The question of the day is, “is an iMac enough power for home studio recording?”.

Well, the answer depends. Many people have the idea they can pickup a used iMac off EBAY, buy Pro Tools 8 or 9, plug in some instruments and have a home studio ready to blast away. Here’s the reality.

Used iMacs

If you’re buying a used iMac, you may be getting the dual core version that maxes out at 4GB of RAM, and you CAN’T upgrade it more than that. If so, take a pause and think about a few options. The problem with this version of iMac is that if you plan on doing more than a few tracks of standard recording, with a decent amount of plug-in use, you will run into the dreaded “maxed out CPU” message. Then it will tell you to raise the H/W Buffer size in Playback Engine to greater than 1024 (which you already have it maxed out), and you’ll pull your hair out trying to find ways to lighten CPU and memory usage.

Better Option

Trust me. I’ve been down this road twice. And I haven’t even attempted what I would consider a really heavy project on an iMac. Even then I was frustrated trying to just do a normal project without being interrupted with resource problems.

Here’s what I recommend. If you’re trying to save money by buying used gear, take a look at this route. I know Mac Pros are very expensive. But if you’re looking to spend $1,300 to $1,800 on an iMac (if you’re thinking $800 you better be doing VERY light recording), you would be better off finding a used Mac Pro. You can pretty much find the same processor configuration as the iMac you’re looking for for the same price. BUT you’ll get an extra processor (dual processors) at that same price. And you’ll probably get more memory, AND it’s EXPANDABLE when you do get more money to dump into it.

Sure, a Mac Pro doesn’t come with a monitor. So what? I just bought a 27″ Samsung off Buy.com for a measly $230 (refurbished, but who can tell!). And that included free shipping and no tax. 20″ and 24″ monitors are now a dime a dozen (so to speak) if you don’t want to dole out for 27″.

Here’s the scoop. The processing power  you’ll get out of a Mac Pro is killer. I can’t explain to you the difference between the two after experiencing it myself. With the iMac, I had to continually shut down all other programs, limit my plug-ins, delete tracks, etc. to get my projects done. Now with Mac Pro I can run 10 other programs while recording the same type of project with NO issues. What an upgrade!

So my recommendation is, unless you’re buying the latest / greatest iMac with lots of upgradability (which for iMac is usually MUCH less capability than Mac Pro), go with a used Mac Pro. EBAY has them all day long and you can find a good deal. Then find a good deal on a couple of monitors and you’re all set.