Apple iMac (summer 2010) review: Apple iMac (summer 2010)

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MSRP: $1,999.00

The Good Largest display among all-in-one desktops; best-in-class productivity and gaming performance; DisplayPort provides home entertainment flexibility; SDXC card slot supports cards up to 2TB in size.

The Bad Connecting external video devices requires an extra, expensive adapter because it lacks an HDMI port; no Blu-ray drive; runs hot.

The Bottom Line Apple's new $1,999 iMac comes with a faster CPU and a new graphics card, helping this 27-inch all-in-one desktop stay as competitive in performance as it already was in screen size. Despite the still-frustrating absence of an HDMI port, we have no qualms recommending this system for work or play.

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8.4 Overall
  • Design 10
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Support 5

Editors' note: As of May 3, 2011, the 2010 iMac reviewed here has been replaced with a newer model. The 2011 line offers faster second-generation (Sandy Bridge) CPUs, improved AMD graphics, and Thunderbolt ports. See the 2011 Apple iMac line-up.

Introduced 10 months ago, Apple's original 27-inch iMac would arguably still be competitive today because of the continued absence of a Windows all-in-one computer with a screen larger than 24 inches. After a model update a few weeks ago, Apple has also kept the performance of its 27-inch, $1,999 iMac competitive by adopting a quad-core Intel Core i5 CPU and a fast AMD graphics chip. As with the new 21.5-inch iMac, Apple bypassed several opportunities to improve the 27-inch model as a home entertainment hub. We can easily recommend this new iMac to anyone looking for a large screen all-in-one for productivity or gaming. And while Apple's loyalty to DisplayPort adds some annoying hurdles to using the iMac as a digital-media hub, the 27-inch screen is big and beautiful enough to make up for the extra hassle.

The chief change Apple made across the iMac line is its move away from Intel's Core 2 Duo CPUs, replacing them with Intel's Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 CPUs exclusively. While the previous $1,999 iMac already had a quad-core 2.66GHz Core i5 CPU, the new model comes with a 2.8GHz version with four distinct CPU cores.

In addition to a marginally faster CPU, Apple gave the $1,999 iMac a few other hardware changes. The company switched to using 1,333MHz DDR3 RAM, an upgrade from the 1,066MHz DDR3 the previous model had. It also upgraded the SD card slot to support the SDXC format, which supports cards up to 2TB in capacity. The biggest change comes by way of the new graphics card, the 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5750. An improvement over the generation-old 512MB Radeon HD 4850 used in the previous model, the new 3D card has big implications for gaming on this new iMac.

Otherwise, Apple has left the award-winning iMac formula largely the same. The 27-inch, LED-backlit display remains just as impressive as before, not least because of its 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution. Apple has also retained the glossy screen coating that turns some people off. Apple includes 802.11n wireless networking, an iSight Webcam, the wireless Apple Magic Mouse and Apple Wireless Keyboard, and a DVD burner with the system as well. We encourage those hoping that Apple will someday incorporate a Blu-ray drive into its Macs to let go of that dream. Regardless of how much we might want it, we're skeptical that Apple will ever add a bidirectional HDMI port instead of or alongside its Mini-DisplayPort connection.

Apple iMac 27-inch Lenovo IdeaCentre B500 08873AU
Price $1,999 $1,399
Display size/resolution 27-inch, 2,560x1,440 pixels 23-inches, 1,920x1,080 pixels
CPU 2.8GHz Intel Core i5 760 Intel Core 2 Quad Q8400S
Memory 4GB 1,333MHz DDR2 6GB 1,066MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5750 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 250M
Hard drives 1TB, 7,200rpm 1TB, 7,200rpm
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner Blu-ray/DVD-burner combo drive
Networking Gigabit Ethernet; 802.11n wireless networking Gigabit Ethernet. 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth
Operating system Apple OS X 10.6.4 Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

Just because Apple resists adding a particular feature, it still has to face competition from vendors that have embraced it. We use the term "competition" loosely here as no Windows vendor sells an all-in-one desktop with a 27-inch display. Instead it competes against an assortment of 24-inch models with varying features and prices. The Lenovo IdeaCenter B500 is the most expensive all-in-one Windows system we've reviewed so far this year, but it costs $600 less than this iMac. While it has a Blu-ray drive, it also has a slower CPU, a slower graphics card, and no way to input an external video signal. The Lenovo is a decent home entertainment PC, but it's not very versatile.

Similar all-in-ones systems from Sony and Hewlett-Packard also have Blu-ray drives as well as HDMI ports. Unlike the iMac, with those systems you can connect game consoles, cable TV boxes, and other external video components to them without buying an expensive adapter.

That said, between its large display and fast new components, the new iMac is ideally suited for productivity. You can also make it work as a consolidated home entertainment system if you're willing to spend about $150 for an HDMI-to-mini DisplayPort adapter such as the Belkin AV360. Apple adding an HDMI port would be a far simpler solution, but given the iMac's large screen and fast performance, we imagine more than a few people in the market for an all-in-one media hub would be willing to pay extra for the iMac-and-adapter combination. If Apple added HDMI to the 27-inch iMac, we would have a difficult time arguing for any other high-end all-in-one. For now, we still think highly of this system, but its dependence on an adapter for home entertainment sticks out like a blemish.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Gateway FX6840-03e
Apple iMac 27-inch
Acer Aspire Z5700
Apple iMac 21.5-inch

The Lenovo all-in-one PC we reviewed is the closest to the iMac performancewise, but that's not saying too much. The HP and Sony systems mentioned above might fare better, the HP especially since it at least has the mobile version of Intel's Core i7 CPUs. However, from all indications on paper and in our lab, the 27-inch iMac is the fastest all-in-one currently available. We included the $1,199 Gateway FX6840-03e tower desktop to illustrate that you can still build a standard PC that can compete with the iMac for a much lower cost. For all-in-one purists, the iMac is the clear choice if productivity is your top priority.

Steam games (frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Maximum settings (2,560x1,440)  
Recommend settings (2,560x1,440)  
Team Fortress 2