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

The screen and the core features out of the way, we can shift our focus to some of the secondary updates to the iMac. The SD Card slot is one of the most long-asked-for features in Apple's entire Mac lineup, and its absence thus far has seemed particularly silly given that you can find multiformat media card readers in $300 Windows desktops. Anyone with a digital camera or other SD Card-equipped portable device will obviously benefit from the addition of the slot to the iMac. Popping a card in brings up a screen that shows you the card contents. OS X will then chide you if you don't hit the drive eject command before removing the card.

More interesting than the SD Card slot is that the Mini DisplayPort on the back of the iMac is now bidirectional. Right now you can find a cable with two Mini DisplayPort connectors, which lets you use the new iMac as a second display with another Mini DisplayPort-equipped Mac. You can hot-swap the cable between different systems without having to shut down, and the display management software is the most intuitive and most flexible we've seen. You can switch between extended and mirrored modes, and an icon-based orientation system lets you switch the extended orientation from side to side, up and down, or virtually any other configuration, as long as the two screens border each other. This capability also extends the useful life of the iMac, addressing a long-standing criticism of all-in-ones. Even if you someday demand a faster computer, you can always use the iMac as a secondary display.

Snow Leopard's multiscreen management software is the best we've seen.

Unfortunately, the dual Mini DisplayPort cable from Belkin won't let you input video from other devices. For that you'll have to wait until January. Details on what Belkin's cooking up are scant, so we can't offer much information about the forthcoming adapter other than that it's on the way and it does more than connect two Macs. But given that you can output the iMac over HDMI, DVI, and other formats with the Mini DisplayPort adapter cable, we'd expect that any updated input adapter would include those formats as well. Our hope is that, similar to all-in-ones from a variety of PC vendors, the new cable from Belkin will allow you to input video to the iMac from game consoles, cable boxes, Blu-ray players, HD camcorders, and other such devices currently bound to your television. The appeal of such capability should be obvious, but we'll unfortunately have to wait until the adapter hits before we can test it out.

The wireless mouse and keyboard are the last major additions to the new iMac. Mostly, we're glad to see Apple switch to all wireless-input devices, as the wired versions always seemed to disrupt the clean aesthetic Apple seemed to be going for with the system itself. Not everyone likes wireless devices, because of responsiveness concerns and intense battery demands, but for the responsiveness in general usage we experienced no difficulty.

We'll refer you to our review of the touch-sensitive Magic Mouse for our full opinion of Apple's unique new input device. For now we'll say that we like the design of the Magic Mouse, and we found the basic functions worked well enough. Clicking and scrolling all worked as expected, and we even appreciated the acceleration detection that speeds up scrolling down longer pages. The multifinger gestures were no replacement for dedicated forward and back buttons, let alone lateral scrolling like you find on Logitech and Microsoft mice. We can't feel too disappointed in the Magic Mouse as a bundled mouse with the iMac, however, since it has the basics down. We just find it interesting that for all its attention to design and usability in other products, Apple has never really conquered the lowly mouse.

The last point we'll make regarding the iMac's features has to do with the lack of a Blu-ray drive. Apple CEO Steve Jobs made his feeling about Blu-ray well known a while back by calling it a "bag of hurt," but various tech bloggers still speculated that Apple might finally introduce Blu-ray in this round of iMac updates. At this price especially, Blu-ray is common among Windows all-in-ones, and we've seen it in midtower desktops going for around $700. The iMac's giant screen has better-than-1080p resolution, and the iMac's audio output is decent enough that it would certainly do justice to the format.

Mitigating factors include Belkin's forthcoming adapter, if it allows for HDMI input via the iMac's Mini DisplayPort. Of course, in that event, you still incur the added expense of the adapter and a separate Blu-ray player itself. We also understand that you can download HD movies at 720p from iTunes, and we acknowledge that Blu-ray as a format hasn't demonstrated the same rapid adoption that came with the switch to DVD, thus minimizing the level of consumer interest. We don't believe that Blu-ray is a must-have for all computers, and we can think of several features we'd rather have instead. That said, leaving Blu-ray off the new iMac gives Windows-based all-in-ones a selling point. Apple's customers miss out, and would be right to feel disappointed.

Juice Box  
Apple iMac 27-inch  
Off (watts) 0.58
Sleep (watts) 0.87
Idle (watts) 41.25
Load (watts) 161.33
Raw (annual kWh) 200.31054
EnergyStar compliant Yes
Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh) $22.74

Annual energy consumption cost
Apple iMac (27-inch, 3.06GHz)
Psystar Open(Q)

Apple's power efficiency has been among the best in the computer industry, and the new iMac continues that tradition despite its large display and faster CPU. The new features do incur a cost, even despite the supposedly energy-saving LED display backlight, and this new iMac will run you roughly 6 more dollars a year to operate than the older model. We expect that's a charge most of you can stomach.

Finally, we hate to end a positive review on a negative note, but we continue to find the extra $169 for AppleCare a questionable deal. You get a yearlong warranty with the iMac, which matches the industry standard, and you can also haul your Mac down to one of Apple's Genius Bars or an authorized Apple service provider. But in order to be eligible for phone support after your first 90 days of iMac ownership, you need to pay the extra $169 for AppleCare. Yes, that gets you a three-year warranty as well, but long-term phone support should be free.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

Apple iMac 27-inch
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

Apple iMac 24-inch (2.66GHz, Winter 2009)
Apple OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.1; 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo; 4GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 9400m integrated graphics chip; 640GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive

Gateway One ZX6810-01
Windows 7 Home Premium; 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD4670; 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi 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 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive

Psystar Open(Q)
Mac OS X 10.6.1 Snow Leopard; 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9400; 500GB 7,200rpm Samsung hard drive

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