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

Apple iMac 27-inch (27-inch

Rich Brown Former Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness
Rich was the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D printing to Z-Wave smart locks.
Expertise Smart home | Windows PCs | Cooking (sometimes) | Woodworking tools (getting there...)
Rich Brown
5 min read

It has taken us a while to get our hands on a Core i7-based 27-inch iMac. Now that we've put Apple's most expensive all-in-one through its paces, we can say, even six months post-launch, that this $2,199 configuration is the fastest all-in-one currently available, and still boasts the largest screen. Apple faced a few issues with shipping delays and screen reliability in its 27-inch iMacs earlier this year, but it seems to have resolved them, which leaves us with only a few criticisms, mostly to do with using the iMac as a home entertainment device. As a computer, particularly for anyone who values speed and screen real estate, this iMac is one of the best available in its price range.


Apple iMac 27-inch (27-inch

The Good

Fastest all-in-one; largest all-in-one display; bidirectional Mini DisplayPort input lets the iMac double as a second monitor; SD card slot (finally); wireless mouse and keyboard included.

The Bad

No Blu-ray; no support for external HDMI device input out-of-the-box; lame support policies.

The Bottom Line

We're a little late to the Core i7 iMac review party, but that doesn't make Apple's highest-end all-in-one any less impressive. With the fastest CPU and the largest display in its category, we find our criticisms of this system mostly wash away in a tide of pixels and best-in-class performance. Anyone with a productivity focus will appreciate what this iMac has to offer.

For a complete breakdown of the changes Apple brought to the iMac last fall, we'll refer you to our review of the $1,699 Core 2 Duo-based 27-inch iMac. Our $2,199 iMac review unit (an upgraded version of the $1,999 default model), shares the same external design and features as the $1,699 version, including the wireless keyboard and Magic Mouse. We'll outline our thoughts on the external features shortly, but for now we'll simply say that we continue to find the iMac's design the best in the PC industry.

What we haven't written about is this iMac's internal components. We criticized the $1,699 iMac for sticking with Intel's older, Core 2 Duo processor family. Here, you'll find Intel's newer quad-core Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs, and our review unit came with the 2.8GHz Core i7, which accounts for the $200 uptick over the $1,999 base price. Apple also added a faster graphics card with more memory to the $1,999 model by way of the 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4850. The $1,699 model came with a 256MB Radeon HD 4670, a slower card with less video memory. Aside from the different CPU and GPU, you'll find few differences between the $1,699 and $1,999 iMacs.

  Apple iMac 27-inch Sony Vaio L117FX
Price $2,199 $1,999
Display size/resolution 27-inches, 2,560x1,440 24-inches, 1,920x1,080
CPU 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 Intel Core 2 Quad Q8400S
Memory 4GB 1,067MHz DDR3 SDRAM 6GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4850 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 240M
Hard drives 1TB 7,200 rpm 1TB, 7,200 rpm
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner Blu-ray burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n, Bluetooth Gigabit Ethernet. 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth
TV Tuner No Yes
Operating system Apple OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.3 Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

Before we look at performance, it's worth comparing the iMac with its Windows-based competition. We haven't yet reviewed a Core i5 or Core i7-based Windows all-in-one, although both HP and Lenovo have announced plans to bring Intel's latest CPUs to their respective models. We expect that other major all-in-one vendors like Acer/Gateway and Sony, as well as some of the smaller companies, will make the switch before long. What we still haven't seen is an all-on-one vendor with a 27-inch display, much less a display with a 2,560 x 1,440-pixel resolution like the iMac's.

Even with slower CPUs, older all-in-ones like the Sony Vaio L117FX offer some interesting points of comparison. That 24-inch, Core 2 Quad-powered Sony might have a smaller display and a slower CPU than this iMac, but the entertainment-oriented Vaio also boasts a Blu-ray drive, a TV tuner, and a fully-open HDMI video input. Unlike the iMac, the Sony system is also wall-mountable without requiring an extra adapter. In short, Sony seems to embrace better than Apple the fact that the large screen in its all-in-one lends itself to serving as a home entertainment system in a smaller room.

Apple, on the other hand, offers none of those features in its 27-inch iMac. Apple's thoughts on Blu-ray are well known, and though we aren't fans of TV tuners, the crippled video input is particularly frustrating. Yes, Apple offers the capability to send the video from another Mac to the iMac via its bidirectional Mini DisplayPort. That's a useful feature that extends the life of the iMac once it's obsolete by letting you use it as a second display. Unfortunately, the bidirectionality of the Mini DisplayPort stops there, at least without an extra adapter that can cost up to $150. We're glad that you can now technically connect a game console or a cable box to the iMac, but, considering that we've seen unfettered HDMI inputs in Windows-based all-in-ones as low as $600, we continue to find the absence of similar functionality built into the iMac a painful omission.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iMac (27-inch, 2.8GHz Core i7)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iMac (27-inch, 2.8GHz Core i7)

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iMac (27-inch, 2.8GHz Core i7)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs  
Rendering Single CPU  
HP Pavilion Elite 190T
Apple iMac (27-inch, 2.8GHz Core i7)
Sony VAIO L117FX
HP TouchSmart 600

If it lacks certain multimedia features, the iMac's dramatic performance advantage over other all-in-ones helps make up the difference. On three of our four tests the Core i7 iMac fell behind the HP Pavilion Elite 190T, but keep in mind that $1,899 tower system comes with a six-core Intel Core i7 980X Extreme chip, the fastest desktop CPU currently available. Notably, the iMac would have outperformed every other tower system in our recent midrange multicore PC roundup, including a desktop from Maingear with a six-core AMD CPU.

