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Apple iMac 27-inch (2019) review: Apple iMac 2019 is a millennial trapped in the body of a baby boomer

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Apple's refreshed its iMac for 2019 and it looks awfully familiar.

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8.4

Apple iMac 27-inch (2019)

The Good

The Apple iMac's 27-inch 5K display remains the most color-accurate monitor we've seen thus far in an all-in-one. Improved performance is especially impressive in the Core i9 model. Two USB-C/Thunderbolt connectors drive more external displays and faster file data transfers.

The Bad

The design, including thick screen bezels, feels dated. UHS-II SD cards still aren't fully supported. The tilt-only screen doesn't offer enough adjustment options.

The Bottom Line

It's something of a miracle that Apple can continue to cram newer (and hotter) components into the tiny space behind the iMac's screen, but we're already ready for a bigger redesign.

That's no surprise. The company couldn't figure out how to bring a charging mat to market because of its dysfunctional obsession with a specific, thin-uber-alles design aesthetic. Meanwhile the design of its larger computing hardware -- MacBooks and iMacs -- hasn't significantly changed in years and we're still waiting for a functional replacement for the trash can Mac Pro

It's possible, even probable, that Apple doesn't really care about that arm of its business when it can bask in the reflected glow of entertainment celeberati. Maybe Oprah should design the next iMac? (I'm actually worried about sending that idea out into the universe.)

To be fair, Apple's been working miracles behind that well-worn look. It's crammed newer and newer (meaning hotter and hotter) components into the tiny space behind the iMac's screen without having the systems explode into flames -- I really didn't think it could pull off the same trick with the iMac Pro. But some miracles don't need to be worked. There's no victory in squeezing a size 8 body into a pair of size 6 jeans, except for your vanity. We'll still love you if you put on a few inches, Apple, especially if it enables something wondrous.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The iMac continues to be a fine system that runs fast given its components thanks to Mac OS. And since the prices haven't changed while the innards have, the base 27-inch configuration is a good value, if an uninspiring one.

Recalculating

The iMac is still functional, in the context of current 27-inch all-in-one designs, but my complaints are starting to mount. Past gripes include the SD card slot which doesn't support UHS-II, all the connectors on the back -- I'm sure I've scratched the metal around the USB connectors by blindly groping in the vicinity -- and how dated it looks with the wide display bezels. 

Now I'll add the inability to raise and lower, only tilt, the display. It's so glossy that you get annoying reflections if you tilt it instead of raise it. Then there's the back-firing speakers, which sound great if you're sitting behind the system instead of in front of it. They can still get loud, admittedly. And core features, such as wireless networking and Bluetooth, could stand some upgrades.  

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Sarah Tew/CNET

So what's new? Upgraded eighth- and ninth-gen Intel Core CPUs and new AMD Radeon GPUs, just like we got in 2017. Notably, though, the top configuration now goes up to a ninth-gen Core i9 processor and Radeon Pro Vega graphics. And there's a noticeable performance increase from the new components, if only because of the increase in processor cores and clock speeds on the Intel chips and the move to AMD's updated last-generation or newest Vega-architecture graphics. 

The prices for all the iMacs have stayed the same, though there don't seem to be any more Core i7 options for the 27-inch model. Given the addition of another tier of processors -- the Core i9s have joined i3, i5 and i7 in Intel's CPU lineup -- something had to go to maintain the pricing structure.

The base 27-inch model is a reasonable configuration for the money. If you want something more powerful, I'd suggest a big bump to the Pro 580-based model, with a Core i7 and 16GB memory, at $2,700 (£2,610, AU$4,090). The core and clock-speed increases from the dual-core seventh-gen Core i5 to the quad-core i3 move it up to that performance class, though probably not the same performance level. The new Core i3s don't support Turbo Boost like the old i5, but performance seems to be the same.

For in-between configurations you most likely won't see significant performance increases that merit spending much more, unless you switch completely to SSD from the Fusion drive or increase the amount of memory. Memory now goes up to 64GB in the more expensive 27-inch iMac but still 32GB in the entry-level model.   

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The base 21.5-inch, non-Retina model remains unchanged, sticking with its $1,099 (£1,049, AU$1,699) price tag. And I stick by my recommendation that unless you really want a Mac and really can't afford the base 27-inch model, don't buy one. Even then, you might be better off with a Mac Mini and inexpensive Thunderbolt 3 monitor. The $799 entry model delivers the performance of a last-generation 27-inch iMac. 21.5 inches is a tiny screen for $1,099 and even more so for the Retina base model at $1,299.

