Hey, Apple. How’d you fit… all that stuff… in dem screens?! Poorly appropriated pop song lyrics aside, Apple’s 5K iMac is bafflingly good. So good that Apple is going to have to pry this review unit from my cold, dead hands.
What Is It?
- Display: 27-inch 5120×2880 pixel “5K Retina” display
- CPU: 3.5GHz Intel Core i5 (as tested), 4.0GHz quad-core Intel Core i7
- RAM: 8GB (as tested) – 32GB
- GPU: AMD Radeon R9M290X 2GB or 4GB AMD Radeon R9 295X
- HDD: 2x 256GB M.2 LiteOn SSD, RAID 0
- Dimensions: 51x65x20.3cm, 9.54kg
An iMac with a screen that will make you weep.
It’s a 27-inch screen with a 5120×2880 screen resolution, or 5K “Retina” as Apple is calling it.
In the standard configuration it ships with a 3.5GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, a 1TB “Fusion Drive” which combines a 128GB pseudo-caching SSD with a spinning plate HDD, and (mercifully) a 2GB AMD Radeon R9 M290X graphics card. That configuration will run you $2999.
Alternatively, you can spec it up to carry up to a 4.0GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, 32GB of RAM, a 3TB Fusion Drive and the 4GB AMD Radeon R9 M295X graphics card. Get ready to drop a boatload of cash, though, as that weaponised all-in-one will cost you $4509 from the Apple Online Store.
That. Amazing. Screen. Believe the hype. It’s freaking gorgeous.
If you shift the hype aside for one moment, super high-resolution screens aren’t exactly a new thing. They’re old enough to have people confused about what you should actually call them: either 4K displays or Ultra-High Definition (UHD) displays. 4K is a common colloquialism when referring to high res displays, simply because the horizontal resolution commonly features over 4000 pixels. Apple is trying to kill the 4K moniker dead for UHD displays, however, by chucking over 5000 pixels at the horizontal axis, making it a 5K display.
Technically speaking, the 5K iMac has a resolution of 5120×2880. That means there are over 14 million pixels staring back at you as you gaze into mind-boggling clarity, which is pretty goddamn impressive considering that Apple has packed all of it into the almost the same form factor that your average 27-inch iMac with its 1080p display sits in.
But there’s more to it than just a great display. For a long time, the iMac has been an amazing all-in-one, and it’s still worth your attention in its latest iteration. It ships with Apple’s latest software update, OS X Yosemite.
Yosemite does for iMac what iOS 7 did for the iPhone: takes an old friend and gives it a welcome make-over in a bid to revitalise it. It’s not as stark an upgrade as OS X Lion was, however: it’s not about to try and change the way you use your iMac as drastically as that. Instead, it’s about giving everything a visual refresh and introducing new ecosystem-friendly features slowly.
For example, you’re now rewarded for having an iMac and an iPhone (or iPad) with features like Handoff which allows your Mac to automatically detect where you were on first-party apps on your mobile device and allow you to continue seamlessly on the desktop.
Similarly, there’s a feature called iMessage Relay which allows you to text anyone — even Android and Windows Phone users — on your iMac, via your iPhone’s network connection. Similarly, the iPhone forwards calls to the Mac now so you can answer them through your headphones and not have to worry about racing to pick up your phone when it rings.
On top of that, there’s a new user interface, a gorgeous dark mode, helpful tweaks to Safari which now works better across your mobile devices, and so much more. It’s one of the most enjoyable updates to OS X I’ve used since I upgraded from Leopard to Snow Leopard.
Apple’s Fusion Drive system is back on the 27-inch iMac with Retina display. It’s a system which “intelligently” decides for you what needs to be on that 128GB paging SSD based on what you use most. For everything else, there’s a massive spinning drive in there to keep your stuff safe. Honestly, it’s a great system that keeps everything snappy, but you certainly notice what is and isn’t on the SSD after you’ve been using it for a while. Either way, it’s better than having no SSD support at all like in some of the 27-inch iMacs.
