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Apple March 2019 announcements

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Ric Ford

MacInTouch
Apple will be hosting another show on March 25 for media members it is inviting to the Steve Jobs Theater:
Ars Technica said:
“It’s show time:” Apple confirms March 25 event at the Steve Jobs Theater
Streaming TV, news subscriptions, and new iPads are all possible subjects.

Apple has sent invites out to members of the press and other guests for a March 25 "special event." The tagline and animation on the invitation strongly suggest that the company's long-rumored streaming TV service will take center stage. The invitation is accompanied by the words "it's show time." Apple used the same tagline in 2006 for an event at which it unveiled its then-future Apple TV product.

... TV may not be the only thing on tap; Apple is rumored to be working on a premium magazine and news subscription service built on its acquisition of Texture. That service might make an appearance on March 25 as well.
Apple said:
Apple Special Event
Live from the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino.
March 25, 2019, at 10:00 a.m.
Apple said:
Apple Special Event. March 25, 2019.
From the Steve Jobs Theater, Cupertino, CA.
Watch on March 25 at 10 a.m. PDT.
 








Apple will be hosting another show on March 25 for media members it is inviting to the Steve Jobs Theater:
Curiously, my wife took part in a 'focus group' event about media viewing habits a few weeks ago. She had to sign an NDA and so far has kept pretty tight-lipped about the subject. One thing she did let slip was that we would probably hear about it in March. Coincidence?
 


Today, Tuesday, sees Apple releasing an updated iMac.
And there I was, waiting for a refresh but finding the memory in the 21.5” iMac still isn’t user-upgradeable (without ungluing the screen and removing the logic board and voiding the warranty).

There’s no way I’m paying Apple an extra £540 for 32 GB of memory (24 GB extra), when I can buy a 32GB kit for £200 elsewhere.

Looks like Apple is not getting my money for at least another year.
 


Unless I have missed something, you can't have 10Gb Ethernet on the new iMacs, a crazy decision for what is being marketed as a workstation, especially as it is offered on the new Mac Mini. Upgrade pricing is, as usual, extortionate.

Apple is rapidly moving beyond what I can justify spending.
 


So I should update my iPad Air 2 to an iPad Air? Someone needs to tell Apple Marketing about ascending numbers.
The iPad numbering scheme is insane. Looking at Mactracker, the sequence from oldest to newest (not counting cellular variations within a model) is:
  • "iPad" series
    • 2010: iPad (no number - 1st gen)
    • 2011: iPad 2
    • 2012: iPad (no number - 3rd gen)
    • 2012: iPad (no number - 4th gen)
    • 2017: iPad (no number - 5th gen)
    • 2018: iPad (no number - 6th gen)
  • "iPad Air" series
    • 2013: iPad Air (no number - 1st gen)
    • 2014: iPad Air 2
  • "iPad mini" series
    • 2012: iPad mini (no number - 1st gen)
    • 2013: iPad mini 2
    • 2014: iPad mini 3
    • 2015: iPad mini 4
  • "iPad Pro" series
    • 2015: iPad Pro (no number - 1st gen at the 12.9" size)
    • 2016: iPad Pro (no number - 1st gen at the 9.7" size)
    • 2017: iPad Pro (no number - 1st gen at the 10.5" size)
    • 2017: iPad Pro (no number - 2nd gen at the 12.9" size)
    • 2018: iPad Pro (no number - 1st gen at the 11" size)
    • 2018: iPad Pro (no number - 3rd gen at the 12.9" size)
So we've got six generations of "iPad", five of which share the same branding and six different "iPad Pros" that are all branded identically despite four different screen sizes and four different release-years (strongly implying four generations of product design).

And now we get to add to that a third-generation Air and a fifth generation "mini", which look like they will also be branded without any numbers. And they have features (like Pencil support) that were previously exclusive to "iPad Pro" models.

I don't think they could get much more confusing if they tried. Or maybe they are trying. It would certainly explain a lot.
 