Apple iMac (27-inch, 2019)

Price as reviewed $3,449, £3,284 or AU$5,389
Display size/resolution 27-inch, 5,120x2,880-pixel display
PC CPU 3.7GHz Intel Core i9-9900K
PC Memory 16GB DDR5 2,666MHz
Graphics 8GB AMD Radeon Pro Vega 48
Storage 512GB Apple SSD, one SDXC
Ports Two USB-C 3.2, four USB-A 3.1
Networking One Ethernet, 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2
Operating system Apple MacOS Mojave 10.14

The i9 configurations, starting at $2,299, are welcome for people who want some of the power of an iMac Pro but hyperventilate at that system's $4,999 starting price. The top iMac configuration -- the 3.6GHz base or 5GHz boost version with 64GB RAM, a Radeon Pro Vega 48 and 2TB SSD -- will run you $5,249. That's still cheaper than a similarly configured iMac Pro at $5,999. 

Compared to an iMac Pro 14-core configuration we tested ($7,549), we only saw a roughly 30 percent (at most) performance advantage for the Pro over the iMac. But the iMac's roughly half the price. 

By opting for the iMac instead of the Pro, you sacrifice a workstation-class Intel Xeon processor, some GPU processing power (the Pro starts with a Vega 56), ECC memory and the higher-bandwidth networking. But it's nice to see some powerful intermediate price and configuration options between mainstream consumer and workstation systems.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Runs fast but losing its cool

Apple fares well compared to systems with the same CPU, overclocked in the case of those from Falcon Northwest and Origin PC. (I included the Microsoft Surface Studio 2 to shame the company for its puny update last October in a $4,200-configuration PC.) 

Keep in mind that benchmarks tend to be sensitive to the speed and amount of memory in a system. I wouldn't be surprised if the gap between the iMac 27 and iMac Pro we tested narrowed significantly if the 27 had 64GB RAM instead of 16GB. And since Apple deprecated OpenGL, it's not a surprise that Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti-based Windows systems outperform it on the OpenGL test.

But in a quick-and-dirty test using the newer version of Cinebench (R20), which is theoretically better balanced, the iMac Pro got 4,272cb compared to the Millenium's 5,054cb on the Metal test. (The results for OpenCL were almost identical.) And in my own Lightroom test, an almost exclusively CPU-bottlenecking import of 42-megapixel Sony A7R2 raw files with 1:1 preview generation which maxes out all the cores, the Millennium took 25 minutes to the iMac's 30.

That reflects the overclocked system running at a steady 4.97GHz vs. the iMac at the 4.2GHz Turbo Boost max, which requires more power and cooling than the iMac can pull: The CPU package was drawing a sustained 119 watts at 64 degrees Celsius, compared with the iMac's hovering around 85 watts but running at 93 C. 

To Apple's credit, while the air blowing out the back vent got hot -- about 105 degrees Farenheit -- the surrounding metal never did.  I'm not saying Apple should turn the iMac into a big, roomy system. But imagine what Apple could do if it didn't insist on cramming fast new parts into a thin, stuffy cabinet.

Geekbench 4 (multicore)

Apple iMac Pro 44706Apple iMac 27 (2019) 33713Falcon Northwest Talon (2018) 32412Origin PC Millennium (2019) 31835Alienware Area-51m 30271Microsoft Surface Studio 2 14929
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench 4 (multicore)

Apple iMac Pro 44706Apple iMac 27 (2019) 33713Falcon Northwest Talon (2018) 32412Origin PC Millennium (2019) 31835Alienware Area-51m 30271Microsoft Surface Studio 2 14929
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R15 CPU (multicore)

Origin PC Millennium (2019) 2508Falcon Northwest Talon <span class="scribe-editor-marker" style="display: none;"></span>(2018) 2145Apple iMac 27 (2019) 2126Alienware Area-51m 1994Apple iMac Pro 1731Microsoft Surface Studio 2 764
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R15 OpenGL (fps)

Origin PC Millennium (2019) 201.29Falcon Northwest Talon (2018) 169.52Apple iMac 27 (2019) 168.23Alienware Area-51m 150.69Apple iMac Pro 145.67Microsoft Surface Studio 2 109.21
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

System configurations

Alienware Area-51m Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 3.2GHz Intel Core i9-9900K; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080; 1TB SSD + 1TB HDD 5,200 RPM
Apple iMac 27 (2019) Apple MacOS Mojave 10.14; 3.7GHz Intel Core i9-9900K; 16GB 2666MHz DDR4 SDRAM; 8GB Radeon Pro Vega 48; 512GB Apple SSD APFS
Apple iMac Pro (2018) Apple MacOS Mojave 10.14; 2.6GHz Intel Xeon W-2170B; 64GB DDR4 ECC SDRAM 2,666MHz; 16GB Radeon Pro Vega 64; 1TB Apple SSD APFS
Falcon Northwest Talon (2018) Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); (oc) 3.2GHz Intel Core i9-9900K; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 3,000MHz; two 11GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti; 2TB SSD
Microsoft Surface Studio 2 Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.9GHz Intel Core i7-7820HQ, 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz, 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070; 2TB SSD
Origin PC Millenium (2019) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); (oc) 3.2GHz Intel Core i9-9900K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz; two 11GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti; 512GB SSD + 2TB HDD 7,200 RPM
006-apple-imac-27-2019
8.4

Apple iMac 27-inch (2019)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 9