IMac with 5K Retina dis­play 3.3GHz

All the pix­els, fewer pounds. Is the new en­try-level Retina iMac a killer desk­top?

Mac Format - - RATED - Matt Bolton

From £1,599 Man­u­fac­turer Ap­ple, ap­ Pro­ces­sor 3.3GHz In­tel Core i5 Graph­ics AMD Radeon R9 M290 2GB Mem­ory 8GB Stor­age 1TB HDD

We ab­so­lutely loved the 5K iMac when it first ap­peared late last year. The base model ri­valled the Mac Pro for com­put­ing power and gave us that amaz­ing 14.7-mil­lion­pixel screen. At £1,999 it didn’t come cheap, but now Ap­ple has cut the price of that orig­i­nal model down to £1,849 and added this new en­trylevel op­tion, which weighs in at just £1,599. The ques­tion is, what corners had to be cut to save that £250?

First, the pro­ces­sor is slower, with a fre­quency of 3.3GHz com­pared to the 3.5GHz in the higher model. But it’s still an In­tel quad-core i5 chip, and it does seem that the only dif­fer­ence be­tween the two is pure speed, and not a big one at that. Bench­marks sug­gested we’d see a dif­fer­ence of less than 10% in both sin­gle-core per­for­mance (which is what you need for many stan­dard tasks around the op­er­at­ing sys­tem and sim­ple apps) and multi-core (for pro-level tasks like video or 3D ren­der­ing).

Don’t mind the gap

In fact, the gap turned out to be even less than we ex­pected in our real-world video en­cod­ing test – the en­try-level ma­chine didn’t even take 2% longer than the higher-end ver­sion to fin­ish the task. Given that they come with the same amount of RAM, for a lot of uses you’d see no ap­pre­cia­ble dif­fer­ence.

The AMD R9 M290X of the up­per model has been switched for an AMD R9 M290, though here los­ing the X makes more of a dif­fer­ence. They both of­fer 2GB of video RAM, but our Bat­man: Arkham City 1080p bench­mark dropped con­sid­er­ably, from 88 frames per sec­ond in the higher model down to 55fps.

That said, per­for­mance in Tomb Raider was much closer, drop­ping from 49fps in the higher model to 42fps when played at 2,560x1,440 on High set­tings. In all cases, it means that de­mand­ing games are very playable but you’ll get a lit­tle more fu­ture-proof­ing from the higher-end model’s 290X chip.

There’s one more dif­fer­ence be­tween the two iMacs, though, and this is likely to be the big­gest one for per­for­mance: stor­age. This en­trylevel iMac comes with a 1TB hard drive as stan­dard – an old-fash­ioned spin­ning (7,200rpm) drive. The ad­van­tage of this is im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous: space. If you’re plan­ning to use the 5K iMac for high-level pho­tog­ra­phy or large-scale video work, you’re go­ing to need a lot of stor­age space. That’s where hard drives ex­cel, no ques­tion.

But when we look at buy­ing a high-per­for­mance ma­chine like this, we want the blis­ter­ing speed of a solid-state drive. It’s not that the hard drive in the iMac feels es­pe­cially slow in use, at least when the ma­chine is still fairly new – apps load ex­tremely quickly, and it doesn’t take long to boot at all. But that changes over time, as it fills up and be­comes laden with apps and files.

If you’re plan­ning to work with things like large im­age li­braries, a solid-state drive will save a fair amount of wait­ing for files to be opened over time. That said, edit­ing 4K footage in Fi­nal Cut Pro was per­fectly re­spon­sive, with smooth timeline play­back as it switched be­tween clips, even with the footage play­ing back at high­est qual­ity.

In the higher-end iMac, Ap­ple pro­vides a Fu­sion Drive as stan­dard, which is mostly the best of both worlds – SSD speed for apps and com­mon files, with 1TB of stor­age over­all. You can con­fig­ure this iMac model with a Fu­sion Drive, but the up­grade costs £160. If you were go­ing to spend that, we’d say you’d get the most value from spend­ing an ex­tra £90 and just buy­ing the higher-end model, with its other faster com­po­nents.

Big screen star

De­spite these com­pro­mises, that 5K dis­play re­mains the same, and is just as as­ton­ish­ing and al­most un­bear­ably de­sir­able. Ev­ery­thing on it looks amaz­ing, from any an­gle, with ac­cu­rate colour re­pro­duc­tion. It’s a huge amount of space to work in, pro­vid­ing a vast amount of room and de­tail for cre­ative apps, or the abil­ity to have mul­ti­ple doc­u­ments open and read­able.

It’s to­tally un­for­giv­ing to im­agery, of course, since you can have many photos open at 100% with space for edit­ing tools nearby, but that also means that it’s un­ri­valed for get­ting in close to in­spect and im­prove them in your edit­ing app of choice.

Ul­ti­mately, this iMac is a strange one to rec­om­mend. Taken on its own, it’s un­doubt­edly an ex­cel­lent ma­chine: lots of CPU power, enough graph­ics ca­pa­bil­ity, and that glo­ri­ous dis­play. But we be­lieve you re­ally should be look­ing at an SSD or Fu­sion Drive for longevity, and that means that you might as well go for the next model up for over­all best value. If you don’t mind hav­ing only a hard drive and want to save the money, then this is a great buy – oth­er­wise, we’d en­cour­age you to in­vest in the up­grade.

This en­try-level Retina iMac is al­most as good as its pricier sib­ling, but we do wish it came with an SSD.

Same glo­ri­ous 5K dis­play 3.3GHz sys­tem is no slouch No SSD as stan­dard 3.5GHz model bet­ter value

For the en­try-level price, Ap­ple has had to ‘bud­get’ with its choice of graph­ics chip and pro­ces­sor.

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