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    Apple's new 27-inch iMac is finally a formidable system

    A 27-inch iMac is one overwhelming piece of digital machinery. Sit close enough to it and there’s only screen, and the iconic aluminum chin and polished chrome Apple logo below.

    It’s always been a good system, the kind that your co-workers lust after, even if they didn’t know that under the hood were relatively mid-level components. The iMac is easily Apple’s most popular desktop and, even though it lacks the performance of a Mac Pro, it’s been the choice of many professionals for years. Of course, if you use a non-pro-system for pro-level tasks, you may be frustrated. Apple heard the complaints and decided to give these hard workers what they always wanted: more powerful components in the same stunning profile.

    This is not, though, Apple’s ultimate solution to the iMac vs. pro-use problem. That comes later this year in the form of the iMac Pro. That space-gray system will offer up to 18 cores of performance, insane graphics and, at $4,999, it’s probably not going to be the iMac for everyone.

    Thankfully, Apple did not forget the middle-to-high ground. It’s upped the components on the entire iMac line to Intel’s more powerful and efficient 7th-generation Core i CPUs (AKA Kaby Lake) and now offers powerful discrete graphics.

    I’m using one of these new systems right now, a 27-inch 5K Retina iMac running a 3.4GHz Intel Core i5 chip, 8GB of DDR4 RAM, a 1TB Fusion hard drive, and AMD’s Radeon Pro 570 GPU with 4GB of VRAM. It lists for a more reasonable $1,799.

    It also now has two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C posts, along with four USB 3.0 ports, and a Gigabit Ethernet port. The iMac is not yet loaded with the upcoming version of macOS, High Sierra, which, with its Metal 2 graphics engine, might take better advantage of the new CPU, but it’s still a fast and powerful system.

    It’s also easy to set up. The all-in-one 27-inch iMac is a solid 20 pounds, but once I unboxed it and put it on a desk, I only needed a fingertip to adjust the giant screen on its L-shaped aluminum base. There’s a single power cord and a large power button on the back that I can reach without craning my head around the display, and both the rechargeable mouse and keyboard auto-connect via Bluetooth. After that, I followed the brief setup routine, signed into my iCloud account (which includes using iCloud to store documents and everything that’s on my desktop) and the system was ready to go.

    Apple also provided me with a brand-new Magic Keyboard ($129, not included), which looks a lot like the keyboard that ships with the iMac, except that it adds direction and function keys as well as a full numeric keypad. Physically, it’s the most distinctly different thing about my setup.

    I like the Magic Keyboard. The keys have good travel and response, and I don’t even mind that the tilt — which brings the rear keys a little closer to my fingers — is not as extreme on this keyboard.

    What I don’t like, though, is that the left Shift key has shrunk, which meant I sometimes missed it and hit the relocated single quote instead. On the right, the return key has a little cutout to accommodate the back slash. Essentially, Apple added so much to this keyboard that, to keep it from getting too wide, they apparently squished a couple of keys. It’s not a big deal, but will take some getting used to.

    Screen dream and performance
    I was already a big fan of Apple’s 5,120 x 2,880 5K Retina display, but with the added brightness (500 nits) and richer colors, images move a giant step closer to reality. Not only do photos look amazing, but the clarity of every app screen and icon is as sharp as can be. Apple says the display can show a billion colors. It’s not exactly something I can verify, but based on the image quality the count is definitely up there.

    Since virtually all the changes on the latest iMac are at a component level, I decided to run a few benchmarks.

    I started with GeekBench 4. The single-core numbers and multi-core numbers were among the highest I’ve seen for an Intel Core i5 running on an iMac, but not by a wide margin. The system's read and write speeds on the AJA test suite blew away those on my 2.4GHz Core i5-running Microsoft Surface Pro 4.

    I also ran Cinebench’s 3D graphics test where I got a pleasing 87.54 frames per second (fps) on the OpenGL test.
    Finally, I ran a little file-copy test where I created a 1GB file, made 16 copies, and then duplicated the entire folder. That folder duplication took almost 8 minutes. I’d call that impressive.

    In general, though, benchmarks are like Little League participation trophies. They don’t really mean anything. What matters is day-to-day performance on critical tasks in demanding apps like Photoshop, AutoCAD, and Strata 3D. Based on the numbers I saw and even my minute-to-minute experiences with the 27-inch iMac, I’d say it will handle all those jobs with ease.

    I did a bunch of other, more mundane tasks on the system, like Safari browsing, email, photo manipulation, and uploading. There were no issues and everything worked as it did before. I’m honestly eager to try macOS High Sierra on this big rig.


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