Review: Apple iMac 27-inch (MC814X/A)

We put Apple's current generation iMac up against its Windows-based counterparts, to see how the iconic all-in-one holds up. Short answer? Amazingly well.

NameAll-in-one PC: Apple iMac 27-inch (MC814X/A)
At a glance:27-inch, 2560 x 1440-pixel display,3.1GHz Intel Core i5-2400 CPU, 4GB RAM,AMD Radeon HD 6970M graphics,Thunderbolt, but no USB 3.0
Summary:A top-notch system, marred only by its exclusion of USB 3.0 and its less-than-practical peripherals.
Rating:4/5
RRP:$3,298
Contact:apple.co.nz

Apple's iMac features brilliantly understated design – a near-seamless aluminium body wrapped around a gloriously bright 27-inch display. That display is an ultra-high resolution 2560 x 1440 pixels, providing 78% more screen real-estate than the more common 1920 x 1080 resolution (1080p). The screen has a wide viewing angle, and you can tilt to position it to your liking.

Our top of the range iMac (model MC814X/A) featured a 3.1GHz Intel Core i5-2400 CPU, with 4GB of RAM. Graphics were handled by an AMD Radeon HD 6970M GPU with 1GB of dedicated memory, and for storage there’s a 1TB 7200RPM hard drive. It’s possible to upgrade various components when purchasing online.

Computing power is high compared to laptops and all-in-ones we’ve tested previously; the Samsung Series 9 All-in-One and Acer Aspire Z5771 also tested in our July 2012 roundup top the iMac in multi-core performance, but the higher clock speed of the iMac’s CPU gives it equal or slightly greater grunt in single-threaded tasks.

That 6970M is an impressive mobile GPU, granting the iMac decisive wins in all but one of our graphically-intensive benchmarks. Graphical prowess is important here, with the larger display requiring it. When we ran it below its native resolution – at 720 and 1080p respectively – the iMac outperformed our multimedia laptops from June 2012 and managed a full third the graphical performance of our high-end ‘Beast’ gaming PC from late 2011.

The 27-inch iMac holds its own as a gaming PC – it won’t let you dial every graphical setting up to maximum, but it’ll happily run current triple-A titles available under its native Mac OS. If you prefer to play in Windows 7, the iMac can also handle them, but you’ll have to factor in the cost of the OS.

The iMac is more than powerful enough for photo and video editing, 3D modelling and other creative work. For web browsing, office work and video playback, you’ll have no trouble at all.

All ports are located on the rear of the iMac in a single narrow strip – four USB 2.0 ports, two high-speed Thunderbolt ports, a single Firewire 800 port, Gigabit Ethernet and headphone/microphone sockets. The latter double as optical digital connections for use with high-quality sound gear.

Due to Apple’s commitment to Thunderbolt, the iMac does not include USB 3.0. If you’re working in an Apple-centric tech environment, this may not pose a problem – for high-speed external storage, simply purchase Thunderbolt-ready equipment. However, it’s a real downside if you have existing USB 3.0-equipped flash drives or hard drives, or if you want to shuffle data in bulk between your iMac and a USB 3.0-equipped PC. Aside from the omission of USB 3.0, connectivity is great. In addition to the wired ports, you also have Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) and Bluetooth.

By default, the iMac ships with an Apple Wireless Keyboard and gesture-based Apple Magic Mouse. Both follow the same aluminium styling of the iMac, with the addition of white plastic keyboard keys and mouse surface.

The wireless keyboard is just 28cm wide and features neither the usual Home/End/Page Up/Page Down keys nor a numeric keypad. If you do lots of text editing or working with spreadsheets, this can prove annoying. Key travel is shallow, but a clear ‘click’ sensation at the end of each keystroke makes typing quite comfortable.

Apple’s Magic Mouse is futuristic, sporting a large multi-touch surface where the buttons would usually be. However, it’s an ergonomic nightmare: when it was first released, we gave it just 2 of 5 stars for that reason. Its low profile leaves your hand unsupported, and the mouse drags loudly and awkwardly across most surfaces. You’ll definitely need a mouse pad – or, ideally, another mouse.

Overall, the 27-inch iMac is a powerful all-in-one that could easily replace a consumer-level desktop PC. It’s a strong workhorse and a capable gaming machine, all in one very slender and attractive package.