The 27-inch iMac with Retina Display also heralds the return of AMD’s graphics cards on the Apple consumer line-up. Previously, you were saddled with Intel’s integrated Iris graphics, or an old NVIDIA GeForce chip (if you were lucky). There are more games on Mac across platforms like Steam, Origin and the Mac App Store than ever, meaning that the 2GB AMD Radeon in here isn’t a complete waste. We were able to get great results on games like Tomb Raider, Metro: Last Light and Counter Strike: Source at medium to high setting. The best gaming experience on desktops is still on PCs, however, thanks to their impressive range of compatible titles and easier component upgradability.
Despite the fact that it’s hard to upgrade, you’re not at a loss for ports on the new iMac. You get four USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt 2 ports, Gigabit Ethernet and an SDXC card slot: all welcome additions.
Despite the fact that this thing packs a display and an edge sharp enough to cut you, it deals with its own heat surprisingly well. Normally I’d expect this thing to blow fire out of its fan exhaust port, but it only runs marginally hotter than my existing iMac which sits in the older, thicker chassis.
Honestly, this thing is mostly for photographers, casual video editors and the Retina-obsessed. Having gone between a Retina MacBook Pro and an 11-inch, standard definition MacBook Air, it’s a tough drug to give up.
It’s also for those who hate having multiple monitors. If you’re someone who can only afford to have one great screen, as opposed to two average ones, this is the machine for you. Scaling the screen to its full 5k resolution means you can stack window after window next to each other at full zoom rather than have to spread it across multiple displays. It’s a beautiful luxury to have.
All of that great gear comes in a package starting at $2999, which should probably be the most amazing thing about the new Retina iMac. Given the bonkers resolution, Apple could have priced the thing into the stratosphere, but instead it’s fairly reasonable.
4k monitors with 3840 pixels on the horizontal axis retail at between $800 and $1200 depending on the size you’re after and where you buy. That means that a premium iMac is only costing you roughly $1800 on top of that, which is pretty goddamn reasonable when you think about it.
What’s Not So Good?
OS X Yosemite is great to use, but it’s not perfect on the Retina iMac. Unfortunately, it has frame rate issues on animations when it comes to a display of this resolution. Mission Control and the new Notification Centre in particular both drop animation frames something fierce.
It also scales a little weirdly. It ships scaled at a 2560×1440 equivalent resolution, which makes everything look big enough to see but still suitably high-res. Shift it into full 5k mode, however, and things get a little hard to read, even at full zoom. Honestly, the best scale for this is in its 2880×1660 mode, which looks great but still gives you the screen real estate you paid for.
The perennial content availability problem also becomes an issue with an iMac of this screen res. Apple is taking a ‘build it and they will come’ approach to content with the 5k iMac but it’s still weird to buy an insanely high res screen from a company that only sells 1080p movies. Welcome to the content distribution bottleneck, Apple.
Finally, it doesn’t really have the specs for the true high-end video editing (you’ll still want to price up a Mac Pro for that job), but it can get the job done for the most part.
Should You Buy It?
Listen. Few people really need this resolution, you want it. And that’s ok. You’re allowed to.
If you’re one of those people who has a need over a want, assess that you want to spend the extra $500 to get your hands on it. Think of it this way: you can get a 27-inch iMac packing a 3.4GHz Intel Core i5, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB hard drive and a 2GB NVIDIA GTX 775M for $2449. It’s almost the same except for the bonkers resolution. Figure out your price point, then go see one in person to decide if it’s what you really want.
If you’re a photographer, video editor or allergic to having multiple 1080p screens on your desk, I highly recommend this all-in-one.
Sure, there are cheaper all-in-ones that run high-resolution displays, but none of them pack in this many pixels, and literally none of them do it with Mac OS X.
For power users, this is going to be the best iMac you’ve ever owned.
It’s crisp, clear, fast and beautiful with little to no niggles.
For the casual user, I’d really encourage you to check out the two displays at an Apple Store and see if you really need it. You’ll love it if you get it no matter what, but just decide if that extra money up front is worth that sort of satisfaction.