Apple’s latest refresh of the iMac range has brought with it some welcome changes, including Intel’s Sandy Bridge processor technology and the new Thunderbolt port. These additions are provided for a few hundred less than the previous iMac generation, so with a good price and some new internals, is this the best desktop around?
Apple’s update to last year’s 27 inch iMac doesn’t present a lot of changes that are immediately obvious. As before, the widescreen display is housed in an aluminium body, which also contains all the internals. The video camera remains at the top of the screen, and Apple has updated this to a FaceTime HD camera capable of recording in 720p.
On the rear of the iMac, you’ve still got plenty of ports, including a headphone port, audio line-in, four USB 2.0 ports, Firewire 800, Gigabit Ethernet, and two Mini DisplayPorts which are now called “Thunderbolt” ports. These can send data to and from other devices, such as Thunderbolt-equipped sound cards and hard drives.
Under the hood, the processor and video capabilities have received the most upgrades, with new technology from Intel and AMD increasing the speed substantially. The new CPU choices on the 27 inch iMac include either a 2.7GHz Intel Core i5 or a 3.1GHz Intel Core i5, both of which take advantage of the Sandy Bridge technology unveiled at the beginning of 2011. Graphics has been pushed to a new AMD (ATI) Radeon HD6970M with 1GB of memory, an upgrade on the 512MB 4850 that appeared on the previous model.
There’s still plenty of storage and headroom, with 4GB of RAM for the 21.5 and 27 inch models – and a 1TB (1024GB) hard drive built into the new desktop. For more storage and speed, there’s the option of a 256GB solid state drive. The DVD burner is unchanged – still no Blu-ray – and the SD card slot on the side of the iMac is now SDXC memory card compatible, with capacities greater than 64GB supported.
You also get to choose which mouse you get with your new iMac: a wireless Magic Mouse or the thin Magic Trackpad.
While our review sample wasn’t the top spec on offer, it did feature an Intel Core i5 clocked at 3.1GHz, with all of the other fix-ins mentioned above. We tested it using iMovie and games known to push the performance of the new parts. We also trialled it for general all-round office activities and web surfing.
On the gaming side, we ran two games known to tax computer systems: Valve’s “Portal 2” and Blizzard’s “StarCraft II”.
In “Portal 2”, the iMac 2 shined, never skipping a beat and offering excellent visuals on the high-resolution 2560 x 1440 screen. “StarCraft II” also ran beautifully, even when we pushed the graphics to the highest settings.
It’s a seriously top-notch experience playing games on the new 27 inch iMac. With performance like this, you can expect this computer to move with the times as new games are released over the next year or two.
Using the machine for general productivity duties, we were treated to solid performance on everything we attempted. There was virtually no lag as we switched between applications, surfed websites, and watched videos. The speed increase provided by the new processor was evident with iMovie, which took a little under three seconds to load. This is seriously impressive.
In truth, this iMac is impressive all-round. We’re not even inclined to complain about the glossy screen which, like past iMacs, can gather a lot of reflections from its surroundings. Of course, we would like to see a Blu-ray drive, USB 3.0, or eSATA port, but as these technologies aren’t in Apple’s playbook, we just have to suck it up. Still, it’s a drag that, without any Thunderbolt-equipped hard drives, the only hard drive connections available for the iMac right now are the relatively old USB 2.0 and Firewire ports.