These days, Apple might be best known for its mobile gadgets, with iPhones and iPads flying off the shelves at a ludicrous pace, but the Cupertino company's not forgotten about its luxurious desktop range. Apple's spruced up its iMac line for summer, adding Thunderbolt ports and the latest quad-core Intel Core i series processors. They're no less expensive than before, however, with the 27-inch model starting at £1,400. The 21.5-inch model starts at £1,000.
Hi ho, silver!
The iMac's iconic aluminium construction is pure tech luxury -- smooth, cool metal curves and a minimalist aesthetic mean it looks simply fantastic. This is the kind of kit that you'll spend a moment lovingly running your fingers over once it's out of the packaging, before you switch it on.
The face of the iMac is completely sheer, while the back is gently curved. All the ports and sockets sit on the rear of the machine, but are neatly arranged in a line. The only decoration on the front of the iMac is a glossy black Apple logo. The build quality feels as sturdy as ever.
Although we're just as enamoured with the design as we were last time we saw an iMac, we can't help yearning for something slightly different. If this is your first iMac, you'll find it a great addition to your home or office, but, if you're upgrading, there's not a huge amount of new stuff to get excited about.
In fact, while the iMac's still a great machine, the newest iteration feels slightly unambitious all round. It's clear that Apple's mainly focused on keeping its mobile devices ahead of the curve, and not on reinventing the all-in-one computer.
The iMac's 27-inch display is eye-explodingly vast if you're sat close to the screen. It has a very high resolution of 2,560x1,440 pixels, so Web pages are rendered very clearly, and you'll have plenty of on-screen real estate for running different programs at the same time.
The display is glossy and, as such, picks up plenty of reflections. Happily, the screen is sufficiently bright and colourful to cancel out most of that irritating bouncy light, but you might still find yourself drawing the curtains in a huff on especially sunny days.
The new iMacs are the first to pack Apple's Thunderbolt input/output port. Developed by Intel, Thunderbolt offers white-knuckle data-transfer speeds of up to 10Gbps. Thunderbolt first appeared earlier in the year, wedged into the side of the new MacBook Pro laptops.
We've seen Thunderbolt at work, and the speed at which it transfers data could indeed knock the socks off a hare. The trouble is that, because it's new, you'll have a hard time finding anything to actually plug into this intriguing new socket -- manufacturers are taking their time to release storage devices that use Thunderbolt.
Thunderbolt is essentially a PCI Express port and DisplayPort in one. As it will accept DisplayPort inputs, it's more immediately useful on a MacBook Pro, as you may need to hook the laptop up to an external monitor. We can't see you needing to export the display from a mammoth 27-inch iMac very often, however, so the two Thunderbolt ports feel rather useless for now.
If you're a video pro and crave rapid data-transfer speeds, Thunderbolt is worth getting excited about. It will make the new iMac a worthy addition to your professional life. If you just want this machine for casual home use, however, you could feasibly go years without ever using these two ports.
The slot selection elsewhere is rather paltry. Apple's not keen on overloading its devices with unnecessary ports but, even so, the line-up here is quite sparse. Audio line in and out sockets, four USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, the aforementioned Thunderbolt connections, and an Ethernet jack are all you'll find around the back. Down the right, you'll spy an SDXC card slot and a DVD rewritable drive. Sadly, there's still no Blu-ray option.
On the front, at the top of the display, there's a FaceTime camera for video chat with other people who own an iMac, MacBook Pro, iPhone 4, iPad 2 or fourth-generation iPod touch.
We have a couple of issues with these connectivity options. Firstly, it's a kick in the pants not to have any USB 3.0 ports. Most new laptops and computers come with one or more of these faster USB sockets, so having USB 2.0 speeds on a brand-new machine feels rather underwhelming. Perhaps Apple doesn't want to encourage competition with Thunderbolt but, whatever the reason, it's a serious omission.
Secondly, the placement of the ports feels rather awkward. Having to reach around the back every time you want to plug something into a USB port is pretty inconvenient. With the 27-inch model, this arrangement could have you grappling awkwardly with the iMac like a monkey trying to pick up a surfboard.
Quad erat demonstrandum
Apple's seen fit to cram Intel's new quad-core Core i5 processors into the refreshed iMacs. The 21.5-inch version has 2.5GHz or 2.7GHz options, while the 27-inch model has 2.7GHz or 3.1GHz options. If you have a spare £160, you can upgrade to a 2.8GHz Core i7 chip in the case of the 21.5-inch machine, and a 3.4GHz Core i7 processor in the case of the 27-inch model.
You can upgrade the 4GB of DDR3 RAM to 8GB (£160) or 16GB (£480). AMD Radeon chips provide the graphical grunt, with our iMac sporting the HD 6770M GPU.
Finally, a 1TB, 7,200rpm hard drive is included as standard on all but the cheapest iMac. Upgrade options include a 2TB hard drive (£120) and 256GB solid-state drive (£400).
Our iMac's performance was great. With a 2.7GHz Core i5 chip, it flew through our benchmark tests. It scored 267.42 in Xbench, compared with the 202.71 scored by last year's Core i3 iMac. In Cinebench OpenGL, it racked up 60.65 frames per second. This machine will chew through high-definition movies, and gaming is certainly on the cards as well. The new processor seems to be pulling its weight.
There's a wireless keyboard and Magic Mouse in the box, although you can choose to have a Magic Trackpad instead of the mouse if you wish. We think that might be a smart move -- the Magic Mouse can become uncomfortable with extended use, and it's not a very ergonomic shape. The keyboard is impressively small, but, if you're doing much typing, you might want to upgrade to something more spacious.
As with previous versions, we have our gripes about the port line-up on the new Apple iMac. You'll have to make up your own mind up as to whether these issues are likely to get on your nerves. Still, this is a gorgeous machine that offers great performance, a slick user interface, and a screen so big and beautiful that we'd kiss it if we weren't so afraid of getting face grease everywhere.
All this quality comes at a hefty price, though. If the iMac's credit-card-melting cost is too much to bear, we'd recommend considering the Mac mini instead. If you like the iMac but want something with better connectivity, check out the MSI Wind Top AE2400, an all-in-one with more ports than a vintage wine shop.
Edited by Charles Kloet