27-inch Apple iMac £2179
15th Jan 2013 | 21:45
Does Apple's largest-screen 2012 Mac put in a suitably big performance?
The new 21.5-inch Apple iMacs have been on sale since the November 2012 refresh, but we had to wait around a month before the larger, 27-inch models hit the shelves.
They're certainly worth waiting for. Packed with new technology and boasting an exciting new form factor, the late 2012 27-inch Apple iMacs are incredibly stylish and have a performance to match.
The 27-inch iMac was first introduced in the late 2009 refresh. Numerous Windows PCs boasting a similar all-in-one form factor with a large-format display have sprung up since, with some proving more successful than others.
One of the better recent releases is Dell's XPS One 27 Touch, a powerful machine that costs less than even the cheapest 27-inch iMac. The HP Z1 WM429EA has an excellent build quality and great IPS screen, but is expensive for its performance.
Sony's Vaio L series all-in-one PC is very stylish and boasts a Core i7 processor, but at 24 inches, its screen isn't as big as the 27-inch iMac's.
As is the norm for recent iMac refreshes, the 2012 range offers two 21.5-inch releases and two 27-inch models. Off the shelf, they all boast Core i5 processors, 8GB of RAM and 1TB hard drives.
The model on test here takes advantage of some of Apple's customisation options offered through the Apple Online Store. Based on the more expensive of the two 27-inch iMacs, its processor has been upgraded from a 3.2GHz quad core Intel Core i5 to a 3.4GHz quad core Intel Core i7.
The Nvidia GeForce GTX 675MX 1GB GDDR5 graphics processor has also been boosted to a GTX 680MX with 2GB, and we swapped its 1TB hard drive for a new Apple 1TB Fusion Drive.
Memory remains unchanged at 8GB of 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM, but unlike the 21.5-inch models, the 27-inch iMacs can be user-upgraded. They can also take a maximum of 32GB, compared to the 21.5-inch iMacs' 16GB.
This upgraded version of the 2012 27-inch iMac is priced at £2,179/AU$2,889/US$2,599.
Like all new Macs, the 2012 iMacs come supplied with Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion and the latest version of Apple's iLife software suite.
As standard, they're supplied with a Magic Mouse and a wireless Bluetooth keyboard that has no numeric keypad. Order on the Apple Online Store and you can replace the keyboard with a full-sized USB model and/or replace the Magic Mouse with a Magic Trackpad, free of charge.
The most exciting thing about the 2012 27-inch iMacs is the new technologies Apple has packed in. The casing is a significant departure from the previous generation, adopting a beautifully slim look.
At its edges, it's just 5mm (0.2 inches) thick, which makes it around 80% thinner than the previous design. The iMac as a whole is around 40% smaller by volume.
Naturally, there's a bulge in the centre of the rear of the display - you could hardly hide the iMac's components in a casing that's 5mm thick throughout. But it's so cleverly designed you need to see it in profile before you realise the bulge is even there. From any other angle, the new iMac looks as thin as its edges. It's this attention to design detail that really sets Apple computers apart from the crowd.
The new iMac's screen has also been revamped. It's still an LED-backlit display with IPS technology and a pixel resolution of 2560 x 1440, but several key enhancements have really boosted its performance.
The display is now fully laminated, which means the LCD sits against the covering, eliminating a 2mm gap and preventing reflections on the inside of the glass. This has never before been attempted on a screen this size.
A new plasma deposition process, more commonly used for smaller surfaces such as camera lenses and fighter pilots' visors, means an anti-reflective coating can be applied very precisely, in an extremely thin layer to preserve the integrity of the colours. The new display cuts reflections by around 75%.
Apple's new Fusion Drive, which is available as a custom option on the Apple Online Store, augments the traditional hard drive with 128GB of solid state storage.
The operating system and your most often accessed files are stored on the speedy solid state section, while everything else is kept on the main hard drive. This hybrid solution gives near-SSD speeds without compromising capacity. The model under review here has a 1TB Fusion Drive, but a 3TB version is also available.
If you prefer to stick with the off-the-shelf drives, you get a 1TB HDD that runs at 7,200rpm. This is welcome news considering the 21.5-inch iMacs were downgraded to 5,400rpm drives for this generation.
All the new iMacs use Ivy Bridge processors, the third generation of Intel's Core-i series. These boast Intel HD Graphics 4000 integrated graphics.
Little has changed around the back. The new iMac still has two Thunderbolt ports, Gigabit Ethernet and an SDXC card reader. Its four USB ports are now high-speed USB 3.0.
The FireWire 800 port has gone, but you can buy adaptors and use your FireWire peripherals in the Thunderbolt ports.
With the 2012 refresh, the iMac joins the Mac mini and the MacBook Pro with Retina Display in losing its optical drive. If you still want to use CDs and DVDs with your iMac, you have to buy an external solution such as Apple's USB SuperDrive.
