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Apple's latest all-in-ones are bigger, brighter, and simply the best yet.
Glancing at a spec sheet, Apple’s latest iMacs might seem like run-of-the mill product refreshes. Sure, there’s the requisite processor bumps and storage updates, but an iMac’s an iMac, right? Ah, not so much. When you see these machines in person, their differences are much more apparent, striking even. The new line-up includes four new machines--two small ones and two bigguns--and we had the chance to review one of each size for this article.
The most obvious improvements are the larger displays. The early 2009 iMacs were available with 20- or 24-inch screens, but Apple’s newest models rock 21.5 and 27 inches of display majesty. These changes are important in a couple different ways. First, the new models have native 16:9 aspect ratios: 1920x1080 for the 21.5-inch model and 2560x1440 for the 27-inch iMac. Home-theater geeks will notice right away that this new aspect ratio looks demonstrably different from the 16:10 proportions of the previous generation of iMac screens. Essentially, the new displays are a bit “squatter” than previous models, but fall in line with current HD standards. It’s tough to say if that has anything to do with the possibility of Blu-ray drives eventually making their way into the Apple stable, but it’s good news for anyone who watches HD content on his or her Mac.
The 27-inch model is gunning for a spot on your living room wall.
The new larger screens also feature LED backlighting. Not only do they instantly achieve full brightness--no more waiting for your iMac to warm up before diving into serious photo editing--but they also offer a more uniform brightness across the entire display. Designers and other content creators will delight at the change, but even in our stock-and-trade Web browsers and word processors, we were dazzled by the difference. We especially appreciated the newfound control over screen brightness; the same 17-step brightness control is there, but the range is quite a bit wider. The lowest setting is darker, and the highest is considerably brighter than that of previous iMacs--so much so that benchmarking the new models at max brightness prompted us to don sunglasses indoors (seriously). The new displays are also crisper and have a whiter tone than their predecessors. In a side-by-side comparison, Robin, our art director, said the old iMac display looked “nicotine-stained.” The new displays are also edge-to-edge, so there’s no distracting aluminum bezel around the screen. It’s a small detail, but an elegant one.
Underneath the aluminum enclosures--which go all the way around; no more black plastic backsides--the new iMacs have improved system components. Borrowing a page from the MacBook playbook, the new iMacs feature an SD card slot alongside the optical drive on the left side of the chassis. RAM has been bumped from 2GB to 4GB across all four of the new models, and maximum memory capacity has increased from 8GB to 16GB, giving these machines a heavy dose of future-proofing. There are two 21.5-inch iMacs, and the starter-edition model that we reviewed ships with a 500GB hard drive, up from 320GB in the early 2009 model. The other 21.5-incher as well as the two 27-inchers (including the new quad-core 2.66GHz i5 model that was unavailable at press time) all come standard with 1TB of storage. There is, however, a 2TB build-to-order option in Apple’s online store for an additional $250.
Even the entry-level iMac packs a punch.
The two models we tested had similar hardware specs, with the larger iMac featuring more robust graphics courtesy of an ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics card with 256MB of memory. The base model we reviewed was saddled with an Nvidia GeForce 9400M GPU, which taps into system RAM for its frame buffer. As such, most of our benchmarks were quite close to one another. The smaller iMac handled our InDesign-to-PDF export test in 4.2 seconds, while the larger model shaved that down to 3.6 seconds. And there was only a statistically insignificant tenth of a second difference in our Photoshop tests. In our Call of Duty 4 benchmark on the other hand, the ATI Radeon-equipped model pumped out an impressive 62.8 frames per second. By contrast, the more modest Nvidia chip averaged 36.1 FPS in the 21.5-inch model.
The 27-inch iMacs are an interesting sweet spot in Apple’s current product line. The model we reviewed comes in at $100 less than Apple’s current price for the 30-inch Cinema HD Display, which of course doesn’t include an actual computer. And one of the most unique--and under-promoted--features of the 27-inch iMacs is support for video input. So, now, not only can your iMac push an external monitor, you can use your iMac as an external monitor itself. The obvious example would be alongside a late model MacBook equipped with DisplayPort, but in fairly short order we expect a full complement of display adapters for the iMac to allow input from more than just your laptop. The fact that the 27-inch models are also compatible with VESA-compliant wall mounts commonly used for flat-screen TVs--along with the 16:9 aspect ratio--makes the new iMacs seem like Apple’s first concerted effort to break the Mac out of your office and into the living room.
The new displays are gorgeous. If your Mac is getting on in years, now's the right time to start thinking upgrade, in particular to the impressively gargantuan 27-inch model.
27-inch 3.06GHz iMac
SPECIFICATIONS: 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4GB 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM, 3MB shared L2 cache, 7,200-rpm 1TB hard drive, ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics processor with 256MB of GDDR3 memory, 27-inch TFT active-matrix display, four USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire 800 port, SD card slot, Mini DisplayPort, analog/optical audio input, iSight, 802.11n Airport Extreme, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
Larger, LED-backlit display. SD card slot. One terabyte of storage. Supports up to 16GB of RAM. Supports video input and optional VESA mount. Wireless Keyboard and Magic Mouse.
We'd love a matte display option. No number pad on the keyboard. Only one FireWire port. Apple Remote is now an optional extra.
21.5-inch 3.06GHz iMac
SPECIFICATIONS: 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4GB 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM, 3MB shared L2 cache, 7,200-rpm 500GB hard drive, Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics processor with 256MB of DDR3 SDRAM shared with main memory, 21.5-inch glossy TFT active-matrix display, four USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire 800 port, SD card slot, Mini DisplayPort, analog/optical audio input, iSight, 802.11n AirPort Extreme, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
Larger, LED-backlit display. SD card slot. Half a terabyte of storage. Supports up to 16GB of RAM. Wireless Keyboard and Magic Mouse.
We’d love a matte display option. Only larger iMacs support video input. No number pad on the keyboard. Only one FireWire port. Apple Remote is now an optional extra.