Apple iMac (27-inch review: Apple iMac (27-inch

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent
  • Overall: 8.4
  • Design: 10.0
  • Features: 9.0
  • Performance: 8.0
  • Service and support: 5.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Largest display among all-in-ones; fast dual-core CPU makes up for lack of quad-core (mostly); finally has an SD card slot; wireless mouse and keyboard; Mini DisplayPort input ripe with possibility.

The Bad Most Windows all-in-ones in the price range have Blu-ray; touch-sensitive mouse gestures not as responsive as we'd like; Apple's nickel-and-dime customer service policy.

The Bottom Line Apple's new 27-inch iMac will charm plenty of you with its screen size alone. Fortunately, that won't lead you astray. Behind its expansive display, Apple has packed one of the fastest all-in-ones available, and added a few useful extras to sweeten the deal. This iMac isn't perfect, but its positives far outweigh its negatives. We can think of few users to whom we wouldn't recommend this system.

CNET Editors' Choice Oct '09

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If we could, we'd take points away from this iMac simply because by giving it a 27-inch display Apple threatens our livelihood. You don't need our input to simply walk past the 27-inch iMac on a store shelf and recognize that it's the largest all-in-one currently available, and that it has a reasonable price tag relative to its size advantage. Look deeper into this $1,699 iMac and you'll find a desktop that's equal parts compelling and polarizing. Some new features, like the SD Card slot, the now-standard wireless mouse and keyboard, and the LED backlight, have obvious appeal. The glossy screen coating, the limited (for now) bidirectional functionality of the Mini DisplayPort, and the absence of both a Blu-ray drive and a quad-core processor all provide openings for criticism. For us, however, and we expect for many others, the screen trumps most of our concerns.

With this most recent update to the iMac, Apple brings the design of its all-in-ones in line with that of its MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops. The aluminum and polycarbon body of the old iMac has been replaced with aluminum and edge-to-edge glass over the screen. From an aesthetic standpoint, the new iMac is as strong as ever, and maintains Apple's lead over other computer manufacturers. Provided you have the room for it, you should feel no shame putting the new iMac in a prominent location in any home or business.

The new screen size makes the iMac the largest ever in Apple's all-in-one line, but only by an extra 3 inches in its width. The new iMac measures 20.5 inches high by 25.5 inches wide by 8 inches deep. The old 24-inch iMac is only 22.3 inches wide, but otherwise has the same dimensions. The extra inches in the screen have a more significant impact than the changes in chassis size.

In addition to going to a 27-inch LCD, Apple has also boosted the resolution of the display to 2,560x1,440 pixels--up from 1,920x1,200 pixels in the old model--which amounts to roughly 62 percent more screen real estate. Where the old model couldn't quite accommodate two full-size Safari windows, the new iMac can fit two side by side with room to spare.


The old 24-inch iMac can't fit two browser windows on one screen.


The new 27-inch iMac has no trouble with two windows.

Along with bringing the MacBook Pro's chassis materials to the new iMac, Apple also incorporated some of the same tricks it uses in its laptops to make the display appear so vibrant. An LED backlight amps up the brightness to such an extent that the display in the old iMac seems washed out in comparison. A glossy coating on the display increases the apparent contrast. Unique to the iMac, though, is a technology to boost the viewing-angle range called IPS, short for "in-plane switching." We don't have a quantitative way to measure off-angle color shifting, but anecdotally we can't say we had off-angle viewing issues on the old iMac. Perhaps the benefit of IPS will be more apparent to digital-imaging professionals, but it certainly doesn't do any harm.

The glossy coating on the screen is one of the flashpoints of criticism for the new iMac. Those opposed cite more intense reflectivity and increased glare from environmental light sources. As the iMac is generally a stationary device, you can't necessarily move it to a different spot to avoid glare, as you might with a glossy-screened laptop. Unfortunately, Apple offers no way to opt out of the glossy coating on either its laptops or the new iMacs; from a customer service standpoint, however, providing a screen-coating option would certainly add an extra layer of complexity for less savvy buyers.

