Apple iMac 27in (GeForce GTX 675M) review

Pros

  • Stunningly thin design
  • Impressive low-glare display
  • Powerful performance

Cons

  • Pricey
  • No HDMI-in or out without an adapter

The Apple iMac 27in (with Nvidia GeForce GTX 675M graphics) is a powerhouse system for those who need high-octane performance. It can be upgraded to 32GB of memory and a high-end third-generation Intel Core i7 processor – and indeed our review model sported these impressive specs. When combined with speedy flash storage, it is the kind of configuration that will excite graphic design and scientific users, at least until the next iteration of the iMac shows up later this year (probably). Of course, these sort of specs don’t come cheap…

Design

On the outside, the latest iMac 27in is identical to the Apple iMac 27in (Late 2012) that we looked at last year. It has the same 515mm tall aluminium chassis with built-in tilting stand. Again, you'll have to budget about 25in of width and 8in of depth on your work surface for this behemoth. The excellent Dell XPS 27 Touch all-in-one takes up roughly the same amount of space, within two inches in any given dimension. The iMac is thinner than the Dell XPS 27, particularly at the edges, where the chassis tapers down to a few millimetres. As such, there is no room for an internal optical drive, though Apple still carries its external USB SuperDrive DVD burner as an option.

Both the Dell XPS 27 Touch and the iMac 27in have better than 1080p HD IPS screens, with a 2,560 x 1,440 resolution. This means you can view and edit a full HD 1080p movie with plenty of room left over for toolbars and the like. Other 27in all-in-one desktops like the Lenovo Horizon make do with only 1,920 x 1,080 resolution screens, which are to their credit, still full 1080p HD.

The iMac 27in models don't have touchscreens. The OS X operating system isn't optimised for touchscreens, and for the time being Apple has limited touch to iOS devices like the iPad and iPhone. Like all current 27in iMacs, the system has a laminated glass cover for the screen, which reduces reflections.

The iMac 27in has four USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt ports, an SDXC card reader, headset jack, and Gigabit Ethernet on the back. There is a panel on the back for access to the memory slots, but the system we reviewed came with them filled to the current maximum of 32GB. Any other expansion has to be done via Thunderbolt or USB 3.0. For the fastest throughput rates, we'd recommend one or more Thunderbolt SSD drives or arrays, but you can hook up everything from a 128MB USB 2.0 stick up to multiple Thunderbolt five-drive disk arrays for extra data storage.

The configured-to-order (CTO) system we reviewed came with 256GB of Flash Storage, which is totally enough for a single-use desktop like an audio engineer's workstation (with Apple Logic Pro X), as long as you have external storage for your music data files. For general-purpose use like a graphics artist's workstation, we'd recommend the Fusion Drive setup seen in last year's review, since that configuration has 1TB of internal storage for personal files like music and downloads.

The iMac 27in comes with 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi networking in addition to the physical gigabit Ethernet port. You can use the Thunderbolt ports to connect up to seven devices each (including up to two Thunderbolt or mini-DisplayPort monitors). You'll need a third-party adapter for mini-DisplayPort to HDMI, or one of Apple's mini-DisplayPort to VGA or DVI adapters to use the iMac with other screens.

You can use the iMac's display with most recent Thunderbolt-equipped Macs (Mac mini, MacBook Air, etc.), so you can stretch out the life of the system's display once the internal components are obsolete. That said, Thunderbolt isn't as accommodating as a plain HDMI-in port like the one on the Dell XPS 27 Touch, which can connect to more devices like laptops, smartphones, game consoles, cable boxes, and anything else with an HDMI-out port.

Like all current Macs, the iMac 27in comes with OS X 10.8 and Apple's iLife suite (iTunes, iPhoto, and so forth). You'll be able to upgrade the iMac to OS X Mavericks (aka OS X 10.9) when it is released later this year, though the pricing and availability of the upgrade hasn't been confirmed yet. The iMac comes with a standard one year warranty.

Performance

The iMac 27in we reviewed had 32GB of DDR3 1,600MHz memory, a third-generation Intel Core i7-3770 processor, 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 675MX discrete graphics, and 256GB of Flash Storage instead of a hard drive. As a result, this system tore through some of our benchmark tests. It managed a dead heat with the 4th-generation Intel Core-equipped Dell XPS 27 Touch on the Handbrake video encoder test and the Photoshop CS6 test. Both were over a minute faster than the mobile processor-based Lenovo Horizon.

The iMac also turned in quite playable scores on the Heaven 3D gaming benchmark test. The iMac managed a barely playable 31 frames per second (fps) at native resolution, but when stepped down to a more reasonable 1,920 x 1,080 resolution, the iMac returned a playable 55 fps. This tells us that this iMac is capable of playing strenuous AAA game titles fairly easily. You should be able to find a sweet spot between a good resolution and solid rendering quality.

With more memory and flash storage, this iMac is a bit faster than the system we reviewed last year, particularly on Photoshop CS6 and CineBench, which renders 3D using the CPU and system memory instead of the graphics card.

Verdict

The Apple iMac 27in (with Nvidia GeForce GTX 675M) certainly makes a case for itself. Of course, you'll certainly get better performance when you max out the memory and have an SSD on board, as our review model did. If you're a Mac maven who already has external Thunderbolt storage, this is a good intermediary upgrade until the Mac Pro ships later in 2013.

Essentially, if you're in the market for a high-end Mac, this is a powerhouse system, but the price tag is high, particularly when you throw in the upgrades that our review machine benefited from (the GTX 675M-equipped range starts from lower, at £1,699, in fact).

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Apple iMac 27in (GeForce GTX 675M)

Processor Family

Intel Core i7

Storage Type

SSD

Graphics Card

Nvidia GeForce GTX 675MX

Screen Size

27in

Monitor Type

LCD Widescreen

RAM

32GB

Type

Business, All-in-one

Storage Capacity (as Tested)

256GB

Operating System

Mac OS X 10.8