Saturday, November 6, 2010

Apple iMac 27in review

Apple iMac 27in review

The 27in iMac was gorgeous when it first launched and it's still gorgeous now. Sure, Apple has revamped the line with new processors and the latest graphics cards, but it's hard to look past the pure aesthetics of the thing when it's sat on your desk. There just isn't another all-in-one that comes close.
Whether it's the glossy blackness of the edge-to-edge screen when it's switched off, or the unbroken finish of the precision-forged aluminium shell - barely 60mm at its thickest point with everything including the power supply inside - it's as much a work of art as it is a piece of technology. And it comes with Apple's wireless keyboard and Magic Mouse to complete the look.
The screen remains this iMac's finest feature, with its 27in diagonal, its LED backlight for greater efficiency and its 2,560 x 1,440 resolution. We've long bemoaned the way manufacturers use the same Full HD resolution from 22in TFTs right up to 27in monsters, and Apple's big display just emphasises that point: the extra sharpness and desktop space soon become invaluable.
Apple iMac 27in
It's an IPS panel, so viewing angles are excellent and the sheer vibrancy of its colours would be tough to match in the world of professional monitors, never mind most all-in-one PCs. Gradients are smooth and detail can be picked out in the darkest blacks and lightest whites, and the 350cd/m2 backlight is even and tremendously powerful.
The main changes are predominantly internal, and they boost this iMac's potential. The old Core 2 Duo has finally been replaced by a 3.2GHz Core i3-550 in this base model, and the graphics chip has been upgraded to ATI's Radeon HD 5670. If you're willing to add £250 inc VAT to the price you can opt for a quad-core 2.8GHz Core i5-760 and Radeon HD 5750, and either model can be further configured via Apple's web store, but for the majority of users the cheaper option offers ample power.
Our benchmarks are Windows-based, so for the purposes of comparison we had to install Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit via Boot Camp - which, incidentally, ran with none of the graphical errors that plagued the last 27in iMac at launch. In our 2D benchmarks it coasted to an impressive score of 1.89, putting it ahead of the majority of all-in-ones we've tested - only the business-focused Lenovo ThinkCentre M90z has it beaten for application performance

We also took the opportunity to run our Crysis tests on the new graphics card, and it coped reasonably well: 44fps at 1,600 x 900 and Medium settings isn't too bad, although when we pushed up the resolution to Full HD or above, we had to stay at those Medium settings to keep things playable. Keen gamers should opt for the faster ATI card if necessary.
But 3D gaming isn't a huge Mac OS deal-breaker, and the level of performance and that awesome screen mean this Apple works equally well as an everyday work system or for home entertainment. The 1TB hard disk is plenty for a big music and video collection, and the redesigned 17W speakers are loud and well-rounded enough to put most other all-in-ones in their place.
The one big issue we have in this regard is the iMac's continuing lack of a Blu-ray option. Adding one would cost Apple in terms of both software and hardware, and it would take people away from buying movies through the iTunes store, but it's hard to see the iMac as a complete entertainment hub without it, especially with such a high-resolution screen.
Apple iMac 27in
There are a few niggles in other areas too, with one burning brighter than the rest. That design is the iMac's greatest draw, but it also means there are a lot of hot components crammed inside a thin chassis with little ventilation. Touch the top to tilt the screen and it'll smart; slide your hand across to the top-left corner - where the power supply sits - and you'll find it's roasting. It didn't crash at any point during our testing, but we'd be wary of pushing it hard for long periods.
That's all part of Apple's insistence that an external power supply would ruin the aesthetic - we disagree - and the clean design annoys at times. As usual, the four USB 2 ports wouldn't look pretty in any useful position so they're stuck awkwardly round the back, along with the power button. The mini-DisplayPort connector can work as an output or input, but there's no way to just have the screen on - if you want to output the picture from another device the whole system will be drawing power throughout.
But for once, we can't come down too hard on Apple for what is commonly the biggest sticking point: the price. The A-Listed Sony VAIO L13 costs a similar amount and offers Blu-ray, yet has a smaller 24in screen, a Core 2 Duo processor, and nowhere near the same visual punch as the iMac. And when you consider that a 27in monitor with such a high resolution will currently set you back the best part of a grand, this beautiful, powerful all-in-one looks worth every penny.
Author: David Bayon


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