I’ve always loved the mid-2010s iMac design, always secretly wanted one. So when I saw a Facebook ad for a refurbished 21.5-inch model selling for $250, I reached for my credit card and a day later it was here.
Despite being a decade old, the 2013 iMac still looks sleek, and it still holds its own against anything on the market today. But while it still looks the part, there’s no doubt that the ten-year-old 2.9GHz Core i5 processor paired with 8GB of RAM and the old spinning hard drive are desperately out of step by today’s standards.
So, is my $250 iMac usable in 2023? Or should he have been gracefully retired? Here’s what I discovered in the week it’s been on my desk.
Support is dwindling
Macs have a well-deserved reputation for longevity, but once you fall off the official support list, you’re out in the wild. The iMac arrived with macOS 10.5 Catolina and wearily installed several patches to get us to 10.5.7, but that’s the end of the line. This Mac doesn’t go any further.
This has practical implications. No security updates leave you at a higher risk of attack, even if that risk is modest on a Mac. A bigger problem is the dwindling software support. Many apps in the App Store require you to be running at least macOS 11. Apple’s iWork apps (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) will not install, nor will Microsoft Office. Slack warns me that I have until September to update my OS to meet its “security requirements” or it’s curtains.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. My favorite web browser, Vivaldi, installed without a hitch, as did Spotify. When it comes to getting work done, LibreOffice plays happily with my decade-old Mac, as do browser-based suites like Google Docs. But there will come a time, perhaps in the not-too-distant future, when even support for web browsers will begin to decline and this old Mac will be out of business.
You can’t rush anything
Nothing happens fast with this thing. It takes about 90 seconds from pressing the power button to get to the system password prompt. After entering the password, it takes the same amount of time again for the Mac to reach a working state. That’s three minutes of your life that you don’t get back every time you fire her.
Likewise, apps take a few seconds (or more) to come to life. Web pages take seconds to render, there is a slight delay when I type these words on the keyboard before they appear on my screen, menus open in their own sweet time.
Plus, I’m spoiled by my MacBook Pro, where things happen before you even think about them. This thing is usable. It won’t do anything remotely demanding, but it depends on basic web browsing, emailing, and document gathering. You won’t want to have more than a few windows open at once—years of macOS updates have drained the vibrancy out of it—but it works. Only.
Don’t fall for the cloud myth
Does it really matter if you don’t have pools of local processing power when you can do almost anything in the cloud these days? Sorry, but it is.
One of the first things I did after setting up this iMac was to plug in a controller and fire up Xbox Cloud Gaming. After all, this thing has a fantastic Full HD display and a decent set of speakers, so it could be a decent, dedicated game streaming machine. And ten glorious seconds after starting A Plague Tale Requiem, I thought that might be the case. Then there was a lag. Character swinging quickly made the action tremble. It was playable, but barely, and not enjoyable. It was the same for Fortnite and other games I tried.
It’s not all about the Wi-Fi connection, because the iMac was connected to a 300Mbits/sec line via Ethernet. Even when streaming, you need a degree of local graphics processing, and this 10-year-old iMac just isn’t up to it.
The same goes for streaming video. Both YouTube and Netflix stutter and buffer badly when you run them in Full HD, and only really become visible at 720p.
Even cloud-based office applications become tedious when you start doing anything much more than typing words into a document. In short, cloud computing will not bring this machine crash into the 2020s.
The fan noise is back
Arguably the best thing about Apple silicon-based Macs is that they run almost completely silently. I’ve only heard the fans on my MacBook Pro once, in the middle of last summer’s heatwave here in Britain.
In contrast, the fans on this iMac are loud from the moment you press the power button. It doesn’t get hot to the touch, but it’s a constant background irritation. I had to have Spotify playing in the background while writing this just to drown out the fans.
The future for this Mac is probably Linux
Even though it runs like a three-legged dog, I still love this aging iMac. It looks slim, the screen is sharp, and the speakers are punchy. It still has a future as a bedroom or kitchen computer… but not on macOS. While it lags behind the Catolin, the OS is a lighter passenger than the 2013 iMac can comfortably carry.
Linux could come to the rescue. I’ve already tried it with a live boot of the Linux-based retro-gaming OS, Batocera, and it’s much more lively. In the coming days, I’ll repartition the iMac’s hard drive, install a relatively lightweight distribution like Linux Mint alongside macOS, and see if that makes the 2020s boom.
I’m not giving up on this old beauty just yet.
Forbes – Innovation