon got sick of Safari on the iMac, as its nowhere near as nice an experience as Firefox (and never will be in my opinion.. so there). Maps and other things are certainly handy, as well as iBooks, but it only transfers bought items and not all the random PDFs i save into there, at least i haven’t worked out how to do that yet.


Desktop Images no longer allow you to tile them…. thats interesting. You can also directly access iPhoto images.



AirPlay Display built into the main display panel

I don’t have Apple TV (sob!) so I don’t know how advantageous this is, but seems like a seamless solution that doesn not require any more screen real estate and is very simple to use.



 The Round up

I must say that Its an amazing machine, runs well, as you would expect any new apple computer, and has a few features that make it quite special. if you are a video editor then it is certainly the computer for you, and is 4k ready for those future jobs. It also cheap enough to be a general office computer, but you could get something cheaper by about $1500 in that situation.

As always, bootcamp is a handy way to be able to run Windows natively, as apple uses intel chips in their devices, so gives you that felxibility, but if you plan to use the computer mainly in Windows id recommend that you just buy a  PC and spend money on the screen and graphics card.