The new Apple iMac design lends itself more towards use as central part of a home entertainment centre, as well as boasting top-end performance. [Review updated November 12, 2009]

The two ultra-high-end 27-inch iMacs are the first to use Intel's Core i5 and Core i7 quad-core processors. The remainder (two 21.5-inch and one 27-inch) use a 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor.

Latest (late 2012 models): Apple iMac 21.5-inch review and Apple iMac 27-inch review

iMac screen

The most obvious change in Apple's new all-in-one computer range is to the iMac screen. Both the 21.5- and 27-inch screens are made with high definition video in mind.

And the 27-inch model is, in a word, stunning.

Don't take my word for it. That's based on the cluster of techie-types and graphic designers who popped into my office last week to get a gander at the newest all-in-one Mac from Apple.

Part of it might have been the novelty: Apple unveiled these larger, widescreen iMacs on October 20 and sent one over for review purposes two days later.

It's the biggest change for the iMac since it went aluminium-and-black in late 2007.

Like on many HDTVs, the black border around the new iMac's screen reaches out to the very edge; the aluminium border that surrounded the screen in the previous iMac is gone.

21.5-inch and 27-inch Apple iMac

This gives the effect of the screen being bigger than it really is. To the chagrin of many, there is no matte screen option. Glossy is your only choice.

The glossy effect makes colours pop and blacks deep and rich, but you can see your reflection in the glass.

When using the iMac as a desktop computer, I've learned how to see past the glare and reflections, but many others cannot develop such tolerance - and I'm not saying you should.

Glare is a problem if you're in a group gathered around the 27-inch iMac that's being used as an HDTV. In fact, because of the glare, you might reconsider using the 27-inch iMac as a HDTV.

However, it's now been two years since the first aluminium iMac with glass was introduced, and there are no signs that Apple is interested in offering a matte screen option.

While the 21.5-inch iMac isn't much bigger than the previous 20-inch iMac on paper, sitting side-by-side, the 21.5-inch iMac seems huge. It has a 1,920-x-1,080-pixel resolution.

The 27-inch iMac is gloriously big, but one Macworld editor said it might even be too big as a desktop Mac.

That screen, the largest LED-backlit computer display out there for now, offers a resolution of 2,560-x-1,440 pixels for a true 16:9 aspect ratio. According to Apple, the basic £949 model - and its slightly pricier £1,199 brother - offers 17 percent more pixels than the old 20-inch iterations (16:10 aspect ratio).

That's 90 percent of the screen real estate you'd get from Apple's gargantuan 30-inch Cinema Display and it's perfect for viewing high-definition content.

Judging from the coos of approval I heard when I fired up some hi-def movie trailers for the huddled masses, this iMac should sell well.

In fact, hi-def content is so sharp and bright that it almost looks 3D. The big question you'll be asking yourself is: "Do I put this in an office or show it off in the living room?"

At first glance, you might mistake the new iMacs for HDTVs - in fact, the new 27-inch iMac has support for a VESA Mount Adapter Kit (£20) for mounting on a wall.

Apple says that the iMac screens are LED-backlit widescreen TFT active-matrix LCDs with in-plane switching technology, and can display millions of colours at all resolutions.

Switch on the iMacs, and you'll notice that the LED backlit screens on both the 21.5- and 27-inch models are a bit brighter than their predecessors. Look even closer at the 21.5-inch iMac, and you'll notice that its colors are much better than the 20-inch iMac.

That's because Apple thankfully now uses 8-bit displays across the iMac line - the 6-bit dithered display used in the 20-inch iMac is gone (we hope).

Both of the new displays use in-plane switching (IPS) technology, which is supposed to help maintain image quality when viewing the screen at extreme angles.

Looking at the new iMacs at different angles, I had a difficult time noticing any colour shifting.

When compared side-by-side against the previous iMacs, the 20-inch iMac screen looks like a mess, while the new iMac screens maintained their colour integrity.

