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You are here: MacNN Forums > Hardware - Troubleshooting and Discussion > Mac Desktops > Do I “Need” a Desktop Mac?

Do I “Need” a Desktop Mac?
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ghporter
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Nov 10, 2018, 06:28 PM
 
I have been running a Late 2007 iMac since...Late 2007. It has been a good machine, but it’s reached “end of life” for OS support, and frankly I don’t feel like doing the work needed to make it only a tiny bit more up to date. So I’m looking at a replacement... But for what?

The only thing I’ve been really “using” the iMac for has been for wired updates for my phone and iPad. But I haven’t done those in quite some time, since iCloud backups and iOS updates downloaded to the devices have made that kind of unnecessary.

I also have a 2013 MBP that is an excellent machine. It’s fast, bright, and easy to use for everything I need. It does video (and video editing), it does all the mundane things I do with it, and so on.

Would I be better off with a nice monitor to plug into the MBP when I want a bigger picture? Or is there something I’m missing about the desktop experience that I can’t get with my MBP?

Glenn -----OTR/L, MOT, Tx
     
reader50
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Nov 10, 2018, 07:13 PM
 
I like big monitors. As we get older and eyesight gets worse, a bigger monitor will likely become more important.

I dislike trackpads, preferring mice. And I like full-travel keyboards, like matias. So you might add 1-2 large monitors, a good keyboard and mouse, and a thunderbolt box with GPU upgrade to handle those monitors. That's a lot of hardware on your desk, along with a notebook to drive it all.

As my computer is my main movie/tv episode player, the desktop also has a receiver hooked up. I got tired of stereo sound after 30 years of it, and upgraded to surround. More hardware near the desk, and today's notebooks no longer have audio optical-out for easy receiver hookup.

So why not replace it with a real computer, that doesn't ramp the fans up within 5 seconds of tough loads?

I take my 15" MBP on the road, with assorted adapters. It works. But it's always a relief to get home. The Mac Pro does everything, rarely ramping up the fans. Drive bays for easy storage, graphics card upgrades every few years, ports and extra slots. The MP is also hard to sit on by mistake.
     
OreoCookie
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Nov 11, 2018, 03:36 AM
 
I haven't had a desktop since getting my first PowerBook G3 Kanga — until about two years ago. I got a fully loaded 2012 Mac Pro at first, which was replaced with a 2013 Mac Pro (not fully loaded, but a “reasonable” configuration). I appreciate with these machines that I can basically run two cores full tilt and pretend the machine is not loaded at all. This is quite nice when you are working as performance degrades less. The only thing this machine is missing is a Retina screen.

I can see two or three scenarios where you may want a desktop:

(1) A family server/computer

You may want a central storage for all official photos and some such. You may want to share some folders, use it to run Plex transcoding on it and the like. An always-plugged-in, robust machine works better than notebooks in this setting.

(2) You have CPU-intensive tasks

A desktop will almost always handle load better and more gracefully than a notebook. So if you have tasks that load more than 2 cores, this may be worth looking into.

(3) You want a large screen with a true Apple quality display

If you want a large Retina screen, IMHO you should get an iMac. Yes, you can get the LG screen, my office mate has one, but these are not the same. The thing looks much more flimsy and doesn't integrate as well with macOS.

When I first got my second-hand 2013 Mac Pro, it came with a top-of-the-line Eizo display. These puppies are expensive, have excellent built quality and reliable. But I gave it away and decided to keep the old 27" Cinema Display. Why? Well, it had a light sensor and regulated the brightness automatically and came with a camera and decent speakers. I could have added that with after market parts, but that would have been ugly.


Does any of these scenarios apply to you? If not, go ahead and get a good external display for your machine, as well as a keyboard and a pointing device of choice. The Magic Trackpad really is great, although with keyboards it is really a matter of taste.
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Nov 11, 2018, 03:37 PM
 
If you're comparing with a 2007 iMac, any modern MBP will be faster. What model MBP do you have?

I switched from an iMac to an MBP with an external display. Works fine, and is perfectly quiet.
The new Mac Pro has up to 30 MB of cache inside the processor itself. That's more than the HD in my first Mac. Somehow I'm still running out of space.
     
ghporter  (op)
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Nov 11, 2018, 04:01 PM
 
That's all good stuff to chew on. We have a 55" Smart TV, our audio is through a (rather old but still great) combo amp/receiver, and I can feed both any of the media we want that isn't available direct through the TV's Internet connection.

