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Apple iMac 27-inch (Core i5) Review

Apple iMac 27-inch
Apple iMac 27-inch (Core i5)
“Apple sticks with tried-and-true design but cranks speed to maximum with the latest generation of iMacs.”
  • 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
  • Abysmal keyboard and mouse
  • No analog 5.1-channel outputs, Blu-ray option
  • Pricy relative to similarly equipped PCs


Few brands can hope to even come close to the iconic iMac in brand recognition. The ubiquitous glass-and-aluminum slab has become a fixture in dorm rooms, offices and living rooms, and with its 2010 refresh, Apple manages to keep the same familiar face, but inject even more power into the tiny chassis by adopting Intel’s Core series processors and full-power desktop graphics cards from AMD. While it may not qualify as a “must upgrade” for existing iMac owners, gamers and other users should be pleasantly surprised by the very real performance boost the new hardware delivers.

Features and Design

Don’t pore over the chassis on the 2010 iMac too carefully looking for a little extra love from designer Jon Ive; Apple has left well enough alone and changed absolutely nothing on the outside this year. When you already own the design, other companies scramble to emulate, it’s a luxury you have. And we’re not complaining. The edge-to-edge glass, black-rimmed bezel, uninterrupted aluminum shell and single white cable trailing out the back look as magnificent this year as they did last year, and we would hate to see Apple can a winning design for a new flavor of the week.

Speaking of which, Apple’s included mouse and keyboard remain as abysmal and overdesigned as ever, looking chic and minimal on an uncluttered desk, but driving function off a cliff to get there. The mouse fits the hand about as comfortably as a stepped-on tuna can, and the limp Chiclet keyboard has been shortened so drastically (it lacks a number pad, which Apple advertises as a feature) that it looks downright comical in front of the towering 27-inch display.

Our iMac came configured from the factory with an Intel Core i5 processor running at 2.8GHz, 4GB of DDR3 memory, an ATI Radeon HD 5750 GPU with 1GB of DDR5 memory, and a 256GB SSD. As equipped, it runs for $2,599 through Apple’s configure-to-order program.

Although our model didn’t come equipped with both an SSD and conventional drive, this year is actually the first that Apple will put both in the same computer. While it’s no feat of engineering, it does offer customers the chance to take advantage of both the speed of an SSD and the raw storage capacity of a magnetic drive.


The 27-inch LCD on the iMac will drop jaws, and not just because it’s utterly massive. Unlike most displays in this size class, which offer 1080p resolution, Apple proceeds past the bounds of high-def content to a full 2560 x 1440. While that means 1080p content will need to be scaled to fit it, the increased pixel density also makes text and graphics on the desktop look significantly smoother, translating to a more refined desktop experience. LED backlighting improves efficiency, eliminates the dim warmup period of CCFL tubes, and looks extraordinarily bright. Although the primitive cast-metal stand won’t telescope up and down the way a pro monitor mount will, it does easily pivot up and down to get the best viewing angle. Not that you’ll need to play with it much – the IPS LCD screen Apple has selected has just about the best viewing angle in the biz – you can look at it from pretty much any angle without much distortion.

Ports and Connections

Per the usual Apple formula, the iMac doesn’t come loaded with ports to spare, but you won’t find many missing, either. Around back, you get four USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire 800 port, an Ethernet jack, and a mini DisplayPort, which can be used to output VGA, HDMI or DVI video with the appropriate adapter ($29) from Apple. While it cleans up the look of back a bit, we would prefer if Apple skipped the obvious cash grab on the cables and just gave us the standard VGA and DVI outputs right on the box. Along the same lines, Apple provides both analog and optical digital inputs and outputs in stereo, but audio buffs hoping to tie the iMac into a more powerful home theater system might feel left out by the lack of 5.1-channel analog outputs — pretty much a standard feature on PCs. The missing Blu-ray option also stands out as a downright waste, when coupled with a display with as much cinematic potential as this one.

On the right, you’ll find a slot-loading DVD drive and an SDXC expansion port. While SDXC cards only come in capacities up to 64GB at the moment, eventually, the iMac will support capacities all the way up to 2TB, potentially making it as much a storage expansion slot as a media loading slot, if you have the cash.

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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.


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.


  • 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


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

Editors' Recommendations

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