NEXT: iMac case design and iMac memory

The new Apple iMac design lends itself more towards use as central part of a home entertainment centre, as well as boasting top-end performance.

iMac case design

The body of the iMac is now made entirely of aluminium. The flat black plastic used on the back in earlier models is gone, allowing Apple to use its unibody design process to carve the chassis out of a solid block of aluminum.

The front "chin" below the screen (it's not as big as before) is added on later, but you'd never know it to look at it.

What you will notice, especially if you're familiar with the old 24-inch iMac, is that teh 27-inch iMac is 2.2kg heavier, weighing in at 13.8kg. (The 21.5-inch model weighs 9.3kg.)

Another change: The screen glass now runs from edge to edge and is surrounded by a black bezel. It gives the iMac a more refined look.

The power button is flush with the back panel and is also aluminium, so it feels like the rest of the back.

If you're reaching around the back from the front of the iMac, it's not as easy to find as the power button on the old iMac, which had a concave button that had a different texture than the back panel.

Apple iMac 27-inch 2009

iMac ports, video in, and more

Like previous iMacs, the ports are located on the back of the iMac, on the lower left side.

There is a headphone/optical digital audio output minijack, an audio line in/optical digital audio input minijack, four USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire 800 port, a Mini DisplayPort, and a Gigabit Ethernet port.

If you have FireWire 400 peripherals, you'll have to supply your own FireWire 400-to-FireWire 800 adaptor.

The new iMacs include wireless input devices. The Wireless Keyboard and Magic Mouse both use Bluetooth. Apple includes a new version of the Wireless Keyboard, which now uses two AA batteries instead of the three AA batteries required in its predecessor.

The 27-inch iMac's Mini DisplayPort has a very interesting new feature. It has video-in capability, so you can connect an external video source like a MacBook, Blu-ray player, or even a Playstation 3, and use the 27-inch iMac as a monitor.

According to Apple, the computer is still on when in this mode, and you can press Command-F2 on your keyboard to switch between the computer and the external video source.

Apple also said that you can connect a video source while the iMac is on, so there's no need to shut down.

To use the 27-inch iMac's video in, you need to have either a DisplayPort-compliant source like a MacBook, or you can use an adaptor for a non-DisplayPort device, such as an HDMI-to-Mini DisplayPort video-in adapter. However, Apple said it has no plans to produce such adaptors, leaving it up to third-party manufacturers.

iMac speakers

To strengthen the possibility of using the iMac as part of an entertainment centre, Apple upgraded the speaker system.

The new speakers are a vast improvement over previous models, producing richer sound with better bass response and louder volume.

You'll still want to use external speakers to fill a room larger than 20-by-20 feet, but for bedrooms, offices, dens, and smaller living rooms, the built-in speakers have enough power.

iMac webcam

The iMacs come standard with an iSight camera, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.

iMac Apple Remote

Apple does not include its new Apple Remote, and if you want one, you'll have to shell out an extra £15.

iMac memory

All of the iMacs (except the top model) come with a 3.06-GHz Core 2 Duo chip and 4GB of RAM. But Apple has added two more RAM slots, making it easy (though not necessarily cheaper) to max out the memory.

For most users, 4GB should be plenty. But if you do decide to add more RAM, you can double it in the smaller iMacs to 8GB, and quadruple it in the 27-in. models to 16GB.

Doing so will cost you, though: £160 if you want to go to 8GB and £1,120 if you go to 16GB. (You can usually get RAM cheaper by buying it from a third-party supplier and installing it yourself.)

Though 4GB is enough for most users, if you're running a virtualized operating system or two, you'll find that 8GB gives you room for Mac OS X Snow Leopard and whatever flavour of Windows or Linux you want to run at the same time.

You can also boost the processor from 3.06 GHz to 3.33 GHz for £160, though it's unlikely to make enough difference to warrant the expense. If you're looking for the best use for your money, get extra RAM.

