Lab Report: Core i7 SSD iMac is the fastest Mac we've tested

While the standard-configuration models of Apple's iMac offer impressive performance, if you choose a couple of build-to-order (BTO) options, you can have a 27-inch iMac with a 3.4GHz Core i7 quad-core processor and a 256GB SSD—an iMac that's even faster than a Mac Pro.

This $2699 BTO iMac takes the top-of-the-line standard configuration iMac—a $1999 27-inch 3.1GHz Core i5 quad-core model with a 1TB 7200-rpm hard drive—and replaces the processor and hard drive. The upgrade to a 3.4GHz Core i7 adds $200 to the price. And the 256GB SSD is an extra $500.

27-inch 3.4GHz Core i7 iMac with SSD (Mid 2011): Speedmark 6.5 scores

Longer bars are better. Blue bars in italics represent reference systems. Macworld Lab testing by James Galbraith, William Wang, and Mauricio Grijalva.

The 27-inch 3.4GHz Core i7 iMac with SSD is the fastest Mac we've tested. The previous Speedmark 6.5 record holder was a build-to-order Mac Pro with a 3.33GHz Xeon Westmere six-core processor, 8GB of RAM, and a price of $4074. Add a 27-inch Apple LED Cinema Display and the price jumps to $5073.

We took our previously tested BTO 27-inch 3.4GHz Core i7 iMac with a 1TB hard drive and 4GB of RAM ($2199) and popped in the SSD from our BTO 21.5-inch 2.7GHz Core i5 iMac. (I say that like its easy, but as I’ve pointed out in a previous article, opening up an aluminum iMac and installing components is not something you want to enter into lightly.) Once the SSD was installed, the 27-inch 3.4GHz Core i7 iMac with SSD was simply on fire—figuratively—besting the previous Speedmark 6.5 performance record holder in 14 of the 17 individual tasks that make up our test suite.

The only tests where the ultimate iMac failed to outperform the Mac Pro were with processor-intensive tasks, where applications that can take advantage of the extra cores found in the Mac Pro benefit. Using Hyper-Threading, the Mac Pro was able to present itself as a 12-core system to applications like Handbrake, Cinebench, and MathematicaMark—the iMac maxed out with eight virtual cores. The Mac Pro is 13 percent faster in Handbrake, 21 percent faster in CineBench CPU, and 28 percent faster in MathematicaMark.

Looking at the results of the 3.4GHz Core i7 iMac with and without an SSD, we see that the SSD-equipped system is 18 percent faster overall. With the SSD, duplicating a 1GB file in the Finder is 35 percent faster; uncompressing a zipped folder is 44 percent faster; opening a Word document in Pages is 17.5 percent faster; and an iPhoto file import is more than twice as fast. Differences in processor and graphics scores were understandably insignificant.

When comparing the 27-inch 3.4GHz Core i7 iMac with SSD to the BTO 21.5-inch 2.7GHz Core i5 iMac with SSD, the 3.4GHz Core i7 iMac is 16 percent faster overall. File duplication and uncompressing zipped archive results are identical. Our file compression, Pages, and iMovie export tests are all a couple of seconds faster on the 3.4GHz Core i7 iMac. The biggest differences between these two systems are in processor-intensive tests such as Handbrake, Cinebench CPU, and MathematicaMark, where the Core i7 with Hyper-Threading in the 27-inch iMac is 30, 37.5, and 41.5 percent faster, respectively, than the Core i5 without Hyper Threading in the 21.5-inch model.

Speedmark 6.5 individual application test results:
27-inch iMac 3.4GHz Core i7 SSD (BTO, Mid 2011)

Duplicate
1GB
file
Zip
2GB
folder
Unzip
2GB
folder
Pages '09
open Word
doc
27-inch iMac 3.4GHz Core i7 SSD
(BTO, Mid 2011)
13 121 25 52
27-inch iMac 3.4GHz Core i7
(BTO, Mid 2011)
20 130 45 63
21.5-inch iMac 2.7GHz Core i5 SSD
(BTO, Mid 2011)
13 124 25 54
27-inch iMac 3.1GHz Core i5
(Mid 2011)
20 144 48 70
27-inch iMac 3.6GHz Core i5 SSD
(BTO, Mid 2010)
14 131 24 56
Mac Pro 3.33GHz Xeon 6-core
(BTO, Mid 2010)
18 148 26 62

Results in the above chart are in seconds; lower is better. Reference models in italics. Best result in bold.

