iMac - 27-inch

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Apple’s latest iMac is a sight to behold. It’s the largest all-in-one PC we’ve ever seen—in fact with a 27-inch screen, it’s probably the first time anyone’s ever made one this size. Whether or not this is excessive for a home PC will depend on your requirements and imagination, but there’s always the 21.5-inch version for those with space and budget constraints.

The screen is what will completely capture any user’s attention, so it’s best to start by describing it. Sitting in front of a 27-inch iMac fills up a large part of your peripheral vision, and it’s almost too difficult to focus on the whole thing at once. You’ll have to lower the brightness a bit compared to most other monitors, since the whole thing is shining in your face! Apple uses high-quality IPS panels and LED backlighting, and the colors are just amazing. The resolution is 2650 x 1440; comfortably larger than today’s HD panels. Viewing angles are also spectacular, with no color distortion till you’re almost staring at it sideways. This is also the first time Apple has used a 16:9 panel in the iMac line.

Photographs jump to life, movies are simply a treat, and of course Apple’s carefully chosen wallpaper images really shine. If you use professional applications like Photoshop and Aperture, or if you work with design and content creation, you’ll never want to go back to anything else. Initial concerns about cost and practicality are soon replaced with sheer joy.

Apart from its screen, the iMac looks only slightly different than the previous generation. The black glass around the screen is now edge to edge, but it’s still annoyingly reflective—you’ll definitely need to twist around and tilt the iMac a lot to get comfortable under typical office fluorescent lights. The entire body is now aluminum, and the metallic “chin” in front is less obtrusive than before. The DVD drive on the right edge now has an SD card slot for company, while all ports are still at the back. We would have loved to see at least the headphones socket and a couple of USB ports on the side for convenience, now that the ones on the keyboard are gone.

Our review model came with a 3.06 GHz Core 2 Duo CPU, 4 GB of RAM, a 1 TB hard drive, 8x DVD RW drive, and an ATI Radeon 4670 graphics card with 256 MB of RAM. A 21.5-inch model with the same specs can be had with the same configuration, while the lowest-end one has only onboard Nvidia 9400M graphics and half the hard drive space. Interestingly, you can custom-order a 27-inch model with Intel’s new Core i5 or i7 CPU, giving you high-performance quad-core options for the first time—for hefty premiums though. All models come with Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, Wifi N, 1.3-megapixel webcam, and built in speakers and a microphone. However Blu-ray drives are conspicuously absent from all models, which is a massive letdown when you have the huge 27-inch screen at your disposal. With no official online source of HD material in India, it’s a huge waste of this device’s potential.

Screen 21.5", 1920 x 1080 21.5", 1920 x 1080 27", 2560 x 1440
27", 2560 x 1440
CPU 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo 2.66GHz Intel Core i5
RAM
4GB 4GB 4GB 4GB
Hard Drive
500 GB 1 TB 1 TB
1 TB
DVD Drive 8x DVD-RW 8x DVD-RW 8x DVD-RW 8x DVD-RW
Graphics
NVIDIA GeForce 9400M ATI Radeon HD 4670, 256MB ATI Radeon HD 4670, 256MB ATI Radeon HD 4850, 512MB
Price
Rs 64,900 Rs 79,900 Rs 89,900
Rs 1,06,900

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The selection of ports is interesting: audio in and out (analog/optical combo), four USB ports, FireWire 800, Gigabit Ethernet, and a mini DisplayPort video output. Mini DisplayPort will require an adapter for pretty much every TV or projector out there, which you’ll have to buy separately. But there’s a hidden trick: on the 27-inch model that we reviewed, this port can also be used as an input! The required cable isn’t on the market yet, but once available, you’ll be able to connect a DVD or Blu-ray player, game console, or any other video source to make even better use of the brilliant panel. For those worried about the environment, the new iMac claims to be energy efficient, highly recyclable, and free of toxic chemicals including arsenic, mercury, and lead.