NEXT: iMac performance

PREVIOUS: iMac screen

The new Apple iMac design lends itself more towards use as central part of a home entertainment centre, as well as boasting top-end performance.

iMac performance

If you really want to move, you can treat yourself to one of the quadcore processors Apple is offering, the first time it's done so in an iMac. (Until now, quadcores have been limited to the Mac Pro line.)

The basic chip (can a quadcore in an iMac really ever be basic?) is a 2.66GHz Core i5 processor from Intel's Lynnfield line.

If the Core i5 isn't enough power for you, there's an optional 2.8GHz Core i7. It'll set you back an additional £160, which puts the price tag for the meanest, fastest iMac available at £1,758.99 - or £2,878.99 if you splash out on the maximum RAM.

iMac 2009 performance

That, combined with the super-size screen, should offer a powerful punch for anyone who needs the horsepower - or just wants the fastest thing on the block.

The Core i5 features a technology Intel calls Turbo Boost. If an application isn't using every available core, the cores that are idle shut off, and the active cores speed up. According to Apple, this allows the processor to run up to 20 percent faster under heavy workloads; that translates to 3.2GHz in this iMac.

The Core i7 also features Turbo Boost (for speeds of up to 3.46GHz), and it also has Hyper-Threading technology that can present itself to highly threaded applications as having eight virtual cores.

iMac speed benchmarks

What's intriguing about the new iMacs is that they - except the super-power models - all use the same 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo processor with 3MB of shared Level 2 cache and 4GB of RAM.

If you think that the new Core Duo iMacs would post similar benchmark scores, you are correct - in almost all of our tests, the three new iMacs posted similar times. But keep reading for the eye-wateringly fast Quad-Core iMacs...

When comparing the total amount of time it took to complete all 17 of our timed tests, the three Core Duo iMacs were within 30 seconds of each other.

The key difference between the three Core Duo iMacs is the graphics card. The £949 21.5-inch iMac with its Nvidia GeForce 9400M integrated graphics chip posted a rate of nearly 22 frames per second in our Call of Duty benchmark.

That's acceptable for gameplay, but dramatically slower than frame rates of over 65 fps by the £1,199 21.5-inch iMac and the £1,349 27-inch iMac, both of which use an ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics card.

When compared to its predecessors, the speed gains with the new iMacs are marginal at best. The £949 3.06GHz 21.5-inch iMac had nice improvements over the 2.66GHz 20-inch iMac Core 2 Duo (which was also £949 at its release earlier this year) in our Aperture, Cinebench, Compressor, Pages, and Zip Archive tests.

But in some of our tests - Adobe Photoshop CS4, MathematicaMark 7, and Call of Duty 4 - the speed increase was small, if there was an increase at all.

Generally speaking, the 27-inch 3.06GHz iMac had an overall performance that was about the same as the previous high-end iMac, the 24-inch 3.06GHz iMac.

See the complete 17-test benchmark results at Macworld Lab.

The new 27-inch 3.06GHz iMac showed slight improvements over the 24-inch 2.93GHz iMac of the previous generation; the biggest performance difference between these two iMacs is in the Call of Duty test, in which the 27-inch 3.06GHz iMac clocked more than 20 fps over the 24-inch 2.93GHz iMac.

Quad-Core speed tests

To see how well the new quad-core iMacs perform, we ran our overall system performance test suite, Speedmark 6, and the results were rather impressive.

In fact, with a Speedmark 6 score of 209, the 2.66GHz Core i5 iMac is the fastest standard configuration Mac we've ever tested.

It was three percent faster overall than the 2.66GHz Quad-Core Mac Pro, and 1.5 percent faster overall than the 2.26GHz 8-core Mac Pro.

Quad-Core iMac speed tests i5 i7

Larger chart and more info at Macworld Lab.

