Apple iCloud/Photos Question

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Texanbybirth
Posts: 1388
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Apple iCloud/Photos Question

Post by Texanbybirth »

Hi all,

I'm looking for some experienced Mac users to help me answer a couple of questions. I want to "invest" in a new 27" iMac to replace our current desktop. My wife and I each have Apple IDs, but we share a 2TB family iCloud plan for photo/video storage. I've read a how-to to get two iCloud accounts on one Mac (under separate login IDs, of course, but using Fast Switching), but I want to take that a step further and use an external hard drive as the location where the two iCloud Photo libraries reside. Is this possible?

The reason for this setup is that I'm perfectly fine with the base model 27" iMac specs, but the hard drive size (256GB) is paltry. We have albums that go back to 2011 that take up a collective 500GB. (It's fair to say that library does need to be cleaned up, and it's one of my goals for 2021.) I'd like to keep the hard drive that comes with the base model for the OS and system files, but tie the iCloud accounts (for syncing, etc.) to the external hard drive. External hard drives can be had for a couple hundred $$$, and that's way cheaper than upgrading a new iMac on Apple's website.

I also know there are rumors of an Apple-designed-chip 24" iMac coming in November so I'm not going to pull the trigger on this plan until there's more clarity on that release, and until I can get a good answer on the above. I'm still investigating this on my own (including asking Apple directly), but I know there are some smart people around here who might be able to help.

Thanks in advance! :beer

(We will be switching from a Windows desktop to Mac, but this won't be a problem. We have owned several Mac computers [not just iPhones or iPads] in our past and are comfortable with the change.)
“The strong cannot be brave. Only the weak can be brave; and yet again, in practice, only those who can be brave can be trusted, in time of doubt, to be strong.“ - GK Chesterton
oxothuk
Posts: 545
Joined: Thu Nov 10, 2011 8:35 pm

Re: Apple iCloud/Photos Question

Post by oxothuk »

Yes, you can store your Photos library on an external drive. I'm doing that currently on my iMac.

Just as a point of clarity, iCloud accounts are tied your iMac login, not to the drive itself. Under your login you can have one Photos library which is designated as your System Library and syncs with iCloud; that library can reside either on the internal Mac drive or on an external drive.

Having said that, I would NOT buy a new iMac with only 256GB of storage. I have 1TB on mine and seriously regret not getting more since it's not upgradable.

Since you are using iCloud to store your photos, you may want to consider using the "Optimize Mac Storage" option to keep most of your originals on iCloud and only download to your iMac when making edits. Doing this might allow you to keep your library on the internal drive and avoid the hassle of using an external drive - but you will probably not be able to get away with that if you stick with the 256GB base model.
Topic Author
Texanbybirth
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Re: Apple iCloud/Photos Question

Post by Texanbybirth »

oxothuk wrote: Fri Oct 16, 2020 11:09 am Yes, you can store your Photos library on an external drive. I'm doing that currently on my iMac.

Just as a point of clarity, iCloud accounts are tied your iMac login, not to the drive itself. Under your login you can have one Photos library which is designated as your System Library and syncs with iCloud; that library can reside either on the internal Mac drive or on an external drive.

Having said that, I would NOT buy a new iMac with only 256GB of storage. I have 1TB on mine and seriously regret not getting more since it's not upgradable.

Since you are using iCloud to store your photos, you may want to consider using the "Optimize Mac Storage" option to keep most of your originals on iCloud and only download to your iMac when making edits. Doing this might allow you to keep your library on the internal drive and avoid the hassle of using an external drive - but you will probably not be able to get away with that if you stick with the 256GB base model.
Thanks for the reply!

To the underlined point, and to take it one step further, are you able to confirm I can set each iMac login (one for me and one for my wife, to sync both of our iCloud Photo libraries) to point to the external hard drive as the "System Library"? Since this is a desktop I would plan to just permanently leave the external hard drive plugged into the iMac.

Thanks for your comment about storage. I was planning to rely heavily on "Optimize Mac Storage", but maybe I'll jump to the middle-tier model and drop the $150 to upgrade to the 1 TB drive for future-proofing. I do get a little break with student discount. :-)

As an aside, did you upgrade the display to the Nano-texture? I wish I could see the feature in store, and I should probably do that before dropping $450.

