Close to perfection: Apple’s late-2015 27 inch iMac reviewed
4.7Overall Score
Price (RRP): $2799 (starting price); Review unit was $3599; Manufacturer: Apple

It’s only been a year, but Apple’s 27 inch 5K iMac is already in its third version, with an updated processor, graphics chip, and even a new screen. Is this the ultimate all-in-one, and the last desktop you’ll ever need?

Features

Apple’s 27 inch iMac is undergoing a refresh, and if you’re shopping for a new computer, there’s a good chance this is one you’ll want to consider.

This time, Apple is taking the design it has had for a few years now with an ultra-thin aluminium chassis and updating the important bits, providing a new processor, new graphics chip, and refreshed screen.

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New to the computer is a choice of Intel quad-core processors, starting with the quad-core Core i5 clocked at 3.2GHz, configurable all the way up to a 4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7. These processors sit under the sixth-generation of Intel processors, also known by the codename of “Skylake”.

This processor works alongside 8GB of RAM standard, though this is configurable to 32GB RAM, while the hard drive choices include either a 1TB 7200RPM hard drive, a 1 or 2TB Fusion drive (conventional hard drive with solid state memory to speed it up), or choices of solid-state drives.

Regardless of what you choose, Apple’s Mac OS X 10.11 “El Capitan” is found on the computer out of the box.

Graphics for the computer will be handled by either an AMD Radeon R9 M380, M390, M395, or M395X depending on the model you opt for, with either 2 or 4GB graphics RAM.

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Connection options are standard for an Apple iMac, however, with wireless handled via 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0, while wired ports are found on the back, providing four USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt 2 ports, one Gigabit Ethernet port, one SDXC card slot, and a single 3.5mm headset jack for your headphones and microphone.

You don’t necessarily need a microphone, either, because along the front, you’ll find a FaceTime HD camera sitting above the display, with two microphones and stereo speakers built into the aluminium body of the 27 inch iMac.

Finally, there’s the screen, and this is a 27 inch In-Plane Switching (IPS) display offering a resolution of 5120×2880, which technically constitutes the 5K resolution Apple mentions in the model name.

Apple provides both a keyboard and mouse in the box, with the new Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse 2 included by default in the box, complete with a Lightning cable.

The iMac reviewed in this article was equipped with a 3.3GHz Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, a 2TB Fusion Drive, and AMD’s Radeon R9 M385 graphics processor with 2GB RAM. Based on these specifications, the iMac we’re reviewed is priced at $3599.

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Performance

Laptops and notebooks may serve most of the population, but there are plenty of people out there that prefer the stability of the desktop. Bigger, more powerful, and designed generally not to bet moved, the desktop isn’t for everyone, now that laptops are almost as powerful as these once massively faster juggernauts.

In recent years, this power shift has caused the desktop to take a bit of a backseat to the laptop, but with all-in-ones now taking over from the traditional monitor-less desktop, some people — particularly those who love a big screen — are returning to the desk for a big machine they don’t necessarily have to or want to move.

Apple’s iMac is probably the leader in this category, and ever since the first one arrived in 1998, you could see that Apple was on a path to change the desktop category.

Apple has certainly introduced quite a lot of improvements to it over the year, as well, with aluminium one-piece bodies, Fusion Drive hybrid hard drives, and last year’s Retina 5K display boasting more pixels in a 27 inch screen than an all-in-one has ever held.

This year, we’ve already seen one refresh of the unit as Apple embraced the fifth-generation Intel Core processors earlier on, and now that Intel has rushed ahead with a sixth generation, Apple is ready, too.

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That’s part of what you’ll find in the late-2015 iMac 27 inch with Retina 5K display, and now it’s no longer just one variant of the 27 inch iMac that gets this screen, but every 27 inch iMac across the board, making it easy to pick a new big iMac again and basing the experience solely on performance.

Let’s talk performance, though, because in the new generation of Apple’s iMac, that’s part of the reason someone would look at upgrading.

We need to be real for a moment, though, and say that given there’s so little change between the early-2015 iMac with Intel’s fifth-generation (Broadwell) and this one with Intel’s sixth-generation (Skylake), we wouldn’t recommend upgrading from the previous generation to the new one. There’d be little to no reason to do so, and the performance increases would be marginal.

