The new iMac Apple introduced without much fanfare a couple of weeks ago is an evolutionary upgrade, retaining the slimline design it debuted with last year’s pre-holiday refresh, and introducing some major specification bumps under the hood. For owners of any of those machines, it probably won’t be surprising to hear that this year’s upgrade takes what was a great computer and makes it even better, especially for demanding users.
- 27-inch, 2560×1440 display
- 3TB Fusion Drive
- 3.5GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor
- 8GB of 1600MHz DDR3 RAM
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M w/ 4GB dedicated RAM
- 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
- MSRP (as tested): $2,699
- Product info page
Apple’s redesigned iMac is as nice this year as it was last – the slimmer profile affords it some much-needed weight savings, and the cleaner look leads to a much better overall aesthetic for a home office setup. The 27-inch model, which I reviewed, is still going to be a beefy device, but it’s no longer an absolute horror to move and reposition.
The redesign does change some aspects that users coming from previous generations should note, however – there’s no longer any optical disk drive, and the SD card slot has shifted from the side to the back, owing to the much narrower edges of the new iMac. These are worthwhile sacrifices, in my opinion, since I haven’t used an optical disc since who knows when, and while the SD slot was easier to access on the side, it’s something you get used to reaching sight unseen on the new chassis pretty quickly if you need to use it frequently.
Also for those coming from devices older than the 2012 model iMac, you’ll probably notice less glare on the glass display, and better color rendering (in my unscientific opinion). Overall, the iMac’s design, while unchanged from last year, continues to place it atop the market in terms of attractive looks for an all-in-one computer.
The new iMac offers up improved configuration options for one of Apple’s most interesting recent tech innovations – Fusion Drive. The Fusion Drive is a cocktail of software and hardware that allows Apple to offer capacious storage capacities not available affordable in SSD, but with the speed and performance benefits that come from SSD. It does this by pairing a platter drive with a small segment of flash storage, and then intelligently keeping information that’s likely to be accessed on the flash portion, while constantly shuttling less immediately relevant data on to the platter hard disk drive.
The result, for most users, is an experience that compares very well to having a totally solid state drive in terms of boot speeds, wake from sleep times, program launches and program performance. One of the big downsides of switching between a 2011 27-inch iMac and my 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro has always been that the iMac always feels like a relative dinosaur with its 5,400 RPM HDD, but that perceived gap is completely erased with the Fusion Drive in the new 2013 27-inch iMac. This is my first experience with Fusion, and it genuinely does seem like the best option for anyone wanting both storage space and speed without much compromise.
Another huge benefit of the iMac if you’re new to it, especially if you’re adding a home computer to your existing Mac notebook, is Target Display mode. Connected to another Mac via Thunderbolt, the iMac can act as a second display. It’s actually better in some ways than getting a Cinema Display, since you have the option to use it on its own, but have a smaller/lighter package to work with. It’s not a new feature, but it’s a good one to keep in mind with this device for new buyers.
The iMac’s display is likewise the same as the one found in its predecessor, but it’s an excellent screen that’s worth noting. The 2560×1440 display isn’t so-called Retina quality technically, but it gives you plenty of screen real estate to work with, and offers excellent color rendering, brightness and contrast. Plus, viewed from a reasonable distance, text still appears plenty crisp, and the screen does great work operating double-duty as a TV for watching movies and shows from a distance.
Working with two browser windows side-by-side works perfectly on the new iMac, as does tiling a number of applications including a browser, IM client, Twitter client and others. It’s also a great screen for working with windows, and compared to older models, the glare is much diminished. I’m using the review unit in a well-lit room with a window directly behind me facing the screen, and I’m still able to work on image-intensive tasks like photo editing without noticing too much glare.
Here’s where the new iMac shines, thanks to latest generation Intel Haswell processors, and much improved graphic card options on all levels of the device. The one I’ve got has the top-of-the-line Nvidia 700-series option, a GeForce GTX 780M with 4GB of dedicated video memory. It’s powerful enough that it hardly breaks a sweat running Civilization V in windowed mode at 1920×1080 resolution in addition to powering Photoshop CC, Final Cut Pro X, and any number of browser tabs and communication software.
The improved processor also makes everything feel lightning quick, and again, my first experience with a Fusion Drive from Apple has proven very eye-opening. Unless you’re working frequently with extremely large files which are processing in real-time, I see little reason to pay up to three times as more for dedicated SSD storage vs. Apple’s sophisticated hybrid tech. I’ve used aftermarket hybrid drives in the past, too, but because Apple’s solution is tied directly to firmware and system software, it provides much better performance benefits overall. The average user definitely wouldn’t be able to tell Fusion from all-flash storage.
In general, gaming performance was excellent on the new iMac, including sample tests performed using the recently released Mac App Store versions of Bioshock Infinite and Lord of the Rings: War in the North. This iMac isn’t one that will back down to a gaming challenge, though the most demanding gamers will probably still want to spec out and build their own custom Windows gaming PC if only because of library size.
Apple has provided a fairly standard upgrade for the iMac with these most recent versions, much like it does between major generational shifts for the Mac that happen every few years. But the hidden nature of these changes belies their benefits, especially for users working at the top level of the iMac’s capabilities. A fully-specced machine isn’t for everyone (the price tag alone will put most off), but barring anything truly shocking in terms of a price tag for the upcoming Mac Pro, the top of the line new iMac is the creative professional’s current best friend. And no matter the price point/configuration, Apple still definitely makes the best all-in-one available.