ETA: this would be the setup for $2,559.

Customize your 27‑inch iMac with Retina 5K display.
Nano-texture glass
3.3GHz 6-core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, Turbo Boost up to 4.8GHz
8GB 2666MHz DDR4 memory
Radeon Pro 5300 with 4GB of GDDR6 memory
1TB SSD storage
Gigabit Ethernet
Magic Mouse 2
Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad - US English
“The strong cannot be brave. Only the weak can be brave; and yet again, in practice, only those who can be brave can be trusted, in time of doubt, to be strong.“ - GK Chesterton
stan1
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Re: Apple iCloud/Photos Question

Post by stan1 »

There is no way I'd buy a 24" monitor of any type in 2020 unless I had a form factor constraint (e.g. custom hutch that won't fit a 27" or larger display). There's no monitor layout that I'd design from scratch with 24" monitors in it, and even if I had some old 24" monitors around the house I'd upgrade and send them off to a charity. I'd get a laptop with a 27" 1440p monitor at a minimum.
onourway
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Re: Apple iCloud/Photos Question

Post by onourway »

I don't see any reason why what you want to do won't work, however I agree with the suggestion to just bite the bullet and get it configured with more storage from the get-go. iMac's tend to have a very long lifespan, and buying one with only a 256GB drive is a good way to cut years of that life off the tail end.

Using "optimize storage" is also probably not the best idea if this iMac will be sort of your central "hub". You won't be able to independently back up your photos unless they are all downloaded locally. Optimize storage is great for phones/tablets/laptops/secondary devices, but you should have at least one where you have everything downloaded.

I have not seen the nano texture in person, however I generally prefer matte screens. That said, the anti-glare is pretty good on the standard iMac, so I would only pay that much money if someone else were paying or I knew that in the location I'd place the iMac glare was going to be an issue.
oxothuk
Posts: 545
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Re: Apple iCloud/Photos Question

Post by oxothuk »

onourway wrote: Fri Oct 16, 2020 12:16 pm Using "optimize storage" is also probably not the best idea if this iMac will be sort of your central "hub". You won't be able to independently back up your photos unless they are all downloaded locally. Optimize storage is great for phones/tablets/laptops/secondary devices, but you should have at least one where you have everything downloaded.
I have to disagree here. No independent backup strategy you implement at home will be near as reliable as what Apple does for the iCloud storage farm. Not even close.
bondsr4me
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Re: Apple iCloud/Photos Question

Post by bondsr4me »

oxothuk wrote: Fri Oct 16, 2020 1:14 pm
onourway wrote: Fri Oct 16, 2020 12:16 pm Using "optimize storage" is also probably not the best idea if this iMac will be sort of your central "hub". You won't be able to independently back up your photos unless they are all downloaded locally. Optimize storage is great for phones/tablets/laptops/secondary devices, but you should have at least one where you have everything downloaded.
I have to disagree here. No independent backup strategy you implement at home will be near as reliable as what Apple does for the iCloud storage farm. Not even close.
why do you say that? just curious; I'm not a "cloud" professional; I appreciate all the help I can get with understanding it.
thanks.
onourway
Posts: 2667
Joined: Thu Dec 08, 2016 3:39 pm

Re: Apple iCloud/Photos Question

Post by onourway »

oxothuk wrote: Fri Oct 16, 2020 1:14 pm
onourway wrote: Fri Oct 16, 2020 12:16 pm Using "optimize storage" is also probably not the best idea if this iMac will be sort of your central "hub". You won't be able to independently back up your photos unless they are all downloaded locally. Optimize storage is great for phones/tablets/laptops/secondary devices, but you should have at least one where you have everything downloaded.
I have to disagree here. No independent backup strategy you implement at home will be near as reliable as what Apple does for the iCloud storage farm. Not even close.
iCloud is a sync service, with a limited backup function. Files that are deleted are only kept in a Recently Deleted folder for 30 days, at which point they are deleted permanently.

I trust Apple's iCloud server farm just fine, but sync is not backup. If something is accidentally deleted and it's not discovered within the 30 day window, they are gone forever without an independent backup. If a file is corrupted, it is immediately synchronized across all devices with a limited ability to revert without an independent backup.

