The Apple iMac range has received a spec boost for 2017, promising better screen technology, more processing power, Thunderbolt 3 slots and more. But should you be excited by these additions?
We've been using the new 27-inch 5K iMac to get a feel for the new all-in-one desktop machine. Although this new model isn't as powerful as the top-spec iMac Pro due out later this year, it certainly offers plenty.
New 5K iMac review: Design
- All-in-one aluminium housing
- Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse 2 included
- 2x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C); 4x USB; SD card; Ethernet; 3.5mm jack
The bottom line is that the new iMac's design is virtually the same as the 2015 iMac. There are the same clean lines and curves to that aluminium housing. From the side, the edges of the iMac are unbelievably slim, and the way they join with the smooth, curved back is as impressive as it was when the first models with this new thin design launched in 2012.
The ports are all still tucked away around the back - great for being out of sight, less practical for adding accessories ad hoc. There is one notable change to this array of rear ports: the addition of two Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) slots, providing the potential to connect other screens, docks, or hard drives. In addition there's the usual 3.5mm headphone jack, SD card slot, four full-size USB sockets, and an Ethernet connector.
As is customary, the iMac sits on an all-aluminium foot with a smooth pivoting hinge at the top and a circular cutout through which the power cord is fed.
In the box you'll also get a Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse 2, although you can choose to change these to a Magic TrackPad and the new Magic Keyboard with numerical keypad, for those who like to crunch numbers.
While the design of this machine is impeccable, we'd love to see Apple produce the next iMac with slimmer bezel around the display. The black frame around the screen is large compared to most modern computer monitors, and we think creating a really slim bezel in the next all-in-one would make the iMac truly breathtaking.
27-inch iMac (2017) review: Screen
- 27-inch, 5120 x 2880 resolution display
- DCI-P3 wide colour for 1 billion colours
- 500 nits brightness; 43 per cent brighter than predecessor
The new iMac's screen may look like the same 27-inch panel that many love, but this time around it offers a wider colour gamut - DCI-P3 - for blasting up to one billion colours in your general direction.
The output is brighter than the last generation model, delivering up to 500 nits output. Which all sounds like a lot of figures, but the brightness level certainly tickles the retinas in use.
As you'd expect from a 5K display, there's heaps of resolution. You literally almost have to press your eyeballs up against the glass to even get a hint of individual pixels.
Despite being covered in a glossy glass we found reflections from bright light sources to not detract from the visibility too much. While you can still see the reflections, their negative impact is minimal.
However, this screen isn't capable of supporting 4K HDR (high dynamic range) as it doesn't tick the ultra-high brightness box. It is a strange omission, we feel, given the advantage of better colour in HDR content. That criticism aside, the new iMac's display is stunning.
New 27-inch iMac review: Processors and graphics
- Discrete graphics: AMD Radeon Pro 500-series as standard
- Graphics have dedicated 4GB-8GB VRAM
- Intel Core i5 Kaby Lake processors as standard (Core i7 upgrades available)
- 8GB 2400MHz DDR4 RAM as standard (configurable up to 64GB)
- User-accessible RAM port for RAM upgrades
It's not just a new screen, though, as the new iMac's internals have been upgraded too. There's now Intel Core i5 and i7 Kaby Lake processors that deliver up to 4.2GHz (4.5GHz with Turbo Boost).
Aside from the processor, the new models support up to twice the memory as the previous generation iMac, plus it's moved from DDR3 to DDR4. It's 8GB RAM as standard - but you can access the rear RAM port and add up to 64GB total yourself, without incurring the same off-the-shelf embedded cost that Apple would otherwise charge.
Graphics on iMac are much more powerful this time around, with the new Radeon Pro 500 series graphics with up to 8GB of dedicated VRAM. It means that the 27-inch model has a 50 per cent bump in GPU terms compared to the earlier generation iMac.
Storage sees a boost, too, with the Fusion Drive now standard across all 27-inch configurations. This is Apple's hybrid drive that combines a standard hard disk with flash storage to give you the best of both worlds: fast storage for your most used apps, with enough space available for long term storage. Or upgrade to full SSD, with up to 2TB drives offered that are also 50 per cent faster than those in the outgoing models - they just cost a pretty penny.
About the only thing that hasn't changed is the FaceTime HD camera - which remains the same as the previous models.
The iMac we tested for this review was the entry-level model, but this still features a 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, and 1TB Fusion Drive. At £1,749 it's not unreasonably priced. Go all-in, however, and that price rises rapidly: with all the possible internal customisations - including a 2TB SSD drive, Intel Core i7 4.2GHz processor and 64GB RAM - the 27-inch iMac will set you back a cool £4,949 (or $5,299).
In our testing we did some image editing with Pixelmator, 4K video editing with iMovie and Final Cut Pro, watched Darth Vader on the HTC's Vive VR headset, and played the gorgeous game Firewatch in Ultra settings. Even with just 8GB RAM our model was able to deliver the goods, although we would love to see what a difference 64GB would make when crunching through heaps of massive images or video content.
In Final Cut Pro, as an example, we were able to export a five minute 4K 25fps video in slightly over four minutes (4m11s to be exact). For a ProRes ~19GB file, that's very speedy, and is thanks both to the hardware and software optimisations. It was a similar experience editing images in Pixelmator.
If there's a case for adding more RAM, it's that sometimes when the iMac was busy exporting a large video file, there was some slight stuttering and delay in regular tasks as the computer was working to push out the video in quick fashion. It wasn't massively noticeable, but it was something we saw a couple of times.
Apple 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K display review: Software
- MacOS 'High Sierra' coming later in 2017
- Will be MacOS 'Sierra' for launch
The new iMac runs the MacOS Sierra for the time being, but will be eligible for an update to MacOS High Sierra later in the year when the new version of the operating system comes out.
That update will bring a number of speed and storage improvements thanks to the adoption of a new file system. There are other features as we've detailed in a separate feature: What's new in MacOS High Sierra?
The iMac remains the all-in-one to beat in almost every department. Its design is impressive, the screen is bright, sharp and colourful and the entry model is good value. It's as capable of chucking out 4K ProRes files as it is dealing with raw format images. The new Kaby Lake processor and addition of modern ports like Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) mean it's as future-proof as any machine out there.
While it doesn't have HDR (high dynamic range) capability like a lot of modern TVs or even a touch-sensitive screen, the iMac does what Apple desktops have done for years: keep up with everything you throw at it with very minimal fuss or effort. This in a package that looks beautiful and has one of the best displays on the market. It's a winner that could only really be improved by shrinking the screen bezel.
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