At the moment, I don't code anything, but I am in the process of converting a bunch of old VHS to digital, which requires editing, and I'll admit that it's a chore on the MBP, which can't do much else while messing with video. And I'm in the early stages of a a project to set up an internal (home) web server for stuff that isn't easily "clouded" but also isn't sharable with iOS.

So I'm really thinking that I want that iMac. The problem is that my special financing is only through AAFES, and they only offer basic configurations, including ONLY 8GB of RAM. The 21.5s have soldered RAM, and I don't want a 27" iMac. I may wind up going with Apple's Barclay financing to get a BTO unit. Grrr. It should be a lot simpler!

Glenn -----OTR/L, MOT, Tx
     
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Nov 12, 2018, 04:19 AM
 
The 21.5" do not have soldered RAM (except for the very low-end model), but they no longer have a RAM door. You have to remove the display to get at it, but it is still SO-DIMMs. I think you can ask an Apple Store to upgrade it for you.

I would suggest holding off on an iMac a little bit if you're not in a hurry. It is overdue for an update, and the GPU that I think they will use launches this week.
The new Mac Pro has up to 30 MB of cache inside the processor itself. That's more than the HD in my first Mac. Somehow I'm still running out of space.
     
Doc HM
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Nov 12, 2018, 12:53 PM
 
Originally Posted by P View Post
The 21.5" do not have soldered RAM (except for the very low-end model), but they no longer have a RAM door. You have to remove the display to get at it, but it is still SO-DIMMs. I think you can ask an Apple Store to upgrade it for you.

I would suggest holding off on an iMac a little bit if you're not in a hurry. It is overdue for an update, and the GPU that I think they will use launches this week.
To be honest its easier than it looks to get at the RAM on the 21in iMac. It will invalidate your warranty so yo may want to live with 8GB for a year. Once the screen is off (a special mini wheel tool makes it pretty easy, the logic board is pretty simple to pull out flip over and replace the RAM. I know it sounds like a pain but it s a 30 min job all in.

That doesn't excuse Apple the lack of RAM door though.
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ghporter  (op)
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Nov 13, 2018, 10:08 AM
 
Doc, is it also easy to swap out the hard drive for an SSD? I haven’t heard anything particularly good about the 1TB (and 5400 RPM) physical drives they use in the 21.5s, but if I have the machine open, putting in a fair-sized SSD would be my next step - assuming it’s not insanely difficult because of the way the machine is built.

Glenn -----OTR/L, MOT, Tx
     
OreoCookie
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Nov 14, 2018, 02:04 AM
 
If memory serves, one difficulty concerned a temperature sensor: if that wasn't dealt with properly, the iMac's fans would kick into overdrive.
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mindwaves
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Nov 14, 2018, 04:42 AM
 
I'm also debating whether I need a desktop Mac or just a laptop stand or a big monitor. Please advise.

I work on a laptop 8 hours a day with the 13" MBP merely having its back propped up against some newspapers. And two years of this have given me neck pain because I'm always looking down at my laptop.

Should I just buy a monitor or a laptop stand or a Mac mini? I suppose in any of the cases, I need a BT keyboard also. Any recommendations for a BT keyboard and a 21" or larger monitor that is USB-C compatible (I want 1 cable doing everything) preferably with USB-A and C ports out the back to connect various things.
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Nov 14, 2018, 07:27 AM
 
Originally Posted by ghporter View Post
Doc, is it also easy to swap out the hard drive for an SSD? I haven’t heard anything particularly good about the 1TB (and 5400 RPM) physical drives they use in the 21.5s, but if I have the machine open, putting in a fair-sized SSD would be my next step - assuming it’s not insanely difficult because of the way the machine is built.
Looks doable:

https://www.ifixit.com/Guide/iMac+In...lacement/92700

but note that it will not be any faster than an external drive in a Thunderbolt case, and even a regular USB 3.0 chassis is "fast enough" if it supports UAS.

I think the thermal sensor was on older models, there doesn't appear to be one here.
The new Mac Pro has up to 30 MB of cache inside the processor itself. That's more than the HD in my first Mac. Somehow I'm still running out of space.
     
ghporter  (op)
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Nov 14, 2018, 10:27 AM
 
Originally Posted by P View Post
Looks doable:

https://www.ifixit.com/Guide/iMac+In...lacement/92700

but note that it will not be any faster than an external drive in a Thunderbolt case, and even a regular USB 3.0 chassis is "fast enough" if it supports UAS.