Comparing the Core i5 iMac's Speedmark 6 scores to its iMac siblings (see above), the Core i5 iMac was 27 percent faster overall than the second fastest iMac we've tested, the recently released 21.5-inch 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo iMac with 1TB hard drive and ATI graphics.

Since the Core i5 iMac has the same hard drive as two of the other three new iMacs, we didn't see a big difference in our file duplication test, and our unzipping test results were pretty flat across the board.

However, we did see a 25 percent improvement in the Core i5 iMac's Compressor score when compared to the 21.5-inch 3.06GHz iMac, a 26 percent increase in Call of Duty frame rates, a whopping 71 percent improvement in our HandBrake test, an 88 percent faster performance in our Cinebench multiple CPU test, and the new Core i5 iMac posted a MathematicaMark score more than twice as high as the 3.06GHz iMac. That's a lot of performance bang for an extra $200.

Comparing the new Core i5 iMac to the Mac Pro models, we see the speed advantage going the iMac's way in our Zip, iTunes, iMovie export, Call of Duty frame rates, and Compressor tests.

The Mac Pros stood their ground on our HandBrake, iMovie import test, Cinebench CPU test, and MathematicaMark trials.

Our tests of the built-to-order Core i7 iMac (which, other than the processor, has identical specifications as the stock Core i5 iMac) showed even greater performance prowess.

With a Speedmark 6 score of 225, the £1,759 Core i7 iMac was nearly 8 percent faster than the Core i5 iMac. The Core i7 was nearly 11 percent faster than the £1,899 2.66GHz Quad-Core Mac Pro and 9 percent faster than the 2.26GHz 8-Core Mac Pro, which sells for £2,499.

In our tests, there were a few tasks where having eight physical processing cores was beneficial, like our MathematicaMark and Cinebench CPU tests.

NEXT: iMac customisation

PREVIOUS: iMac case design and iMac memory

PREVIOUS: iMac performance

PREVIOUS: iMac screen

The new Apple iMac design lends itself more towards use as central part of a home entertainment centre, as well as boasting top-end performance.

iMac hard drive

In addition to opting for a faster processor and more RAM, you can also max out the hard drive with a 2TB model for an extra £200.

That's going to be useful if you decide to use your iMac for downloading and watching a lot of digital video. Given the limited upgrade options for the iMac, it pays to assess your needs wisely and choose accordingly when you buy. No doubt, 2TB sounds like a lot of growing room now, but will it feel that way in three years?

iMac 2009 graphics

iMac graphics

On the 27-inch model I'm using, you can move from the ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics card with 256MB of video RAM to an ATI Radeon HD 4850, which doubles the video RAM and offers an 80 percent performance boost for £120 more. Videographers and gamers take note.

The hardware behind the screen combines to offer a level of performance that should be beyond plenty for most users. I fired up the Xbench benchmarking app for a quick performance test and got a sizzling score of 187 - 11 points higher than the same chip clocks in at on my 17-inch MacBook Pro.

It's so fast that I don't even miss the solid-state disk (SSD) drive I have in my MacBook Pro. (All things being equal, an SSD drive can make a computer feel a lot faster than it really is in day-to-day use.)

iMac Magic Mouse

The screen, which manages to crowd in 109 pixels per inch, is the biggest selling point. But it's not the only change Apple rolled out with this update.

It also unveiled its new wireless Magic Mouse. Along with a tweaked wireless keyboard that now uses two AA batteries (rather than three), the Magic Mouse is now part of the iMac bundle.

The mouse has no buttons and is made of aluminium on the bottom and white polycarbonate plastic with a smooth finish on top. You can scroll through Web pages, documents and photos vertically, or use two-finger gestures to swipe left and right.

iMac Magic Mouse

I love the scrolling and right-left "button" motions. I'm less enamoured of the two-finger swipes, because you have to hold the mouse in place with your thumb and ring fingers while swiping with your index and middle fingers. I tried it, it works, but I'm fine without it.

The mouse is darn stylish, though. There's something about the seamless curves and the materials that remind me of a Ferrari. (If you're interested in just the mouse, one will set you back £55. What price style?)

