Ask DN: iMac vs MacBook Pro with Second Monitor?

almost 8 years ago from , Creative Director at Deciduous

Hey guys, I'm a designer looking to get a new setup. I like the portability of the MacBook Pro but love the display of the iMac 5k. The cost of a MacBook Pro and a nice display is pretty comparable to a stacked out iMac 5k. Is it simply a battle of portability vs. display? Am I missing anything?

What do you use for a machine? Do you prefer the portability of the MacBook Pro to the iMac? Do you prefer the large display more than portability? Thanks for your help!


  • Erik BeesonErik Beeson, almost 8 years ago

    For years I'd been using a 17" MBP with a 24" Dell monitor (dual screens when at my desk). It's a fine setup. Another advantage of it is you don't need a UPS under your desk (if you care about that sort of thing).

    But I recently upgraded to an iMac 5k and I couldn't be happier. I still use the second screen (though now I desperately want to upgrade it since it looks sad next to the iMac). Everything about it is superior to what I could have gotten for the same price with a new MBP.

    Regarding the lack of portability, I'm happier with my work staying at my desk. My wife has an MBA, we have a couple of iPads and iPhones; I can still do plenty of stuff while away from my desk if I must. But to force my main work to stay on my desk means I'm not bringing it to bed, I'm not bringing it to kids' games, etc. Much healthier for my work/life separation.

    9 points
  • Ashraf AliAshraf Ali, almost 8 years ago

    I'd highly recommend the MacBook Pro + Display setup. You get the best of both worlds: portability and screen real estate. It is my daily driver and it works really, really well.

    9 points
    • Danny Gugger, almost 8 years ago

      Thanks! Do you have the 15" or 13"?

      0 points
      • Daniel GoldenDaniel Golden, almost 8 years ago

        I have the same setup with the 15" rMBP. I hear lots of people complain about how big it looks (that is, people who own a 13"), but I don't feel that way at all. I love my 15", and given the choice, I'd go 15" again. Extra screen real estate + better speakers is worth it for me.

        7 points
    • Daniel GoldenDaniel Golden, almost 8 years ago

      Agreed. I've been using this setup for years now and it's fantastic. Especially if your a full-time freelancer. The freedom of being able to pick up and go on vacation, to a coffee shop, family event, etc. and get something (even minor) done is a wonderful thing.

      3 points
    • Ed AdamsEd Adams, almost 8 years ago

      Care to share the model of display you have?

      0 points
  • Adam WAdam W, almost 8 years ago

    I switched to a 27-inch iMac last year from a 15-inch MBP with Cinema Display. Honestly, the novelty of the additional screen real-estate wears off after awhile and I am now planning to go back to a MBP. The portability that you get with the MBP is much more useful, at least in my opinion.

    6 points
  • Peter LadaPeter Lada, almost 8 years ago

    Why not iMac 5K + Macbook Air?

    I'm waiting on that setup until the new Thunderbolt standard is built in to the new Air and the iMac 5K gets that so it can act as an external display. I expect summer-2015 or so.

    Having those two will give you a beast to work on at home. And the extreme mobility of the Air, plus the Air with a gorgeous screen if needed at home...

    2 points
    • Danny Gugger, almost 8 years ago

      I've currently got the iMac 5k at work and a 2010 Air at home. I've pretty much maxed out the capacity of the Air with 2GB of Ram. I love the portability of it, but given the thickness of the MBPs the portability seems pretty comparable to the Air but with less of a risk of obsolescence.

      0 points
  • Luke James TaylorLuke James Taylor, almost 8 years ago

    I use a 15" rMBP, with two 23" Dell displays. The biggest decider for me for this over a 5K Mac is the portability. It all depends on your needs and what works for you.

    It is always nice to have the option to take your machine with you.

    1 point
  • Craig FranciesCraig Francies, almost 8 years ago

    I've got the rMBP for work and 5k iMac at home.

    I always used to be iMac based at work too, but recently switched to the macbook and its great having the flexibility to take the macbook with me where ever like into a meeting or over to a colleagues desk to quickly get their opinion on something. I use it with an external dell 24" ultra sharp display when im at my desk, although i could happily work only on the macbook display.

    The 5k display on the iMac is awesome though!

    1 point
  • Alejandro HernandezAlejandro Hernandez, almost 8 years ago

    I have a 13in retina, macbook pro and two Dell 24in one horizontal and one vertical (mainly for reading and for coding). Both at home and at work.

    1 point
  • Maciej JurczakMaciej Jurczak, almost 8 years ago

    I've been using iMac 27" late 2011, but have too many problems with a screen ( hardware issues ) and can work only from home. Some time ago I sold iMac and bought MBP 15" retina + 24" Dell monitor. Portability of this setup is great and it have more power than old iMac.