I think the thermal sensor was on older models, there doesn't appear to be one here.
Yeah, "doable," but that's a LOT of steps just to get the display off. I did not realize that the Thunderbolt connections were going to be as fast as the internal drive's connection - that makes a huge difference.

My wife and I have been discussing this whole "replace the iMac" thing, and she's behind me 100%. But since everywhere I read says that the iMac line is due for some update (some places say a major update), we've figured that waiting a while is a good idea.

My MBP is great for what I do most, and that's generally related to stuff that a full-sized keyboard facilitates (like writing, coding, etc.). I use the iMac for relatively few tasks right now - partly because it's kinda slow and can't be upgraded beyond El Capitan. I can comfortably wait for an update before replacing my elderly iMac.

Glenn -----OTR/L, MOT, Tx
     
ghporter  (op)
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Nov 14, 2018, 10:30 AM
 
Originally Posted by mindwaves View Post
I'm also debating whether I need a desktop Mac or just a laptop stand or a big monitor. Please advise.

I work on a laptop 8 hours a day with the 13" MBP merely having its back propped up against some newspapers. And two years of this have given me neck pain because I'm always looking down at my laptop.

Should I just buy a monitor or a laptop stand or a Mac mini? I suppose in any of the cases, I need a BT keyboard also. Any recommendations for a BT keyboard and a 21" or larger monitor that is USB-C compatible (I want 1 cable doing everything) preferably with USB-A and C ports out the back to connect various things.
For ergonomics, laptops are well known for encouraging stooped posture and neck strain. That's where "something" to elevate the display, and usually a remote keyboard and mouse come in. One of my clinical instructors used a rather impressive stack of textbooks to raise her laptop for more ergonomic viewing, along with a wired keyboard and wired mouse. Since Mac laptops are pretty light, you can use all sorts of things to raise them to an appropriate height. That height is specifically "with your eye line straight forward, your eyes should center on the top third of the screen." Bluetooth keyboards and mice are also quicker and easier to use than wired devices...

It looks like the Mac Mini route is more expensive than going with an iMac - I just researched it for myself. Likewise, a quality USB-C monitor won't be cheap. If the screen on your MBP is "good enough" right now, and it's just a matter of being a literal pain in the neck, I'd go with a stand and a decent BT keyboard/mouse setup.

Glenn -----OTR/L, MOT, Tx
     
Doc HM
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Nov 14, 2018, 11:32 AM
 
Originally Posted by ghporter View Post
Doc, is it also easy to swap out the hard drive for an SSD? I haven’t heard anything particularly good about the 1TB (and 5400 RPM) physical drives they use in the 21.5s, but if I have the machine open, putting in a fair-sized SSD would be my next step - assuming it’s not insanely difficult because of the way the machine is built.
Once you have the screen off it is pretty trivial to put an SSD in. Since the iMac already uses an (abysmal) 2.5in drive the SSD fits straight into the drive bay. The SATA cable is the a bit short so that needs some dexterity but in reality it's not hard.

The screen is the only hard bit and that's 80 % psychological if you have the plastic pizza wheel opener.
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reader50
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Nov 14, 2018, 12:37 PM
 
Originally Posted by ghporter View Post
I use the iMac for relatively few tasks right now - partly because it's kinda slow and can't be upgraded beyond El Capitan. I can comfortably wait for an update before replacing my elderly iMac.
If this is the 2008 iMac I'm thinking of, I did the upgrades on a relative's iMac. It took less than $20 to swap the CPU to a later 2.5 GHz dual, and the wifi card. This gave a decent speed bump, and made it compatible up to High Sierra.

Mojave compatibility would require an additional GPU upgrade, but High Sierra is a good OS.

I also bumped the RAM and HDD while I had it open. But those steps were optional.
     
ghporter  (op)
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Nov 14, 2018, 05:26 PM
 
Mine is a mid-2007 iMac, a MA876LL. iFixit's guide to upgrading the CPU looks a little daunting, but that's probably just because of the number of steps and the "fiddly" nature of several of them (routing cables, etc.). Swapping out the hard drive for an SSD would be trivial after all the work to get at the CPU.

So to upgrade for at least High Sierra, what CPU would I get? It looks like the most advanced CPU that fits in the "Socket P" socket and has the 800MHz FSB looks like it's a Core2 Extreme X9000. It's not clear what minimum processor is needed for Mojave.

