Back to the iMac

Last weekend, I got a new 27” iMac. Despite my earlier musings towards going fully thin-client and getting dual 4K displays, I was so fundamentally fed up with my current office setup that I had to do something about it. Worryingly, and despite my ingrained distaste for all-in-ones after owning a few of the early models, the logic behind it was a no-brainer.

In short, the five main reasons were:

  • It was discounted €300 (bringing it to €1870).
  • My long-suffering desktop machine was, until today, a mid-2010 Mac mini, and eight years is a long time to live with that setup, even if I managed to keep it running with upgraded RAM and an external SSD.
  • Despite it shipping with a Fusion drive (with a measly ~32GB SSD), it is still upgradable to a degree (it has accessible RAM slots).
  • At current prices, I would have to spend an equivalent amount of money to get a comparable monitor (if there is such a thing) plus an upgraded Mac mini (which still doesn’t exist).
  • I have given up on Apple doing the right thing.

And the latter, I think, is the key aspect here. I have very little faith that Apple will release an affordable modular Mac, and I suspect that whatever they might be planning as a Mac mini replacement will not be user-upgradable in any way.

Furthermore, given what they did to the iMac Pro (which foregoes even the RAM slot this iMac still has), I suspect that upcoming consumer iMacs will also not be user-upgradable by default, so I figured this was a great opportunity to buy a Mac that would allow me to upgrade something a few years from now. And I’ll take upgrading the RAM if that’s my only option, thank you.

Also, my thin client plans wouldn’t be very efficient investment-wise. Although theoretically I could get a moderately decent 4K display and an Intel Atom box with HDMI 2.0 and good enough integrated graphics to drive a single monitor for around €800, I already own a 4K LG Ultrafine (which I cannot plug in to anything but a Mac at this point), and replacing it with something else just doesn’t make sense.

In the end, being able to enjoy a dual Retina setup with 5K and 4K while my eyes still work properly won the day, and I’m quite pleased with the results–including connecting to my Surface Pro via Remote Desktop, which renders beautifully in HIDPI and is very snappy over the LAN.

Bugs

Migrating my stuff across went swimmingly (as ever), and I took my usual approach: I migrated my user account and reinstalled only the applications I use daily, which removes a fair amount of accumulated crud.

So far, I only had two issues:

  • FileVault refuses to let my migrated users unlock the encrypted volume (and a cursory search for fixes reveals that Apple has pretty much broken the setup process in High Sierra).
  • My LG Ultrafine refused to wake up from sleep (another very common bug, it seems).

I fixed the latter by installing the LG Screen Manager from their site (sorry, no easy link, their site is a mess of JavaScript-driven navigation, like most tech support sites these days) and upgrading the monitor’s firmware, and am currently trying to fix the former by disabling FileVault and re-enabling it.

Yes, like an animal. After four hours of fiddling with fdesetup and sundry, which did not work (it did in Sierra…), and given that I have zero options in System Preferences to add or enable existing users to unlock FileVault (which is also obviously a bug), I decided to just turn the bloody thing off and on again.

One thing that appeared to work was giving admin privileges to my user account (something I never do for security reasons), but that did not work in practice–so I’m now waiting to see if restarting the entire process will set the right security tokens and update the boot screen.

Update: I eventually had to completely reinstall macOS to fix the boot screen, which was another low-brow tack but easier to do when I have other work to do. I haven’t tried to re-enable FileVault yet, but I suspect there will me some snags, so I’ll hold off on that until I’ve read up on the state of APFS on Fusion drives, since if that requires another reinstall I’d rather do both in sequence.

Caveats

This is the low-end 27” configuration, which is relatively modest:

  • 3.4GHz quad‑core Intel Core i5 (Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz)
  • 8GB (two 4GB) of 2400MHz DDR4 memory, leaving 2 slots available
  • 1TB Fusion Drive (with a 32GB SSD, according to lore, although the specs page conveniently omits that detail)
  • Radeon Pro 570 with 4GB of VRAM

At this point, I’m not worried about the Radeon (I don’t plan on doing much gaming, if any, on this machine) nor the CPU (it is zippy enough for my typical workloads, even with a Windows VM on top).

The Fusion drive is more of a compromise, largely because darktable and other I/O-intensive applications do feel a little slower than on my MacBook Pro. But having it generate thumbnails for six months’ worth of photos is not unbearably slow (and darktable tends to feel slower on macOS anyway), so the jury’s still out. It wasn’t converted to APFS (which is also fine by me), and if it ever becomes a bottleneck then I’ll just start investigating Thunderbolt 3 cases for external SSDs.

The RAM, on the other hand, is already slated for removal and upgrade–sometime next year (or whenever DDR4 RAM prices start approaching sanity again) I intend to juice it up to the full 32GB.

The one thing that irks me the most right now is the utterly asinine way that I have to charge the new mouse (i.e., the Lightning port on the underside). It looks like a dead bug skewered on my desk, and I wonder what possessed Apple to come up with such a dumb, clumsy idea.

But hey, they never really liked removable batteries in the first place, right?


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