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2019 iMac vs Late 2014 iMac—Part Two

Update: After I posted this, Brad Oliver contacted me on Twitter about the frame rates for DiRT Rally—he commented that the fact that they were clustered around 60fps made him think I’d left vertical sync (Vsync) on…and he was right. I’ve updated that section with the modified results, as well as one additional comparison I forgot to include the first time.

Oh, and in case you don’t know Brad…he was directly involved in porting DiRT Rally to the Mac for Feral, so he knows his stuff! Thanks Brad!

In part one of the comparison between my old and new iMacs, I provided a brief overview of the new machine, tech specs for both, and a number of benchmarks. (I also tested the video card against a Windows GeForce GTX 1080, and posted a slide-over image that demonstrates the wider color gamut on the new Mac.)

In today’s second (and final) part, I’ll take a look at video processing performance (via iMovie), how well the new iMac handles gaming, and then wrap up the whole series.

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Comparing colors on the 2014 and 2019 iMacs

I knew my new iMac had the wide color gamut (P3) display, but until I used it side-by-side with my old iMac, I didn’t realize just how different things would look. In my comparison test of the two iMacs, there are a couple of photos of onscreen images—one set with the default iMac color profile, the next with the Adobe RGB (1998) color profile—the differences are quite obvious, especially on the default profiles.

Here’s one last image, with a comparison slider, so you can more easily see how the colors change. (Thanks to Kirk McElhearn for the source photo.)

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Two year old crushes the new (video card) kid on the block…

My 2019 iMac has the new AMD Pro Vega 48 video card, the fastest video card Apple has offered in a (non-Pro) iMac. But just how fast is it? I’ll have more to say about it in an upcoming “games shootout” with my 2014 iMac, but I was also curious as to how (badly) it might compare to the video card—an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080—in my 2017 Frankenmac.

While I’d love to be able to compare the performance under macOS on Frankenmac, that’s not possible as I uninstalled it a while back—I’d been unable to update to Mojave due to a lack of NVIDIA drivers for Mojave. (Which is related to all of this, in that you cannot use an NVIDIA card—with acceleration—in Mojave, even in an external GPU box, because it seems Apple and NVIDIA aren’t on speaking terms right now.)

However, because a number of the benchmark apps I used in my 2019 iMac vs 2014 iMac—Part One comparison test also run on Windows, I was able to do some head-to-head testing, even if the difference in the OS adds a layer of unknown to the results.

Going in, I was pretty sure I knew what the results would show: The Windows PC was going to crush the iMac in anything graphically related, but lose in the CPU tests. While the AMD card is a big step up from previous-generation iMacs, it’s nowhere near bleeding edge—it’s more like “minor scrape” edge—in the Windows world.

Anyway, I ran a bunch of tests, and the results were pretty much as I expected…

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2019 iMac vs Late 2014 iMac—Part One

When I replaced two aging laptops with a new MacBook Air, I posted a detailed analysis on the performance differences between the three machines. When Apple released the new iMac with a ninth-generation Intel processor and a higher-end AMD video card, I felt the time had come to replace my similary-aged 2014 iMac…and with that replacement, the opportunity to do the same sort of “old vs. new” comparison for others who may be at or over the five year mark with their desktop Macs.

As with the prior comparison, this is not a review of the 2019 iMac—I’ll leave that detailed work to others who do it much better than I. I’m mainly interested in comparing this machine’s performance to my current iMac—and for the Geekbench 4 tests, with the 10-core iMac Pro.

Note: If you read the first write-up, some of the following explanatory language will seem quite familiar (as in identical)—where it made sense, I simply pasted the same test explanations I used in the prior article.

Overview

Externally (at least from the front) I can’t tell the two iMacs apart—if there have been any user-facing changes in the last five years, they’re not visible to my eye. From the back, of course, things are a bit different, as Thunderbolt 2 has made way for USB-C/Thunderbolt 3. For me, this means I need a couple of adapters—my RAID is Thunderbolt 2, and I connect a second HDMI display via the other Thunderbolt port. I haven’t yet installed/tested these, though I’m hopeful they’ll work.

After logging into both machines, though, it’s apparent that something’s different with the new iMac’s screen. For example, here’s a screen from the GpuTest app. (I had to grab the frame from an animating scene, which is why they’re not identical shapes.)

As screenshots probably wouldn’t reveal these differences, I used the iPhone to take photos, then fixed any skewing and cropped them (but didn’t adjust color, brightness, etc.) in Acorn.

Both iMacs were set to the default color profile (iMac), and had identical brightness settings.

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2018 MacBook Air versus some of its aged predecessors

I recently purchased a new 2018 13″ MacBook Air—my first new Mac laptop in over five years. My hope is that this machine can replace two aging laptops: A 2013 13″ Retina MacBook Pro (I use this when I want more “power” or screen resolution) and a 2012 11″ MacBook Air (I use this when I want portability).

Reviews of this machine are all over the net, so I’m not even going to attempt a full review. If you want an in-depth review of the machine, go read Six Colors’ review, or The Verge’s review or Wired’s review…or just start with Macrumors’ round-up of reviews and go from there.

