Apple iMac 27-inch (2012)

There are two iMac sizes available in the newly refreshed late-2012 line with the 27-inch positioning itself as the powerful big daddy of the two. While the 21.5-inch model we've recently played with suggested itself as a kitchen computer, to be shared among the family in a communal space, the 27-inch iMac is all about getting your work done.

This is an office machine through and through, and geared towards delivering an experience that is better than a laptop, albeit not as powerful as Apple's Mac Pro range.

So can it deliver, or has the introduction of a new shape and a few other changes along the way damaged the overall experience? We’ve been using one in the Pocket-lint office to find out.

Design

It's thin, really thin, and that's the first thing you'll notice if you glance at the new iMac from the side or the rear. Apple has ditched the optical disk drive and with it the need for a big and bulky chassis to house everything.

The design, which is tapered at the back, starts off with a 5mm thick edge, before getting gradually more bulbous as it heads towards the centre of the casing, and the stand on which it floats. Not that bulbous is anything to worry about here, because it's still stunning. The actual footfall of the new iMac on your desk is minimal too, even if you include the bundled wireless keyboard and mouse.

That side profile is, for the most part, fairly pointless though as you will invariably look at it front-on during day to day use. But wow, it does look pretty.

Display

If you are only mildly wooed by the new design of the iMac, you'll be definitely excited by the new screen. It dominates the front of the iMac, so big in fact that at times we've found ourselves moving our head to take it all in.

Sadly the iMac still isn't Retina display ready, even though Apple champions that with the MacBook Pro range, but that doesn't mean it's a sub-standard screen. Apple has worked on improving the quality of the display, and reducing the glare as much as possible, it claims. 

According to the Cupertino-based company, it has managed to reduce reflection on the screen by 75 per cent, while maintaining the brightness and contrast of previous models. So no more should casual observers make comments like, "Nice of them to include a free mirror."

Apple is able to do this by using a couple of different techniques, including one called full lamination. It is a process that basically eliminates a 2mm gap between the LCD and the glass, which in turn reduces reflection and ghosting. The technique is used by mostly by TV manufacturers and, as you can imagine, it works a treat here. It's worth pointing out, though, that this will increase the complexity of any repair substantially. 

Apple also says that instead of just slapping an anti-reflective coating to the glass in a conventional way, it has adapted a process used on smaller surfaces such as camera lenses. Called plasma deposition, it involves coating the glass with layers of silicon dioxide and niobium pentoxide.

Whatever Apple has done, it has worked, and while those counting pixels per inch will be disappointed (109ppi if you're interested) the screen is still something to very much enjoy.

Connectivity

All the iMacs ports are tucked around the back of the display out of the way of your eye line. That's great from a visual point of view, but also means it is difficult to find the right one without sticking your head around the back of the computer - not very attractive.

We can see why Apple has placed them where they are, all neat and tidy like ducks in a row, however when it comes to finding the SD card slot, it's frustrating and means a fumble each time you want to download pictures from your camera.

But when it comes to practicalities, you get all the ports you'll need or want. There are two Thunderbolt ports, an SD card slot for SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards, a headphone port, three USB ports, and Gigabit Ethernet. No HDMI sadly, but with the two Thunderbolt ports you should be able to easily get around this with an adapter cable. The iMac also has Wireless 802.11n connectivity as well as Bluetooth - of course.

FaceTime HD

Back around to the front, and hiding just above that lovely screen are a FaceTime HD camera and a couple of dual mics - one facing upwards, one facing backwards to get noise bounced off the wall you will no doubt put the iMac in front of. 

We tested the iMac with both Apple's own FaceTime service and Skype and were pleased with the results for both. The HD camera is 720p, which isn't as good as you could get from a dedicated webcam from Logitech or Microsoft, but will suffice for most people. That it's built-in certainly helps, and ensures your desk remains clutter-free.

Apple has also gone as far as hiding two stereo speakers in the design of the iMac that provide excellent sound. Again you could achieve better results with a dedicated system, but most will be more than happy with the performance. We certainly have been listening to music from iTunes and Spotify as well as playing games.

An ambient light sensor adjusts the brightness of the display to your room environment, but doesn't seem to have any affect on the performance of the camera.

Fusion Drive

No it is not something to do with Back to the Future II and the DeLorean, but a new technology introduced by Apple for the new 2012 iMac range that couples a standard hard drive with a flash drive to improve performance when it comes to loading apps or files.

It combines 128GB of flash storage with a traditional 1TB or 3TB hard drive. The clever bit from Apple is that the software, which you don't have any control over, works out how often you use the files and apps on your computer and stores them either on the smaller, faster drive, or the bigger slower one. The 128GB is more than enough to hold most of your most frequently used applications so they load really fast and the slower drive for keeping those files you hardly ever touch. Of course you never see any of this happening, and if it weren't for Apple telling you in the marketing blurb you would be none the wiser. 

Performance

The 27-inch iMac comes in two configurations, with further customisations beyond that if you are happy to order online.

All models come with the third-generation quad-core Intel Core i5 processors with clock speeds up to 3.2GHz and Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.6GHz. The new iMac can also be configured with a quad-core Intel Core i7 at up to 3.4GHz and Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz.

On the graphics side, the 27-inch model comes with either the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M with 512MB of GDDR5 memory or the NVIDIA GTX 675MX with 1GB of GDDR5 memory - both a considerably boost over the standard configurations of the 21.5-inch models. You can also upgrade the graphics card to the GTX 680MX with 1GB of memory, if you're feeling flush.

You also get 8GB of DDR3 memory as standard, with the ability to manually upgrade to 32GB if you really want to go for full power. Unlike the smaller Mac, a cover at the back hides the expandable RAM, making the upgrade incredibly simple. 

Our review unit was fitted with a 3.2Ghz Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 675MX card. We were more than happy with the performance for all the tasks we instructed it to perform. Those included general things, like surfing the internet, writing copy using Pages, and general tasks. It also managed well with more heavy-duty lifting: playing games, watching and editing 1080p video and editing photos with Photoshop.

Unless you spend all your time editing and rendering video day in day out you'll be very happy with the performance of the 27-inch iMac. And if you do that, getting the upgraded machine will mean it's more than able to cope. 

Verdict

While we had reservations about the 21.5-inch in the workplace, the 27-inch model offers enough beef to dispel those fears. It's a big, powerful, and thoroughly enjoyable machine to use and one with which you won't be disappointed.

Obviously there is always the argument over whether or not you should opt for a laptop over a desktop, but the 27-inch iMac is such a different experience compared to the MacBook Pro that we never once felt there was a reason to go portable instead.

This is definitely one to check out for the office, or a dedicated space at home, if portability isn't a requirement.