27-inch Apple iMac £1599
6th Nov 2013 | 16:45
Apple's large-screen all-in-one desktop Mac gets some welcome late 2013 improvements
The 2013 refresh comes less than a year after 2012's radical redesign. But while last year's iMacs brought us a new, ultra-slim form factor, this year's upgrades are all internal.
The Ivy Bridge processors are upgraded to Intel's new Haswell chips, the graphics chips have been upgraded to Nvidia 7-series GPUs and wireless connectivity has been boosted from Wi-Fi 802.11n to 802.11ac.
But on the outside, they remain exactly the same as last year's iMacs.
Not that this is a bad thing.
The 2012 redesign brought us a second Thunderbolt port and a redesigned screen that's fully laminated, losing the 2mm gab between the screen and its covering and an anti-reflective coating added using a new plasma deposition process, allowing it to be applied very thinly, for greatly reduced reflections without affecting color reproduction.
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Audio was also improved, with omnidirectional speakers and dual beam-forming mics. Its new form factor meant the optical drive had to be dropped, though, and neither the 2012 redesign nor the 2013 refresh gave us a Retina screen.
The 2013 refresh once again brings us four models, the two 27-inch iMacs reviewed here, and two 21.5-inch versions. All are upgradeable using the custom options on Apple's online store, but post-sale upgrade options are extremely limited.
Naturally, the iMac isn't the only slimline all-in-one computer out there. The Scan 3XS Mirage AIO245 costs over £1,000 (about US$1,600, AU$1,600) for the entry-level model, which is not much cheaper than the cheapest 21-inch iMac, but it features a larger 23.46-inch screen and a wide range of configuration options.
Lenovo's IdeaCentre B540p starts at around £600 (about US$1,000, AU$1,000). It has a 23-inch touchscreen panel and 3D capabilities. The Acer Aspire 5600U costs a little more at just over £750 (about US$1,200, AU$1,200), but it's a great family media centre, and the Asus Transformer AiO P1801 is a hybrid tablet and desktop with two separate processors, one running Windows 8 and one running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.
For £600 (about US$1,000, AU$1,000), you could buy a Lenovo ThinkCentre M92p Tiny. It's not an all-in-one, but the PC is extremely small. If you prefer to stick with a Mac, Apple's other desktop option is the Mac mini. This small form factor machine is the cheapest way to own a Mac, though it doesn't come supplied with a display, a keyboard or a mouse.
The top-of-the-range Mac Pro isn't currently on sale in Europe and is about to be overhauled with a new release, so now is not the best time to invest in one.
The two 27-inch iMacs use quad core Intel Core i5 processors out of the box. The cheaper one has a 3.2GHz chip, while the more expensive model runs at 3.4GHz. These are up from 2.9GHz and 3.2GHz on last year's 27-inch iMacs, also quad core Intel Core i5s.
At times of high processing needs, power can be redistributed using the chips' Turbo Boost feature, temporarily boosting the clock speeds to 3.6GHz and 3.8GHz respectively.
If you choose the high-end 27-inch model, you can upgrade the processor to a 3.5GHz Core i7 for £190 (about US$300, AU$320). The key advantage of this processor is it offers Hyper Threading, whereby each of the processors' four cores can run two threads for eight virtual cores, a feature the quad core Core i5 CPUs lack.
For graphics, the new large-screen all-in-ones have Nvidia GeForce GT 755M with 1GB video memory and Nvidia GeForce GTX 775M with 2GB respectively, up from GeForce GTX 660M with 512MB and GeForce GTX 675MX with 1GB.
Hard drives remain the same; 1TB out of the box, using the faster 7,200rpm drives instead of the 5,400rpm models seen in the 21.5-inch iMacs. If you order from Apple's online store, you can upgrade to a 3TB hard drive, a 1TB or 3TB Fusion Drive, which combines a hard drive with a solid state section for regularly-accessed data, or a 256GB, 512GB or 1TB solid state drive.
Memory remains the same, at 8GB, but again you can configure your iMac for 16GB or 32GB if you order online. Unlike the 21.5-inch models, the memory stick slots in a 27-inch iMac are user-accessible, so it's possible to upgrade it yourself after purchase.
Don't expect to upgrade too much else, though. The iMac was never designed for user-upgradeability, and the slimline form factor introduced in 2012 is especially problematic as the screen is glued to the bezel instead of being held in place by magnets, making it difficult for even specialists to get at its components.
For wireless connectivity, the new 27-inch iMacs offer Bluetooth 4.0, and also WiFi ac, which is up to three times as fast as the previous generation's WiFi n. You need to be connected to a Wireless ac-compatible router, though.
The 2013 large-screen iMacs cost £1,599 (about US$2,60, AU$2,670) and £1,749 (about US$2,840, AU$2,900) respectively, which is £100 (about US$160k, AU$170) more for the entry-level model and £50 (US$80, AU$80) extra for the high-end release. The 21.5-inch models are also up by £50 each.
Previously, the lower-priced 27-inch iMac and the more expensive 21.5-inch model were built to the same specifications - only the screen size differed. This changed with a slightly better graphics card in 2012, but now the two iMacs have parted company completely, and no longer offer processor parity either. Perhaps this is why the cheaper 27-inch iMac is £100 more with this release, while the other three models only went up by £50.
