Who would have guessed that Apple would become the standard-bearer for traditional desktop computing?
Put away its beautiful new design and the new iMac is mostly an iterative update. Granted, it’s an iteration of the best all-around computer of 2011, but there’s little in Apple’s new all-in-one that we couldn’t have predicted. The Intel “Ivy Bridge” third-gen Core CPU, Nvidia’s most recent graphics chip, larger default memory — all of the iMac’s new components come from the 2012 PC trend line.
Yes, Apple added Fusion, its own take on hybrid hard-drive technology. It also pared away the iMac’s optical drive, and added a few design tweaks on top of the new chassis. None of that fundamentally changes the way you will use the iMac.
For many people, the iMac’s absent touch screen will be a positive, or at least not a negative. What they really care about is that this system is fast (it is that), good-looking (also that), and comes with sufficient features for its price (and mostly that, too) — in other words, everything we traditionally look for in a new computer.
The new 27-inch iMac is an easy recommendation. For those who need or simply want a fast computer with a large, gloriously crisp display, the iMac — even our jumped-up, $2,599 review model — delivers. If you want your PC to be something else — an organizational kiosk, a home entertainment hub — you’re better served with another, more broadly ambitious desktop.
First I loved the new iMac when Apple unveiled it at a press event this past October. Then I felt deceived by Apple’s presentation of it.
The pictures during the new iMac’s unveiling made the new design appear completely flat, an impossibly thin triumph of manufacturing. In person, a bulging rear panel betrays the promise of thinness. Apple shows the truth of the iMac’s chassis on a few images on its Web site, but its hard to shake that disappointment when you realize the new iMac is not quite as thin as Apple has made it out to be.
I was prepared to bring that scorn along with me into this review, but it didn’t last. Bulge or no, the new design simply looks fantastic. For one, the back is tapered such that you can stand 60 to 75 degrees off-center and the iMac still only looks as thin as its 5mm edge. Even when you take notice of the round back portion, the curve comes across as graceful.
I still find that Apple’s “thin iMac” marketing has a certain disingenuous tang. That doesn’t change the fact that this is a beautifully designed computer.
Along with revitalizing the new iMac’s profile, Apple has also taken noticeable steps to minimize the reflectivity of the iMac’s notoriously glossy screen. Apple credits a new process for attaching the display glass to the chassis, and also a new method for applying the antireflective coating for the improvement. The benefits are immediately apparent if you set the iMac up next to other large-screen monitors.
Compared with both the Dell XPS One 27, as well as Apple’s own Thunderbolt Display, the new iMac’s screen is significantly less reflective. It’s not perfect, but any reflections are more subtle. Image editors, or anyone who needs to use the iMac for close-in detail work, will welcome Apple’s new approach (“I would use this display,” said Lori Grunin, our camera editor).
The last major design note in the new iMac comes by way of its memory access port. The thin design means Apple had to relocate memory slot access to the rear of the system. To open the port, you need to remove the power cable, push a button above the plug input, and then pull off a plastic cover.
The mechanism has a surprisingly tough design. I needed to use a pen to push the button in far enough to eject the port cover. I see no real harm here, though. It’s accessible enough, and you won’t replace the memory so often that the port design will really get in your way.
|Apple iMac 27-inch (base)||Dell XPS One 27 (base)||Apple iMac 27-inch (review unit)||Dell XPS One 27 (review unit)|
|Display (pixel resolution)||27-inch,
|27-inch, 2,560×1,440 touch screen|
|CPU||2.9GHz Core i5 (3.6GHz max)||2.7GHz Core i5 (3.2GHz max)||3.4GHz Core i7 (3.9GHz max)||3.1GHz Core i7 (3.9Ghz max)|
|Memory||8GB 1,600MHz||6GB 1,600MHz||8GB 1,600MHz||8GB 1,600MHz|
|Graphics||512MB Nvidia GeForce GTX 660M||Intel HD Graphics 4000||2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 680MX||2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M|
|Hard drive||1TB 7,200rpm||1TB 7,200rpm||1TB 7,200rpm, 128GB SSD||2TB 7,200rpm|
|Optical drive||Not included||Dual-layer DVD burner||Not included||Blu-ray/dual-layer DVD burner combo|
|Networking||802.11n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Ports||Headphone/digital audio output, SDXC card, USB 3.0 (4x), Thunderbolt/Mini DisplayPort (2x), Gigabit Ethernet||Headphone, microphone, digital audio out, SD card, USB 3.0 (6x), HDMI -in, HDMI-out, Gigabit Ethernet||Headphone/digital audio output, SDXC card, USB 3.0 (4x), Thunderbolt/Mini DisplayPort (2x), Gigabit Ethernet||Headphone, microphone, digital audio out, SD card, USB 3.0 (6x), HDMI -in, HDMI-out, Gigabit Ethernet|
The Windows consumer PC market has only one clear competitor to the 27-inch iMac. HP Z1 fans, I know you’re out there, but that system’s Xeon CPU and pure workstation pedigree put that system in a specialized tier. The iMac can play in that pure professional arena, too, but given the iMac’s predominantly consumer focus, Dell’s XPS One 27 is the more appropriate comparison.
In that XPS One 27, Dell has a formidable competitor to the new iMac. Both systems have 27-inch, 2,560×1,440-pixel screens, the most current Intel and Nvidia silicon, solid-state hard-drive upgrades, and an array of modern connectivity options that provide pathways for major additions in overall functionality.
Each system also has its advantages. The iMac’s Thunderbolt ports open the door to fast external storage arrays, dedicated video-processing peripherals, and other professional-grade devices. Apple also offers higher-end versions of Nvidia’s GeForce 600-series graphics chips, which will benefit gamers and digital media artists. The Fusion Drive also has a 128GB solid-state portion, larger than the 32GB solid-state hybrid drive option available in the highest-end XPS One 27.