That being said, performance was stellar on the Intel Core i5 we tested on, with the 3.3GHz processor cruising along with no problems and working with the 8GB RAM that Apple equips the machine by default. Paired with Apple’s latest operating system — Mac OS X 10.11 “El Capitan” — and everything just purrs, though good luck getting the computer to really feel like it’s working hard.

Thanks to Intel’s improvements to the processing technology, the iMac 27 for late 2015 handles its own without any issues, and that’s great news for the photo editors, filmmakers, and creative types keen to have the next best thing to a Mac Pro without spending the five grand minimum not including the screen.

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Testing it with our benchmarking software, we found the machine flies, and while Apple’s Fusion drive technology doesn’t include the super slick Samsung M2 SSD inside, the drive is still fairly fast, offering a good 2TB of storage interchanging files to an extra bit of flash memory to speed up the system where you need it.

Games may struggle, that said, though not for the reasons you expect. Rather, the massive resolution and new system configuration may end up playing havoc with the titles, which is what we found with “Bioshock Infinite” when it crashed every time we tried to launch it. That’s not necessarily indicative of every game out there, and testing both “Poker Night at the Inventory 2” and “This War of Mine” found no problems whatsoever, with the AMD Radeon M395 in our review model showing some pretty good results.

If your game suffers, it could be something that is patched later on. Overall, however, the iMac with Skylake offers a solid experience, and that’s partly something Mac OS X 10.11 can be thanked for.

A little cleaner, a little quicker, and a little better seems to be the way we’re describing this one, and while it’s a free update for Mac owners, it runs all the more nicely on the new hardware.

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Apple is also bringing its new accessories to the iMac, and that’s a good thing.

Open the box of the late-2015 iMac and you’ll find two new wireless devices waiting for you, with the Magic Keyboard 2 and the Magic Mouse 2.

Little about the latter of these has changed, with a slightly different form, some better tracking on the bottom, and no need for AA batteries, letting you recharge the mouse directly from a Lightning cable found in the box.

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The keyboard on the other hand, now that has changed.

In the previous generation of the keyboard, Apple had an increased gradient to write on, and that was partly because of the batteries, with two AAs loaded into a small barrel that sat at the top of the keyboard.

New keyboard on the left, old on the right.

New keyboard on the left, old on the right.

This new version of the keyboard doesn’t need that, as Apple has ditched the replaceable batteries altogether and gone with a built-in battery similar to its phones and tablets, with the entire thing — much like the new Magic Mouse — recharged from a Lightning cable included in the box.

Plug it in to pair wirelessly, and provided the keyboard is on (switch on the front), you can unplug it and it will be properly paired to your computer. Easy.

Plug it in to pair wirelessly, and provided the keyboard is on (switch on the front), you can unplug it and it will be properly paired to your computer. Easy.

Both accessories will pair immediately with the iMac once you plug them into the computer, with Bluetooth on Mac OS X 10.11 able to find the right information about its accessories, connect to them, and let you unplug the devices practically immediately once they start operating on the wireless technology.

This can happen from the setup screen (which is handy since that’s where you’ll start with a brand new iMac), and while you can use the keyboard with the Lightning cable, you don’t need to, as both are as wireless as they get.

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There is also a slight design change to the keyboard, too, with lower keys that still have a little travel as you type, though not as much as the regular Mac keyboard normally offers. Apple tells us this is because of a newer smaller scissor keyboard mechanism which is different from the butterfly mechanism used on the ultra-thin Apple MacBook.

Despite the change, the keyboard is still quite comfortable to type on, even though it feels like the keys aren’t going as far when you press down quickly.

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And then there’s the screen, and that has changed in this version of the iMac as well.

If you can believe it, this is the third 27 inch iMac we’ve reviewed this year, and in this model, is really feels like that Apple has complete the whole “third times the charm” saying, even if the other two were pretty stellar to begin with.

Now it might not look a lot different, and really, to the naked eye, there’s very little difference between the models until you look on the inside.

But this screen manages to be a little different, with Apple moving to a slightly different variant of the iMac display.

