21.5-inch iMac with Retina 4K dis­play (Mid 2017)

The 4K iMac gets the ex­tra power and speed it de­serves

Mac|Life - - NEWS - Matt bolton

$1,499 From Ap­ple, ap­ple.com

Fea­tures 3.4GHz quad-core In­tel Core i5 pro­ces­sor, AMD Radeon Pro 560 with 4GB video mem­ory, 8GB mem­ory, 1TB Fu­sion Drive, 2x Thun­der­bolt 3 ports, 4x USB 3.0 (Type-A) ports, SDXC card slot, Gi­ga­bit Eth­er­net, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Blue­tooth 4.2

Be­lieve it or not, the 2017 mod­els of the 4K iMac are the first up­dates since the orig­i­nal de­buted in Oc­to­ber 2015; Ap­ple’s desk­top Macs have had it very quiet of late. When it came out, this was a bit of an odd­ball ma­chine. For a lot of peo­ple, it ought to be a nearly ideal desk­top com­puter – with a fan­tas­tic, highly de­tailed dis­play for view­ing pho­tos or work­ing, the power of a quad-core pro­ces­sor, and the in­her­ent ad­van­tages of a desk­top, such as lots of ports and a large amount of stor­age fit­ted as stan­dard.

But while it was good, the first ver­sion had its dis­ap­point­ments: It came with a slow 1TB, 2.5-inch hard drive, in­stead of the Fu­sion Drive that al­ways should have been the min­i­mum; and its vi­su­als felt a bit un­der­pow­ered, as they were de­liv­ered by In­tel’s in­te­grated graph­ics chips, rather than a ded­i­cated GPU. That was okay for ba­sic use, but didn’t give much room for in­ten­sive tasks that ben­e­fit a lot from a pow­er­ful graph­ics pro­ces­sor. It was, in short, half-baked.

How­ever, with an­other 20 months in the oven, the 2017 mod­els have risen to a much more im­pres­sive fin­ish. For a start, you can now get a 4K model for less money than before.

When the 4K iMac launched in 2015, it cost $1,499, and it was the top-of-the-range 21.5-inch model, with two non-4K mod­els be­low it. In the 2017 range, there’s the equiv­a­lent top-of-the-line $1,499 model that’s re­viewed here, but also a new $1,299 Retina 4K model.

There’s also an even cheaper $1,099 en­trylevel iMac, which is equipped with just a dual-core pro­ces­sor and an in­te­grated In­tel Iris Plus Graph­ics 640 pro­ces­sor. Given all this, and that model’s 1920x1080 dis­play, which lacks the wider color gamut of the Retina 4K dis­play, we strongly rec­om­mend spend­ing at least the ex­tra $200 to get much bet­ter bang for your buck.

So what do you get for more money? Front and cen­ter is still the gor­geous Retina 4K dis­play; at 4096x2304 pix­els, it’s ac­tu­ally slightly higher res­o­lu­tion than the Ul­tra HD 4K broad­cast­ing stan­dard (3840x2160) used by reg­u­lar TVs. This doesn’t mean much in

prac­tice, yet it’s nice for videog­ra­phers work­ing in the Cin­ema 4K stan­dard, which is 4096 pix­els wide. Some DSLRs record at this res, so it’s not that ob­scure a thing to want… just pretty ob­scure.

Look­ing sharp

The im­por­tant thing is that the dis­play is su­per-crisp for view­ing pho­tos, can pro­vide a huge amount of work­ing space for doc­u­ments and win­dows if you tweak the set­tings, sup­ports the P3 wide-color gamut to make com­pat­i­ble images (in­clud­ing those taken on an iPhone 7) look more re­al­is­tic than on other screens, and is now brighter than before. That last at­tribute helps re­duce the re­flec­tiv­ity of the screen – this year’s mod­els are among the best iMacs Ap­ple has made for cut­ting down on re­flec­tions – and is gen­er­ally im­pres­sive at mak­ing ev­ery­thing look su­per-vi­brant. Col­ors re­ally pop on this iMac’s dis­play, and the sheer num­ber of pix­els is bril­liant for view­ing your pho­tos, with­out the slightly mon­strous screen size of the even-more-de­tailed 27-inch 5K iMacs.

Next up, the pro­ces­sor: it’s a quad-core 3.4GHz In­tel Core i5, com­pared to a 3.1GHz quad-core unit in the pre­vi­ous ver­sion. (The $1,299 model in this year’s range now has a 3.0GHz quad-core i5). As is of­ten the case with th­ese gen­er­a­tional up­dates, the dif­fer­ence be­tween their speeds seems pretty small, and prac­ti­cal re­sults bear this out.

In our tests us­ing Geek­bench, the im­prove­ment was a lit­tle un­der 10 per­cent for both sin­gle-core and multi-core op­er­a­tions. When we ran our real-world test of a dif­fi­cult video en­code, we saw around the same gain. So, noth­ing ground­break­ing, but then pro­ces­sor power was never a slouch in the 4K iMac any­way – those are good re­sults that match the more ex­pen­sive Retina 5K iMac. Even if you’re plan­ning to do pro­gram­ming or video work, this is still a strong per­former.

