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2010 iMac 27″ Photoshop Performance Test

September 16th, 2010

There aren’t really any meaningful Photoshop performance  test’s (bench test).  Photoshop utilizes computer resources based on so many variables that it’s difficult to tell what the bottlenecks are with a single Photohop performance test. The Retouch Artist performance test is somewhat useful and it’s a good start for devising your own test. I use Photoshop performance tests that are specific to the operations and file sizes that I perform repeatedly; like merge five 21 Megapixel images to HDR or smart sharpen a 50MB 16Bit TIFF. Merge to HDR is a hard drive intensive test and sharpening is CPU intensive. I’m using these tests to optimize my performance preferences in Photoshop and my scratch disks. The hardware test you use should be done on the file sizes you regularly use.

There are many commercially available performance tests that will give you a general idea of how hardware is performing. These bench tests are posted all over the internet (barefeats.com), so if you’re looking for performance information on a computer you don’t own, like a 2010 27″ iMac, there’s probably plenty of data about it online. Here are a couple of nice videos from TechFast Lunch that compare the Core i5 iMac with the upgrade core i7 iMac.

Apple’s 2010 27” i5 and i7 iMac models are a thing of beauty. We recently put one in the studio to use as a print server. I truly feel that Apple got it right on this one for the average user. We got ours from B&H Photo Video because the price is the same as Apple’s, but there’s no sales tax and their shipping is amazingly fast. I ordered on Monday and had it on Wednesday. The price point is acceptable for the outstanding features Apple has included. Here’s a quick rundown of the options and some suggestions for “pimping it out”.

The 27” display back lit display is excellent. It has the same resolution as my 30” displays and I really don’t miss those 3 inches. It’s supported by a robust video card.

The i5 processor is a good base model, but upgrading to an i7 processor for $200 is worth the money if you’re going to be using it all day for image processing. I found this example useful and here are some bench Tests:

The RAM modules are easily upgraded by the user, so I wouldn’t buy it from Apple. It uses DDR3 1333 SO-DIMMs which are usually used in laptops. G.Skill has an excellent selection of products that will do the job and it’s cheaper to get it with the minimum and even replace the existing memory if necessary. Again, 8 gigs of ram is a good base, but if you’re doing image processing all day, then 16 gigabytes is what you need.  We bought our GSkill mac ram from Newegg.

Hardrive space is the real weakness of the iMac models. There are a few solutions to the problem, but it’s a little complicated. Inside the machine, there are three total SATA II connections. The stock model has room for one full size 3.5” drive and one 2.5” SSD drive. There’s also one external firewire 800 port. This is the place that the 2010 iMac 27” models need to be pimped out the most. Here are the options for configuring drives:

Stock from Apple: you can get a 1TB or 2TB($150 upgrade) 3.5” drive and also have a specially mounted SSD. They don’t include the special mount unless you order it with a SSD. You can also get your iMac with 2 SSD Drives and no spinning drive. The 1TB and 2TB drives are either Western Digital or Seagates, you can tell which one you got by the serial number on your iMac. There are some issues with how the fans work if you replace these drives with another model.

Replacing the drives inside of an iMac is a bit tricky, but it is possible. Here’s a good tutorial on the process from ifixit.  I recommend leaving this to the professionals at OtherWorldComputting.  My recommendation for upgrading hard drives on a 27”, to make it an image processing workstation, is to ship it to OtherWorld and let them configure it the way you want. They have excellent SSD Drives that use the  SandForce SSD controller. Here’s what they offer as options for utilizing the three available SATA II connections:

#1 Move one SATA to the outside of the computer. I highly recommend doing this, because the connection will be roughly twice as fast as the firewire 800. You can then connect eSATA hard drive enclosures. Unfortunately the eSTA enclosures will not be hot swappable. You will need to shut down your iMac to switch from one enclosure to another.

#2 Replace the internal DVD burner with a SSD. You would then need a USB II connect DVD burner, but they are cheap ($40) and work fine. This is a great option because you can have an internal SSD and an Internal 3.5” Spinning disk.

#3 Replace the internal 3.5” with a SSD or a bigger faster 3.5”

The hard drive configuration you choose should be based on the kind of image processing you do. My general recommendation is to replace the DVD with a 240GB SSD and run the OS and programs off of that. I would also move Adobe Lightroom Catalogs and “working” files to that drive. Next, I recommend a 2TB drive in the 3.5” bay and an eSATA modification. The eSATA is the only way to really get the hard drive space necessary for a large archive of images.

That sums up the options you have in configuring hardware on a 2010 iMac 27″.  It’s a solid performer and it looks right at home in a photography studio.

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