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imac Review: iMac 27-inch, Late 2012

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Back in October I decided to sell my then two-year-old 27-inch iMac (medio 2010) and switch to something more portable. I looked into getting a 15-inch MacBook Pro but after owning one for almost two weeks I decided against it and returned the computer to Apple. I didn't use the notebook as much on-the-go as I expected to at first and found it too bulky to carry around with me all the time. On top of that I really missed the large screen and extra performance, especially when working in Final Cut Pro.

When the late 2012 27-inch iMac went on sale November 30th I immediately ordered one with the following BTO specifications:

  • 3.4GHz Quad-core Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz
  • 8GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM - 2x4GB
  • 1TB Fusion Drive
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680MX 2GB GDDR5
  • Magic Trackpad
  • Apple Wireless Keyboard (English) & User's Guide

I would later add an additional 8 GB of memory to get a total of 16 GB.

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Apple updated the packaging to take up even less space

On January 3, 2013 I finally received my brand new 27-inch iMac. Unfortunately the screen wasn't installed properly, which meant I missed a strip of about three pixels wide on the right and it suffered from extensive backlight bleeding. I called Apple and without any issues the woman on the phone made arrangements for a new iMac. She also offered me ?100 for my troubles. Exactly one week later I received my second 27-inch iMac. I was glad to see it arrived in mint condition without any defects.

Design

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The change between generations is most dramatic when seen from the side

Seen from the front it's hard to tell the difference between the late 2012 iMac and my previous medio 2010 model. In fact the only visual change I could spot was the enlarged FaceTime HD (formerly iSight) camera. When looking at the new iMac from the side the change is quite dramatic. Gone is the fat pizza box-like bezel that held the SuperDrive and SDXC card slots. Instead there's an 5 millimeter thin rim which changes into the curved back. When laying flat on its LCD panel, the eight generation iMac resembles a droplet of water more than it does a full-fledged desktop computer. It's an astonishing feat of engineering really. Like all of Apple's products you can tell a lot of attention to detail went into every aspect of the casing.

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The bottom of the iMac serves as one big intake vent

When Apple first introduced the new iMac a lot of people were concerned about heat and with good reason. During modest usage my medio 2010 27-inch iMac became so hot it was almost impossible to touch the aluminum back for more than a few seconds. I kinda worried about it because I can't imagine that much heat will have a positive impact on the screen and other hardware over the years. The upper left corner was especially bad. I was surprised to see during CPU intensive tasks the new iMac stays surprisingly cool. The entire back becomes lukewarm at best and there are no noticeable hotspots to be detected, suggesting more evenly distributed heat dissipation. This is something I really didn't expect at all from a Mac that has 40% less volume compared to the previous model. All that without loosing performance.

Expandability

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In the middle you can see the heat dissipation vent with directly underneath it the backdoor for memory slot access

To make the thin design possible Apple had to sacrifice the SuperDrive, which means you can't use optical media without an external drive. Of course it increases the amount of clutter on your desk, kinda defeating the purpose of having an all-in-one desktop computer. The thin case also doesn't leave much room for expendability. With the 27-inch model you get to add additional memory - four slots, hidden behind a small door on the back for up to 32 GB of RAM - but that's pretty much it. So when ordering an iMac be sure not to purely look at what you currently need, but think about the future as well. For me it meant maxing out both the CPU and GPU. Since there's no space on the sides Apple moved the SDXC card slot to the back of the machine. This can be a bit of a hassle at first when trying to change cards, but you'll definitely manage to swap them without crawling behind the screen pretty quickly.

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The adapter tends to run a little bit hot when transferring large amounts of files

The new iMac comes with a SDXC card slot, four USB 3 ports, two Thunderbolt ports, 10/100/1000BASE-T Gigabit Ethernet and a Kensington lock slot. Since Apple got rid of the FireWire 800 ports I had to buy a fairly expensive ?29 Thunderbolt-to-FireWire-adapter to connect my two external LaCie d2 Quadra drives. Having only four USB ports at your disposal can be a bit problematic at times. That said we entered an age where more and more devices and peripherals go wireless. Luckily the new iMac supports 802.11n Wi-Fi wireless networking and has Bluetooth 4.0 build-in.

