With our ever-increasing photo libraries and music collections it’s no surprise that when most of us buy a new Mac one of the factors influencing our decision of which model we will spend our money on is how much storage it has. In the old days we’d have said how big its hard drive is, but these days few computers ship with hard drives with manufacturers favouring Flash storage.
Flash storage is usually referred to as an SSD (solid state drive). In the early days SSDs were small and expensive, but as time has gone on the amount of storage you get for your money has increased.
Across Apple’s range of Macs you can choose from various SSD configurations from 128GB, 256GB, 512GB and 1TB as standard and build-to-order options including 2TB, 4TB and even 8TB Flash storage. Even the entry-level Mac mini, the cheapest Mac Apple sells, ships with 256GB storage.
Then there is the anomaly of the iMac. The iMac is the only Mac Apple sells that ships with a hard drive and it does so as standard on the two entry-level models. The entry-level dual-core iMac and it’s slightly superior quad-core sibling both ship with a 1TB hard drive. This might sound like an attractive option to you: 1TB storage for £1,049, but we are here to stop you making a big mistake!
We are disappointed that Apple continues to sell iMacs with hard drives. There are so many reasons why there is absolutely no benefit to choosing a hard drive and even more reasons why it would actually be detrimental to your experience. We’ll go through the various reasons why you shouldn’t choose a hard drive below.
What about the Fusion Drive?
Before we run through all the problems with hard drives there’s another type of storage that Apple uses that we need to address. Back in 2012 Apple introduced the Fusion Drive. The Fusion Drive is a hybrid drive that fuses together a hard drive and a small amount of Flash storage, this way users can benefit from a speedy SSD and lots of storage. We used to describe it as the best of both worlds but now that you can get a Mac with a reasonably large SSD for less the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages.
We have a separate article where we discuss Apple’s Fusion Drive and how it compares to an SSD or hard drive.
Why you shouldn’t buy a iMac with a hard drive
There are lots of reasons why you shouldn't buy a Mac with a hard drive. We'll run through them below.
SSDs are faster
If you have ever used a Mac (or a PC for that matter) with a flash drive you will have experienced an almost immediate start up. You turn on your Mac and after a few seconds it opens and you can get to work. This is not the case if you have a hard drive inside your Mac. We used to joke that we could go and make a cup of tea while we waited for our Mac to start up before we had SSDs inside. This is still the reality for those with hard drives inside their Macs. If you have used a Mac with a flash drive and switch to a Mac with a hard drive you will quickly become frustrated by how much slower it is.
It's only 5400rpm
The hard drive inside the iMac isn’t even a decent hard drive - it’s 5400rpm. There other hard drives available that offer 7200rpm or even 1500rpm. The higher the number the faster the drive (rpm stands for revolutions per minute). These slow 5400rpm hard drives, like the ones Apple uses, offer 100 MB/s read and writes speeds so they will take longer to move files around.
Hard drives are unreliable
Another disadvantage of choosing a hard drive is that hard drives are unreliable. They are mechanical drives rather than solid state drives and they have moving parts that can break. One reason why laptops were quick to adopt SSDs was the simple fact that moving a laptop around could cause a mechanical drive to break losing all the data on it. While SSDs aren’t completely indestructible they are certainly more sturdy than a hard drive.
There are other ways to get more storage
You might be thinking you need a lot of storage in your Mac. It’s a fair point if you have a large collection of photos or music, or if you work with large files. It’s completely understandable that confronted with 1TB versus 128GB you would opt for 1TB - especially if were the same price. But there are better options: you could get a separate hard drive and use that to store your photos or music on (or whatever else is taking up all the space); or you could use cloud storage. I have 2TB of iCloud storage and 128GB SSD in my MacBook Pro, sure I’d love to have a bit more storage in my Mac but I have ample storage in the cloud, quite enough for my 265GB photo library, and since I use iTunes Match my entire music library lives in the cloud too. Not only does this save space on my Mac, all that content is available on any of my devices.
An external drive could be a better option
Returning to those people who work with large files - video editors, animators, illustrators, photo editors and the like - this group would be wise to consider paying a bit more to get a Mac with a decent sized SSD (512GB or more). But what if the price of such a Mac is more than they are willing to spend? They might want to consider purchasing a separate hard drive and connecting that to their Mac via a USB of Thunderbolt. Ideally this would be a USB C or Thunderbolt 3 - the latter offers up to 40Gbp/s speeds. One benefit of this method is that you can work on the Mac and back up the files to the external drive afterwards (although it’s not a complete backup solution if there is only one copy of the files). Another benefit is that you can use that external drive with different Macs.
The Fusion Drive only has a tiny SSD
But it would also be reasonable to consider the Fusion Drive option we mentioned earlier, based on the fact that in that case the hard drive would be connected directly to the motherboard (so the data doesn’t have to be sent down a cable meaning the connection would be faster). The problem with the Fusion Drive is that the flash part is minuscule. When Apple first launched the Fusion Drive back in 2012 the SSD component was 128GB. But back in 2015 Apple reduced the flash component in the 1TB Fusion Drive from 128GB to just 24GB before increasing it to 32GB as of 2017. Currently, only the 2TB and 3TB Fusion Drives have a 128GB Flash storage component.
SSDs aren't so expensive
Our final point is that it’s no longer true that SSDs are prohibitively expensive. To give you an idea of what Apple charges, you can get a MacBook Air with a 256GB SSD for £999/$999, you can add a 512GB SSD to that model for another £200/$200, a 1TB SSD for £400/$400 and a 2TB SSD for £800/$800. While you could buy a 1TB external SSD for around £150 on Amazon, such as this one from Seagate.
So you can see why it doesn’t make sense to buy an iMac with a hard drive. With that in mind Apple’s decision to continue to sell the iMac with a hard drive as standard looks odd at least, criminal at most.
And that’s why we think that Apple should stop selling the iMac with a hard drive.
We discuss the features we want to see in the new iMac and what might be in store from a new look iMac here: iMac 2020: Redesign rumours.