Macsimum review: 27-inch, quad-core iMac is the best one yet
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Macsimum review: 27-inch, quad-core iMac is the best one yet

I've had the chance to test drive one of the 2.8GHz, i7 quad-core processor versions, and let me tell you, this baby screams. The i7 boasts Turbo Boost technology; if an app isn't using every available core, the cores that are just sitting around shut off, and the active cores speed up. Performance is also enhanced by the powerful ATI Radeon HD 4850 discrete graphics in the 27-inch model. The new iMac line now also features 4GB of 1066 MHz DDR3 memory and capacity up to 16GB across four SO-DIMM slots.

You can have multiple apps open (as I do) and all of them perform with no lag time involved. You can check out the Speedmark and Cinebench tests at the Macworld and Bare Feats web sites. But to sum it up: this iMac is 1.5% faster overall than the 2.26GHz 8-core Mac Pro and only slightly slower than the 2.93GHz quad-core Mac Pro. Forget the consumer designation; the high-end iMac is a pro machine for professionals who don't need expansion capabilities.

Despite all this power, the iMac is practically noiseless. It operates at just 18 decibels when idle. The larger chassis (more on that in a moment) has allowed Apple to add more space between heat-intensive components for improved cooling.

The new iMac features LED-backlit displays with a 16:9 aspect ratio, which is great for watching high definition movies and TV shows -- or editing and watching your own videos or photos using iLife or iMovie. The 27-inch iMac sports a 2560-by-1440 pixel display that offers 60% more pixels than the previous 24-inch model. It also has amazingly consistent color across a 178 degree viewing angle. What's more, the screens feature LED backlighting, which lets them instantly achieve full brightness.

The screens on the new iMac also use in-plane switching (IPS). The technology, developed by Hitachi, reduces the amount of light scattering in the screen matrix, which gives IPS its characteristic wide viewing angles and good color reproduction.

However, it's in regards to the screen that the iMac should have had some extra build-to-order options. First, users should be able to order a matte alternative to the default glossy screen, but Apple doesn't make this available.

imageAdmittedly, the glossy screen is great for watching videos. In fact, Apple correctly says the display offers "better than high def." Unfortunately, Apple doesn't offer a Blu-ray option. But I'll come back to that.

Even the speakers in the new iMac are better. There are two built-in stereo speakers with internal 17-watt, high efficiency amplifiers. They're don't equal speakers with a separate subwoofer, but they do offer richer, clean sound with better bass response and less distortion. (BTW, I plan on connecting one of the new BassJump portable subwoofers from TwelveSouth to the iMac to see how that affects the speaker output.)

One of the most interesting features of the 27-inch iMacs is that the you can use the Mini DisplayPort to connect an external display, including the Apple LED Cinema Display, to your iMac for even more screen real estate (but you'd better have a really big desk). The same port offers input, too. So you can connect any external source that has DisplayPort output -- including a MacBook or MacBook Pro -- and use your iMac as a display. It's anticipated that we'll soon see display adapters for the iMac to allow input from more than just your MacBook or MacBook Pro. Will you be able to connect a video game console or Blu-ray player? We'll see.

The 27-inch iMac is a great computer that can double as a great entertainment system. I often watch TV and videos on mine, which has EyeTV software installed for TV viewing and Bose speakers for better sound. But I can't watch my Blu-ray discs, and that peeves me. After all, Apple has made the iMac a computer that fits in your living room as well as your office; the 27-inch models are compatible with VESA-compliant wall mounts commonly used for flat-screen TVs.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: if Apple doesn't want to offer a Blu-ray playback option in hardware, it should put the necessary hooks into Mac OS X so that third parties can offer a drive that both records and plays Blu-ray discs (you can get burn-only devices now). I'll bet OWC would be up to the job.

Obviously, Apple wants you to buy your flicks from the iTunes Store. The store does offer 720p downloads, but that’s still not the 1080p quality you get with Blu-ray. And some of us still like a physical copy of our music and movies. So, c'mon, Apple.

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Anyway, every new iMac ships with a wireless keyboard and the all new wireless Magic Mouse. The latter is the world’s first mouse with Multi-Touch technology pioneered by Apple on the iPhone, iPod touch and Mac notebook trackpad.

imageInstead of needing mechanical buttons, scroll wheels or scroll balls, the entire top of the Magic Mouse is a Multi-Touch surface. Using gestures, a user can scroll through long documents, pan across large images or swipe to move forward or backward through a collection of web pages or photos. The Magic Mouse can be configured as either a single button or two button mouse, according to your needs and wishes. The wireless keyboard and Magic Mouse work with the iMac’s built-in Bluetooth capabilities.

Both the mouse, and the teeny keyboard (which is akin to the keyboard on Apple's laptops) take a bit of getting used to. However, once you acclimate yourself to them, I think you'll love 'em. I do.

There are also some cosmetic changes. The 27-inch iMac -- which measures 20.4 x 25.6 x 8.15 inches -- has a smaller "chin" than the previous iMac. The previous chin didn't bother me, but some folks found it too big in comparison with the rest of the computer frame. Also, the new iMac is "unibody." In other words, it's no longer plastic on the back. The back is the same metal frame as used on the front. What's more, the black glass extends right to the very edge like a high-end HDTV. These aren't earthshaking changes, but they're aesthetically pleasing ones.

image

Naturally, every iMac features a built-in iSight video camera, mic and stereo speakers integrated into the thin aluminum and glass design. iMac includes built-in AirPort Extreme 802.11n Wi-Fi networking, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, Gigabit Ethernet, a total of four USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire 800 port and a new built-in SD card slot. (FireWire 400 has disappeared and will push those with legacy devices to get an adapter.)

Overall, the 27-inch, i7 iMac is a gorgeous, powerful machine. It's certainly boosting Apple desktop sales and shows that, when it comes to bang for the buck, desktops still trounce laptops. Heck, if it weren't for the lack of non-glossy screen and Blu-ray playback options, I'd say this was the perfect desktop.

Macismum rating: 9 out of 10

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