Apple’s new 27-inch and 21.5-inch iMacs look great, boost performance and boast some nice new features… but, boy, have they taken a long time to reach us.
The previous range of 21.5- and 27-inch iMacs were last updated at the start of May 2011 – a staggering one and a half years ago. The new iMac range was announced towards the end of October 2012 but Apple has only recently started shipping the new models.
The new 2012 iMacs are, like the 2011 models, available in two screen sizes: 21.5-inch (from £1,099) and 27-inch (from £1,499).
Processors range from a 2.7GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 to 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 (27-inch iMac only). Standard RAM allocation is 8GB across the range, upgradeable to 32GB on the larger iMacs. Storage starts at 1TB, with Apple’s new Fusion Drive (up to 3TB) offering much faster load and startup speeds. See:
How to install extra RAM memory in the new iMac and save on Apple’s high prices
Wi-Fi on the new iMacs is 802.11n, which is compatible with IEEE 802.11a/b/g. Bluetooth 4.0 also supported.
Latest Desktop Mac reviews and
Mac laptop reviews
Apple announced the new Haswell iMac on 24 September, read about the
New Apple iMac price and availability.
New iMacs reviewed
As soon as we got the new iMacs in for testing we unwrapped them from their new oddly shaped boxes and got to work reviewing both the 27-inch and 21.5-inch models.
New iMac design
From the front Apple’s new 2012 iMacs look very similar to the old 2011 models – and, to be frank, to the 2010, 2009, 2008 and 2007-era iMacs.
Jonny Ive and co have been busy designing new iPhones and iPads, and slimming down MacBooks. They haven’t been too bothered at dreaming up radical redesigns of Apple’s desktop Macs. The poor Mac Pro has looked pretty much the same since 2003’s Power Mac G5.
While it’s hard to see a difference from the front, from the side it’s hard to see the new iMac at all!
Apple’s aluminium engineering has improved to the extent that the new iMacs are a mere 5mm at the edges. Viewed from the side the new iMacs had my Macworld colleagues whistling with admiration.
This aluminium process is known as “friction stir-welding,” which was invented in the UK back in 1991. It mechanically intermixes the two pieces of aluminium at the place of the join, then softens them so the metal can be fused using mechanical pressure, much like joining plasticine.
Using it Apple’s designers worked out a way to connect the front and back of the case without the relative bulk of previous models.
The screen’s glass is directly adhered to the panel, which eliminates the old 2mm air gap between glass cover and LCD panel.
The further you look round to the back of the iMac you can notice the back bulge but it’s another wonderful example of Apple’s slimming engineering.
2012 iMac: what’s missing
Apple’s engineers are good but even they can’t keep making products thinner without sacrificing features and functions.
Just as Apple pioneered the removal of floppy disk drives with the original iMac in 1998 the company is on a one-company mission to ditch all form of portable storage, preferring to move us all to the cloud for our downloads and storage-sharing needs.
So, as with the MacBook Air laptops, the latest iMacs no longer feature internal optical drives. If you want to use and burn CDs and DVDs you need to invest in an external USB SuperDrive, which costs an extra £65.
The new Apple SuperDrive is also very thin, and has the single USB cable built into the unit. This also works to power the SuperDrive so there’s no need for a separate power adaptor.
If you want to watch your DVD movies, rip music CDs, or share iMovies in physical form you need to add in the extra costs of the SuperDrive into your new iMac price.
Also missing are audio-in port and FireWire ports. If you have FireWire hard disks, camcorders or other peripherals you’ll need to buy Apple’s £25 Thunderbolt to FireWire adaptor.
2012 iMac: ports
AT the back of the new iMacs are the ports.
There are four USB 3 ports, two Thunderbolt ports, Gigabit Ethernet, headphone/audio-out and a handy SDXC card that’s compatible with many digital cameras and other devices. You can always use an SDXC card instead of a DVD for sharing files. Amazon sells a 64GB SDXC memory card for as little as £35, and 32Gb for just over £20.
Of course, a USB memory stick will also work and you can pick these up at supermarket prices all over the place these days.