Among other all-in-ones, the Core i7 iMac posted convincing wins, particularly compared with the Sony, its closest competitor in our reviews database. The Core 2 Duo-based iMac with its 3.06GHz CPU edged the Core i7 model slightly on our iTunes test, which favors single-core clock speed, but otherwise the Core i7 iMac was untouchable. We're anxious to see how the Core i7-equipped Windows-based all-in-ones might perform, but even if they achieve some kind of performance parity, they'll still have to make up for their lack of a high-resolution 27-inch display. On balance, for the productivity minded, we've seen no better all-in-one than Apple's high-end iMac.

While we freely criticize the iMac for missing the home entertainment opportunities its Windows-based counterparts embrace, you might have noticed we didn't list the iMac's lack of touch input among them. We remain skeptical of touch input on all-in-ones, and though HP has done a good job of creating useful touch software for its "="">TouchSmart line, even when done right touch is more of a novelty for a desktop. Thus, while the iMac still lacks touch-screen input, we don't find its absence a major liability.

As a final point about the iMac's screen, if you've followed Apple-related news, you may have heard reports from iMac customers about various problems with the 27-inch screen. Some users reported receiving cracked displays, while others reported an annoying flickering, or the screen taking on a yellowish tinge. Apple released a firmware update in January that seems to have addressed the flickering and yellowing, and we haven't heard of a cracked iMac showing up recently. Whether the cracks were systemic or a one-time issue we can't say (and Apple won't), but regardless of the cause, it seems to have been addressed. For a time in the beginning of the year, iMacs were also hard to come by, and Apple's Web site reported a two-to-three week delay for orders to ship. As of press time, Apple's site says it will ship an iMac out in 24 hours.

For the iMac's other features, the highlights to the new model include the long-awaited addition of an SD Card slot, as well as the aforementioned wireless keyboard and the awkward Magic Mouse. You get the standard Web cam, wireless networking and Bluetooth package as well, although Apple removed its Apple Remote from the standard iMac bundle, instead relegating it to a $19 option. As with previous versions of the iMac, the ports on the back panel include four USB 2.0 jacks, a FireWire 800 input, Gigabit Ethernet, the Mini DisplayPort jack, as well as audio in and out.

Juice box
Juice Box  
Apple iMac 27-inch (Fall 2009, Core i7)  
Off (watts) 0.93
Sleep (watts) 1.16
Idle (watts) 47.8
Load (watts) 262.93
Raw (annual kWh) 266.70696
EnergyStar compliant Yes
Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh) $30.27

Annual power consumption cost
Apple iMac (27-inch, 2.8GHz Core i7)

We expected the faster Core i7 iMac would draw more power than its Core 2 Duo-based counterpart, and by adding an estimated $30.27 a year to your power bill, the higher-end iMac does indeed require more energy. Still, even though it has a larger screen and a faster CPU, the Core i7 iMac isn't that far away from the other all-in-ones. Hopefully what you'll save in time from the iMac's faster performance will make up for a few extra bucks for power.

Lastly, though we hate to repeat ourselves, Apple remains an outlier in the PC industry for its support policies. You get 90-days of toll-free support and a year-long warranty by default. After that, you can either refer to Apple's Web site, a Genius Bar or an Apple-authorized service provider, or pony up $169 for a year of phone service via AppleCare, which also extends your warranty to three years. We have a feeling that Apple considers tying the warranty upsell to what other vendors would consider standard phone support a savvy business move. For the inconvenience this policy causes its customers who simply want to pick up the phone, we respectfully disagree.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations: Apple iMac 27-inch (27-inch, 2.8GHz Intel Core i7, fall 2009)
Apple OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.3; 2.8GHz Intel Core i7; 4GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4850; 1TB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive

Apple iMac (27-inch, 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, ATI Radeon HD 4670, fall 2009)
Apple OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.1; 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E7600; 4GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Radeon HD 4670; 1TB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive

HP Pavilion Elite 190T
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.36GHz Intel Core i7 980X Extreme; 9GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5770; 1.5TB Seagate 7,200rpm hard drive

HP TouchSmart 600
Windows 7 Home Premium; 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7450; 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 230; 750GB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive

Sony VAIO L117FX
Windows 7 Home Premium; 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8400S; 6GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 240M; 1TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive


Apple iMac 27-inch (27-inch

Score Breakdown

Design 10Features 9Performance 8Support 5