Instead of a full review, I’ll provide some brief thoughts on the machine, then move on to my main focus: The performance changes in Apple’s smallest laptops from 2012 to today, based on comparisons between my three machines. I was interested in how this would turn out, as the two older Macs are both Core i7 CPUs, versus the Core i5 in the new Air. There’s lots out there to read about how the 2018 Air compares to other current machines, or semi-new machines…but I thought it might be interesting to see how performance has changed in five-plus years.

But first, my thoughts on the new Air…

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6,399 reasons why I haven’t yet replaced my iMac

My main machine is a late 2014 27″ iMac with a 4GHz Core i7 CPU, 24GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD (plus a big external RAID for most of my files). While it runs fine, I would like something with Thunderbolt 3 support, with faster graphics for X-Plane, and with more computing power for ripping Blu-Ray discs. It’s also beyond AppleCare age, and if something fails, it will be expensive and time consuming to repair.

When the iMac Pro came out, I was intrigued, but the price point is scary high and there was the “new new” Mac Pro on the horizon—potentially a cheaper alternative, given the display wouldn’t have to be bundled (and upgradeability is a good thing). I was hoping for an update on that machine at WWDC this June. Instead, we got the update much earlier, though it’s not was I was hoping to hear: The new new Mac Pro won’t be released in 2018.

As a result, if I want to replace my iMac this year, I have only two choices: A new iMac non-pro, or a new iMac Pro. (In theory, I could look at a MacBook Pro with an eGPU for graphics, but I despise the Touch Bar, and that’s the only way to get the highest-spec MacBook Pro. But I really want a desktop Mac, not a laptop-as-desktop Mac.)

So just what would I be getting for my money with either machine? And how do those machines compare with the Frankenmac homebuilt I put together last year? And perhaps more intriguingly, how do they compare with the 2013 “new” Mac Pro that Apple still sells today?

To answer those questions, I turned to the Geekbench 4 benchmark app, which includes both CPU and graphics (they call it Compute) benchmark tools.

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Quicken 2018’s subscription isn’t really a subscription

When Mac Quicken 2018 was announced as subscription only, I vented on Twitter

“Quicken is now sold on a membership basis.”

Screw that—it’d cost me $50/year just for quote downloads, basically. #Quicken2007Forever

However, as part of my work on finding a replacement for Quicken 2007, I discovered that Quicken has done themselves something of a disservice with their marketing: Quicken 2018 is not a typical software subscription, it’s more of a traditional model.

Note: For those who aren’t aware, Quicken is no longer owned by Intuit; they were bought by an investment bank. That’s both good and bad. It’s good that they’re out from under Intuit’s lack of interest in the Mac app, but it’s possibly bad in that an investment group only buys a company for one reason: To later sell it at a big profit. However, to profit, you need to provide things people want, so New Quicken should be focused on providing excellent apps.

In a modern software subscription plan, as with Microsoft’s Office 365 or Adobe’s Creative Cloud, you only have rights to use the software while your subscription is active. Stop subscribing, and you can’t use the apps any more. (Though I believe Office will run in view-only mode.)

But that’s not how Quicken’s subscription works. Quicken’s subscription is backed by something they call the Data Access Guarantee, which insures you’ll always be able to access your financial data. From that page, with my emphasis added:

…whether you renew your subscription or not, you’ll always have full access to and ownership of your data. You can view, edit, export, and manually enter transactions and accounts, even after your subscription ends.

Access to online services, such as transaction download, quotes, and mobile sync, along with access to Quicken Support, will end if your subscription does.

Even if I stop subscribing, I’ll be able to continue using Quicken 2018 (or 2019 or whatever) much the same way I use Quicken 2007 today: As a standalone app without access to online services or Quicken’s support services. (Note that this doesn’t apply to the Starter edition, just Deluxe and Premier. But Starter is very limited; I imagine most users will have at least Deluxe.)

This policy allays my fears about the subscription: If I decide I don’t need the online services, I can stop subscribing and still use the app manually. If they had communicated this more clearly up front, I wouldn’t have had any qualms with supporting their new approach, nor would I have vented on Twitter.

The ability to continue using the app after my subscription ends allays my main fear with subscriptions: Once you start, you’re locked in because you lose the software if you ever stop paying. Thanks, Quicken, for taking this approach.

When castles were dark and pixels were black and white

Recently, while browsing Michael Tsai’s blog, I came across a link to a chapter from The Secret History of Mac Gaming, a book by Richard Moss.

This particular chapter dealt with the making of Dark Castle, one of the earliest Mac video games. It’s a pretty amazing tale of life in the early days of home computing. For example, on the founding of the company that released Dark Castle:

Not one to be discouraged, Jackson withdrew most of his life savings, bought a Lisa, signed up for the Apple developer program, and founded the company Silicon Beach Software in mid-1984. He then met with seventeen-year-old Jonathan Gay and made a deal. Gay wouldn’t get any money up front, but he’d get royalties on sales of a Macintosh game that he’d program on weekends.