For more information read our full Apple Magic Mouse review.

NEXT: iMac vs Cinema Display - the Apple iMac media centre

PREVIOUS: iMac case design and iMac memory

PREVIOUS: iMac performance

PREVIOUS: iMac screen

The new Apple iMac design lends itself more towards use as central part of a home entertainment centre, as well as boasting top-end performance.

iMac media centre

Apple also added a Mini DisplayPort that can be used to hook up another display - though I can't imagine why you'd need to - or, more important, use the iMac as a display itself.

And that's where the office-vs-living-room debate arises. The screen size allows you to have numerous windows open at one time - perfect for word processing, digital photo work or any kind of graphics endeavours.

It also allows you to watch HD video in amazing clarity and with vibrant colour saturation. Given the top-notch industrial design for which Apple is known, this iMac would look as appropriate in the living room as it does on a desk.

iMac 2009 media centre

The wireless keyboard and mouse make it easy to set up the iMac as a media centre, since you can pretty much fire up iTunes and watch DVDs from a distance without having to worry about cords.

And if you have a digital camera that uses SD cards, you can now slip them right into the built-in SD card slot on the right side of the iMac (next to the CD/DVD slot). With Apple's iPhoto application, you've got an instant slide show.

iMac Blu-Ray

The only thing missing from this would-be multimedia showpiece is a Blu-Ray player. For whatever reason, Apple has been reluctant to add Blu-Ray drives to any of its hardware, and this iMac really cries out for it.

Regular DVDs look a little soft and can show digital artifacts, but if the HD movie trailers I viewed are any measure, Blu-Ray would be flat-out awesome. Of course, then you might be less inclined to buy or rent HD movies through iTunes.

(According to Apple, it's possible to connect up an external Blu-Ray player - but an adaptor will be needed to convert the HDMI signal coming from the player to the MiniDisplay Port on the iMac. And a scaler would be needed because of the screen's high resolution. Apple doesn't sell those, though, so it'll be up to another company to come up with a solution.)

iMac or Cinema Display

I do wonder what this iMac's introduction means for Apple's beautiful, but now aging, 30-inch Cinema Display monitor.

Sure, it has a slightly higher resolution because of its 16x10 aspect ratio. But it costs just £175 less than the 27-inch iMac and it's just a display.

With the iMac, you get 90 percent of the Cinema Display's screen real estate, and a high-powered computer built in. You'd have to really need that 30-inch screen to justify the expense.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Apple update the Cinema Display soon, either by bumping up its resolution or by downsizing it to 27 inches and cutting the price. That's just speculation; Apple doesn't talk about future product plans.

Speaking of cost, it's important to note that the 27-inch £1,599 quad-core model costs £200 less than the old top-end iMac. Apple has been bashed for too often holding the line on prices, so the price drop is noteworthy in these recessionary times.

NEXT: iMac tech specs

PREVIOUS: iMac performance

PREVIOUS: iMac screen

PREVIOUS: iMac customisation

The new Apple iMac design lends itself more towards use as central part of a home entertainment centre, as well as boasting top-end performance.

Basic iMac specs

iMac processors

The 21.5-inch and 27-inch models, one of the following:

  • 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 3MB shared L2 cache.
  • 3.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 6MB shared L2 cache.

The 27-inch models only, one of the following:

  • 2.66GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor with 8MB shared L3 cache; Turbo Boost dynamic performance up to 3.2GHz.
  • 2.8GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor with 8MB shared L3 cache; Turbo Boost dynamic performance up to 3.46GHz; Hyper-Threading for up to eight virtual.

iMac memory

4GB (two 2GB SO-DIMMs) of 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; four SO-DIMM slots support up to 16GB.

iMac 2009 specs

iMac graphics

The 21.5-inch models feature one of the following: NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics processor with 256MB of DDR3 SDRAM shared with main memory, or ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics processor with 256MB of GDDR3 memory.