The iPad numbering scheme is insane. Looking at Mactracker, the sequence from oldest to newest (not counting cellular variations within a model) is:
  • "iPad" series
    • 2010: iPad (no number - 1st gen)
    • 2011: iPad 2
    • 2012: iPad (no number - 3rd gen)
    • 2012: iPad (no number - 4th gen)
    • 2017: iPad (no number - 5th gen)
    • 2018: iPad (no number - 6th gen)
  • "iPad Air" series
    • 2013: iPad Air (no number - 1st gen)
    • 2014: iPad Air 2
  • "iPad mini" series
    • 2012: iPad mini (no number - 1st gen)
    • 2013: iPad mini 2
    • 2014: iPad mini 3
    • 2015: iPad mini 4
  • "iPad Pro" series
    • 2015: iPad Pro (no number - 1st gen at the 12.9" size)
    • 2016: iPad Pro (no number - 1st gen at the 9.7" size)
    • 2017: iPad Pro (no number - 1st gen at the 10.5" size)
    • 2017: iPad Pro (no number - 2nd gen at the 12.9" size)
    • 2018: iPad Pro (no number - 1st gen at the 11" size)
    • 2018: iPad Pro (no number - 3rd gen at the 12.9" size)
So we've got six generations of "iPad", five of which share the same branding and six different "iPad Pros" that are all branded identically despite four different screen sizes and four different release-years (strongly implying four generations of product design).

And now we get to add to that a third-generation Air and a fifth generation "mini", which look like they will also be branded without any numbers. And they have features (like Pencil support) that were previously exclusive to "iPad Pro" models.

I don't think they could get much more confusing if they tried. Or maybe they are trying. It would certainly explain a lot.
Is that not the same as for the old Mac Pro, and all the iMacs?

There was never a Mac Pro 1, Mac Pro 2, Mac Pro 3, etc. (until the new Mac Pro)... they were just known as their normal name, and you had to know whether it was a 1,1 or 3,1 or 5,1 in the case of the old Mac Pros.

The only device that doesn’t, currently, avoid this lack of numbering is the iPhone, but that will surely come as X, XR, XS will have to accommodate the next model... so either XX or Xi or XL or X2, etc. or just iPhone (11.8, 12.1, 27,2, etc.).
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
I'm a little shocked that the new iMacs still have only two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports, like the old, low-end MacBook Pro and new MacBook Air. The iMac Pro, new Mac Mini, and Touch Bar MacBook Pros all have four (while the Mac Pro and MacBook have none). Perhaps this is due to the demands of the internal 4K/5K display?
 


Well spotted, Ric. I still can't help feeling Apple have totally lost the plot, at least as far as the Mac is concerned. They seem to make such arbitrary decisions.
 



Apple seems to have a lot of trouble keeping its documentation up to date:
Poking around the Internet Archive Wayback Machine entries for that "Install memory in an iMac" page reveals that "Published Date" should probably read "Date of last revision." The January 2 version shows minimal changes to the prior Jul. 24, 2017 version, the most consequential adding "2017 iMac" to some of the body text.

Plus, January 2018 is over a year ago.
 



Ric Ford

MacInTouch
Storage in the new iMacs is pretty lame. There's apparently no T2 chip involved, and Apple doesn't even tout high-performance SSD storage, like it did for the iMac Pro, new Mac Mini and MacBook Pro, suggesting that the newest iMacs are... not all that great in storage performance. (I'd love to see Fusion and SSD benchmarks, if anyone has the opportunity to run some.)
Apple said:
IMac Pro
  • 3.3GB/s write performance
  • 2.8GB/s read performance
Mac Mini
Mac mini now includes all-flash PCIe-based storage, with up to four times the read speeds of previous flash options.

