Apple iMac (27-inch, September 2013) review: New processors and faster Wi-Fi for Apple's slim desktop

The screen on the 27-inch iMac, though not a matte display, is less reflective than most, a change that started with the 2012 version. Apple's displays are always bright, clear, and consistent, which makes me wish there was a way to use the display for other devices, a feature some Windows all-on-one PCs offer via an extra HDMI input port.

Apple iMac (27-inch, September 2013)
Video Mini DisplayPort (x2)
Audio Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack
Data 4 USB 3.0, SD card reader
Networking Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None

Connections and performance
While some may knock Apple's MacBook Air laptops for not offering enough ports and connections, the same can't be said for the iMac. In a single row on the back of the display chassis, you'll find four USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt/Mini DisplayPort connections, an SD card slot, Ethernet jack, and headphone plug. It's hard to imagine you'd need much more, especially as the Thunderbolt ports can connect to two external monitors.

Above the row of connections, a small trap door allows you to access the system's RAM to change the modules. To open the door, you must unplug the power cable and press a small release button. It's nice to have at least one user-accessible component, but I suspect many consumers would rather have access to the hard-drive bays.

Our 27-inch iMac is the higher-end of two 27-inch base models, with the addition of a Fusion Drive combining a 1TB HDD and 128GB of SSD storage. This configuration takes advantage of the new PCIe connection for faster flash modules, and the total comes out to $2,199. The base high-end model includes just the 1TB HDD for $1,999. In the less-expensive $1,799 iMac, the Intel Core i5 CPU gets clocked down from 3.4GHz to 3.2GHz, and the GPU goes from a GeForce 775 to a 755 with less onboard memory.

Also updated in this round is the 21.5-inch iMac, with slower Intel Haswell-generation Core i5 CPUs, and only Intel's integrated graphics in the lowest-end $1,299 version.

The 3.4GHz Intel Core i5 in our review sample is more than fast enough for just about any task, or series of tasks, and matches up well with other Haswell systems we've tested. One difference is that this is a Core i5 CPU, whereas other comparably expensive recent all-in-one systems give you a faster Core i7 CPU, as one might expect to find for such a sizable investment. You can upgrade to a Core i7 here for $200.

In our benchmark tests, the Core i5 iMac held its own against a couple of Core i7 all-in-one desktops, and was much faster than the Haswell-powered 13-inch MacBook Air that was released a few months ago. Last year's iMac was faster in our multitasking test, but that was a system with the expensive Core i7 upgrade.

It's great to have a high-powered GPU in a nongaming system, in this case the newish Nvidia GeForce 775M. Video and photo applications may benefit, and the system can drive two external displays, but it's also starting to be a lot easier to be a Mac gamer. Steam, GOG.com, and other game distributors have robust Mac sections now, and Windows games are finally being ported to OS X within months, not years.

Two excellent 2013 games, BioShock Infinite and Metro: Last Light, are both available on Macs now, although some would call them incomplete versions. While we use those games as PC benchmarks, on the OS X versions, most of the graphics options are unavailable, and the Mac version of BioShock Infinite even caps the resolution at 1,600x900, which is a real shame for a 2,560x1,440 monitor. Both games, however, played well at the highest detail settings allowed, and hopefully they will be patched to allow higher resolutions and better graphics options.

Our old Mac standby, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, ran at 89 frames per second at the highest detail settings and full 2,560x1,440 resolution. On a 2012 iMac, the same game ran at 78.3 frames per second. Both iMacs also ran Diablo III at the screen's native resolution at about 58 frames per second.

Conclusion
In you already own last year's slim iMac, there's no reason to upgrade. The new Haswell CPUs, Nvidia graphics cards, and faster Wi-Fi and flash storage are good to have, but don't radically alter the iMac experience. If you have an older model, then it's a more compelling case. And now that it has the latest parts, you don't need to worry about paying top dollar for out-of-date tech.

Keep in mind that Apple's extra-cost AppleCare extended warranty is practically required, as these are much less user-serviceable than many other desktops. At least at $169 for a three-year term, it's a small add-on relative to the system's premium price.

Power users may be waiting for the radically redesigned new Mac Pro, coming later in 2013, but for everyone else who wants a big-screen Apple experience, this is the default.

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iMac (27-inch, September 2013)
175
Asus ET2702
175

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iMac (27-inch, September 2013)
54
Asus ET2702
80

iTunes and Handbrake (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Asus ET2702
189
Apple iMac (27-inch, September 2013)
195

Cinebench 11.5
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs
Rendering single CPU
Asus ET2702
8.06
1.76
Dell XPS 27
7.23
1.66
Apple iMac (27-inch, September 2013)
6.15
1.64

System configurations

Apple iMac (27-inch, September 2013)
Apple OS X Mountain Lion 10.8.5; 3.4GHz Intel Core i5-4670; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 775M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive, 128GB solid-state hard drive

Apple iMac (27-inch, November 2012)
Apple OS X Mountain Lion 10.8; 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-3770; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 680M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive, 128GB solid-state hard drive

Dell XPS 27
Windows 8 (64-bit) 3.1GHz Intel Core i7 4770S; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT750M graphics card; 2TB 7,200rpm hard drive

MacBook Air 13-inch (June 2013)
OSX 10.8.4 Mountain Lion; 1.3GHz Intel Core i5 4240U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1024MB (Shared) Intel HD Graphics 4000; 128GB Apple SSD

Asus ET2702
Windows 8 (64-bit); 3.4GHz Intel Core i7 4770; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 2048MB (Dedicated) AMD Radeon HD 8800M; 2TB 7,200rpm Toshiba hard drive

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    Part Number: iMAC2013
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    Quick Specifications See All

    • Regional specs shown for US. UK specs are unavailable.

    • Graphics Processor NVIDIA GeForce GTX 775M
    • OS Provided Apple OS X 10.9 Mavericks
    • Video Memory 2 GB GDDR5 SDRAM
    • Monitor Type LED - IPS
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