Speedmark 6.5 individual application test results: 27-inch iMac 3.4GHz Core i7 SSD (BTO, Mid 2011)

iTunes 10
AAC to
MP3
encode
Import
movie
archive to
iMovie '09
iMovie '09
export to
iTunes
for
iPhone
Call of
Duty 4
framerate
27-inch iMac 3.4GHz Core i7 SSD
(BTO, Mid 2011)
66 44 43 88.6
27-inch iMac 3.4GHz Core i7
(BTO, Mid 2011)
68 55 46 88.6
21.5-inch iMac 2.7GHz Core i5 SSD
(BTO, Mid 2011)
72 60 46 88.1
27-inch iMac 3.1GHz Core i5
(Mid 2011)
74 66 51 88.5
27-inch iMac 3.6GHz Core i5 SSD
(BTO, Mid 2010)
78 80 57 79
Mac Pro 3.33GHz Xeon 6-core
(BTO, Mid 2010)
81 48 48 88.3

Call of Duty 4 results are based on framerate; higher results are better. All other test results in the above chart are in seconds; lower results are better. References models in italics. Best result in bold.

Speedmark 6.5 individual application test results:
27-inch iMac 3.4GHz Core i7 SSD (BTO, Mid 2011)

iPhoto '09
200 JPEG
import
Photoshop
CS5 action
Handbrake
0.9.4
encode
Cinebench
R11.5
graphics
27-inch iMac 3.4GHz Core i7 SSD
(BTO, Mid 2011)
16 43 165 44
27-inch iMac 3.4GHz Core i7
(BTO, Mid 2011)
33 51 165 43.2
21.5-inch iMac 2.7GHz Core i5 SSD
(BTO, Mid 2011)
19 51 236 40.8
27-inch iMac 3.1GHz Core i5
(Mid 2011)
28 53 209 38.3
27-inch iMac 3.6GHz Core i5 SSD
(BTO, Mid 2010)
23 54 339 31
Mac Pro 3.33GHz Xeon 6-core
(BTO, Mid 2010)
27 55 144 34.4

Cinebench R11.5 braphics results are a score; higher results are better. All other test results in the above chart are in seconds; lower results are better. Reference models in italics. Best result in bold.

Speedmark 6.5 individual application test results:
27-inch iMac 3.4GHz Core i7 SSD (BTO, Mid 2011)

Cinebench
R11.5
CPU
Mathe-
matica
Mark 7
Parallels
WorldBench
Multitask
test
Aperture 3
import
and
process
Multi-
tasking
27-inch iMac 3.4GHz Core i7 SSD
(BTO, Mid 2011)
61 15 213 88 45
27-inch iMac 3.4GHz Core i7
(BTO, Mid 2011)
60 15.3 226 100 55
21.5-inch iMac 2.7GHz Core i5 SSD
(BTO, Mid 2011)
96 10.6 241 95 51
27-inch iMac 3.1GHz Core i5
(Mid 2011)
85 11.7 247 107 58
27-inch iMac 3.6GHz Core i5 SSD
(BTO, Mid 2010)
130 7 289 99 68
Mac Pro 3.33GHz Xeon 6-core
(BTO, Mid 2010)
48 19.2 253 101 59

MathematicaMark 7 results are scores; higher results are better. All other test results in the above chart are in seconds; lower results are better. Reference models in italics. Best result in bold.

How we tested. Speedmark 6.5 scores are relative to those of a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo Mac mini (Mid 2010) with 2GB of RAM, which is assigned a score of 100. We duplicated a 1GB file, created a Zip archive in the Finder from the two 1GB files and then unzipped it. We converted 135 minutes of AAC audio files to MP3 using iTunes’ High Quality setting. In iMovie ’09, we imported a camera archive and exported it to iTunes using the Mobile Devices setting. We ran a Timedemo at 1024-by-768 with 4X anti-aliasing on in Call of Duty 4. We imported 200 JPEGs into iPhoto ’09. The Photoshop Suite test is a set of 23 scripted tasks using a 50MB file. Photoshop’s memory was set to 70 percent and History was set to Minimum. For our multitasking test, we timed the Photoshop test again, but with the iTunes MP3 encoding and file compression tests running in the background. We used Handbrake to encode four chapters from a DVD previously ripped to the hard drive to H.264. We recorded how long it took to render a scene with multiprocessors in Cinebench and ran that application's OpenGL, frames per second test. We ran the Evaluate Notebook test in MathematicaMark 7. We ran the WorldBench 6 multitasking test on a Parallels 6 VM running Windows 7 Professional. We timed the import and processing time for 200 photos in Aperture.—Macworld Lab testing by James Galbraith, William Wang, and Mauricio Grijalva

You can see a complete list of Speedmark 6.5 results, which includes all of the current Mac models, as well as several older models.

[James Galbraith is Macworld’s lab director.]

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