MacBook Pro
MacBook Pro includes a solid-state drive that’s blazing fast, with sequential read speeds up to 3.2GB/s.

iMac
Storage is about space. But it’s also about speed. A Fusion Drive gives you the best of both worlds. The apps and files you use the most are automatically stored on fast flash storage, while everything else moves to a high-capacity hard drive. From booting up to launching apps to importing photos, it’s faster and more efficient to do it all with Fusion Drive. It comes standard on all 27-inch models, and on the 21.5-inch model available at just $1499.
I think it's shocking that Apple's still selling hard drive-only configurations with all of macOS's anti-hard drive optimizations. I mean, how much does a measly 24 GB of fusion flash even cost the company? I bet it’s less than a dollar....
 


And there I was, waiting for a refresh but finding the memory in the 21.5” iMac still isn’t user-upgradeable (without ungluing the screen and removing the logic board and voiding the warranty). There’s no way I’m paying Apple an extra £540 for 32 GB of memory (24 GB extra), when I can buy a 32GB kit for £200 elsewhere. Looks like Apple is not getting my money for at least another year.
Then [you may be] waiting much longer — as in forever. The 21.5" iMac eliminated user-upgradeable RAM starting with the late 2012 model, and Apple has given us no reason in the over 6 years since to think that will change.

You'd be better off to save up for a 27" iMac, which does have user-accessible RAM slots, and add third-party RAM.
 


Then [you may be] waiting much longer — as in forever. The 21.5" iMac eliminated user-upgradeable RAM starting with the late 2012 model, and Apple has given us no reason in the over 6 years since to think that will change. You'd be better off to save up for a 27" iMac, which does have user-accessible RAM slots, and add third-party RAM.
I have a 27" iMac 5K for home use, along with a 4,1 Mac Pro with 30" Cinema Display.
I use the 21.5" iMac as my 'portable' machine for work (I used to carry the Mac Pro around and have a skateboard-like sled I pull it around on). It's my 'portable' machine that needs upgrading and has to be 21.5", as it's all I can fit in an overhead storage bin on a plane. My other option is a new Mac Mini or MacBook and separate monitor, plus full-size keyboard (can't stand laptop ones) - all to fit in an LTA iLugger.
 


I'm a little shocked that the new iMacs still have only two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports, like the old, low-end MacBook Pro and new MacBook Air. The iMac Pro, new Mac Mini, and Touch Bar MacBook Pros all have four (while the Mac Pro and MacBook have none). Perhaps this is due to the demands of the internal 4K/5K display?
Yeah; or not necessarily the display itself, but the graphics card.

Intel still supplies only 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes on their desktop processors. The AMD graphics chip takes up to 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes, so they already need to be shared with Thunderbolt. A Thunderbolt 3 port exposes 4 PCIe 3.0 lanes worth of bandwidth, so 2 TB3 ports = 8 lanes, leaving 8 lanes worth of bandwidth for the display. (The SSD and other peripherals also share some of these; I'm not sure of the internal architecture.)

The iMac Pro uses Xeon W processors, which have 48 PCIe 3.0 lanes (ideal for a workstation or high-end desktop, but too expensive for the iMac); the Mac Mini has no discrete graphics chip. The MacBook Pro is an interesting case — some configurations use only integrated graphics, some use discrete graphics. The highest-end MacBook Pro will tie up a lot of its 16 PCIe lanes for graphics, so heavy TB3 use will slow down the graphics card, but presumably there’s less data to be transferred in many cases given the smaller screen, and the graphics will still be faster than the integrated Intel graphics or the previous generation.
 