For now, Apple has taken a stand on glossy screens, gambling that shoppers either prefer it, won't care, or will suffer through and accept it. The folks at MacMatte and elsewhere are actively working against that decision. Your buying decision should hinge on your own preference, of course, and a trip to a retail outlet that carries iMacs will answer any questions you might have in short order.

  Apple iMac 27-inch Gateway One ZX6810-01
Price $1,699 $1,399
Display size/resolution 27 inches, 2,560x1,440 23 inches, 1,920x1,080
CPU 3.06 Intel Core 2 Duo E7200 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200
Memory 4GB 1,067MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 256MB ATI Radeon HD 4670 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4670
Hard drives 1TB 7,200rpm 64GB Toshiba SSD, 1TBGB 7,200rpm
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n, Bluetooth 10/100 Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g, Bluetooth
TV Tuner No Yes
Operating system Apple OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.1 Windows 7 Home Premium

We have no ideal Windows-based comparisons for the new iMac, as no Windows vendor has an all-in-one with a screen larger than 24 inches. Of the two most recent large all-in-ones we have reviewed, Gateway's One ZX6810-01 makes a better match than HP's TouchSmart 600M. HP leans heavily toward the home entertainment side of the all-in-one equation, while the Gateway and its quad-core CPU and solid-state hard drive make the One ZX6810-01 more productivity oriented.

The Gateway boasts a few features the iMac doesn't have, namely a TV tuner, a solid-state hard drive, more video memory, and a quad-core CPU. It also costs $300 less than the iMac. In Apple's favor, the iMac has the larger screen, and a fast 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo chip. The iMac was faster on almost every application performance test, which leaves the Gateway with only a TV tuner, a lower price tag, and marginally better gaming performance. The Gateway might have an argument to make against the smaller $1,199 iMac, but with better performance and its expansive screen, we find that the $1,699 iMac provides sufficient benefits over its Windows-based competition to justify its cost.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iMac (27-inch, 3.06GHz)
96 

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iMac (27-inch, 3.06GHz)
122 

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iMac (27-inch, 3.06GHz)
391 

Cinebench
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Gateway ZX6810-01
9,835 
2,815 
Psystar Open(Q)
9,065 
2,659 
Apple iMac (27-inch, 3.06GHz)
6,530 
3,500 
HP TouchSmart 600
4,647 
2,479 

Performance brings us to the fact that the new iMac lacks a quad-core CPU, which may be, for some, a major point of criticism. You can see above that the new iMac is faster than its closest Windows-based competition, as well as than the older iMac. The only real difficulty for the iMac is the multitasking test, where the quad-core Psystar Open(Q) works through our QuickTime and iTunes workload about a minute faster.

We can hear the Mac faithful groaning at the mere mention of Psystar, and we concede that even though the Open(Q) costs $699, it lacks the 27-inch display and virtually all of the thoughtfulness that goes into an Apple product. We also anticipate that the 27-inch Core i5-based iMac due out next month will walk all over the Open(Q). For all but a small subset of hard-core users willing to take a chance on the controversial Mac-clone maker, the Psystar is only relevant as an example of what the iMac's performance might look like had Apple opted for a Core 2 Quad CPU instead of ramping up to the higher-end of the Core 2 Duo family.

We place a high value on our multitasking test, as it reflects how many people tend to work, but on single applications, the 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo chip helps push the iMac comfortably past its Windows-based competition. If you anticipate running particularly demanding multitasking workloads, you may want to consider waiting for the $1,999 iMac when it hits next month. Otherwise, the majority of you should feel confident that the iMac is the fastest all-in-one on the market even at $1,699, and you would be hard pressed to find a mainstream workload (or combination of workloads), that would bog this system down.

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Apple iMac (27-inch, 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, ATI Radeon HD 4670, fall 2009)

Part Number: MB952LL/A Released: Oct 20, 2009
MSRP: $1,699.00 Low Price: $940.00 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Oct 20, 2009
  • Environmental standards EPEAT Gold
    EPA Energy Star
  • Graphics Processor ATI Radeon HD 4670
  • Capacity 1 x 1 TB
  • OS Provided Apple MacOS X 10.6
  • Video Memory 256 MB GDDR3 SDRAM
  • Monitor Type LCD
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