On Dell’s side of the chalkboard, the integrated HDMI input means you can use the XPS One 27 as a standalone display without an adapter cable like you’ll need with the iMac. Along with the HDMI-in, the Dell’s Blu-ray drive and arguably its touch screen make it easier to use as a home entertainment hub.
If you scoff at touch input, the Dell’s screen doesn’t hurt you if you want to rely on a traditional mouse and keyboard setup. Windows 8, on the other hand, presents a real stumbling block for the Dell given that it requires you to essentially learn a brand-new operating system.
The pricing is similar enough between the two PCs that neither comes away the clear winner on value. A maxed-out XPS One 27, at $2,599, has the same CPU as the upgraded iMac, along with the Blu-ray drive and 16GB of memory. But the iMac still has a large solid-state drive and a significantly faster graphics chip.
You can also upgrade the iMac beyond our review unit, adding a 768GB standalone solid-state drive, and up to 32GB of RAM. Apple hasn’t released the pricing for those extras yet. They will not be cheap.
On the whole, the 27-inch iMac seems fairly priced. The lack of an optical drive is inconsequential given how easy it is to add an external DVD burner. I also don’t miss FireWire 800 on the iMac. Both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt are faster. I only wish Apple provided a dedicated HDMI input. That would eliminate the need for a bothersome and expensive adapter box for those who want to input a consumer video component.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
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Our performance comparison will seem unfair given that we do not have results for the $2,599 Dell XPS One 27, a system with the same CPU as our iMac review unit, as well as more memory and its own solid-state hard drive. The iMac has a faster graphics card, which helps to a certain extent on Photoshop, but otherwise I’d expect the highest-end Dell would post similar, if not better performance results than the iMac. If we can’t make a direct speed comparison with the fastest XPS One 27, we can still say that the Dell and the iMac occupy a class by themselves compared with other 27-inch all-in-one PCs (all of which have lower-resolution 1,920×1,080-pixel displays).
The iMac’s most decisive victory comes on our iTunes and QuickTime processing test, but that test tends to skew in Apple’s favor, and I include it here mostly for comparison with the previous-generation iMac. The OS-agnostic version of that test with HandBrake (which we’re phasing in to replace the QuickTime version), puts the Dell and the new iMac in much closer proximity to each other.
I won’t say that the iMac walks away with the high-end all-in-one application performance crown, especially with the lurking specter of the higher-end Dell. Suffice it to say that this is the fastest iMac yet, and one of, if not the, fastest all-in-ones available.
On the graphics side, the iMac GeForce GTX 680 MX is the top-tier mobile graphics chip, and the most powerful GPU available in any all-in-one that isn’t the HP Z1. I tested with Borderlands 2 at full 2,560×1,440-pixel resolution and maximum image quality and experienced no difficulty. I also tried the Witcher 2, one of the most demanding games available for OS X. I won’t say it hit 60 frames per second, but it was more than playable, at full resolution and with ultra quality settings. For every other game on the Mac, and even most titles in a virtualized Windows environment, you should be able to play anything you come across with sufficient image quality.
The only other testing I would like to circle back on is a set of true display quality tests between the iMac and the XPS One 27. I hope we can put something together in the next few days, and I will update this review with any findings. Anecdotally, our photo editor was impressed by the iMac’s apparent color gamut, as well as the level of detail within its black levels.
Two other performance notes worth mentioning. Our iMac includes a Fusion Drive, which means it has a 1TB mechanical hard drive and a 128GB solid-state drive joined in a single 1.2TB drive volume. Apple has designed Fusion so that it’s seamless. The OS itself, as well as the files you use most frequently, load from the solid-state drive. The idea of Fusion is that it speeds up application loading, files transfers, and pretty much any drive-related system activity.
You can refer to our review of Apple’s new Mac Mini for a deeper dive into Fusion, including some test results. Given the identical drive hardware, I expect that the performance will be the same on this iMac. The bottom line is that launching pretty much anything on the system happens almost instantly.
I can also credit the iMac’s new, second microphone. Situated on the back of the display, the extra mic is there to help with canceling out background noise. In a FaceTime call, the recipient reported that my voice came through with no apparent backing hiss, even when I spoke from 15 feet away. She did mention that my voice became softer at that distance, understandably. She also heard some noise during dead air, similar to what you hear in the background during a conference room speakerphone.
You might be alarmed by the fact that the design is the most interesting thing about the new iMac. A thin bezel is nice to look at, but it doesn’t improve processing speed, workflow, or overall utility. Fortunately for Apple, it evolved that design from a computer with a strong technical foundation. It is the updates to that foundation, and a few points of polish along the way, that keep this iMac on elite footing. I’ll suggest you line up behind the Blu-ray fans to those of you hoping Apple will someday add touch-screen input to the iMac. Instead, this is a computer for serious, performance-driven users, particularly those who need a high-resolution display, and fast graphics and disk performance.
Performance testing conducted by Joseph Kaminski. Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Apple iMac 27-inch (December 2012)
Apple OS X Mountain Lion 10.8; 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-3770; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 680M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive, 128GB solid-state hard drive
Acer Aspire 7600U
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 768MB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M graphics card; 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive
Apple iMac 27-inch (May 2011)
Apple OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.7; 3.1GHz Intel Core i5 (second generation); 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 6970M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-2600S; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 540M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive
Dell XPS One 27
Microsoft Windows 8 Pro 64-bit; 3.1GHz Intel Core i7-3770S; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M graphics card; 2TB 7,200rpm hard drive
Lenovo IdeaCentre A720
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M ; 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 630M graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M; 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive
source/credit:This article was previously published at:reviews.cnet.com