I suggest people have a separate, automated cloud-based backup system for all important files - separate from what your sync service uses unless you fully understand and accept the limitations of recovering altered files from those services.
oxothuk
Posts: 545
Joined: Thu Nov 10, 2011 8:35 pm

Re: Apple iCloud/Photos Question

Post by oxothuk »

Texanbybirth wrote: Fri Oct 16, 2020 11:34 am
To the underlined point, and to take it one step further, are you able to confirm I can set each iMac login (one for me and one for my wife, to sync both of our iCloud Photo libraries) to point to the external hard drive as the "System Library"? Since this is a desktop I would plan to just permanently leave the external hard drive plugged into the iMac.
While I haven't tried this, I can't think of any reason for it not to work. I would recommend that you and your wife each store your libraries (and other files) in separate directories on the external drive, to avoid problems with file permissions.
Texanbybirth wrote: Fri Oct 16, 2020 11:34 am As an aside, did you upgrade the display to the Nano-texture? I wish I could see the feature in store, and I should probably do that before dropping $450.
Was not an option when I got my latest iMac - would be worth a visit to check out in the store.

You may find that 8GB is not enough memory if you and your wife stay logged on all the time and you want to do fast switching between users. However I believe that memory is upgradeable, so it's not so critical to get right away.
interwebopinion
Posts: 71
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Re: Apple iCloud/Photos Question

Post by interwebopinion »

I would splurge on the SSD - it will be faster than an external drive.

I have my Photos library on an external drive, and since I have a lot of photos, startup time isn't instantaneous. So if you do a lot of photo processing, the SSD would be important.

Each login should go to the appropriate iCloud account, though I have only the one, so can't confirm for sure.
Texanbybirth wrote: Fri Oct 16, 2020 11:34 am
Thanks for the reply!

To the underlined point, and to take it one step further, are you able to confirm I can set each iMac login (one for me and one for my wife, to sync both of our iCloud Photo libraries) to point to the external hard drive as the "System Library"? Since this is a desktop I would plan to just permanently leave the external hard drive plugged into the iMac.

Thanks for your comment about storage. I was planning to rely heavily on "Optimize Mac Storage", but maybe I'll jump to the middle-tier model and drop the $150 to upgrade to the 1 TB drive for future-proofing. I do get a little break with student discount. :-)

As an aside, did you upgrade the display to the Nano-texture? I wish I could see the feature in store, and I should probably do that before dropping $450.

ETA: this would be the setup for $2,559.

Customize your 27‑inch iMac with Retina 5K display.
Nano-texture glass
3.3GHz 6-core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, Turbo Boost up to 4.8GHz
8GB 2666MHz DDR4 memory
Radeon Pro 5300 with 4GB of GDDR6 memory
1TB SSD storage
Gigabit Ethernet
Magic Mouse 2
Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad - US English
oxothuk
Posts: 545
Joined: Thu Nov 10, 2011 8:35 pm

Re: Apple iCloud/Photos Question

Post by oxothuk »

Texanbybirth wrote: Fri Oct 16, 2020 11:34 am
ETA: this would be the setup for $2,559.

Customize your 27‑inch iMac with Retina 5K display.
Nano-texture glass
3.3GHz 6-core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, Turbo Boost up to 4.8GHz
8GB 2666MHz DDR4 memory
Radeon Pro 5300 with 4GB of GDDR6 memory
1TB SSD storage
Gigabit Ethernet
Magic Mouse 2
Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad - US English
If you have a chance to visit the store, you might also want to try out the Trackpad and see if you want that instead of or in addition to the Magic Mouse. I personally prefer the mouse, but my wife likes the Trackpad much better.
Topic Author
Texanbybirth
Posts: 1388
Joined: Tue Apr 14, 2015 12:07 pm

Re: Apple iCloud/Photos Question

Post by Texanbybirth »

stan1 wrote: Fri Oct 16, 2020 12:02 pm There is no way I'd buy a 24" monitor of any type in 2020 unless I had a form factor constraint (e.g. custom hutch that won't fit a 27" or larger display). There's no monitor layout that I'd design from scratch with 24" monitors in it, and even if I had some old 24" monitors around the house I'd upgrade and send them off to a charity. I'd get a laptop with a 27" 1440p monitor at a minimum.
Well, we currently have a 21.5" ViewSonic 1080p LED from 2010, and all the work (both professional and personal) we do is just fine on it. It seems like 24" (or 27") would be a great upgrade. :happy