Storage in the new iMacs is pretty lame. There's apparently no T2 chip involved, and Apple doesn't even tout high-performance SSD storage, like it did for the iMac Pro and MacBook Pro, suggesting that the newest iMacs are... not all that great in storage performance. (I'd love to see Fusion and SSD benchmarks, if anyone has the opportunity to run some.)
I tend to agree, though the last-generation iMacs had decent SSD performance from what I’ve heard. I’d love to see a T2 with its integrated SSD controller in the iMac. I suspect that Apple may have been caught by Intel’s slowly-slipping schedule for 10nm Ice Lake processors and the PCIe upgrades that come with them; I’m expecting that the next iMac is likely to include a next-generation processor and the T2 (or a T3).
I think it's shocking that Apple's still selling hard drive-only configurations with all of macOS's anti-hard drive optimizations. I mean, how much does a measly 24 GB of fusion flash even cost the company?!
I’m not entirely thrilled by this either, but the 128GB SSD Fusion drive works quite well. (The 24 GB feels low to me, but I suspect Apple has analytics data showing that a lot of customers have a working set which is small enough to fit on it with the exception of music / photos / videos, which are mostly accessed in a large sequential stream, which hard disk drives work well for.)

It really comes down to cost of the cheapest model, I suppose. A 2TB hard drive is about $50 at retail. A 2TB SSD is $250 or so. Adding, say, $150 to the base price of the machine is going to be a hard sell for a lot of people. I don’t know what margins Apple gets / expects, but the alternative of adding $100 in BOM cost for a $1100 machine would hurt a lot.

Honestly, I have a 2TB Fusion drive, of which about 1TB is used, and I probably rarely access 800 GB of that. I have several external SSDs for various purposes — and, while having a bigger internal SSD would be nice, I’m fine buying external storage. My buying decision isn’t really based on the internal SSD size. So that’s something else to keep in mind… maybe it wouldn’t help sell systems much.
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
It really comes down to cost of the cheapest model, I suppose. A 2TB hard drive is about $50 at retail. A 2TB SSD is $250 or so. Adding, say, $150 to the base price of the machine is going to be a hard sell for a lot of people.
Just to be clear, I'm not arguing that iMacs should be all-SSD, like the Mac Mini and Apple laptops with their exhorbitant storage pricing; I'm just saying that a hard drive only iMac in 2019 with not even a miniscule 24 GB of flash for a fusion setup seems like it would be perversely bad for performance, given the optimization/anti-optimizations in macOS 10.14. (In fact, I recommended that a client on a very tight budget bump up to the fusion configuration on a low-end refurb for that reason, when their old iMac died completely.)

I know different people have different performance tolerances, but I simply can't imagine being stuck on a hard drive-only system after the performance misery that OS X 10.9 introduced to hard drive performance - that update forced me to update a whole family's MacBook Pros to SSD from hard drives to make things bearable. I've been assuming things haven't gotten any better in later macOS versions. I haven't thoroughly tested hard drive-only configurations, but performance is so miserable when booted from a backup hard drive, I even keep primary backups on SSDs. (Fusion drives with reasonable flash size are apparently fine and certainly seem like they'd be more tolerable for performance, but I don't have any personal experience using them.)

It's not just macOS, either. I've added SSDs to improve performance with both Windows and Linux systems, because going back to hard drives after using SSDs just wasn't fun.
 


Storage in the new iMacs is pretty lame. [...]
I think it's shocking that Apple's still selling hard drive-only configurations with all of macOS's anti-hard drive optimizations. I mean, how much does a measly 24 GB of fusion flash even cost the company? I bet it’s less than a dollar....
your milage may vary, but I'll state as universal anyway:

No one should buy a Mac with a spinning hard drive, and no one should buy a Mac with the 1TB Fusion (the one with the the 32GB flash portion, as opposed to the 128GB version on the original Fusion drives or the 2 and 3TB current model Fusion drives). If one has purchased with the spinner-only or 1TB Fusion option, one should return the computer. Make Apple get the message.

Yes, Apple charges too much for storage (and for RAM). But even offering a 5400 (or even a 7200) rpm spinner, even if paired with the utterly inadaequate 32GB flash to make it a Fusion, does us all a disfavor. It. Is. Too. Slow. Fusion drives, especially smaller ones, serve only to make fast machines slow.

Fusion was an interesting idea in 2013. The market has matured. But has Apple?
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
The iPad numbering scheme is insane....
Yep.
Luke Dormehl said:
Please, Apple, sort out your product naming nightmare

... Apple has always exhibited superb marketing skills. Cupertino created brand names that became ubiquitous and unleashed marketing strategies that observers still speak of in hushed, reverent terms.

