Apple Ships Blindingly Fast New iMacs With Old, Slow Storage

I will guarantee you that the single greatest bottleneck in terms of speed on the base 4K iMac is that slow spinning disk drive. People who spend $1299 for a 4K iMac in 2019 deserve not to see a spinning beach ball—but they probably will. This is one case where Apple should either take the hit on profit margin or just raise the price if it has to.

Jason Snell, Six Colors, “The iMac and spinning-disk disappointment

The 2019 iMacs have at their core incredible Intel processors, large amounts of RAM, market-leading displays and powerful 3D cards. These are machines that can game with the best, display beautiful movies and photographs with incredible color fidelity, and rip through even the most complicated processing needs in a bare minimum amount of time.

And they also ship by default with old, slow 5400rpm hard disks that came to the marketplace in 2007 in 1TB capacities. When Hitachi released the first Deskstar with 1TB that year, at a whopping price of $399, they boasted a cost-per-GB of $0.40. Now you can have a SATA SSD for less than $0.25 per GB, and an M.2 SSD for $0.35 per GB.

Sure, some of the newly released 1TB drives in the iMac are mated to small SSDs, yes, but the Fusion Drive isn’t a substitute for full-size SSD. The speed just isn’t there. The maximum throughput of a spinning disk is around 1.5Gbps. That’s rarely achieved under all but the best conditions. Most of the time it’s under 1Gbps for a 7200rpm drive, let alone a 5400rpm drive, which will top out around 800Mbps under perfect conditions. A SATA-based SSD can do four to six times that throughput. topping out at 6Gbps. Those are available from OWC at these prices, retail:

If you move up to an M.2 SSD, similar to the kind that are using the in 2014-2015 MacBook Pros, the prices increase. So does the speed, up to about 16 times the average read and write speed of the 5400 rpm drives, topping out at 16Gbps. The current generation of MacBook Pros tops out closer to 20Gbps.

Apple has a hard job, to serve a wide clientele with varying needs, from home users, to education marketplaces, to corporate fleets, to small businesses and more. However, I can’t imagine that a 5400rpm drive on the desk of an Apple Executive, senior or otherwise, would last more than an afternoon. Why should it land on the desk of your average staffer, when they’re often the heart of an enterprise’s productivity? Why should it land in our schools’ computer labs, or on a creative’s desk?

We live in an era of unrivaled external and internal storage options and speed, with external disks coming in faster/better/larger/stronger, and cloud storage available without limits. An era where there are not 1, but 2 40Gbps buses on the back of the 2019 iMac ready to plug into a 1TB SanDisk SSD available for under $200.

But we also live in an era where every iMac’s base configuration has a 5400rpm drive still at its heart, just like 2007. Apple is selling us a sports car with a monster V-12, only they’re disabling six of the cylinders to save a few bucks. Given the importance of the iMac’s design to Apple’s brand, and to their brand awareness, this seems an odd choice.

Three-toed sloth is a photo by Magnus Bråth and used under a Creative Commons Attribution License.

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