Also, would a better/faster CPU change how much RAM the system would see? This machine is limited to 6GB (you can put in 8 but it will only use 6).

On the other hand, Mac of All Trades has refurbished Mid 2011 21.5" iMacs for less than $400, and Late 2012s for $675. This is very interesting to me.

Glenn -----OTR/L, MOT, Tx
     
reader50
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Nov 14, 2018, 08:25 PM
 
I miss-spoke. The iMac I upgraded last year was a 2007. Prices are a little lower now.

I used a 2.5 GHz T9300. It was known to work, and I wasn't sure about anything faster. Cost was $17.69 last year.

I used a Broadcom BCM94322MC card for airport. It's equivalent to the old card, which Apple dropped the drivers for in Sierra. Cost was $9 last year.

Mojave might be OK with a T9300 CPU. The problem is the Metal-compatible GPU. You have an MXM card, but no Mac MXM card shipped that is Metal-compatible. You could swap out the MXM card for a PC GTX 780, but blank screen during boot until the login screen. MacVidCards is working on Mac firmware for iMac cards, but nothing is shipping yet.
     
mindwaves
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Nov 14, 2018, 09:14 PM
 
Originally Posted by ghporter View Post
For ergonomics, laptops are well known for encouraging stooped posture and neck strain. That's where "something" to elevate the display, and usually a remote keyboard and mouse come in. One of my clinical instructors used a rather impressive stack of textbooks to raise her laptop for more ergonomic viewing, along with a wired keyboard and wired mouse. Since Mac laptops are pretty light, you can use all sorts of things to raise them to an appropriate height. That height is specifically "with your eye line straight forward, your eyes should center on the top third of the screen." Bluetooth keyboards and mice are also quicker and easier to use than wired devices...

It looks like the Mac Mini route is more expensive than going with an iMac - I just researched it for myself. Likewise, a quality USB-C monitor won't be cheap. If the screen on your MBP is "good enough" right now, and it's just a matter of being a literal pain in the neck, I'd go with a stand and a decent BT keyboard/mouse setup.
Thanks, it really is a literal pain in the neck. I'll probably go for the stand option. The 13" screen is small, but I'm only working with one document at a time and I can blow it up.
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mindwaves
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Nov 17, 2018, 07:48 AM
 
I ended up buying a new MBA 13" and a laptop stand. Going to buy a Logitech BT keyboard tomorrow. Will sell my MBP later.
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turtle777
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Nov 17, 2018, 11:09 AM
 
Originally Posted by mindwaves View Post
I ended up buying a new MBA 13" and a laptop stand. Going to buy a Logitech BT keyboard tomorrow. Will sell my MBP later.
Do you not have space for a monitor ?
They are not exactly expensive. It will make a huge difference.
24” “retina” monitors (e.g. from LG) can be had for about $300-$350.

-t
     
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Nov 19, 2018, 05:12 AM
 
Originally Posted by turtle777 View Post
Do you not have space for a monitor ?
They are not exactly expensive. It will make a huge difference.
24” “retina” monitors (e.g. from LG) can be had for about $300-$350.
I just felt the need to repeat my usual advice for external laptop displays one more time:

* The perfect size and resolution is 27" 4K. Yes, I know Apple uses 22" 4K and 27" 5K, but neither of those are good options. 5K is tricky to get working (the easy way is to use two DisplayPort cables and something called PBP, and even so the Mac will think you're using two displays for some user interface things and games) and 22" 4K makes the user interface elements tiny at the distance you usually put the display. Get a 27" 4K and zoom out in the application if you run out of space.
* Use DisplayPort. No, HDMI is not as good. Really really not. Use only DisplayPort, and get a cable exactly as long as you need and no longer.
* Avoid any display that even makes a pretense at being a gaming display, because they sacrifice everything for quicker response times, and it is never worth it. Get a nice IPS in a boring black or gray case.
* Adapters to combine DisplayPort or HDMI with some USB and power almost never support 4K. This one works, and I can recommend it. In general, anything that supports USB 3.0 on the ports will never support 4K from HDMI 2.0 or DisplayPort 1.2 - it is not physically possible, unless you use Thunderbolt 3

Personally, I use an LG 27MU67. Works fine.
The new Mac Pro has up to 30 MB of cache inside the processor itself. That's more than the HD in my first Mac. Somehow I'm still running out of space.
     
   
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