It’s understandable that a global company operating in many fragmented markets would offer more than a handful of products. But Apple’s product naming strategy is beyond broken. It’s a mess of meandering product lines, abandoned naming schemes, and lowercase and capital letters (“iPad mini,” but “iPhone Max”).

This crazy-quilt nomenclature is one thing for tech bloggers who write about this all the time and can grok the intricacies (with only the occasional reference to Apple’s spec sheets). But it’s something else entirely for average customers.

The beauty of Steve Jobs’ four-quadrant grid was that it made clear exactly who each product was for. Today, that’s something that even Apple fans likely struggle with. As much of a fanboy as I am for Apple’s ’90s products, I have no desire to go back to that naming chaos.

Come on, Apple: In a world where all your devices increasingly work well together, can it be so difficult to come up with a naming strategy that doesn’t induce headaches?
 


There were also updates to the available iMac Pro configurations today. You can now kit out a configuration, complete with "an 18-core Xeon-W, Vega 64X, 256GB of DDR4 ECC memory, and a 4TB SSD", for a cool $15,699.
 


What surprises me is that Apple could make a 512GB SATA SSD an option, replacing the spinning HD. The cost for a 1TB laptop drive and a 500GB SSD are pretty close, and it would plug into the same spot so no redesign needed. Even if they used the cheapest no DRAM QLC drives the performance would still be better (and a little bit of DRAM would go a long way). Call them “Basic SSD” and “Performance SSD” to differentiate between the 2.5” SATA units and the PCIe units, and charge the premium for the latter. And let customers decide if they want 500GB or 1TB of slow SSD or 250 or 500 of fast SSD.
 


Storage in the new iMacs is pretty lame. There's apparently no T2 chip involved, and Apple doesn't even tout high-performance SSD storage,
This is probably just a mildly speed-bumped design. The baseline design of the iMacs dates from 2+ years ago, so the SSDs probably around that time, too. They probably aren't horrible, but they probably have a customized-for-Apple SSD controller on them also from that era and are probably at the stage before Apple went to its T1/T2 SSD controllers and new updates in iPhone/iPad.
I think it's shocking that Apple's still selling hard drive-only configurations with all of macOS's anti-hard drive optimizations.
Depends if these are placeholders because Intel CPUs and AMD GPUs fell well behind schedule, Apple can't walk and chew gum at same time (and dedicated a 2019 desktop job slot to Mac Pro).

The 21.5" iMacs have 8th-generation CPUs. A couple of entry-level 27" have 8th-generation, but the top end have 9th-generation. The GPUs are spread out also - mobile Vega class solutions at the top end and speed-bumped (2-3 times) Polaris 500 series at the other spots. These are some minimally upgraded logic boards, so if the systems have a 2015-16 design that had hard drives, then hard drives are still sticking around (they haven't been designed out yet, nor pretty much anything else).

The iMac Pro is quite similar. They bumped the max RAM to 256 GB, probably in part because the new 9th-gen CPUs in iMacs can go to the old iMac Pro maximum of 128 GB. They also probably clock-bumped the top-end GPU in the iMac.

None of this iMac line up suggests there were any substantive changes at the logic board level. The enclosures are basically unchanged. These basically look like "kick the can down the road" models to either an October timeframe or an iMac upgrade in 2020 (at about this time of the year).
I mean, how much does a measly 24 GB of fusion flash even cost the company? I bet it’s less than a dollar....
The problem with using such a small drive for a cache is that they aren't able to spread the load. It would be prudent if this were a SLC (single bit per cell) drive. Those wouldn't be the same $/GB as the current market rate ones (which in the discount range are TLC, three per cell). SLC is about 3x as expensive $/GB. They could use MLC (two-bit) but probably wouldn't want to fill up the whole drive. That has diminishing returns because the amount of data cache is now falling to a 1% (or less) range for a 1TB drive (or 24 GB is usable capacity and the 'raw' capacity is closer to 32 GB, or more, and highly over-provisioned... which can be used to spread the load).

