iMac 5K 30 Second Thoughts

I totally admit it. I'm a geek and an Apple hardware lurker. I have been for years. While I've owned a few of their notebooks and bought an iMac for my mother five years ago, I've been a pretty hardcore Hackintosh enthusiast for a while now. There are a number of reasons for this. First I really like building my own machines. I think it's fun and there's something about driving a car you put together yourself. Secondly, I could never get a Mac desktop that did everything I wanted at the price I wanted, and now I just can't get everything I want at any price. 

Earlier today I had a couple hours to kill so I decided to finally, after 18 months of procrastinating, return the stock cable modem to Time Warner. I had bought my own and hadn't gotten around to returning theirs. Anyway, when I did so the very nice customer service guy clarified that I'm currently paying for 100/5Mbps service even though I'm only getting 50/5 and that it was probably due to the fact that my modem tops out at 50. So I decided to extend my journey over to a new Microcenter they just built a few blocks from the Time Warner service center to see if might upgrade. Long story short, I decided not to at the moment, 50 is fine for now. However I spent some time getting used to what they had for sale and got my first gander at the new iMac with 5K display.

I'll just spill the beans. The resolution was awesome. It was stunning. As it should be for 14 million pixels. And this is coming from a guy who has been using a 4K display for the last year. I'll admit that there was a moment that I thought about the fact that I hadn't bought any gear this year and my accountant is going to be very angry with me and so I considered pulling out my American Express and getting a car service home with the beast. Then I took a breath and thought about it realistically and here's are the reasons I decided to wait.

One of the big differentiators between high-end pro monitors and everything else is their gamut. Not the number of colors they can show (based on the bit depth of the display) but rather how far into the saturated greens and blues and reds the colors go. Normal screens are limited to sRGB, fancy panels like my former Eizo, NEC, and my current Dell display are so-called wide-gamut and go most of the way towards showing the much larger AdobeRGB color space. The panel in the new iMac 5K is limited to the much smaller sRGB. Now that's not a deal breaker, but it's not ideal. sRGB is how most people are going to see your image and magazines print in a much tighter gamut most of the time, but if you want to see everything in your files and are printing on a modern inkjet, you really should be seeing the whole show. It seems like people are having fairly good luck profiling the screen to a good state (Delta-E of around 1), but I'd love internal lookup tables as well, but won't hold it against iMac, it's an all in one after all and the sheer number of pixels trumps absolute accuracy in my book. Overall though, one tick against. 

While the new iMac has a pretty nice GPU all things considered, the available upgrade to the AMD Radeon R9 M295X with 4GB of GDDR5 is especially nice, it's still a mobile GPU and non-upgradable. In the 3 years I've been using my current Ivy Bridge based Hackintosh, I've upgraded my GPU a couple of time and might do it again. The idea of spending over $4k (for the model I'd want) and not be able to upgrade over the 3 years or more that I'd expect to use it scares me a little. Now I'm not a gamer, but I have been spending more time playing around in Davinci Resolve and that GPU is borderline at best without option to add more. How much power is left over once you're done moving 14MP around? Unless someone has figured out a way to hook up GPUs to Resolve through Thunderbolt. Two ticks against.

I'd also have to figure out where I was going to put my files. Currently they're on three spinning internal drives, about 8 TB worth. Sure I could get a Pegasus Thunderbolt array, but that's another $1200 or so. Maybe back everything up to externals and get one of the newer USB3 Drobo to fill with my current drives? Even that's $350 or so additional cost and more boxes and wires on my desk. I like a simplicity of plugging SATA drives directly into a motherboard. This is the reason I've never really gotten on board with the iMacs in the first place. Three ticks against.

Glossy Screen
I currently living in an apartment with windows on opposite walls, which means that unless I'm in a really anal mood, I've got to deal with sunlight coming in at all angles. I've always been a fan of matte screens for this reason and am concerned that the glossy screen will show me more of my environment than the images I'm working on. The super black blacks have always made me a little envious on the glossy screens, but the glare scares the tar out of me. Maybe I'm over reacting to this one. Half a tick off.

Never Buy The First Model
Even if all of the above weren't a problem, there's the old adage about Apple which says you should never buy the first model of a new design. There are undoubtably design and manufacturing kinks they still need to smooth out. To even drive that many pixels they had to make a custom IC, which most of the experts think they're using to bond and overclock a couple of DisplayPort connections to get the necessary bandwidth. Next year DisplayPort 1.3 will be standard and they'll be able to do it with one connection. Plus all of the other innards will be upgraded, especially the GPU which is the one component in modern computers which still gets faster by leaps and bound each year. One more tick.

All in all, I came out on the side of wait for the next upgrade. I don't really need a new computer at the moment, the one I have is very fast and the display is lovely, so why mess things up. But a year or two from now when I'm looking to upgrade I'm definitely going to be glancing out the corner of my eye at whatever iMac they've got for sale then. Might finally tempt me away from building my own from scratch. Then again, Dell is putting out their 5k display for $2000 in a few weeks. Decisions decisions.

Bill Wadman1 Comment