It's fair to say Apple's iMac all-in-one desktop design has stood the test of time, keeping the same overall shape since 2012, which is roughly forever in consumer technology time. But the hardware inside has also been slow to change, and I haven't reviewed a significant iMac hardware update since 2015.
That's why many potential iMac buyers were pleased to see a hefty set of upgrades announced at Apple's WWDC 2017 conference. In some ways, this is practically a whole new iMac, but in other ways, it's very, very familiar.
From the outside, this looks the same as the last several generations of iMacs. It's not going to be very exciting if you're looking for a bold new design, but as arguably the slickest all-in-one desktop computer on the market, there's no real impetus for a new look, either. The sides of the massive 27-inch display taper to almost nothing at the edges, then bow out into a graceful convex curve in the back (that's where all the computer components are held). A sturdy aluminum arm holds the entire thing aloft; it's overall minimalism marred only by a single power cable.
The new updates here are all under the hood. Still, there's a lot that's been amped up, most notably the move to Intel's Kaby Lake CPUs, which is the code name for Intel's current seventh generation of Core-i chips. For storage, Fusion drives, which combine solid state and spinning hard disk storage, are now standard on 27-inch iMacs (bigger SSD-only drives are also an option), while the 21.5-inch models get a combination of Fusion drives or standard HDDs. With most laptops going solid state for storage, desktops are almost the last refuge for traditional spinning platter hard drives.
The brighter, billion-color screen
This 27-inch iMac still has a 5K display (the smaller 21.5-inch model has a more common 4K display), but Apple says it's 43-percent brighter now and hits 500 nits (a measure of luminance used to describe how bright a display is). Because of something called 10-bit dithering (which allows for a greater number of shades of each primary color), the screen can now display 1 billion colors -- just not all at once, as the 5,120x2,880 display "only" has 14.7 million individual pixels.
That's the kind of spec bump that gets high-end content creators excited, as is the jump to a max of 64GB of RAM. The 21.5-inch iMacs get a similar bump, to 32GB of total RAM, and they also get the same brighter display on the 4K models.
In my early hands-on (and eyes-on) time with this system, the display certainly looked crisp and bright, but we'll have to run some of our 4K test videos on it in the CNET Labs to get a better sense of its performance. Of the previous-gen 5K iMac display, after running it through various test patterns, 4K video clips and a light meter, we declared it to be excellent, and a clear improvement over the pre-5K 2,560x1,440 27-inch iMac.
One of the other big improvements touted by Apple is a new set of graphics options. Like other GPU-enabled Macs, these are from AMD's Radeon line, rather than the Nvidia GPUs found in most PCs with discrete graphics. The new AMD Radeon graphics on the 4K and 5K systems are the Radeon Pro 570, 575 and 580 cards, while there's still a standard 1,920x1080 21.5-inch model that has only Intel's standard built-in Iris graphics hardware.
Macs still aren't gaming machines, so the GPUs are more likely to be used for video editing and 3D modeling than playing games. Even though the upcoming High Sierra update to macOS promises support for , it's targeted at professionals developing VR apps, rather than gamers playing them.
USB-C continues its march across the computer universe, and the new iMac adds two of those ports to the back, along with Thunderbolt 3 support. That makes the iMac a bit unique in Apple's lineup. Other USB-C Macs -- the MacBook Pro line and the 12-inch MacBook -- have only USB-C ports and nothing else, for both power and connectivity. The iMac adds USB-C, but retains a collection of standard USB-A 3.0 ports, Mini DisplayPort and a standard power cable.
And, if you're looking for even more of an upgrade, check out the bundled accessory options, where an extra $30 will get you the new Magic Keyboard with a separate number pad. You can always just get the old keyboard, too. The number pad version is wider than the standard Magic Keyboard, and both versions connect wirelessly and charge via Lighting connection.
The 27-inch 5K iMac starts at $1,799, while the 21.5-inch 4K iMac gets a price cut and now starts at $1,299. The entry level HD-display 21.5-inch iMac is still $1,099. In the UK, that's £1,749, £1,249 and £1,049; and in Australia, it's AU$2,699, AU$1,899 and AU$1,599.
We're currently benchmarking the 5K-display 27-inch iMac and will report performance scores and further display testing in a future full review.
One more thing...
Now, before you start saving up for one of these, remember that Apple also just teased a brand new iMac -- the very expensive, very high-end space gray iMac Pro. But, we'll have to come back to that one a little later in the year.