Probably the only sore spots are the bundled keyboard and mouse. The keyboard is totally wireless, and uses Bluetooth to communicate. It’s meant to be picked up and used from across a room, but it’s quite uncomfortable to use. For starters, it’s just too small, and dumps not only the number pad but also the nagivation keys (Page Up/Dn, Home, End, Ins, Del) that even most laptops manage to pack in. You can choose the older style wired keyboard at the time of purchase, but bundling this shrunken keyboard by default is a very strange decision indeed. The mouse is Apple’s new Magic Mouse, claimed to be the first one in the world with a multitouch surface. Again, it’s too flat and narrow to be comfortable in the palm; Apple envisions that people will push it around with only their fingers on the surface. The gestures are also limited to flicks for scrolling and two-finger swipes for page navigation, not the full range that’s available on the current Macbooks’ glass trackpad.__STARTQUOTE__Boot Camp has worked so smoothly on most other Apple machines in the past, but the new iMac is definitely not ready for primetime with Windows 7__ENDQUOTE__Mac OS X looks wonderful, but it’s actually easy to lose the mouse cursor from time to time on such a high-def screen. The iLife apps, especially Garage Band, are good fun, while Photoshop and Illustrator make you feel like you’ve been set free from your shackles. However those looking to install Windows 7, beware! The new iMac doesn’t play nice without a few extra downloads, but you won’t find any indication of this anywhere. Your iMac screen will simply go blank partway through the installation. We spent a fair amount of time diagnosing the fault, which turned out to be a missing video driver.

Further investigation revealed that we had to download the correct driver (100 MB approx) from Apple’s website and unzip it to a freshly-formatted USB pen drive which has to be left plugged in during installation. Windows will search through all available devices, install the driver, and only then will you be up and running. After installation, you’ll also need to install an update to the Windows Boot Camp utility (another 380 MB download) even though the official instructions say nothing of the sort. Without the new version, you won’t be able to use the Magic Mouse. However the update caused another problem for us—severe color banding on screen, caused by the color depth dropping from 32-bit to 16-bit. There was no solution to this one other than rolling back the graphics driver.

This is all quite a hassle considering Boot Camp has worked so smoothly on most other Apple machines in the past. A few instructions or warnings would have at least prepared us for the surprise and ordeal. The new iMac is definitely not ready for primetime with Windows 7, but if this is not what you’re buying a Mac for, there’s no need to worry.

Anyway, installing Windows allowed us to run our benchmark suite, and the results were quite fair. We scored 5269 overall in PCMark Vantage, and 2651 overall in 3DMark Vantage. These aren’t the best scores for gaming, but the iMac should handle some pretty heavy multitasking, as well as most heavy productivity and creative programs with ease. Similarly, our audio and video compression tasks took 1 minute, 7 seconds and 47 seconds respectively, which are pretty respectable scores. You’ll be able to play even fairly recent games at low settings, but don’t expect earth-shattering frame at the screen’s native 2560 x 1440 with this graphics card.

So what you get in this package is a very powerful machine indeed, with one of the world’s best monitors included. Current Mac Pro systems start at Rs 1,56,000 for a quad-core Xeon CPU with 3 GB of RAM, a 640 GB hard drive, and a weaker graphics card to boot. A 30-inch Apple Cinema Display at the same resolution will cost another cool Rs 1,01,000 and isn’t LED backlit. This is mainly because the Pros and Cinema Displays are now quite old, and Apple hasn’t reduced their prices over time. The Mac Pros should also be refreshed soon, but unless you need that serious amount of Xeon numbercrunching power—and it’s tough to imagine anyone outside a high-end graphics studio who would—the 27-inch iMac gives buyers massive value for money. The same factors make us very, very tempted by the price-performance ratio that we project the Core i5 and i7 versions will bring to the table.

If you would benefit from the 27-inch display, this iMac for Rs 89,900 is actually pretty great value for money. We’re only just slightly disappointed because it could have been a lot more—with a Blu-ray drive and better video inputs, it could have even been the perfect media device for a bedroom or small apartment, replacing both PC and TV.


Published Date: Feb 16, 2010 02:58 pm | Updated Date: Feb 16, 2010 02:58 pm