Macbook, iMac and the scourge of GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome)

So I have a mid-2011 27" iMac at home. I’ve upgraded it to 16Gb of RAM and added a SSD a year or two ago when it began to run slowly. It runs OK - but I cannot upgrade it to Mojave.

At work, I have an 13" 2016 MacBook Pro - it is running Mojave. I usually leave it at work and use the iMac at home, even for work tasks.

I’m now wondering if it is time to retire the iMac. Options include:

  1. Buy new iMac
    1a. Wait a few weeks and see if new iMacs are released
  2. Buy a new screen and a Mac mini
  3. Buy a new screen and bring the MacBook home and use it for everything.

I know 1a is the most sensible option, but I suffer from GAS so I’m kind of interested in option 3 - but I would have to also purchase an external drive to keep my personal files on (photos, music, movies etc).

I’m wondering about using a system with some files on the MacBook, some in iCloud and some on an external disk. Are there problems with this sort of set up? how well does Time Machine work? etc.

Does anyone have any experience with this kind of set up? Are there any traps, tips etc?

Appreciate any advice.

I switched to your option 3 about 4 months back after the same issue with iMac.

Works fine, takes up less space and I can use the monitor for my work Dell machine too.

In terms of backup I can’t massively help as I’m not the best for that I use cloud and just trust it!

I use option 3 and find it the most flexible. Using the same machine at work and home means that when I occasionally need to work from home I can just get on with it and I don’t need to worry about syncing between two devices.

Definitely not option 2, unless we magically get a new Mac Mini soon.

I have a laptop which I use with external monitors and love it, I can plug my work MacBook adorable in instead when working from home and that’s very handy, so I’d go with everyone else and suggest option 3.

That said, if you can wait, waiting to see what gets announced wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Agree with others, buying a compatible monitor and using it with your MBP is the better of the options. Also, if you love iMac as a separate device, consider buying something pre-owned from a reputable retailer.

If you can afford 1.a go for it. I know this is the only different response. But for me this is the most sensible.
But option 1.a is 10x more expensive compared to Option 3. So it’s not a technical comparison only.

I was doing option 3 until a couple of years ago when I bought an iMac. Having a dedicated desktop at home is so much nicer, for many reasons.

  • I’ve found laptops and external displays a bit wonky. The display doesn’t always wake when you wake the laptop; sometimes the laptop doesn’t wake up; and so on.
  • With a desktop machine, you can permanently attach big pots of external storage without worrying about connecting, disconnecting, ejecting, software expecting files to be there when they’re not, etc.
  • Not having to carry a laptop back and forth to work is nice (I’m down to my iPad Pro as my daily carry computer).

So, I’d recommend waiting a month to see what new Macs Apple releases this fall and then going with either a new iMac or (provided they release one) a new Mac mini.

I’m living in weird version of option 3.
I bought a Macbook Pro 13 but found it limited for programming (small SSD and RAM), so internally justified a 2017 15” model, thinking I’d sell or pass on my old one. Not sure if my thoughts will help you, but here goes.

Now I use the old one for work (don’t want my expensive, thin one around students) and keep the new one at home (or coffee shop).


  • I find syncing is so good I don’t mind which I’m on generally, it makes no difference for light tasks.
  • portability is lovely, even at home, as I can use it in any room
  • external storage is fiddly for me, so I like having one computer that can hold all my files (except video), pay for it all to be in iCloud, and selectively sync to other devices
  • clamshell mode is annoying at times, and non-clamshell takes up lots of desk space. Plus the MBP screen is really nice; makes an iMac tempting…

I’d say definitely wait, then see if you can stop yourself with option 1 or 2.
I’m excited to see what minis may come our way as I cannot, in any way, shape or form, justify an iMac!

Option 3 works for me - going on 3 years now. I had a similar situation to yours (laptop and 2 desktops, work and home offices) and found I would be always be “USB-sticking” or “clouding” active files. As a prof, my MBAir travels around campus a lot and I (finally) realized it could also handle all my desktop computing. Now I have matching Magic Keyboards and Mice with Dell monitors on my desks at home and work. My MBAir travels everywhere with me but looks like a desktop when I sit down at either desk (I keep the Air’s screen closed). Buying an extra power brick to have one on both desks was well worth the $. I should mention a factor in the decision to carry the computer back and forth was that we cannot get wired internet at home. We have decent wireless internet but relying on the cloud when I have a time crunch is risky. If the cloud was seamless, I might have considered that route.

As an added bonus, having the same computer going to 2 locations also helped me develop an off-site backup system. I manually copy archival stuff to external storage in both locations usually at the end of a semester and also use TimeMachine to both external hard drive and USB stick.

Thanks for all the input - it’s certainly clarifying my thinking.

I’m still leaning to disposing of the iMac and using the MacBook for everything. I’ll keep the keyboard and mouse I use with the iMac for use with the MacBook and I’m thinking of buying a 34" screen - we have these at work and, until I started using one, I never appreciated the productivity gain that a large screen can bring. My iMac is 27" but I find the 34" screen a world of difference. For example, if I’m writing a board paper I can have a spreadsheet, a word doc and a powerpoint presentation open simultaneously one the one desktop and at “full size”.

I’ve been using iCloud for years to share docs between the iMac and the MacBook - no problems with this. Biggest uncertainty is in relation to my photos and music and my backup regime.

I guess photos and music will have to go on an external drive or NAS - hope this won’t present problems with drive mapping as the MacBook moves between home and work. Secondly, I use Time Machine and I’m wondering how I can back up my home material (including the stuff on an external drive) while at home and my work material while at work without inadvertently creating copies of material in the wrong place (eg sensitive work material ending up on my Timecapsule at home).