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Apple iMac 27-inch (Core i5) Review

Highs

  • Drool-worthy 27-inch LED-backlit IPS LCD display
  • Top-notch industrial design and build quality
  • Ultra-fast bootup with SSD option
  • Killer gaming performance with Radeon HD 5750
  • Surprisingly ample sound
  • Cool and quiet, even during gaming

Rating

Our Score 8.5
User Score 0

Lows

  • Abysmal keyboard and mouse
  • No analog 5.1-channel outputs, Blu-ray option
  • Pricy relative to similarly equipped PCs
Apple sticks with tried-and-true design but cranks speed to maximum with the latest generation of iMacs.

Speakers

Like laptops, all-in-one computer’s aren’t typically known for sound quality. With just a tiny amount of space to share with motherboards, power inverters and hard drives, speakers typically don’t get much priority.

Fortunately, the iMac’s slim strip of downfiring speakers deliver sound out of proportion with their size, matching what you might get from an inexpensive iPod dock. The humble iMac won’t rock you out the room, but it delivers more than enough volume for video and music, and quality that casual music listeners won’t find much to complain about – as long as bass isn’t a priority.

Testing and Performance

Why drop $750 to add a 256GB solid state drive into an iMac on top of the 1TB drive that comes standard? The same reason hotrodders spend thousands of dollars and countless hours tuning their machines: Speeding away from the light just that much faster. By loading the operating system and applications onto a super-fast SSD, boot times and around-the-desktop performance reach levels a spinning magnetic platter just can’t deliver.

But we’re not talking about thousandths of second here, like on a drag strip. On a cold boot, our iMac reached the desktop in just 19 seconds, obliterating any Windows 7 machine we’ve ever tried, by a significant degree. For instance, the beastly Maingear eX-L 17, which costs nearly $5,000 and leverages dual SSDs in a RAID array, still boots in 38 seconds. As for the iMac, don’t even bother timing its wake up from sleep mode; by the time you can pull out your chair and sit down, it’s ready to roll.

The speed benefits of the SSD also manifest themselves around the desktop, where applications from iTunes to Safari snap open near instantly, creating a desktop that essentially works as fast as you can think.

Though the limited selection of OS X titles limited our typical gaming tests to some degree, performance here shocked us as well… though that might have more to do with the ATI Radeon HD 5750 graphics processor with 1GB of GDDR5 memory than the SSD. Half Life 2: Episode 2 played at full native resolution with every setting except setting to maximum — even 8x anti-aliasing, without breaking so much as a stutter. And by that we mean average framerates over 50 fps, dipping down only as low as 40 fps during intense combat and graphic effects like water. Sure, it’s a game from 2007 riding on the same engine as a game from 2004, but the sheer level of performance remains jaw-dropping, and one more reason we hope Steam continues to make gaming inroads on OS X.

As equipped, the iMac delivers an Xbench score of 310 and Geekbench score of 6501 — both impressive scores that represent a quantifiable leap forward from last year’s offerings. (The best Core 2 Duo iMacs from 2009, for instance, typically scraped at scores just north of 4600 in Geekbench).

For all the exercise we put the iMac through, it refused to break a sweat. Unlike the Gateway One ZX Series, another all-in-one with gaming credentials, the iMac never became noisy after extended gaming sessions, and it remained cool to the touch.

Conclusion

Apple hasn’t pulled out any magic wands for this year’s release of the iMac — apparently all the fairydust went into the iPad this year — but a fresh batch of silicon still has its rewards. A new line of Intel processors, ATI Radeon graphics cards and more versatile SSD options make the iMac brutally fast on the desktop, and even more shockingly spry in the gaming arena. Wrap it all up in the same well-mannered box that has become a template for industrial designers everywhere, and you have a winning desktop set to continue Apple’s domination in the all-in-one arena.

Highs:

  • Drool-worthy 27-inch LED-backlit IPS LCD display
  • Top-notch industrial design and build quality
  • Ultra-fast bootup with SSD option
  • Killer gaming performance with Radeon HD 5750
  • Surprisingly ample sound
  • Cool and quiet, even during gaming

Lows:

  • Abysmal keyboard and mouse
  • No analog 5.1-channel outputs, Blu-ray option
  • Pricy relative to similarly equipped PCs

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