Apple iMac (preview)

Apple turns to Fusion power for its desktop update

Apple iMac
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Pros

  • Thinner design, better screen
  • Update to Ivy Bridge processors
  • Fusion Drive tech compromises speed and space

Cons

  • As usual, pricy for an all-in-one
  • Questionable upgradability

Bottom Line

Apple’s reinvigorated iMac has the expected updates to processing and graphics performance, but the move to a hybrid flash- and traditional-disk hard drive is an interesting one. These class-leading all-in-ones are also predictably pricy.

Would you buy this?

Apple has never had as much love for its desktop computers as it has for MacBooks, iPhones and iPads, but its venerable iMac has had an overall update, including changes to the screen, chassis, processing and storage hardware.

Apple iMac: the design

Five millimetres — that’s how thick Apple says the edge of its iMacs is. We’ll have to see it to believe it, but the company’s claim of 40 per cent less volume than the previous iMac seems more realistic.

The all-in-one, new 21.5-inch and 27-inch iMacs have always used a lot of notebook technology to cut down on bulk, and the most recent step is the iPhone-esque move to laminate the display’s glass cover to the LCD itself, bringing all the internal components much closer together and cutting down on reflections. Apple claims 75 per cent less reflectivity than the previous model, maintaining the 1920-by-1080-pixel and 2560-by-1440-pixel resolutions of the 21.5- and 27-inch screens respectively.

iMacs continue to get thinner, and their designs continue to look more space-age. We’re willing to bet the next iMac will see a departure from the current design language, but from the gallery photos we’ve seen this is one of the best-looking all-in-ones around.

Apple iMac: the hardware

The new iMac's shape curves gently towards the centre of the chassis and stand.
The new iMac's shape curves gently towards the centre of the chassis and stand.

Quad-core Intel Core i5 processors come as standard on the 21.5- and 27-inch iMacs, with two models available in each size and a further swathe of upgrades possible. The smaller model gets a base 2.7GHz and a step-up 2.9GHz quad-core i5, with an optional quad-core 3.1Ghz Core i7 on the more powerful of the two. The 27-incher has a base 2.9GHz and a step-up 3.2GHz quad-core i5, and an optional quad-core 3.4GHz i7, again on the more powerful of the two. All iMacs have 8GB of DDR3 RAM by default — the 21.5-inch can be upgraded to 16GB and the 27-inch can cram in 32GB.

Graphics processors get more powerful as you move up in price and size, going from a NVidia GeForce 640M to a 650M in the 21.5-inch, while the 27-inch models start with a GeForce GTX 660M to a 675MX, with the option to upgrade to a GTX 680MX in the most expensive model. The 21.5-inch model is probably going to struggle with graphics-intensive 3D gaming or rendering, but the 27-inch model has surprisingly powerful graphics processors that should stay cool handling even high-resolution gaming.

The new 21.5-inch and 27-inch iMacs.
The new 21.5-inch and 27-inch iMacs.

What’s most interesting about the new Apple iMac is its move from traditional spinning-disk hard drive options to what the company is calling its Fusion Drive. It combines 128GB of SSD-grade flash memory with a 1TB or 3TB hard drive (all depending on how much you want to spend on your iMac), transferring your most-used files to the high-speed flash component and storing lesser-used, less important files on the capacious magnetic disk.

For a great overview of the technology behind Fusion Drive, take a look at this Ars Technica article. It seems like it’s got the potential to combine a high-speed SSD and large-storage hard drive in a way that’s beneficial to the iMac and invisible to the end user.

All of these hardware changes are tied together with ancillary existing features like twin Thunderbolt ports, triple USB 3.0, SDXC, Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11n Wi-Fi and so on.

Apple iMac: Conclusion

Packing all this technology into such a thin chassis must have been an ask for Apple’s engineers and designers. There’s a distinct power advantage moving up to the iMac from the company’s portable line, with the top models packing a lot of high-speed storage and graphics and processing.

The 21.5-inch iMac will be available in November, while the 27-inch will hit shelves in December. The 21.5-inch models start at $1429 and the 27-inch models start at $1999 — upgrades come at an extra cost.

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