Help finding best desktop configuration

I have a 12 year old iMac that still functions ok, but can’t run VenturaOS and it is time to replace it. I love the 27-inch screen and have been waiting for a new iMac with M2 or M3 chips to be available–and I would compromise to the 24-inch screen to get the all in one. I could also buy a refurb 24-inch iMac and use it for a while. Appears to me that such models will not be available until late 2023 or 2024. I am considering my other options.

Putting cost aside, the Apple 27 inch studio display seems very nice. A costly solution seems to be to pair the studio display with either a souped up M2 Mini or a M1 version of the Studio. Seems to me that the Studio is on the verge of being updated to the newer chip set. I hate to make this investment only to be a generation behind. The new Minis seems intriguing, but I have always thought that line was sort of second rate compared to the other offerings (no offense). The specs and ports seem to have taken a giant leap. But when I spec a Mini up, the cost is in the neighborhood of the Studio. I have not yet studied the differences in real life performance.

I do not game or perform extensive video editing. I use office apps to do legal work, including some heavier doc review and database apps though much of the heavy lifting is done by other folks. I recognize I will have way too much computing power for what I do, but prefer to buy the latest models with high specs and keep them a long time. I also understand that this is a first-world problem, but I still would like to make a good choice.

Help and thoughts welcome.

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You specifically mention “desktop,” but it might be helpful to know whether you have any interest in a portable computer? Also, is one monitor sufficient for your desktop use, or have you considered using two?

I think if you poke around a bit here, you’ll find several recent “Which Mac should I buy?” threads that might prove useful. In my case, I retired my (older) 27" iMac + MacBook Air combo in favor of a single MBP M1 Pro that spends 95% of its time in clamshell mode on my desk, while driving two mid-range 27" LG monitors through a TB4 hub. The beauty of this setup is that when I need to go mobile, I pull one cable and I’m gone.

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Thanks for the suggestion. I will widen my thinking about using a laptop as the CPU. I will also do some looking at the threads mentioned.

I hear what you’re saying.

I’ve been using Minis for years now. They’re the low-end models, but they’re more than powerful enough for what I do (although i am considering upgrading my RAM from 16GB to 64GB - which can be done on the Intel models - in order to be able to create some large 16GB virtual machines).

I used to also want to get the most powerful model made. Which is why in 2002 I bought a dual 1GHz G4 tower (and later maxed out the RAM and installed some huge hard drives in it). But today’s M1/M2 systems have orders of magnitude more power than I’ll ever use for running Office, FileMaker, web surfing and managing my music collection.

I’m one of those people who will buy an entry-level Mac mini and max out its RAM and storage. Even though that will bump the price from $600 to $1800. For what I do, the RAM and storage are what I need - the rest of the system is almost irrelevant, as long as it can run all my software. And to equip a larger Mac with 64 GB (or its maximum) RAM and 2TB of storage will bump an M2 Pro Mini from $1300 to $2600 and an entry-level Studio from $2000 to $3000.

So although $1800 is a lot to pay for an entry-level mini, it’s still better than paying $2600 for a high-end mini or $3000 for a Studio.

I could save a bit by going with a minimum-size SSD and buy a 2TB external SSD for my documents and media and such, but I’d prefer to have it all internal.

WRT displays, Apple makes some really great displays, but they’re always very expensive. IMO, unless you need high color accuracy, you’re paying quite a lot for what amounts to cosmetic features - the aluminum case and Apple logo. You can buy some very nice 4K displays in a variety of sizes from a variety of vendors (I’m partial to Dell’s UltraSharp series, but there are many other good choices), for a lot less than what Apple charges. Connect it with a basic cable (HDMI, USB-C or USB-C/DisplayPort) and you’re good to go.

Ditto for keyboard and mouse. Apple makes some high quality peripherals, and many people love them, but any Mac can use any USB/Bluetooth devices, and preferences here are very personal. I am using an Apple wired USB keyboard, but with a Microsoft “Basic Optical” USB mouse with it. And you can, of course, keep on using the ones you’ve got now (from your iMac), if you like them.

I’m a very big fan of MacBook Pros or Airs. I have been using for decades. Even though I’m now retired I still find the portability a great asset. And they now have super speedy M1 and M2 models, since you don’t Final Cut Pro editing or other apps that require ultra superpowers, you’ll find the MacBook Pros or Airs to have more than adequate strength, speed and battery life. They’ve got beautiful Retina screens, and they beautifully connect to big desktop screens. And having two screens running consecutively could be a benefit as well.