The area in which we were re­ally look­ing for im­prove­ment is graph­ics. Ap­ple has gone from us­ing a thor­oughly mid­dling in­te­grated In­tel graph­ics pro­ces­sor in the 2015 model to a much more ca­pa­ble dis­crete chip from AMD this time around. This is ob­vi­ously good for gamers, but it’s great else­where, too – apps from con­sumer-level stuff like Pho­tos to pro­fes­sional soft­ware such as Fi­nal Cut Pro use it to speed up many tasks. Skimp­ing on its per­for­mance meant lim­it­ing the ca­pa­bil­ity of th­ese apps, but that’s all changed.

Push­ing pix­els

Speak­ing of low-hang­ing fruit that Aple has fixed, you now get a Fu­sion Drive as stan­dard

Gam­ing is one of the tough­est tests, and the dif­fer­ence is huge in our Tomb Raider bench­marks. With the game set to ren­der at 1920x1080 pix­els, we saw a 66 per­cent im­prove­ment in frames per sec­ond (fps). When we set the game to ren­der to the dis­play’s na­tive 4096x2304 res­o­lu­tion, the dif­fer­ence was a colos­sal 92 per­cent – though we still only saw 12.3fps on this lat­ter test, so don’t ex­pect playable 4K games un­less they’re a lot less com­plex than Tomb Raider.

Those re­sults show ex­actly why we were so dis­ap­pointed with the graph­ics last time, and it’s great to see them fixed. This iMac still isn’t block­buster power for a $1,499 ma­chine – it’s not ca­pa­ble of pow­er­ing a vir­tual re­al­ity sys­tem, for ex­am­ple, which is a shame since Ap­ple fo­cused heav­ily on VR at WWDC – but with per­for­mance im­prove­ments com­ing in High Sierra plus the new breed of apps that make bet­ter use of graph­ics power, this is a pleas­ingly ca­pa­ble desk­top.

Speak­ing of low-hang­ing fruit that Ap­ple has fixed, you now get a Fu­sion Drive as stan­dard at this price. It’s a 1TB model, and the use of flash stor­age along­side a big hard disk makes a mas­sive dif­fer­ence to the experience. The fastest data read speed we saw on the 2015 model was 104MB/sec; on this one it’s 487MB/sec.

A Fu­sion Drive isn’t as good as purely flash-based stor­age (things you haven’t used in a while are slower to find and open, since they’re stored on the hard disk rather than the rel­a­tively small flash por­tion of the Fu­sion Drive), but it is a much, much cheaper way to com­bine the speedy per­for­mance of flash with the large ca­pac­ity of a hard disk in a sin­gle vol­ume – and in a desk­top, what a lot of peo­ple want is plenty of room to store pho­tos, videos, and other files go­ing back years. That’s what you get here, but with a big speed boost for apps and files you ac­cess of­ten.

Fu­sion re­ac­tion

We’re dis­ap­pointed to see that the $1,299 model still only comes with a plain 1TB hard drive, though. Ap­ple, this is a pre­mium ma­chine, and a lit­tle 32GB stick of flash stor­age is not break­ing your bank – just throw it in! You can con­fig­ure the $1,299 model to have a 1TB Fu­sion Drive for an ex­tra $100, but that’s too steep – we would sug­gest pay­ing an ex­tra $100 on top of that to get the best model.

You still get 8GB of mem­ory here, which is fine for most peo­ple; al­though if you’re delv­ing into edit­ing pho­tos from a DSLR, or like to edit video, spring­ing for the 16GB or even 32GB up­grade is wise even though they’re ex­pen­sive – you’re not able to add more mem­ory your­self later, only by go­ing to a ser­vice cen­ter.

The new iMac mod­els come with Ap­ple’s Magic Key­board, which has a fairly crisp re­sponse to its keys. It won’t win over me­chan­i­cal key­board lovers, but we like it. That said, we can’t be­lieve it doesn’t come with Touch ID in this day and age – if you’ve used a new MacBook Pro, this will feel like a big back­wards step. And in the era of thin bezels, we think the iMac’s de­sign is due a re­fresh – in­clud­ing a Space Gray op­tion across the line, not just on the up­com­ing iMac Pro, Ap­ple! The im­por­tant thing is that the 4K iMac gets the in­ter­nal per­for­mance to match its fan­tas­tic Retina dis­play – mak­ing this a great desk­top pick.

the bot­tom line. Whether you work with pho­tos or videos, or just do of­fice work, this is a strong Mac with a lovely dis­play.

The 4K iMac re­mains clean and sim­ple at the back, with a cen­tral bulge ta­per­ing to the su­per-thin edges.

Ap­ple’s alu­minum crafts­man­ship is beau­ti­ful, but the iMac’s de­sign feels ready for an up­date.

The dis­play is more im­pres­sive than ever, and less re­flec­tive, thanks to im­proved bright­ness.

The 4K iMac gives you a big, crisp dis­play, with­out dom­i­nat­ing your desk the way the 27-inch model (with Retina 5K dis­play) does.

The ports are gen­er­ally iden­ti­cal to before, but with Thun­der­bolt 3’s lu­di­crous speed and 5K dis­play out­put.

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