First Look: New iMacs (Fall 2009)

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The new iMacs introduce the most drastic changes to Apple’s all-in-one aluminum design since the metal iMac was introduced a little over two years ago. The new design lends itself more towards use as central part of a home entertainment center.

The most obvious change is to the iMac screen. Both the 21.5- and 27-inch screens are made with high definition video in mind. Like on many HDTVs, the black border around the new iMac’s screen reaches out to the very edge; the aluminum border that surrounded the screen in the previous iMac is gone. 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.

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

The iMac now uses an all-aluminum case, whereas the previous iMac has a black plastic back. If you look very closely, you can see a seam between the lower aluminum front panel and the side of the case. The power button is flush with the back panel and is also aluminum, 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 says that the iMac screens are LED-backlit widescreen TFT active-matrix LCDs with in-plane switching technology, and can display millions of colors at all resolutions. In the past, Apple has used 6-bit displays on its 20-inch iMacs and 8-bit displays on its larger-sized iMacs. Apple doesn’t specify the bit depth on its iMac Web site. But an Apple representative confirmed that both the 21.5- and the 27-inch iMacs use 8-bit displays.

In-plane switching is supposed to help flat-panel displays maintain image quality at any angle, and this seems to help with the new iMacs. I didn’t notice any color shifting or loss of image quality when viewing at extreme angles. On the previous iMacs, there was a noticeable color shift. On the old 20-inch iMac, it didn’t take much of an angle to see the color shifting.

As for performance, the iMacs felt snappy while opening and closing windows, and startup was fast, but I didn’t get a chance to run any formal benchmarks. The iMacs will be in our lab for speed testing. Keep an eye out for benchmark results coming soon.

We’ll also have a full, in-depth review with mouse ratings of the new iMacs in the next few days.

The new iMacs come with the new Magic Mouse. I'm working on a separate first look that details my experiences with Apple's new mouse.

Question via Twitter and Facebook

These are just a few questions. I’ll update this section as more questions come in.

re: new iMac - real world usage diff or advantage between i5/i7 v Core 2? truly 2.4x faster in everyday general use? thnx!—BowmanSF

We don’t have benchmarks right now—this first look is more about subjective first impression right out of the box. The iMacs will be in our lab and we’ll be putting them through our benchmark tests.

So with the option to use the iMac as a monitor, will it take hdmi in? What are the input options?Can you hot switch inputs?—fejling

Unfortunately, we can’t test this yet, because you need special adapters that Apple says will be available soon. There is no HDMI in port, so it looks like it’ll be a special HDMI-to-DisplayPort adapter.

Can you hook a ps3 up to it and play blu ray through it?—Cheesemonkeyboy

In theory, it should work if you use the proper adapter. But since the adapters are available yet, I’m unable to test this out.

do they speakers sound any different than the previous iMacs? —hemispheric

The speakers on the new iMacs sound much better to me than the older iMacs. The sound is richer, cleaner, with more bass.

How might the 256MB Radeon 4670 compare to the 512MB 4850 and the Geforce ...whatever that was in the previous generation?—franckhertz

The previous iMac had GeForce 9400M in the 2.66GHz models. The 24-inch 2.93GHz iMac had a GeForce GT 120 and the 3.06GHz iMac uses Nvidia’s GeForce GT 130. Graphics performance will be part of our benchmark testing, so stay tuned.

Apple wireless kbd doesn't have USB right? No. USB buses for the 4 ports on iMac? Two? Drobo demands ded'd USB.—scstrr

You are correct, the wireless keyboard that comes with the iMac doesn’t have USB ports. The iMacs each have four USB ports on the back, but I don’t know if each port is on its own independent bus. I’ll be sure to ask Apple.

where the hell is the BluRay support? =) Or more curiously, how does Apple expect consumers to acquire 1080p video with no Bluray and iTunes only supporting 720p?—Navesink

I guess Steve Jobs and Apple still think Blu-ray is a bag of hurt. Good question, though. If Apple releases the video in adapters I mentioned above, it would be possible to connect a Blu-ray set top box. One for my list when I talk to Apple.

Will the SD card slot take SDHC?—Peter

Yes. I tested the iMacs with a 4GB SDHC card, and it worked.

[Roman Loyola is a Macworld senior editor.]

[Editor's note: Updated 10/21/09 at 7:40AM PT with confirmation that the iMacs use 8-bit displays.]

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