I'm hearing a common theme here on the hard drive, so to negate the main point of my OP we might just upgrade the storage to 2TB and explore the external hard drive at a future time. For the cost of that upgrade it would probably make the Nano-texture a no-go for my wife. The room in which we have the comp is not in fact known for it's brightness and we are not really the target audience for the upgrade. I'm just a sucker for Apple's sales tricks. :-)

New config, $2,469
Customize your 27‑inch iMac with Retina 5K display.
Standard glass
3.3GHz 6-core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, Turbo Boost up to 4.8GHz
8GB 2666MHz DDR4 memory
Radeon Pro 5300 with 4GB of GDDR6 memory
2TB SSD storage
Gigabit Ethernet
Magic Mouse 2
Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad - US English

I can see this lasting us 7 years easy, with an option for a future external hard drive and a possible RAM upgrade. (For reference, our current and only TV is from 2010, and our desktop is a hand-me-down from 2012)

My wife HATES track pads (like on our laptop) so I don't know why I would go for it. However, I have read that there's a love/hate relationship with it. I think I'll be waiting to pull the trigger on this until the 24" rumor is cleared up, and I can get to the Apple Store to try a track pad and see the difference in the glass screens in person.
“The strong cannot be brave. Only the weak can be brave; and yet again, in practice, only those who can be brave can be trusted, in time of doubt, to be strong.“ - GK Chesterton
Topic Author
Texanbybirth
Posts: 1388
Joined: Tue Apr 14, 2015 12:07 pm

Re: Apple iCloud/Photos Question

Post by Texanbybirth »

oxothuk wrote: Fri Oct 16, 2020 1:30 pm
Texanbybirth wrote: Fri Oct 16, 2020 11:34 am
To the underlined point, and to take it one step further, are you able to confirm I can set each iMac login (one for me and one for my wife, to sync both of our iCloud Photo libraries) to point to the external hard drive as the "System Library"? Since this is a desktop I would plan to just permanently leave the external hard drive plugged into the iMac.
While I haven't tried this, I can't think of any reason for it not to work. I would recommend that you and your wife each store your libraries (and other files) in separate directories on the external drive, to avoid problems with file permissions.
Texanbybirth wrote: Fri Oct 16, 2020 11:34 am As an aside, did you upgrade the display to the Nano-texture? I wish I could see the feature in store, and I should probably do that before dropping $450.
Was not an option when I got my latest iMac - would be worth a visit to check out in the store.

You may find that 8GB is not enough memory if you and your wife stay logged on all the time and you want to do fast switching between users. However I believe that memory is upgradeable, so it's not so critical to get right away.
Thanks for the note about Fast Switching. That makes sense. The move from 8 to 16 isn't too painful, so I went ahead and put it in my "quote". ETA: Nvmd, I can get 32GB from Amazon for less than that upgrade. :shock:

Also, using separate directories is a good idea.

This is why I made this thread!
Last edited by Texanbybirth on Fri Oct 16, 2020 2:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
“The strong cannot be brave. Only the weak can be brave; and yet again, in practice, only those who can be brave can be trusted, in time of doubt, to be strong.“ - GK Chesterton
onourway
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Re: Apple iCloud/Photos Question

Post by onourway »

Texanbybirth wrote: Fri Oct 16, 2020 2:07 pm

Thanks for the note about Fast Switching. That makes sense. The move from 8 to 16 isn't too painful, so I went ahead and put it in my "quote".

Also, using separate directories is a good idea.

This is why I made this thread!
Upgrading RAM on a 27" iMac is as easy as it gets. Open a door on the back of the device, press two springs to release the old ram, slide the new ram in, close the door. Buying from Crucial.com will guarantee you get something that fits, and save a bunch of money.
Topic Author
Texanbybirth
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Re: Apple iCloud/Photos Question

Post by Texanbybirth »

onourway wrote: Fri Oct 16, 2020 2:09 pm
Texanbybirth wrote: Fri Oct 16, 2020 2:07 pm

Thanks for the note about Fast Switching. That makes sense. The move from 8 to 16 isn't too painful, so I went ahead and put it in my "quote".