As you'd therefore expect, the 3.2GHz 27-inch iMac proved incrementally faster than the 2.9GHz 21-inch model. Our Doom 3 frame rate benchmark took a modest step up to 232.6 FPS, and using all four cores, and its Cinebench score was over 6% faster. Comparing it to the similar model from as recent as the mid-2010 upgrade, it was over 123% faster in the Cinebench multi-core test, which just goes to show how much the iMacs have increased in power over the last few years.
Comparing the 3.2GHz iMac with a 3.4GHz model with a Fusion Drive installed really shows the benefits offered by Apple's innovative hybrid solution. In our Xbench test, which looks at CPU and storage performance, the 3.2GHz model scored an impressive 199.50. But this score was trounced by the 3.4GHz Fusion Drive model, which managed 503.30. In a similar vein, the non-Fusion iMac's score using the Unigine Heaven 4.0 benchmarking tool was 501, but the iMac with a Fusion Drive and superior graphics scored 1165.
The benefits of upgrading to a Core i7 processor should not be overlooked either. Comparing the 3.4GHz Core i5 iMac we tested with a 3.5GHz Core i7 model, the Core i7 scored 17% higher in our Cinebench 3D rendering test with all available cores in play.
This is because although the processor is only 0.1GHz faster than the off-the-shelf Core i5, the Core i7 offers a Hyper Threading feature, whereby two threads can run on each of its four cores, for eight virtual cores.
Whatever the components and clock speeds, the new iMac is also gorgeous to use. The new screen offers excellent color reproduction and viewing angles, and it's a lot less reflective than pre-2012 models, which is important if you're working in an unevenly-lit room.
Its in-built speakers can't match a pair of quality external speakers, but they compare extremely well next to those offered by other monitors or all-in-one computers, and the new wireless ac compatibility brings faster, more stable WiFi networking to those with a compatible router.
iMac 27-inch, 3.2GHz quad core Intel Core i5, late 2013
Cinebench 10 Single core: 5925
Cinebench 10 Multi-core: 20244
iTunes encoding: 449.7 seconds (USB SuperDrive)
Movie encoding (iMovie): 127.5 seconds
Doom 3: 232.6 FPS
Call of Duty 4: 89.3 FPS
Unigine Heaven 4.0, FPS: 19.9
Unigine Heaven 4.0, Score: 501
NovaBench, Score: 993
NovaBench, Graphics: 259
iMac 27-inch, 3.4GHz quad core Intel Core i5, Fusion Drive, late 2013
Cinebench 10 Single core: 6250
Cinebench 10 Multi-core: 21481
iTunes encoding: 450.3 seconds (USB SuperDrive)
Movie encoding (iMovie): 114 seconds
Doom 3: 247.0 FPS
Call of Duty 4: 89.4 FPS
Unigine Heaven 4.0, FPS: 46.2
Unigine Heaven 4.0, Score: 1165
NovaBench, Score: 1177
NovaBench, Graphics: 402
The late 2013 refresh is far from revolutionary, but coming less than a year after the radical redesign of November 2012, it hardly needed to be. The processors moved over to the new fourth-generation Haswell chips, and these 27-inch models get a small clock speed increase not enjoyed by the 21.5-inch iMacs.
The graphics processors are now Nvidia 7 Series GPUs, and the WiFi is now 802.11ac. If you opt for a solid state or Fusion drive, a PCIe connector is used for a further improvement in speed.
There's plenty to like about the late 2013 27-inch iMacs. The new processors prove their worth in our benchmarking tests, and although the off-the-shelf Core i5s lack a Hyper Threading feature, Turbo Boost gives them a welcome burst of speed when needed.
The new graphics processors are very welcome too, especially as they enjoy double the onboard memory of the previous generation's. Although the optical drive had to be sacrificed for the new slimline design, if you still use optical discs, it's easy to add on an Apple USB SuperDrive, and the external solution is more ergonomic than the pre-2012 iMac's method of mounting them on the side of the panel.
Also, unlike the 21.5-inch iMacs, here you can upgrade the onboard RAM yourself, quickly and easily.
We've few complaints about the 2013 refresh. They're expensive, of course, but not poor value for money. The fact that the cheaper 27-inch model increased in price by more than the rest of the range is offset by its step ahead in processing and graphics power, breaking the spec parity with the more expensive 21.5-inch iMac.
Although being able to add more memory after purchase is welcome, very little else about the 27-inch iMacs can be upgraded. The fact that the screens are now glued to the bezel instead of being held in place with magnets as they were before the 2012 redesign means the latest iMacs are difficult to upgrade even for qualified technicians. This could prove really annoying if your internal hard drive should fail.
The 2013 refresh is a solid, if unremarkable, update for Apple's most popular desktop computer. It wasn't a radical overhaul, but nor did it need to be. Instead, the specifications got a welcome boost while retaining the well received form factor of the previous generation.
The £50 increase in the cost of the more expensive 27-inch model is simply inflationary, while the £100 price hike for the cheaper one is justified by the advances it makes. An excellent refresh.