Reading the chapter brought back memories of playing both Dark Castle and its more-aggravating successor, Beyond Dark Castle. These side-scrolling platformers were fun, frustrating, and rewarding—a great mix for video games of any era. I wondered if it was possible to play them today, 30-plus years later…and of course, it was.

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The iMac Pro—and upcoming Mac Pro—are Apple’s ‘halo cars’

Writing on his blog, Kirk McElhearn talks about profit and the iMac Pro/new Mac Pro (emphasis added):

I’m speculating, but I think Apple won’t be making much of a profit from the iMac Pro, or the coming Mac Pro, but rather needs to have these computers as flagship devices to show that the company can innovate. If they take a loss, because of R&D costs, it’s not a big deal, because for every iMac Pro or Mac Pro they’ll sell, they probably book 10,000 iPhones.

I think Kirk’s spot on here (though this being Apple, I wouldn’t be surprised if they make a small profit on the Pro models). And there’s a perfect corollary in the automotive world: halo cars

A halo vehicle (or halo model) in automobile marketing is one designed and marketed to showcase the talents and resources of the manufacturers and to promote sales of other vehicles within a marque.

Consider Ford and the new Ford GT, which is a stunning $495,000 sports car…

Ford won’t sell may of these—I believe they’ve capped production at 1,000 units or so, and they’re probably taking a loss on each car. But it’s a car that shows what Ford can do given unlimited budget and working outside the constraints of a typical production line—it takes one full day to assemble each car. Compare that to the roughly 300,000 Ford Fusions sold each year, which means they’re producing over 820 cars per day.

It also gives the owner of a Fusion or Fiesta or Mustang the ability to say “Yea, it’s a Ford—the same company that makes that amazing GT.” It may even draw them into a showroom to see the car, where they may leave with some lesser vehicle. (Though with so few GTs being built, Chevrolet’s Corvette is a better real-world example of a halo car, as you can find those at any Chevy dealer.)

Thinking about the iMac Pro/new Mac Pro as Apple’s halo cars makes perfect sense. These are expensive machines that will sell to relatively few people, but every Mac (and iPhone) owner can say “Yea, the same company that makes those amazing high-end desktop machines.” It may also draw users to an Apple Store to see this amazing metal, and they may end up leaving with a “normal” iMac or MacBook Pro.

And it lets Phil keep saying “Can’t innovate any more, my ass!” for a few more years.

The fundamental problem with the Touch Bar

Today, via a link posted on Six Colors, I read Steven Acquino’s The Touch Bar Makes the Mac More Accessible to Me, in which Steven shares his positive experiences with the Touch Bar:

Where it shines considerably is as an alternative to keyboard shortcuts and the system emoji picker. Tapping a button on the Touch Bar is far more accessible than trying to contort my hands to execute a keyboard shortcut or straining my eyes searching for an emoji.

Usability is definitely an individual thing, and Steven makes a good case for why he likes the Touch Bar. However, Steven doesn’t mention a fundamental issue with the Touch Bar. Nor does Marco Arment in his Fixing the MacBook Pro article. To me, this unstated issue is the main problem with the Touch Bar, and it’s one that Apple can’t fix with new features or tweaks:

You cannot use the Touch Bar without looking at it

The Touch Bar, despite its name, is actually an Eye Bar: It forces your eyes off the screen, down to the Touch Bar, back up to the screen, repeat ad infinitum. There’s nothing physical about interacting with the Touch Bar, aside from using your finger: There are no defined button areas, and there’s no haptic feedback when you tap something. So you absolutely must look at the Touch Bar to interact with it.

When the new MacBooks were released, I spent about 30 minutes testing a Touch Bar-equipped version in an Apple Store, and this constant moving of my eyes’ focus from keyboard to screen to keyboard to screen to…well, you get the idea…was incredibly disruptive. To use the Touch Bar, I’d have to change my focus to the keyboard, then refocus on the screen, taking time to find my active window and locate the mouse cursor. This did not make for a pleasant user experience.

As but one example, Steven mentions using the Touch Bar for zooming:

In addition, the Zoom feature—one of the Touch Bar’s many accessibility features—makes seeing controls much easier.

Granted, there are some extra capabilities in the Touch Bar zoom, but using the Touch Bar for zoom seems infinitely harder—and more disruptive—than my preferred approach:

You can really customize zoom in that panel, including making it usable via the keyboard, setting zoom limits, and more. I keep it simple, though, with a mouse-assisted full screen zoom.

To zoom my screen, I hold down the Control key, then scroll my Magic Mouse with one finger, and I get infinite and easily-controllable zoom, all without ever taking my eyes off the screen. To zoom with the Touch Bar, I’d need to look at the Touch Bar while I tapped on it to get into zoom mode, then look back to the screen as I zoomed. That seems much tougher, and again, my eyes have to go from screen to keyboard and back—and do so again when I’m done zooming to exit zoom.

Using a Mac should be about doing things efficiently, and to me, the Touch Bar is an incredibly inefficient solution to a non-existent problem. I’m with Marco, and hope that future laptops either remove the Touch Bar completely or make it optional.

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