Apple keeping the hard disk drives seems to indicate that Apple is at least nervous here about changing the costs of these Macs (in contrast to driving the Mini prices up, MacBook Air Retina up, etc.). On the flip side, the SSD prices are way out of alignment with the market rate (although Apple appears to have taken the 1.5-2TB options out of geosynchronous orbit and merely down to just stratospherically high. Maybe the "higher prices for everyone" party is over in Apple Park). There also really isn't anything new here to serve our misdirection to cranking things to Apple SSD price levels.
 


...I suspect that Apple may have been caught by Intel’s slowly-slipping schedule for 10nm Ice Lake processors and the PCIe upgrades that come with them; I’m expecting that the next iMac is likely to include a next-generation processor and the T2 (or a T3).
Ice Lake is probably different from Cannon Lake, which was the original 10nm target. Ice Lake seems to have been built for what Intel can actually do with their 10nm (incrementally lower density, still higher than many others, but easier to do).

Desktop-wise, though, there is another 14nm roll-out coming in the June time frame, code-named Comet Lake. (I suspect these will be labeled 9th and/or 10th(?) generation - or some new naming scheme, because 10th is going to run out of single digits that the current scheme has.) Those are coming, and the top end is supposed to top out at 10 cores.

Part of the problem why Apple can't wait longer on iMac is because in the second half of the year AMD and Intel are going move further down the road to bringing the core count war to mainstream desktop systems. If most of the competitive systems are jumping to 8-10 cores in the next couple of months, Apple moving the iMac to at least to 6-8 keeps them in the marketing game.

On the Intel side there are likely not PCI-e upgrades coming on the 2019 iteration. AMD may bring PCI-e v4 to the mainstream desktop space late in 2019.
(The 24 GB feels low to me, but I suspect Apple has analytics data showing that a lot of customers have a working set which is small enough to fit on it with the exception of music / photos / videos, which are mostly accessed in a large sequential stream, which hard disk drives work well for.)
I don't think it is analytics. The primary driver there is probably just cost. They were probably looking to make entry Fusion (24GB+1TB) cost about the same as 2TB (plain). 24GB is big enough to put an 8-16GB system to sleep and wake relatively very fast (mimicking instant on). The OS and perhaps a decent number of the apps are used very frequently. Other than perhaps speeding up some short, relatively small writes, I'd guess there isn't much data caching being done at all (outside of OS logs, metadata, and the like). Caching the writes allows transferring bigger, more coherent blocks of data to the hard disk drive keeping it less fragmented if they do that right). Putting much of the metadata for APFS on the SSD, though, would help a lot.
It really comes down to cost of the cheapest model, I suppose. A 2TB hard drive is about $50 at retail.
It is $50 now, but when they came up with this scheme, 2TB was higher. The baseline design and capacities here are multiple years old at this point.
 


Curiously, my wife took part in a 'focus group' event about media viewing habits a few weeks ago. She had to sign an NDA and so far has kept pretty tight-lipped about the subject. One thing she did let slip was that we would probably hear about it in March. Coincidence?
I read some posts that attempted to predict what Apple is trying to "pull off" with its streaming video service. Seemed to be agreement that Apple wanted to be the one-search, one-click interface for video choice, meaning a user would search for "House, MD" on the Apple interface, and Apple would offer up a play button without the user (necessarily) knowing which service provides the stream.

This would gut Netflix, which has worked to build a brand and acquire media to serve. Not sure it would matter as much to Amazon, which provides "Prime Video" as a side-benefit, but it would be very different than Roku, which, while providing some ability to search out titles, then links to the streaming service app rather than trying to subsume "Netflix" or "Amazon" et al inside a Roku app.