But if you are not interested in portability, and don’t require superpower video editing, etc. apps, I’d go for an M2 model iMac.

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A few things to consider:

  • Backup strategy. The need for, and importance of, your desired backup strategy may prove to be a driver in terms of what architecture you choose. For instance, does the model you choose support Time Machine PLUS Carbon Copy Cloner PLUS cloud backup? Or is that overkill for you?

  • A related consideration is what external drives you may be bringing forward. If you’re a backup fanatic, as I am, you’ll need to accommodate several drives of possibly varying format (HFS vs AFPS). The upper level mac Mini accommodates both TB and USB-A type drives, or you can get a “dock” such as is available from vendors like OWC. (I opted for a 16" M2 MacBook Pro, with an OWC “dock” with lotsa jacks.)

  • Display: Is 27" enough? Would 24" be enough (available iMac)? Two or more displays? (I got an Apple Display with my MacBook Pro, and utilize the MacBook as my primary keyboard with the additional screen space…no “clamshell” for me).

In any event, getting other opinions is a great idea, as long as you use those opinions to conduct a bit of systems engineering: that is, to define your own requirements.

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That’s what I’ve been waiting for, but I haven’t seen or heard a rumor of an M2 iMac. All I’ve seen is the original M1 iMac. Now I’m seeing reports of an M3 iMac in the pipeline, but who really knows what Apple is planning…

I’d also recommend you plan for the Mac’s secondary life. Whenever I buy a new Mac (I have many), I always think about how I’ll move my existing Macs down the line and even the new Mac: where will it fit a few years down the road? While my plan may change, it’s nice having a backup plan for the Mac even before I buy it.

(As an example: I originally bought an M1 Air to test Apple Silicon software development, but even when I replaced with a bigger M1 machine a year or two later, I kept it to use as my “travel” Mac. I’m actually typing on that right now as I’m on a trip.)

I love having different Macs for dedicated purposes (either specific tasks or projects, in certain locations, etc.). Some older Macs get donated to relatives or friends or someone in need (i.e. I gave a laptop to my cousin’s kid when he graduated from high school – he had basic needs so an older Mac was fine for him).

When I buy a new Mac I’ll replace an older Mac with a newer older model. I did that a few years ago when I bought my 16" M1, trading in my 2016 MBP to Apple (it was a model with infamous problems I didn’t want to inflict on another person) and replacing that Mac’s use with my 16" Intel-based MBP.

Granted, not everyone wants to deal with a lots of older Macs, and it does take some maintenance and thinking, but having a bunch of old Macs around is incredibly useful for OS/software testing, dedicated tasks, etc. For instance, I can use my “active” Mac for stuff and not worry about crashing/damaging one of my separate Macs. I can also use one of those older Macs in a pinch if there’s a problem with my main Mac. While I could sell old Macs, I generally find that I don’t get enough $ to hassle with it (I keep them too long to sell when their value is high) and they’re more useful for me in a secondary role.

My oldest Mac right now is one of my most crucial – it runs old software I haven’t wanted to update (if it works, don’t touch it) – but I think I’ll need to do so soon, as I’ve been notified by Plex, Dropbox, and a few others that they won’t support it any more past this summer. (One of its key functions is my Plex server.) It’ll be lots of fun figuring out how to replace all its old software without breaking a lot of stuff. Not looking forward to that, but time moves on.


I absolutely 100% agree with this. While my new MacBook Pro is now my primary machine, my 2019 iMac 5k becomes my main media server (Plex plus “media” apps to support purchases from iTunes store); my 2013 iMac 4k becomes my office dedicated music server with specific 32 bit programs; my 2012 Mac mini becomes my dedicated music listening room music server; and my wife’s old 2010(?) 21" iMac becomes available for donation. Old Macs are still tremendously useful, though care should be taken in giving them internet access.

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Curiouser and Curiouser:

“ Added into that mix is the iMac, with many commentators looking at a late 2023 release for an M3-powerd iMac for your desktop.

This would skip over the M2 chipset completely…a twenty percent lift over the performance of the M1 is not to be sneezed at, but going with an M2 iMac after the M3 is announced feels unlikely. It’s also worth noting that Apple’s order book for the M2 may have been disrupted by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and supplies of Apple Silicon may have been prioritized to the macOS laptops.”

It might be worth the wait.