Pros and Cons of Using iMac as a Lion Server - dummies

Pros and Cons of Using iMac as a Lion Server

By John Rizzo

Running OS X Lion Server on iMac isn’t as common as on Mac mini. Sleek and beautiful, the all-in-one iMac sits in between the Mac mini and Mac Pro in terms of power and price. But the iMac’s bright, clear display and attractive form are wasted when it’s used as a server.

Best uses

A server is a good use of an older iMac (Intel-based) that you might have sitting around. Maybe you’re replacing a user’s older iMac with the latest and greatest iMac or MacBook. You might buy a new iMac for a server in some situations, such as when you can make use of the display or have some multimedia use in mind.

Apple offers iMacs in a wide range of processor and storage options. Throw in some older models, and you’re really talking about completely different computers. The highest-end iMacs rival Mac Pros in terms of speed. In fact, new top-shelf iMacs are faster than the Mac Pros of a few years ago.


Should you decide to use iMac as a server, you’ll enjoy these upsides:

  • Speed: The performance is surprisingly fast. At any given time, Apple puts faster processors in the iMac than in the Mac mini. The year 2009 was the first time Apple put a quad-core processor in any Mac — even before the Mac Pro. Higher-end newer iMacs can be faster and have more storage than Mac Pros that are a few years old.

  • Built-in display: A built-in display is useful if the server is sitting in your office or out in the open, and you want to use it administer and monitor the server instead of using another Mac. The display can be useful if you’re using it for graphical tasks, such as with Podcast Producer.

  • Configuration: The base configuration has bigger, faster hard drives than the Mac mini. (iMacs use 3.5-inch drives.) At purchase time, you can order a hard drive that’s as large as the drive in the Mac Pro and the old Xserves.

  • Upgradeable RAM: You can easily upgrade the RAM by removing two screws that hold a plate on the bottom.

  • Cost: Cost can be thousands less than the Mac Pro, though both series have models with wide price ranges. Usually, the top-end iMac is about $500 less than the low-end Mac Pro.


These downsides can plague you if you use the iMac as a server:

  • Hard drive difficult to upgrade: Except for RAM, the iMac is really not upgradeable. It’s very difficult to disassemble an iMac to replace the hard drive. Reassembling it is also difficult.

    If you’re buying an iMac for the purpose of using it as a server, consider ordering the largest drive Apple offers.

  • Lack of expansion: If you need multiple drive bays or expansion slots for multiple Ethernet cards, you’ll need a Mac Pro. (Like the Mac mini, the newer iMacs do include an SD card slot, however.)

  • Lack of second Ethernet port: The Apple USB Ethernet Adapter fixes this issue, though it is slower. If multiple fast Ethernet ports are a necessity, get a Mac Pro.

  • Faster processor requires bigger display: You have to buy the model with the bigger display to get the faster processors. At this writing, Apple wasn’t offering the fastest processors with the smaller display.