It would likely also "hurt" those streaming services which aren't willing to share sign-up and subscription revenue with Apple, as linking a Netflix account that's not signed up through Apple would surely be more cumbersome than linking accounts paid through Apple.
 



Ric Ford

MacInTouch
Amazon has the iMac Pro discounted to $4649, which might not be a bad option vs. a high-end iMac 5K, offering more Thunderbolt ports, better graphics, more powerful CPU, faster flash storage (1 TB!), and better memory (ECC RAM). This beast should be a real workhorse. (I'm kind of itching for one.)
 


Amazon has the iMac Pro discounted to $4649, which might not be a bad option vs. a high-end iMac 5K, offering more Thunderbolt ports, better graphics, more powerful CPU, faster flash storage (1 TB!), and better memory (ECC RAM). This beast should be a real workhorse. (I'm kind of itching for one.)
Cost of the hardware is one factor - also, even though it comes with the T2 chip for security, when it comes to software, the T2 chip can cause problems with low-level drivers.

I just worked on an iMac Pro, which I first set up with macOS 10.13.3, which it came with, but through use of clone drives, I reset the internal 2TB boot SSD to HFS+ instead of APFS, so that I could still run DiskWarrior. But when I came back 4 months later for maintenance, I found that I could not do any updates (it complained about not being APFS).

Recently, I also had an external drive with the latest macOS 10.13.6 (HFS+) that had been updated on another Mac, it would not boot the iMac Pro. I also had a macOS 10.14.3 install that you would think would be a universal install of 10.14.3, but when I tried to boot from the external, it instead went through an update process and then, once applied, it would boot.

So, it appears that Apple has a special iMac Pro version of the macOS that is not the same as for other Mac models, be aware. Had to reformat the internal drive to APFS and install macOS 10.14.3 and migrate from backup. Now it can be updated, but if any directory issues happen, better have a good backup, because there are still no utilities that can work on APFS volumes. My best recommendation for backup is a Time Machine backup and clone backup as a minimum, and rotating offsite backups to cover natural disasters, fire or robbery.
 


Amazon has the iMac Pro discounted to $4649, which might not be a bad option vs. a high-end iMac 5K, offering more Thunderbolt ports, better graphics, more powerful CPU, faster flash storage (1 TB!), and better memory (ECC RAM). This beast should be a real workhorse. (I'm kind of itching for one.)
If you're fortunate enough to be a student, parent of a student, or an educator, you can buy a base configuration iMac Pro for $4599. Still too pricey for me, but definitely a decent discount for those who need to purchase such a machine. Similarly, iMacs are discounted anywhere from $50 to $200, depending on the model, and upgrades (RAM, graphics, storage) are typically discounted 10%. As a bonus, the Pro Apps Bundle is discounted to $199. Discounts on other machines vary, down to a paltry $20 on the base Mac Mini.

 


Intel still supplies only 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes on their desktop processors. The AMD graphics chip takes up to 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes, so they already need to be shared with Thunderbolt. A Thunderbolt 3 port exposes 4 PCIe 3.0 lanes worth of bandwidth, so 2 TB3 ports = 8 lanes, leaving 8 lanes worth of bandwidth for the display. (The SSD and other peripherals also share some of these; I'm not sure of the internal architecture.)
It's worse than that. Intel's Thunderbolt 3 chips come in three varieties: 1-port/2-lanes, 1-port/4-lanes and 2-ports/4-lanes. The Mac Mini (and I assume other recent Macs) uses the 2-port/4-lane chips - there are 2 chips, consuming 8 lanes, driving 4 ports. So, even though each Thunderbolt 3 port can theoretically have 4 lanes of PCIe, in actual practice, you can't use all of that bandwidth at the same time - each pair of ports is limited to 32 Gbit/s of aggregate PCIe bandwidth.

Apple could have used the 1-port/4-lane chips, to let you max out all four ports, but if they did that, there wouldn't be any lanes leftover for other devices.
 