Technically, Apple is still offering a 5K 5120×2880 screen, a resolution which packs in a stunning 14.7 million pixels and a pixel clarity of 217 pixels per inch, but Apple has also changed a few things.

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For starters. the regular white LEDs used in many monitors with a fair amount of blue in them have been skipped, replaced with red-green phosphor LEDs which allow more red and green to come out, and in turn allow more colours to be seen.

The screens are also calibrated out of the box, and images literally pop. Apple calls this a “P3” display due to the amount of colour it supports, and we wish more screens were like it.

It’s not enough to note that this is a sharp screen, though it’s definitely that. The visuals here are simply stunning, and whether you’re looking at photos, video, websites, games, or even text — yes, text can pop — you will be impressed with the visual level of clarity on offer in the 27 inch iMac.

Simply put: the new iMac is almost perfect. Seriously.

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We’re not mincing words on this computer, because with a bump in specs and more of that Apple excellence in design, the late-2015 iMac is mind-blowingly close to being perfect.

But it isn’t, and it’s a lack of change and a continuation with a design flaw that has just skip out on that perfect five star score.

That first complaint comes from the ports on the back, with an older connection technology being pushed on a product months after Apple introduced its replacement to the world.

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For this, we’re talking about Thunderbolt 3, the next generation of Apple and Intel’s high-speed connection technology that can not only provide super fast 40Gbps transfer rates, but even provide 4K video out and the ability to power a computer. Thunderbolt 3 even relies on a universal port shape and technology, with the USB Type C port the same connection used for Thunderbolt 3.

Now we don’t expect Apple to use Thunderbolt 3 to power the new iMac, as that would be insane. The iMac has much higher power requirements than the MacBook, so leaving a jug plug in as the main plug for the iMac makes more sense.

But given that Thunderbolt 3 is newer, better, and faster, and has been on another Mac computer for a good six or seven months, we’re surprised that it hasn’t been included on the new iMac.

What it seems like Apple has done is to just recycle the previous iMac casings and throw the new hardware inside, because the ports on the back are exactly the same as they have been on previous iMac 27 inch computers.

An SD card slot, four USB 3.0, and then two Thunderbolt 2.0 ports. Why not just make these Thunderbolt 3.0?

An SD card slot, four USB 3.0, and then two Thunderbolt 2.0 ports. Why not just make these Thunderbolt 3.0?

And because it’s the same case, it also means Apple’s poorly placed SD card slot is in the same location, with an SD slot on the back in that hard to reach spot.

Want to check out the memory from your camera? Take the SD card out and reach around to the back of the computer where you’ll have to plug it in.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: this is one of the more frustrating design elements of Apple’s ultra-thin iMac designs, and ever since the company put the SD card slot there, we’ve been complaining about it.

Guess what? We still are.

It may well be one of the thinnest desktop computers out there, but reaching around the back to put in and take out an SD card still isn't fun.

It may well be one of the thinnest desktop computers out there, but reaching around the back to put in and take out an SD card still isn’t fun.

Conclusion

As close to perfection as it gets, Apple’s 27 inch iMac is still the best all-in-one out there, and the upgrade to Intel’s latest and greatest only makes this better.

Simply put, Apple’s 27 inch iMac is now faster, more capable, and offers a slight update to a screen that already had the potential to blow our eyelids off from how amazingly clear and sharp it could be.

While we wish Apple would move that SD card slot on the back, and it would have been nice to see Apple’s Thunderbolt 3 ports make an appearance, there’s no doubt that Apple’s iMac is the best all-in-one on the planet right now, and well worth a look if you’re in the market for a big screened desktop. Highly recommended.

Close to perfection: Apple’s late-2015 27 inch iMac reviewed
Price (RRP): $2799 (starting price); Review unit was $3599; Manufacturer: Apple
Still just about the most beautiful screen you’ll see on a desktop computer; Super bright screen; Very fast; Amazingly thin; Supports 802.11ac WiFi for speedy network connections; Arrives with new versions of the Apple peripherals; New keyboard and mouse also pack in a spare Lightning cable, handy if you’re an iPhone or iPad owner;
No Thunderbolt 3 or USB Type C; Apple’s SD card placement on the back is still a pain to work with;
Overall
Features
Value for money
Performance
Ease of Use
Design
4.7Overall Score
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