Performance

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Specifications

When it comes down to overall performance my new iMac is an absolute beast. The Fusion Drive definitely works as advertised and is the perfect middle ground between speed and storage. The operating system and frequently used apps and files are dynamically moved to the 128 GB SSD, while less frequently accessed apps and files are moved to the slower but larger 1 TB HDD. Both drives are merged by OS X into one logical volume, so it's seamless and done completely behind the scenes. You as the end-user won't ever notice it's there. As time goes by the system learns more about your preferences and the Fusion Drive becomes more effective.

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Hard Drive and Flash Storage are merged into one logical volume

My new iMac boots within 17 seconds straight to the desktop and all bundled apps, including iPhoto, launch instantly. On a day-to-day basis it's probably the biggest boost in performance compared to my medio 2010 iMac. If you have the money to spare I strongly advice coughing up the extra ?230 for the Fusion Drive. It will definitely be worth it.

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Geekbench score

With all my previous Macs I noticed the GPU is the first thing to show its age, so like the last time I decided to get the best chip available. With the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680MX 2048 MB OS X Mountain Lion runs incredibly smooth. So far I haven't experienced a single lag anywhere, while my previous iMac struggled at times with Mission Control and large amounts of open windows. The 3.4 GHz Intel Core i7 runs like a dream. Especially when editing videos in Final Cut Pro.

Screen

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The iMac's screen received some hard needed improvements, but don't expect a change as dramatic as with the MacBook Pro with Retina display

Though not "retina" the iMac's screen looks great. Apple definitely made good on their word: because of the new coating the glass front is noticeably less reflective compared to previous models. For a lot of people this was a huge issue ever since Apple introduced the first iMac with glossy screen back in 2007. The new iMac's screen almost seems matte, without sacrificing the vibrant color output. To me that's a major improvement. Due to the full-lamination process there's no longer a gap between the glass and LCD panel. Because of that your iMac won't be prone to getting dust stuck behind the glass plate and it almost seems like images are about to leap off the screen.

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Fully-laminated display instead of a glass plate held in place by magnets

Wrap-up

While the updated design isn't as big of a change as some would have liked, the new iMac's slim body is definitely a head turner. Overall the system is incredibly fast and runs all apps I threw at it without a hiccup. The downsides lie in the lack of expendability and ports, but that's a tradeoff you make with most all-in-one desktop computers. So far the lack of a SuperDrive hasn't bothered me at all. Having to purchase a ?29 Thunderbolt-to-FireWire-adapter just so I could hook up my external drive did annoy me a bit. On the flip side ?29 isn't likely to deprive you of much sleep if you're able to afford this machine.

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Comparison of screen estate 2560 x 1440 vs 1920 x 1080

resolutioncomparison.png

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Nice write up.

I also have the same model iMac with maxed out ram. Is the best iMac I've owned. Do wish they'd put more usb ports. I don't miss the superdrive, but did end up buying one cheap on amazon, for those "just in case" moments.

Just apple, please get rid of the jleno chin on the imacs... its been about 7yrs now.

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At this point I think the chin is there purely for esthetic reasons, to set the iMac aside from a generic display. From what I remember it doesn't house anything more than the speakers.

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i got the 27' i5 and its the best computer i've owned so far...don't need the superdrive at all. thing is massive coming from using a 15.4 laptop for the last 6 years

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I like the design but these laptop parts are not gonna cut it for builders like myself.

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I like the design but these laptop parts are not gonna cut it for builders like myself.

With the 27-inch iMac both the CPU and HDD are desktop-grade. The GPU is mobile though. I don't think the iMac has had a mobile CPU since 2009.

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With the 27-inch iMac both the CPU and HDD are desktop-grade. The GPU is mobile though. I don't think the iMac has had a mobile CPU since 2009.

The GPU is also downclocked quite a bit.

I'm not going to nitpick and say this machine won't suffice most of everyone's needs, it's definately more than capable. But my needs require I be able to have full control of what's inside my system.

If I was cooking I'd prob have one as a kitchen unit to look up stuff while I'm prepping up my ingredients or just checking up on something.

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But my needs require I be able to have full control of what's inside my system.

