Apple iMac 27in (Intel Core i5-4670) review

Pros

  • Excellent performance levels
  • Stunningly thin design
  • Impressive low glare display
  • Neat Fusion Drive HDD+SSD combo

Cons

  • No touchscreen
  • No internal upgradability beyond RAM

Though it's mainly a speed bump, the inclusion of the latest fourth-generation Intel Core i5 quad-core processor and Nvidia GeForce GTX 775M Kepler graphics made a world of difference to the Apple iMac 27in (Intel Core i5-4670). Starting at £1,749, this newest iteration costs less than previous iMacs, but it's just as fast, if not faster. Thanks to its improved performance and features, the latest Apple iMac 27in is our first choice in terms of high-end, all-in-one desktops.

Design

The new Apple iMac looks identical to last year's Apple iMac 27in (Late 2012), and no wonder. Apple introduced the new iMac chassis last year, which is still all aluminium and glass, and tapers down to about 5mm on all four edges around the screen. Apple was able to do this by eliminating the built-in DVD SuperDrive, saving quite a bit of space. Apple likewise moved the SD (SDXC) card reader from the side to the back panel. While not a deal-breaker, moving the SD card slot to the back makes it inconvenient for users who simply want to transfer their pictures from their camera to their iMac. In contrast, Dell’s high-end rival, the XPS 27 Touch All-in-One, has a tray-loading DVD burner, and the SD card reader and a selection of ports are on the side – hence the Dell is much thicker along the edge.

The base model of this 27in iMac comes with a 3.4GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, a 1TB (non-Fusion) hard drive, a 2,560 x 1,440 resolution 27in screen, and a GeForce GTX 775M, with a retail price of £1,749. Apple sent us an upgraded model with a 1TB Fusion Drive with a total price of £1,909 (a £160 premium over the base model).

The 1TB Fusion Drive consists of a 1TB 7,200rpm SATA hard drive coupled with a 128GB PCIe flash storage unit. The latter stores OS X and any other system files all the time, while the OS monitors which apps and documents you use often. The system then shifts these often-used files automatically to the flash storage, so they are available without too much waiting time. Less used files and programs are physically stored on the spinning hard drive.

In practice, this means that start-ups and application launches only take seconds, compared with up to a few minutes on older hard-drive-only system. Unlike an HDD+SSD setup on some Windows PCs, users won't have to do any file management themselves; the OS does that for you. The Macintosh HD icon shows all the files on both physical drives, so you don't have to remember if you saved your file to the Flash or to the hard drive.

For more on the Fusion Drive, see our article discussing it in more depth here. Depending on your budget, you can upgrade to a 3TB Fusion Drive, or even forgo the spinning hard drive and configure an iMac with up to a 1TB flash storage drive. You'll pay £800 over the £1,749 base price for the privilege, though.

As expected, the iMac (Intel Core i5-4670) doesn't have too much internal access for the end user. You can buy tools from sites like ifixit.com to get into the system, but like the original Macintosh of mid-1980s vintage, the end user isn't meant to open the iMac and perform upgrades.

The only upgrade available is under a door on the back panel (see above), which exposes a set of four SO-DIMM slots. The system has 8GB installed, with the potential for 32GB total. If you need internal expansion, then systems like the HP Z1 Workstation are a pricey option (starting from £2,400). Granted, the Z1 is an ISV-certified professional workstation that has a premium price for premium features like internal accessibility, a Xeon processor, and Quadro graphics. People who want features like Xeon and Quadro in a Mac would be advised to wait for the upcoming redesigned Mac Pro when that is released, hopefully soon.

Like the previous model, the 27in iMac's screen is a bright IPS display with a 2,560 x 1,440 resolution. This matches the XPS 27 Touch's resolution, and both have far more pixels on the screen than any 27in system with a 1080p screen, like the Acer Aspire 7600U or the semi-portable Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon. The higher resolution screen means that you can show more of a high pixel RAW image or show a full 1080p HD video while still displaying toolbars for editing that video. The iMac's glass is essentially bonded to the IPS panel, so internal reflections are minimised. Though technically the chassis is made of several pieces, the welding technique Apple uses means that the system effectively appears as a single piece. This helps rigidity and contributes to the thinness of the iMac.

Like other Macs, the iMac comes preloaded with iPhoto, iTunes, Mail, and so on. The iMac has a one year warranty. One future-proofing plus is that the iMac can work as a monitor for a future Thunderbolt-equipped Mac. Using one of the two Thunderbolt ports, the iMac's monitor can display video for a MacBook, Mac mini, or other future Mac. You can of course use the Thunderbolt ports and the four USB 3.0 ports for hard drive and peripheral expansion. This ability to use the iMac as a monitor almost makes up for the fact that you will need adapters for DVI, VGA, and HDMI displays in multi-monitor setups. Mini-DisplayPort and Thunderbolt monitors will work natively, of course.

Performance

While the Intel Core i5-4670 processor can't keep up with the Core i7 processors in the previous iMac and the Dell XPS 27 Touch on the CineBench test, it is more than a match for the other systems on other multimedia benchmark tests like Photoshop CS6 and Handbrake. Therefore, this new iMac is, as you'd expect, a good choice for the graphics arts pro or hobbyist. This is partly due to the new Intel architecture, and partly due to the speedy Fusion Drive.

Likewise, the iMac produces playable 3D gaming frame rates on the Heaven benchmark test, due to its enthusiast-level Nvidia GeForce GTX 775M graphics. Essentially, if the game is available on Steam or Apple's App store, you should have no trouble playing it on the iMac, even at native 2,560 x 1,440 resolution.

Verdict

We see again that the Apple iMac 27in (Intel Core i5-4670), with a little judicious use of the configuration tools on the Apple Store website, can leapfrog the competition and regain the top position in the high-end all-in-one desktop arena. It is the top dog due to its class-leading higher than HD resolution screen, performance for the money, and features that help day-to-day use like the Fusion Drive. Since its flash storage is real, accessible storage, it is faster and ultimately more useful than cache SSDs like the one on the Dell XPS 27 Touch.

Also, since it's part of the Apple ecosystem, it doesn't need third-party software to be preloaded as is the case with the Dell XPS 27 Touch. When you're done with work (at approximately the same time as the Dell XPS 27 Touch), the iMac will give you a better playing experience for when you're ready to kick off your shoes. All in all, the newest iMac has enough extra performance to make it our top choice for high-end, all-in-one desktops.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Apple iMac 27in (Intel Core i5-4670)

Processor Family

Intel Core i5

Touchscreen

No

Graphics Card

Nvidia GeForce GTX 775M

Screen Size

27in

Monitor Type

LED Widescreen

RAM

8GB

Type

All-in-one

Storage Capacity

1128GB SSD+HDD (Fusion Drive)

Operating System

Mac OS X