Also, using separate directories is a good idea.

This is why I made this thread!
Upgrading RAM on a 27" iMac is as easy as it gets. Open a door on the back of the device, press two springs to release the old ram, slide the new ram in, close the door. Buying from Crucial.com will guarantee you get something that fits, and save a bunch of money.
You're exactly right, that was a brain fart on my part. I've edited my post. :oops:
“The strong cannot be brave. Only the weak can be brave; and yet again, in practice, only those who can be brave can be trusted, in time of doubt, to be strong.“ - GK Chesterton
Topic Author
Texanbybirth
Posts: 1388
Joined: Tue Apr 14, 2015 12:07 pm

Re: Apple iCloud/Photos Question

Post by Texanbybirth »

onourway wrote: Fri Oct 16, 2020 1:28 pm I suggest people have a separate, automated cloud-based backup system for all important files - separate from what your sync service uses unless you fully understand and accept the limitations of recovering altered files from those services.
I've seen this strategy employed by many bloggers/websites. Truth be told, I consider iCloud as our Photos "backup" and syncing service.

As I get more into maintaining our family's Photo album(s), I may investigate a true backup service.
“The strong cannot be brave. Only the weak can be brave; and yet again, in practice, only those who can be brave can be trusted, in time of doubt, to be strong.“ - GK Chesterton
oxothuk
Posts: 545
Joined: Thu Nov 10, 2011 8:35 pm

Re: Apple iCloud/Photos Question

Post by oxothuk »

Texanbybirth wrote: Fri Oct 16, 2020 2:14 pm I've seen this strategy employed by many bloggers/websites. Truth be told, I consider iCloud as our Photos "backup" and syncing service.

As I get more into maintaining our family's Photo album(s), I may investigate a true backup service.
IMHO, with iCloud you are completely protected from losing your photos from a hardware or software failure.

The remaining vulnerability is YOU. If you accidentally delete photos from your library and don't notice it until after the 30 day grace period, then you're screwed. And you should be aware (if you aren't already) that deleting a photo on any device connected to your iCloud account - iMac, iPhone, iPad - will delete it from the iCloud library and from all other devices the next time they perform a sync.

If you are concerned about this risk, then the easiest solution is to periodically "export" the contents of your Photos library to another location - an external hard drive, a Dropbox account, or whatever.
Topic Author
Texanbybirth
Posts: 1388
Joined: Tue Apr 14, 2015 12:07 pm

Re: Apple iCloud/Photos Question

Post by Texanbybirth »

oxothuk wrote: Fri Oct 16, 2020 1:30 pm
Texanbybirth wrote: Fri Oct 16, 2020 11:34 am
To the underlined point, and to take it one step further, are you able to confirm I can set each iMac login (one for me and one for my wife, to sync both of our iCloud Photo libraries) to point to the external hard drive as the "System Library"? Since this is a desktop I would plan to just permanently leave the external hard drive plugged into the iMac.
While I haven't tried this, I can't think of any reason for it not to work. I would recommend that you and your wife each store your libraries (and other files) in separate directories on the external drive, to avoid problems with file permissions.
Texanbybirth wrote: Fri Oct 16, 2020 11:34 am As an aside, did you upgrade the display to the Nano-texture? I wish I could see the feature in store, and I should probably do that before dropping $450.
Was not an option when I got my latest iMac - would be worth a visit to check out in the store.

You may find that 8GB is not enough memory if you and your wife stay logged on all the time and you want to do fast switching between users. However I believe that memory is upgradeable, so it's not so critical to get right away.
Do you think 16GB of RAM is enough to facilitate Fast User Switching in our environment? I'm less inclined to go the external hard drive route and I'd rather keep everything on disk/cloud. I'm reading that 16GB should be plenty, but I know neither my wife nor I would be uber-diligent about closing apps etc each time we log off.

(We're also considering a 13" MBP and waiting for Apple's own chips to make their way into the iMac platform. It might be a hard sell after we went to Best Buy the other day and my wife got to see what a 27" 5k display looks like. She doesn't oogle over electronics almost ever, but she was quite taken with it.)
“The strong cannot be brave. Only the weak can be brave; and yet again, in practice, only those who can be brave can be trusted, in time of doubt, to be strong.“ - GK Chesterton
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