The USB 3 ports are backwards compatible with USB 2.0, so your old peripherals should all still work with the new iMacs.
2012 iMac: what’s new
Apple’s hasn’t just shaved features to get the iMacs slimmer. All the new iMacs boast redesigned speakers. We preferred the new speakers when we compared them to the old 2011 models. Music sounded warmer and fuller and less shrill, if a little bit quieter.
Of course if you’re serious about your music you’ll use separate speakers with your Mac.
2012 iMac: Screen
The new iMacs’ screen edges are sharp and thin, but are they better? Apple claims that screen glare has been reduced by 75%, and Apple’s new anti-glare coating technology lowers reflection without darkening the screen or affecting colour.
Colours still look vibrant and photographic images pop, with dark blacks adding the appearance of depth. The iMac’s LED backlit IPS display, with a native resolution of 1,920-x-1,080 pixels (21.5-inch) or 2,560-x-1,440 pixels (27-inch), has a wide viewing angle that lets you and several others collaborate around the iMac screen with very little loss of contrast or colour shifts as you move from the centre of the screen.
2012 iMac memory
The new iMacs all come as standard with 8GB of RAM.
How to install extra RAM memory in the new iMac
The 21.5-inch iMacs can be configured at point of sale with either 8GB or 16GB of memory, but beware: you cannot add new RAM to these smaller models after you’ve bought your shiny new iMac.
The RAM is buried beneath the logicboard on the 21.5-inch iMac, so you’d have to prise apart most of the computer to get to the memory slots. And that’s not easy. The old iMacs had their screens fixed to the case with magnets, but the new iMac’s display is fixed using glue. Taking your new iMac to pieces is not recommended.
The new 27-inch iMac can be bought with either 8GB, 16GB or 32GB of RAM. Happily you can upgrade this memory after purchase, as it features a pop-out slot at the back revealing four user-accessible SO-DIMM slots. Buying and fitting this memory yourself will save you a lot of money, see our iMac RAM upgrade link above for a full step-by-step tutorial on adding memory to the 27-inch iMac.
All you need to do is press a small button in the power socket (see picture above) and bingo there’s the RAM slots. You need to push the button quite hard and clicking the door out can be quite tricky first go, but otherwise this is a great feature that the 27-inch iMac boasts over the smaller model.
This is a good way to save some cash when buying an iMac.
Apple charges an extra £160 for 16GB of RAM and £480 for 32GB. The 32GB price charged by Apple is cheeky as it’s just four 8GB DIMMs, so there’s no reason why it shouldn’t just be twice the extra price as 16GB.
Crucial offers a 16GB RAM kit (2 x 8GB) for £61, so its worth ordering RAM for the 27-inch iMacs from outside of Apple rather than configuring more than 8GB at the time of purchase. Via Crucial or other memory supplier 16GB can be had for £61 and 32GB for £120.
If you buy the 27-inch iMac with its standard 8GB of RAM made up of two 4GB DIMMs and buy two 8GB DIMMs outside of Apple you keep the two 4GB DIMMs installed and add the two new 8GB DIMMs for a total 24GB of RAM – all for just an extra £60. That makes Apple’s £480 for 32GB not just eye-opening but pretty disgraceful.
If you have two 27-inch iMacs you can buy 4 x 8GB DIMMs so you get 32GB in one iMac for £120, and take the two ‘old’ 4GB DIMMs and add them to the second iMac to give that 16GB RAm for free!
Sadly you’re stuck with Apple’s £160 if you want the 21.5-inch iMac with more than 8GB of RAM.
That said 8GB of memory should be plenty for most people. Mac pros such as designers, videographers and musicians might prefer as much RAM as they can get.
New iMac performance
While the new thin-edged iMacs are things of beauty that alone is not going to impress most of us enough to upgrade our current iMacs.
So how fast are the new iMacs?
[Benchmark testing by
Macworld.com’s James Galbraith, Albert Filice, and Kean Bartelman. Performace write up by James Galbraith.]
The new iMac models come with Intel’s Ivy Bridge quad-core processors that share 6MB of L3 cache.
