Apple iMac (mid 2011), 27in

Apple iMac 2011 review: Apple's new iMac is also its best, with plenty of power

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Apple iMac (mid 2011), 27in
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5

Pros

  • Sandy Bridge means big performance increases from last year’s Macs
  • You can now order a Magic Trackpad for free

Cons

  • Only incremental upgrades since the last iMac model
  • There's still no Thunderbolt gear

Bottom Line

Apple's new iMac is more powerful than the old model. That's about it -- nothing magical or revolutionary has been added to the all-in-one Mac desktop. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since we think it's one of the best all-in-one PCs on the market today. The extra power also means it's more than capable enough of handling any every day task thrown at it, as well as a range of reasonably intensive tasks like batch photo editing.

Would you buy this?

The Apple iMac has received some power and performance upgrades since its last model in mid-2010. It’s now got a second generation Intel Core i5 quad-core processor, some beefy graphics power and customisable options for plenty of memory and hard drive space. Not much else has changed, however.

Design

The iMac’s all-in-one design makes it easy to set up, especially since the bundled Apple Wireless Keyboard and Magic Mouse don’t need to be plugged in. You can also opt for an Apple Magic Trackpad when you order a new iMac from the online Apple Store — we would, but that’s because we’re navigating OS X with a trackpad. Both the Magic Trackpad and Magic Mouse are touch sensitive and have support for multitouch gestures. We think this is a move by Apple to get more users ready for OS X Lion, which brings a lot of the gestures found in iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad to the Mac desktop. You can also order both the Magic Mouse and Trackpad together, for an extra $99.

The recent Apple iMac refresh is almost all internal — the only external changes on our 27in test model compared to the last generation iMac are the two Thunderbolt ports (an identical shape to the previous MiniDisplay Port, but with a different symbol above them). We don’t have any complaints about the design at all — it’s minimalist and looks excellent. We’d happily keep an iMac on our desk, but we can see one minor downside: If you buy an iMac and want another monitor, you’ll want to buy a Cinema Display to match the design — and they’re not cheap.

Hardware and performance

The upgrade to Sandy Bridge for the iMac has had some very impressive effects in terms of the power available for everyday work. Our test 27in iMac was a top of the line (albeit off-the-shelf) 3.1GHz model with a 1TB 7200rpm hard drive, 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a AMD Radeon HD 6970M. If you want to configure a 27in iMac to your needs, you can choose an extra-powerful 3.4GHz quad-core Core i7 processor, pick a 2TB hard drive or a 256GB solid-state drive (or both), and jam in up to 16GB of memory.

These specs should mean the 27in iMac has more than enough power to keep even an enthusiast user happy with basic computing tasks as well as intensive work. We spent some time playing around with huge 21- and 24megapixel image files from the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and EOS 1Ds Mark III in Apple Aperture 3, and didn’t notice any slowdown — even when multitasking by exporting some photos while batch adjusting others.

Our Geekbench result of 8339 shows the 27in iMac’s impressive performance potential. This is roughly on par with the mid-level 15in Sandy Bridge-based Core i7 MacBook Pro, which scored 8488. It’s far ahead of the performance offered by even last year’s Macs — the mid-2010 MacBook Pro scored a comparatively mediocre 4967, and a beefed-up 27in iMac from the middle of the year scored 6895. If you want even more power, the 3.4GHz i7 upgrade for the iMac isn’t prohibitively expensive at $240 and should give a huge performance boost.

Conclusion

The new Apple iMac is more than powerful enough for everyday purposes, and we’d even recommend it for professional use — someone like a video editor or photographer is well catered for with the range of power and storage upgrades available, and Thunderbolt means high-speed storage connectivity or multiple monitors can be added simply. The price is reasonable given the power available on tap.

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