This customised 27-inch iMac has a powerful 3.4GHz Core i7 processor, one of Intel's new Ivy Bridge chips. At times of high needs, its Turbo Boost feature can reallocate unused resources to temporarily increase its clock speed to up to 3.9GHz.
It also has a Hyper Threading feature, which enables two threads to run on each of its four cores, giving eight virtual cores.
This powerful processor and the 1TB Fusion Drive give the new iMac a huge advantage in our Xbench test, which rates the CPU and storage. It performs over twice as well as the 27-inch 3.4GHz quad core Intel Core i7 iMac from mid-2011.
Its new Ivy Bridge processor proved its worth in our Cinebench tests too, giving an 8.4% increase over last year's similar model.
With Apple's Fusion Drive, you no longer have to choose between a hard disk drive that gives plenty of storage space for your money but is slower than solid state storage, or a speedy SSD that has a massive performance advantage but a much higher price per GB.
A Fusion drive gives the best of both worlds. By storing the operating system on the 128GB flash section, it boots up to 70% faster.
In our tests, a clean install of Mountain Lion took around 20 seconds to boot, an excellent time. Regularly used apps and files are also stored on the solid state section, and moved back to the hard drive if usage falls, to be replaced by more frequently accessed data.
Unlike the 21.5-inch iMacs, which are limited to a 1TB Fusion Drive, you can opt for a 3TB version for the 27-inch models. A word of warning, though. For some reason, you can't install Windows through Boot Camp on a 3TB Fusion Drive.
The new screen technology is amazing. In a reasonably sympathetically lit room, there are hardly any distracting reflections. As a result, on-screen images look more lively and vivid - you could almost reach out and touch them. Colours are very rich too, with glowing primary shades and deep, solid blacks.
The 2012 iMac's 8GB of memory is double the 4GB we got with the last generation. The 27-inch version can take up to 32GB, and unlike the 21.5-inch models, you can install your own at home - there's an access hatch in the back of the casing.
The new iMac has had an audio makeover, too. The speakers are louder and omni-directional, producing a much bigger sound stage than you'd think possible from a computer's internal drivers. Adding external speakers is still an option, but if you choose not to, you're no longer limited to tinny audio. Dual mics with beam forming technology do much to cut down background noise when making FaceTime calls.
Xbench (CPU and Hard Drive): 449.75
Cinebench 10 Single core: 5840
Cinebench 10 Multi-core: 22404
iTunes encoding: 454 seconds
Movie encoding (iMovie): 125 seconds
Doom 3: 229.5 FPS
Call of Duty 4: 88.8fps
Boot Time: c. 20 seconds
The new 2012 iMac isn't as big a redesign as the switch from CRT displays to flatscreen with the G4 iMac, or the move from a white polycarbonate body to the aluminium casing, but it's still a pretty radical change.
A basket of new technologies give us a massive reduction in screen reflection, a powerful new hybrid storage solution and meaty Ivy Bridge processors. Attention to detail is evident throughout, with stronger mics and speakers capping some very welcome across-the-board improvements.
On the down side, we've lost the optical drive and the FireWire 800 port.
The new screen is a sight to behold. With distracting reflections kept to a minimum, the images really leap out and grab you. Photographers, artists and video editors will love it, and it's great for watching movies.
The stylishly thin casing looks set to become a design classic. The bulge housing the computer components is brilliantly disguised, making the bodywork look incredibly thin from almost every angle.
Apple's Fusion Drive is an excellent halfway house between an SSD and a HDD, giving great boot times and fast access speeds without compromising on capacity. We hope it's soon made available across the Mac range, instead of only in the new iMacs and Mac minis.
The powerful new Ivy Bridge processor and Nvidia graphics are welcome too, as is the switch to USB 3.0 for all four of its USB ports.
There really isn't much to dislike here. Even though most software is downloaded these days, through the Mac App Store or developers' own websites, not everyone has made the switch to digital media for music and movies.
If you prefer to buy a CD and rip it to iTunes, for example, you need an external optical drive. This isn't a huge problem - Apple's own USB SuperDrive is bus-powered, sits comfortably on the foot of your iMac and isn't that expensive, but it's still mildly annoying.
The FireWire 800 port is gone too, so if you still use FireWire peripherals, you need to buy a Thunderbolt to FireWire adaptor.
The 27-inch 2012 iMac has real style, but it doesn't sacrifice function to form. Its screen is excellent, has lots of power under the hood and the Fusion Drive option is a great alternative to a speedy-but-expensive SSD or a capacitous-but-slow HDD.
Some may bemoan the lack of an optical drive, but for our money, a portable solution is more than sufficient considering how little they're used nowadays. Overall, the new iMac is a triumph.