21.5-inch iMac speed tests
The £1,099 21.5-inch iMac has a 2.7GHz Core i5 processor, while the £1,249 21.5-inch iMac has a 2.9GHz Core i5 processor. The processors support Intel’s Turbo Boost, which allows a processor to run faster (up to 3.6GHz on the £1,249 iMac and 3.2GHz in the £1,099 iMac) with processor-hungry applications.
The optional 3.1GHz Core i7 quad-core processor, a £160 upgrade to the £1,249 model, offers Intel’s Hyper Threading. This allows applications to address twice as many virtual processing cores, helpful in applications that can take advantage of multiple cores like Mathematica and Cinema4D.
In the Macworld Lab the new high-end 21.5-inch 2.9GHz iMac was 12 percent faster than the previous high-end 21.5-inch iMac with a Sandy Bridge 2.7GHz Core i5 quad-core processor in our MathematicaMark tests and 17 percent faster in the Cinebench CPU test.
The new entry-level 21.5-inch 2.7GHz iMac was 11 percent faster than the previous entry level 21.5-inch iMac with a Sandy Bridge 2.5GHz in both MathematicaMark and Cinebench CPU tests.
Apple also updated the graphics processors in the new iMacs. The ATI Radeon has been replaced by Nvidia graphics processors: the GeForce GT640M in the £1,099 model (21.5-inch), and the GeForce GT650M in the £1,249 model (21.5-inch).
The 27-inch £1,499 iMac comes with the same GeForce GT650M as the upper-end 21.5-inch model. The £1,699 27-inch iMac comes with a 1GB GeForce GTX 675MX, which for an extra £120 can be configured to a GTX680MX with 2GB GDDR5.
Our Portal 2 test results were 7 to 8 frames per second faster on the new iMacs when compared to the previous models, but the Cinebench OpenGL test results were 10 and 12 percent slower than the previous low and high-end iMacs, respectively.
27-inch iMac speed tests
Both 27in iMacs include 7,200rpm, 1TB SATA-3 hard drives, but the drives in these two iMacs we received are not identical — and neither were their performance scores.
Our £1,699 iMac has a Western Digital WD10EALX Caviar Blue drive with 32MB of cache. Our £1,499 iMac has a Seagate Barracuda ST1000DM003 hard drive with 64MB of cache—twice the cache of the WD, and the advantage of the larger cache is evident in our test results.
The £1,499 iMac was 34 percent faster than the £1,699 iMac in the 2GB folder copy test, and 20 percent faster when uncompressing a 6GB file. In fact, the £1,499 iMac was faster than the £1,699 iMac in nine of the 15 tests that make up our Speedmark 8 benchmark suite. The £1,499 iMac had an overall Speedmark 8 score that is 6 percent higher than the £1,699 iMac.
As a reality check, we ran Blackmagic’s Disk Speed Test, using the 5GB file settings. We found read and write speeds between 180MBps to 190MBps on the Seagate hard drive, and about 120MBps on the WD drive.
When put into context with the results of the 2011 iMacs, this doesn’t seem to be a case of Apple choosing slower drives for the high-end model, it’s just that the Seagate drive is very fast. The £1,499 iMac took 96 seconds to copy a 6GB file from one part of the drive to another, while the WD drive in the £1,699 iMac took 146 seconds, the same result as the high-end 2011 27-inch iMac.
While the Seagate drive is fast, it’s nowhere near as fast as the Fusion Drive in our custom-built 2012 27-inch iMac, which finished the 6GB file copy in just 41 seconds and had Blackmagic write speeds of over 310MBps and read speeds of over 400MBps.
In better news for the £1,699 iMac, it was faster than the £1,499 iMac in both the Cinebench CPU test (7 percent faster) and MathematicaMark (5 percent faster). The £1,699 iMac was also faster than its predecessor, a 3.1GHz Sandy Bridge quad-core Core i5 system.