The 27-inch model with dual-core processor feature one of the following: ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics processor with 256MB of GDDR3 memory, or ATI Radeon HD 4850 graphics processor with 512MB of GDDR3 memory.

The 27-inch model with quad-core processor features an ATI Radeon HD 4850 graphics processor with 512MB of GDDR3 memory.

iMac connections and expansion

  • One FireWire 800 port; 7 watts
  • Four USB 2.0 ports
  • SD card slot

iMac communications

  • Built-in AirPort Extreme 802.11n Wi-Fi wireless networking;2 IEEE 802.11a/b/g compatible
  • BluetoothBuilt-in Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR (Enhanced Data Rate)
  • Built-in 10/100/1000BASE-T Gigabit Ethernet (RJ-45 connector)

iMac dimensions

21.5-inch iMac
Height: 45.1 cm (17.75 inches)
Width: 52.8 cm (20.8 inches)
Depth: 18.85 cm (7.42 inches)
Weight: 9.3 kg (20.5 pounds)

27-inch iMac
Height: 51.7 cm (20.4 inches)
Width: 65.0 cm (25.6 inches)
Depth: 20.7 cm (8.15 inches)
Weight: 13.8 kg (30.5 pounds)

NEXT: Apple iMac review verdict

PREVIOUS: iMac vs Cinema Display - the Apple iMac media centre

PREVIOUS: iMac case design and iMac memory

PREVIOUS: iMac performance

PREVIOUS: iMac customisation

PREVIOUS: iMac screen

Apple iMac (2009): Specs

  • 21.5-inch iMacs: 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • 1920 x 1080 resolution
  • 4GB memory (16GB max)
  • 500GB-1TB hard drive
  • NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics or ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics (256MB). 27-inch iMacs: 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, or 2.66GHz Intel Core i5, or 2.8GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7
  • 2560 x 1440 resolution
  • 4GB memory (16GB max)
  • 1TB hard drive
  • ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics (256MB) or ATI Radeon HD 4850 graphics (512MB).
  • 21.5-inch iMacs: 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • 1920 x 1080 resolution
  • 4GB memory (16GB max)
  • 500GB-1TB hard drive
  • NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics or ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics (256MB). 27-inch iMacs: 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, or 2.66GHz Intel Core i5, or 2.8GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7
  • 2560 x 1440 resolution
  • 4GB memory (16GB max)
  • 1TB hard drive
  • ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics (256MB) or ATI Radeon HD 4850 graphics (512MB).

OUR VERDICT

Apple's flagship iMac comes in a variety of flavours and two sizes, with the £1,349 model we've been using being the sweet spot. It offers the most value for the price and could spur desktop sales. In recent years, more and more Mac buyers have opted for Apple's popular line of laptops. Desktops, in some ways, have fallen out of favour, given the prevalence of wireless connections and the public's desire for mobility.
However, if performance is your top priority save up for the new £1,599 quad-core, 27-inch Intel i5-based iMac or £1,759 i7-based iMac.

With the new 2.66GHz Core i5 iMac and the 2.8GHz Core i7 iMac, Apple has not only blurred the line between consumer and professional systems, it's darn near erased it. The 2.66GHz Core i5 iMac offers faster performance at most tasks than the 2.66GHz Quad-Core Mac Pro. The Core i5 iMac also has more memory and more storage space than the 2.66GHz Quad-Core Mac Pro, while being £300 less (plus you get a 27-inch screen with the iMac). Unless you absolutely require additional PCI cards, multiple internal hard drives, or a lot of RAM, the Core i5 iMac makes a strong case for the being the go-to system for most Mac professionals.

But with an absolutely stunning screen, a lot of under-the-hood performance improvements, the wireless keyboard and the new mouse, and flexibility that makes it fit in at work or at home, this new iMac could lead to a resurgence in desktop sales for Apple.

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