Then the iMac definitely isn't for you. :p

Personally I'm done with trying to control every aspect of my computer like I used to. It just isn't needed for me.

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Have been looking getting one, but also looking at MBPr 13" and 27" Monitor. I would like to be able to take my MBPr with me on trips and work.

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Very nice piece of kit, and good review :)

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Good review touching on the details that have changed such as the merged logical volume as well as the screen reflectivity change. :)

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Thanks!

If you guys have questions about stuff I haven't covered in my review don't hesitate to ask! :)

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Great review. I'd get one if I had the money to spare. I don't really need it, but I've always been a fan of Apple's hardware. The software, on the other hand, is good enough for me but I prefer Windows because of its gaming support. This would be great for productivity though. I could see myself spending time learning how to edit videos and photos with a machine as powerful as that.

Also, dat resolution. Makes my 22" 1680x1050 monitor look like 800x600.

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This review is worthy of front page :)

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This review is worthy of front page :)

Agreed, I don't own anything Apple but the review/story kept me reading to the end

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Good review, what about fan noise? If you're stressing the GPU and/or CPU does it get loud?

My old iMac (I think it was mid 2010) used to get ridiculously hot and noisy when you used graphics applications (e.g. Maya), I got it replaced because I thought it was faulty but the replacement was the same so ended up returning it. With faster components and smaller internal space I imagine this would be the same?

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Agreed, I don't own anything Apple but the review/story kept me reading to the end

Thanks for the kind words. Since the iMac isn't a completely new product and most here are familiar with it (at least to some degree) I tried limiting my story to what has changed, rather than doing a full report on the iMac and OS X as whole.

Good review, what about fan noise? If you're stressing the GPU and/or CPU does it get loud?

My old iMac (I think it was mid 2010) used to get ridiculously hot and noisy when you used graphics applications (e.g. Maya), I got it replaced because I thought it was faulty but the replacement was the same so ended up returning it. With faster components and smaller internal space I imagine this would be the same?

I covered this in my review: My 2010 iMac became so hot it was almost impossible to touch the back, which apparently is normal for all 2009, 2010 and 2011 iMac models. The 2012 iMac stays much, much cooler. Under stress the back becomes lukewarm at best, nowhere near the blazing furnace the 2010 iMac turns into. Eventually the fan (from what I understand the 2012 iMac only has one) does spin up when using CPU and GPU intensive apps, but it doesn't make as much noice.

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i barely use the thing to its full capacity but i've never heard the fan spin up...in fact its never made a noise (haven't filled up the 1TB yet still purely on the fusion ssd)

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I bought one of these last week from Best Buy and it indeed fits the bill. I was going to get this from Amazon, but they were temporarily sold out. I had a Amazon Prime account, so I took my invoice to Best Buy and they matched it. That included no tax which would have been about $ 100.00. Very nice set up.... great packaging, and the wireless bluetooth keyboard and mouse it awesome. I went ahead and bought the track pad also since I have a Macbook Air and am used to the gestures. 2560 x 1440 resolution is as crisp as I have ever seen.

This set up does cost some serious change, so I think that a perspective buyer should think about usage over aesthetics when purchasing it. To me, however, it was well worth it!

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I rather them make it slightly thicker to be able to put a descent video card in it

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As a Windows user I'll probably hate myself for saying this but seeing OSX alongside Windows 8 really does feel like a beauty and the beast scenario, and the beast isn't the Apple setup :(

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I rather them make it slightly thicker to be able to put a descent video card in it

The 27-inch iMac has the best graphics card of all competing all-in-ones I came across (DELL, Lenovo, HP, Asus). Making the iMac "slightly thicker" probably won't allow it to house desktop-grade graphics to begin with, as demonstrated by previous designs.

As a Windows user I'll probably hate myself for saying this but seeing OSX alongside Windows 8 really does feel like a beauty and the beast scenario, and the beast isn't the Apple setup :(

After using OS X I honestly can't deal with Microsoft's messy interface design anymore. I'm hoping Apple will get rid of the skeuomorphic interface elements in the next major OS X release though.

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Really great review!!! I'm looking to get exact the same config, but I still have to save up some more money :)

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Comparison of screen estate 2560 x 1440 vs 1920 x 1080

Source to that wallpaper?

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