2019 iMac 27” - any specific pitfalls for DAW?

I’ve searched the various Mac threads and couldn’t find much iMac content - hence the question.

My 2014 13”, bottom of the range MacBook Pro is struggling a little with Ableton and Logic. More modern plug-ins - like the Ableton Wavetable - take it up to peak around 60% with a single instance. Plus, there has always been a problem with the display drivers conflicting somehow that gives crackles at even quite low CPU usage.

I have some funds to get a new machine, and as I don’t play live/plan to, the iMac seems best value in the Apple world (which I am sticking with). I have a load of Eurorack running into a MOTU 828es.

So my plan is to get a 2019’ 27” iMac, a Thunderbolt 3-2 adapter, SSD drive, upgrade the RAM to 40GB, with the fastest processor I can afford. This isn’t cheap (particularly in the UK). So I wondered if the Lines community could see any immediate drawbacks here/had any experience of something similar? Thanks!

I am also in the market for a new computer but it seams like right now isn’t a good time to get really anything other then the new 16 MacBook pro. Im hopping the rest gets refreshed at the apple event in the summer. link to a page showing how long its been since they have been upgraded. https://buyersguide.macrumors.com/#Mac These are only speculations but im gonna wait for the next round.

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Yeah, I’d thought that too - but I don’t think it stops the current one being a good DAW machine cause something better comes out?

What if the new iMac doesn’t have upgradable RAM, for example. Hmmmm.

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yeah i get that. but also there will be a big price drop on the current line especially at 3rd party sellers. but your right just because its new doesn’t mean its better especially with a lot of crazy things apple is doing.

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The current 27" iMac is, for the most part, a superb computer. (I use one with Bitwig.) Yes, an update is due soon. It seems unlikely that Apple will introduce a totally new design at this time—more likely some new processor options. But who knows?

Order the minimum RAM configuration and order a quality third party RAM kit (OWC RAM is great) for 32-64GB at least. Easy to install—just do it thoughtfully.

The main conundrum with the iMac is storage. I’m not a fan of “Fusion Drive”—too many parts. I’d go straight SSD, but the combo of internal and external that works for you is personal and may be multi-variate. Don’t forget about backup.

The keyboard is ok—at least it doesn’t consume a lot of space. Personally, I don‘t think Apple has ever made a mouse that was any good. I use Logitech Anywhere mice and Wacom Tablets.

Mac OS Crapalina has gotten some updates and is far better than it was in September, but issues persist for some people in some situations. And we get to do it all over again in six months. :roll_eyes:


Yes, I was planning on the internal SSD at 512 and then I’ve some external hard drives plus NAS as well. Crucial RAM is rumoured to be the same manufacturer as the Apple stuff, so an extra 32GB of that gets me 40 in total.

(I like your Cold Mac videos btw, thanks for those!)

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Autogeneric, as long as you spec it in accordance with your expected needs, you should be quite satisfied with a 2019 iMac.

Do consider opting for a Magic Trackpad 2. In my experience, it flattens the rodent.

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Thank you. As I have a Magic Mouse already, I plan to get the trackpad…

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Obviously, you are on the right track.

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Sounds all fine - though you should really review if you need 40GB RAM. Unlike CPU - where Ableton can just “run more!” if you have more, RAM is only useful if Ableton has something to put in it. Sure, it’ll help with buffering off disk… but at some point the diminishing returns set in. I don’t have exact numbers, but 40GB struck me as high. How much RAM does your current machine have… and how much does Ableton use? (Activity Monitor app will tell you.)

I have the Fusion drive on my 2017 iMac 27" - and it has been transparent. It is nice having 2TB of space, but SSD speed for what I’m using - all without thinking about it, or shuffling things on and off external drives.


I believe you’ve got to order/install the RAM in matched pairs, and there are four slots total. So you’d be looking at multiples of 8 or 16 most likely. Though, for what it’s worth, I only have 16gb in my iMac- which I intend to upgrade- and it handles Ableton superbly.

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Thanks all. I have 8GB at the moment in my MacBook Pro. Basic iMac spec is 8, but in 4x2, with 2 empty slots. So most efficient/future proof is to get 2 lots of 16 - which get you to 32 in matched pairs plus original 8 = 40GB.

Getting the additional RAM from third parties is cheap, like £110 for the extra 32, so seems sensible.

Edit: Clearly, in the real world, £110 is not cheap for many people, I meant compared with Apple’s own prices.

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For some reason, I thought they needed to be like pairs. But a quick googling has shown me otherwise. Best of luck, and congrats on the upcoming purchase!

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Well, I’m running nothing particularly interesting at the moment on Mac OS Catalina, and between the OS, this service or that, and a smattering of applications, I’m at 23.55GB RAM used out of 32GB, so I’d say that 32GB is your baseline in 2020. During any kind of real work, the only acceptable amount of active swap is zero. If you’re investing in a new computer you expect to last you several years, then spend a little extra and make sure you’ve RAM to spare.

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It’s about speed. If they’re all matched, you get theoretically 4x the bandwidth across the entire memory. If they aren’t matched, you only get the speed boost for the portion that overlap, and in many cases the system might just default to 2x across the whole thing - I’m not sure what the iMacs do in hardware, but you definitely won’t get the max performance from the memory.

32GB is plenty for me to be editing 4K video, I don’t anticipate for audio you’ll ever need more than that and that’s 4x8GB which is usually pretty affordable relatively speaking. I have a 2014 retina iMac (max specs) and it’s still fast fast fast.

That said, my 2014 13" (also loaded - 16GB RAM) is absolutely no slouch and I suspect the “display drivers” are not what’s causing any sort of audio related problems whatsoever unless your plugins are dodgy. I run Ableton 10 on it all the time and it’s rock solid and performs very well. I have zero plans to upgrade it for quite a while.

You could try a brand new, from scratch OS reload on your existing hardware (deauthorize all your plugins/apps first, and take a FULL system backup, then reinstall things one at a time as if it were a new computer, don’t restore from your backup other than to directly copy your data itself - not programs or configuration - over). I do that every few years – it’s not necessary, but I do seem to have fewer technical problems than folks I know who don’t do that, knock on wood!

On all modern UNIX-based systems, the filesystem and other OS caches will actively use nearly 100% of all available RAM as you access files from disk. It’s normal and does not mean the system needs or is really actively using that RAM. This is not really an appropriate way to determine actual RAM pressure, as the RAM is instantly released when a program demonstrates an actual need for it. I run a development, film, and music production environment on Catalina on 16GB and it’s just fine too. I rarely have any active swapping unless I deliberately start doing some heavy video editing. And with SSDs, light swapping is much less of a problem, as long as you’re not into thrashing.


That’s because this issue has been a moving target. At some points, RAM cards have had to be installed in matched pairs or even matching sets to work at all. At other points, they haven’t required matched pairs or sets, but the best performance has only been available with matched pairs or sets. The current DDR4 RAM seems to be mix-and-match.

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Well, I’ve taken the plunge and ordered the specifications I mentioned. No doubt the new one gets announced tomorrow/next month.

I’ll report back with my findings.

My studio machine is a late 2012 top spec iMac 27” with SSD and it handles anything music related I throw at it. It runs Catalina and I’ve had zero problems. Live 10, some plugins, Babyface Pro, Elektron and Expert Sleepers gear.

So unless you need something that’s not supported by Catalina, I can’t think of any/many limitations.

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Same here! Got it last week because my work was going to throw it away! In the trash! Can you believe that? Swapped in an SSD and rebuilt the fusion drive, and it runs like a champ.

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