Just to be clear, I'm not arguing that iMacs should be all-SSD, like the Mac Mini and Apple laptops with their exhorbitant storage pricing; I'm just saying that a hard drive only iMac in 2019 with not even a miniscule 24 GB of flash for a fusion setup seems like it would be perversely bad for performance, given the optimization/anti-optimizations in macOS 10.14.
At this point in time there is zero reason why Apple should be selling a computer with a spinning hard drive in it, especially since their more recent OSes and APFS introduce performance penalties when installed on a spinning drive. I can buy a name-brand 512GB SSD at retail for $70, so Apple's price would be what, $45? How much more is that than what they pay for a spinning hard drive?

I just upgraded two of the more recent 21.5" iMacs with spinning drives to macOS 10.13, and the performance hit, even with the drives formatted in HFS+, is atrocious. If they made the darn things such that I could actually swap out the drive for an SSD, I would have done so in a heartbeat.
 



... I can buy a name-brand 512GB SSD at retail for $70, so Apple's price would be what, $45? How much more is that than what they pay for a spinning hard drive?
Apple's price probably wouldn't be $45 - at least $70. It isn't going to be a generic drive, it will be an Apple-labeled drive. Because it is made just for Apple, it has "economies of scale' only in the context of Apple, not the overall market. Apple is going to want folks to keep making them for an extended period of time, because they don't want to do inventory, and if they do have inventory for long-term supply, that isn't going to [help discounts].

At the 'bottom' end of the storage market (sub $100) much of this stuff has razor-thin margins (if not negative in some cases). Some SATA SSDs are being 'dumped' in an 'out with the old tech, in with the new' push, but that has a knock-on effect upon the 2.5" hard disk drives, too (so those drives get 'dumped' also).
I just upgraded two of the more recent 21.5" iMacs with spinning drives to macOS 10.13, and the performance hit, even with the drives formatted in HFS+, is atrocious.
Talk of 'impending doom' if we don't have an SSD in an iMac probably won't move Apple all that much. If outside folks are herding consumers into higher SSD options, that just drives the average selling price up for Apple (they aren't going to complain about that). Hard disk drive prices [at the low end are] there just to get folks to look at the iMac and then often adjust up.

For relatively lightweight usage and a limited budget, the hard drives are a trade-off that can work for some folks. If primarily just reading email, web browsing (without a large number tabs), backing up iOS devices via iTunes, it will work. Likewise, a bunch if iMac "terminals" at a library where folks just look up books or type resumes (because they don't have a computer), etc.

Also if Apple wasn't rigidly stuck to $x,x99 pricing, this probably could also have an easier fix to Fusion. For the low-end models, [upgrades are] $100 to Fusion. If that were just $50, so $1149 and $1349 for the Fusion drive model and mark those as the default configuration, Apple could leave the hard drive as a BTO option that was back at the $xx99 level for those needing something 'less'. That would more clearly communicate that at least one SSD in the system was a macOS design presumption at this point, but folks on tight budgets would have an option.
 


It's worse than that. Intel's Thunderbolt 3 chips come in three varieties: 1-port/2-lanes, 1-port/4-lanes and 2-ports/4-lanes. The Mac Mini (and I assume other recent Macs) uses the 2-port/4-lane chips - there are 2 chips, consuming 8 lanes, driving 4 ports. So, even though each Thunderbolt 3 port can theoretically have 4 lanes of PCIe, in actual practice, you can't use all of that bandwidth at the same time - each pair of ports is limited to 32 Gbit/s of aggregate PCIe bandwidth. Apple could have used the 1-port/4-lane chips, to let you max out all four ports, but if they did that, there wouldn't be any lanes leftover for other devices.
So Thunderbolt 3 has a maximum of 40 Gbit/s, but at most it gets 4 lanes, for 32 Gbit/s. From this info, depending on the controller, you may only get 2 lanes (16 Gbit/s). I'm not seeing the advantage over Thunderbolt 1 or 2, especially considering the cable confusion and the necessity of dongles to connect anything.
 


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