This year’s model was 19 percent faster overall than the 2011 high-end iMac, 14 percent faster in the Cinebench CPU test, and 16 percent faster in our Handbrake test—the extra RAM in the 2012 standard configuration helps boost performance. (The 2011 iMacs came with 4GB of RAM.) TheVMWare/ PCMark test loves that extra memory. The new £1,499 iMac 2012 was 28 percent faster overall than its predecessor, a 2.7GHz Sandy Bridge quad-core Core i5 system. The new £1,499 iMac’s zippy hard drive, larger amount RAM, and faster CPU all contribute to its increased speed.
The 2011 iMac used AMD Radeon graphics, but Apple, as they are wont to do, has switched alliances for this generation, going with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 660M with 512MB GDDR5 memory in the £1,499 model, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 675MX with 1GB GDDR5 memory in the £1,699 model. (The £1,699 iMac can be upgraded to 2GB of video memory for an additional £120.)
The graphics test results were mixed; Cinebench’s OpenGL test showed the older Radeon graphics to be about 6 percent faster than the new Nvidia graphics on the £1,699 iMac, and 11 percent faster on the £1,499 iMac. Portal 2 test results showed the opposite effect, with the new Nvidia graphics showing a 7 percent advantage over the older Radeon graphics in the high-end models and 6 percent in the low-end models.
Our customized 2012 iMac with a 3.4GHz Core i7 processor, 1TB Fusion Drive, and 16GB of RAM, was 40 percent faster overall than the standard £1,699 iMac, and 32 percent faster than the £1,499 iMac. The Core i7’s Hyper Threading helped the custom iMac post Cinebench CPU scores that were 24 percent faster than the £1,699 iMac and 29 percent faster scores than the £1,499 27-inch iMac.
New iMac: hard drive speeds
Because of the reduced case size, Apple uses smaller 2.5-inch 5,400-rpm hard drives in the new 21.5-inch iMacs, where Apple previously used 3.5-inch 7,200-rpm drives.
The 27-inch iMacs still use 3.5-inch 7,200-rpm hard drives.
Apple increased the cache size on these slower-spinning drives to help increase the performance. But even with the larger cache, the older iMac’s 7,200-rpm drives finished our file copy test faster than the new iMac’s 5,400-rpm drives. The file unzip test was just 1 percent faster on the 2011 iMac.
If you want faster drive speed, as well as zippier startup and application launches, the new £1,249 21.5-inch iMac can be outfitted with Apple’s 1TB Fusion Drive for an extra £200.
Fusion Drive combines fast flash storage with high capacity hard drives and presents the two as one drive to the user and software. The OS and all applications that come with an iMac are loaded onto the flash portion of the Fusion Drive, making application launches and restarts much faster than with a standard hard drive.
In our testing we found that most tasks on a Fusion Drive perform at the same speeds as a standalone solid-state drive, even with 600GB of data loaded onto the drive.
Long extended writes and reads will eventually hit the bottleneck created by slower hard drive speeds, as you’d expect. Previous testing showed Fusion Drives able to finish our 6GB file copy tests in about 40 seconds, while the 5,400-rpm hard drive in the iMac took around 150 seconds to complete.
Fusion Drive is not available on the 21.5-inch £1,099 model, but is on all other models in the new range. On the 21.5-inch iMacs you can order a 1TB Fusion Drive. On the 27-inch iMacs you can configure a 1TB Fusion Drive for £200 or 3TB for an extra £320. There’s also a 768GB Flash storage option on the larger iMac. This will be even faster than the Fusion Drive but is smaller in capacity and will set you back nearly as much as the Mac itself, at an extra £1,040.
New iMac: In the box
All the new iMacs comes with an Apple Wireless Keyboard and Magic Mouse. When you buy the new iMac you can swap out the Magic Mouse for a Magic Trackpad at no extra cost, or add the Trackpad for £59. If you hate having to charge batteries you can even opt for a wired Apple Mighty Mouse. We recommend you also purchase an Apple Battery Charger to keep the keyboard and mouse charges at all times.
A screen-cleaning cloth is also included in the box.
As usual with Apple products there’s not much in the way of documentation or manuals, although you do get a little 18-page Quick Start Guide.