Ask James – iMac Retina 5K Worth It?

Hello, If I remember correctly you are the owner of a 27″ iMac with the 5K Retina display? Do you think its worth it and are there any configuration options you think are essential, specifically for photo editing? What about useful accessories, such as external drives, graphic tablets, backup options, etc. Florian S

retinaYes, I made the jump to the 5K iMac around 2-3 weeks after it became available. This wasn’t an impulse buy or anything, the iMac I had before this one was a mid-2011 model and it was ssssllloooowwww. I was constantly having to reboot it and it was having a lot of trouble with the larger files I was creating like panos. So to my surprise, while I was in the market for a new iMac, they announced the 5k.

My first reaction was that it was a bit excessive. I mean, who really needs 5,000 pixels on their monitor? The problem was, Apple priced the 5k at just $500 more than their now regular iMacs. When you’ve already committed to spending upwards of $3,000 on a new computer, what’s another $500? Hehe. Basically, I knew that if I didn’t spring for the 5k, I’d regret it every day. So, I did it.

I knew going in that I’d need to max it out as much as possible because of the resolution. I maxed out everything but the hard drive, opting for a 500GB solid state instead of the maximum 1TB. So my current build out is…

Processor: 4.0GHz Quad-core Intel Core
Memory: 32GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Storage: 512GB Flash Storage
Graphics: AMD Radeon R9 M295X 4GB GDDR5

The total cost was around $3,900 plus tax. A bit more than I was planning on spending, but hey, it’s a write off ;-). And yes, I paid cash. No financing stuff in this household!

So…my thoughts all these months later?

The image quality is obviously out of this world. I also have a retina Macbook Pro and love that as well. My old iMac is now in the house serving it’s final days as the ol’ family computer, and when I do sit down in front of it the difference is very obvious. However, that’s just once in a blue moon now. After the initial shock value of the resolution and crispness, you don’t notice it anymore because it becomes the new normal.

As far as the specs go, this thing certainly does scream. It’s blistering fast in most cases. Programs open up in a fraction of a second, compared to the eternity it seemed to take before.¬†Combining images for panos is crazy fast, as is processing them.

Any Downsides?

Unfortunately, yes. There are a few. This crazy screen resolution is so cutting edge that software developers are having to play catch-up. I’ve BETA tested a few different post processing programs since getting the 5k and in both cases the BETA versions of the software ran like crap on the 5k. The answer I always got fro the software engineers was, “We’re aware of the problem, but it’s only present on the 5k so it’s not a huge priority at this time.”

I’ve also noticed a few hiccup areas in Photoshop and Lightroom. Nothing hugely significant, but when I switch from the Develop Module in Lightroom to the Library Module, the screen goes black for a second and lags. And in Photoshop, the sliders on some of the adjustment layers tend to be a bit clunky. That’s it though.

Other Considerations

I use a Drobo 5D right now for my backup solution, although I’m not 100% (or even 60%) satisfied with it at the moment. Once I convince myself to replace it, I’ll likely move over to G-Technology. The 5D is fast enough, especially with the SSD accelerator, but Drobo’s support is pretty lacking and I despise the way it’s set up. I don’t feel confident the 5D won’t break down again (as it did a few months ago) but I make regular backups of the data on it to another mass storage drive I keep offsite.

My pen tablet is a Wacom Intuos 5 Touch. Pretty sure that’s not the latest version but it works perfectly and I haven’t had any reason to update it. I use the small version because it takes up less space and requires less effort to get from one side of the screen to the other. I can also pack it up for a trip if needed and just slide it in with my laptop.

Backup offsite (in the cloud) is all done through It’s around $5 a month for your entire computer and any connected drives. Can’t beat it!

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