    1 point
  • Adham DannawayAdham Dannaway, almost 8 years ago

    After using an iMac for a while I found that I needed the portability of a macbook. I ended up getting a beefed up Macbook Air with a Thunderbolt display but the Air is starting to lag a bit with large Photoshop files. Macbook Pro 13" on a Rain mStand with thunderbolt display is the way to go in my opinion. Hope that helps :-)

    1 point
  • Evan DinsmoreEvan Dinsmore, almost 8 years ago

    Currently using a 15" MBP (supplied by my company) as both a work and personal machine, with a display at work. Coming from a 17", it seemed small, but I've gotten used to it with some scaling to give more screen real-estate, and can now work comfortably with or without the screen, which is important since I often work better away from my desk.

    However, I don't have the disk space to continue using it for both work and personal use, so I'll be buying a 5k iMac for home soon, and leaving my MBP at work, with Dropbox and Layervault for syncing anything necessary.

    1 point
  • Charlie ChauvinCharlie Chauvin, almost 8 years ago

    MacBook Pro + 27 inch ASUS at work. At previous jobs I've had a G5 and imac stuck to the desk and I totally prefer the flexibility that portability offers. Separation of work and play doesn't always exist. It's more of a convenience to have it go where I go rather than the other way around. Personally, if I had the extra dough I'd probably spring for the 15" but I've been pretty content on the 13 inchers for quite some time now.

    1 point
  • Guillermo MontGuillermo Mont, almost 8 years ago

    I'm not sure if it's the retina screen on the Macbook Pro's, but I've switched to mostly just using a laptop for my day to day. In the past I would have a cinema display and a laptop, but not anymore.

    OSX's multiple desktops and having a sketch book handy has made a second screen unnecessary. All that being said, for whatever reason 13" is too small.

    1 point
  • Derryl CarterDerryl Carter, almost 8 years ago

    MacBook all the way. I have an iMac at home with 2-3 years' worth of dust on it :-(

    1 point
  • Kevin Brennan, almost 8 years ago

    I think it's definitely just a portability issue.

    I use an iMac as my primary machine. I have an Air for meetings and traveling. If I HAD to ditch one, it would be the iMac. Only because I need the portability.

    1 point
  • Luis XochihuaLuis Xochihua, almost 8 years ago

    I just bought a MBP retina 15"(like 1 month ago) for work and i love it, also i have a second display provided by the company but isn't good as i wanted(dell) but i'm ok with the size(20" i think), for freelance work, i have at home a samsung 24" display.

    In few words i prefer portability.

    1 point
  • Sjors TimmerSjors Timmer, almost 8 years ago

    Last year I went for a 13" retina Macbook pro and a high end Dell screen: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dell-UltraSharp-U2713HM-PremierColor-Monitor/dp/B0091ME4A0/

    Has worked well for me

    1 point
    • Gabriel GarridoGabriel Garrido, almost 8 years ago (edited almost 8 years ago )

      How are you liking that monitor for design work? Color reproduction, etc. I'm about to order on of these and would like some first-hand accounts :D

      0 points
  • Tyson KingsburyTyson Kingsbury, almost 8 years ago

    personally i'd rather have the macbook pro....get yourself a decent monitor for home and you pretty much have the same thing going on...plus you get the added benefit of mobility with the laptop....

    1 point
    • Danny Gugger, almost 8 years ago

      Thanks! I do like being able to work from anywhere. What do you use for your monitor?

      1 point
      • Ernst LeetErnst Leet, almost 8 years ago

        Don't get a cinema 27 inch. The glare will burn your eyes right out your skull.

        Btw - if anyone has a fix for the glare, please share.

        3 points
  • Alex BAlex B, almost 5 years ago

    On the same boat. Background info: I am a graphic designer who's interested in web design + UX/UI design (new to the field). Does anyone in this field happen to have any new have advice/suggestions on which system to go with? I currently have a MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Mid 2014) which has been lagging a bit when using adobe programs and other applications. At work, I have a 27" iMac, to move from a 27in to my small 13" rMBP bums me out a bit. However, I do love the portability of a rMBP. I feel like it's time for an upgrade but can't make up my mind on which system to get. I am also open to getting monitors too if that's a better option.

    0 points
  • Emily SaforrianEmily Saforrian, almost 8 years ago

    I've been considering this for a while now and will probably go with the iMac because the rMBP doesn't have a discrete graphics cards. This shouldn't matter for most but I use my primary computer for projects and gaming. I wish I had room in my life for a PS4 or dedicated gaming computer, but alas I do not.

    For all the 'lol Macs aren't for gaming' people out there–I've had great success playing a bunch of different games (Civ Beyond Earth, FFXIV, Borderlands 2, etc) on a 2010 iMac, some in OS X. Sure it's not the first pick for a gaming computer but seeing as it does everything else just fine, I'm happy.

    0 points
  • Charlie McCullochCharlie McCulloch, almost 8 years ago

    Yes it basically comes down to portability. MacBook Pro 15" + Cinema Display is the standard setup for designers in our company. If you need to do any serious work away from your desk then you need a laptop.

    0 points
  • Diego LafuenteDiego Lafuente, almost 8 years ago

    iMac + second monitor.

    0 points