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Review roundup: the new iMac is more than just fresh design

updated 11:00 pm EST, Fri November 30, 2012

Faster and better overall, with some mild annoyances

Reviews are starting to come in on both the new 21.5- and 27-inch iMac models, with the general consensus that both are lightning-fast (faster, in fact, than any comparable 27-inch Windows-based machine), offer much less reflectivity and a better display, and are gorgeous to look at. They also note some changes, such as the relocation of the memory ports (which are upgradable), and a reduction in quality of the built-in speakers (likely a sacrifice to the thin design). Though considered pricey, the new iMac is still thus far seen as being the best AIO computer around.

Both CNet and The Verge have offered full reviews, with a handful of other sites adding first impressions, teardowns or unboxing pictures. As has been the consensus with previous models, the new iMac is praised as one of the best all-around computers available (though those wishing for more of a home-entertainment hub may be better off with the Mac mini or a Windows-based rival). Most mentions of the new version make a point of contrasting the removal of the optical drive (which makes the design radically thinner and continues to open the door to external Blu-Ray drives Apple never added) with Apple's clever implementation of a hybrid SSS/HD drive, known as the Fusion drive.

The Fusion drive is more than just a 128GB SSD bolted onto a 1TB (or more) hard disk; it is intelligently self-managed by the OS so that the system and a user's most-frequently accessed apps and data are on the SSD portion, with storage of less-used files relegated to the hard drive. The clever part is that the system adjusts the management according to changing usage patterns, without the user's intervention -- a typically elegant Apple move, and one that makes the entire system feel dramatically faster than the previous model.

CNet compared the 27-inch iMac to a closely-matched Dell XPS One 27-incher and found the new iMac outperformed it on every test, making it the fastest non-workstation 27-inch available. The Dell did offer HDMI input (allowing its use as a television) and two more USB 3.0 ports, and costs between $300-$400 less, but lacks the quality of the new lower-reflective display or the better video card. If the display is the main reason you want a 27-inch machine, then the choice is tipped in favor of Apple.

As The Verge notes, the new version is also significantly lighter than the previous model, losing an astonishing eight pounds in the 21.5-inch version and 9.5 pounds for the 27-inch version. The review also notes that the speakers now have "zero" bass response, though mids and highs are good, but calls it a definite step backward from the previous versions' speakers. In terms of performance, the new iMac scores about 25 percent higher than the summer 2011 model using Geekbench, but actual speed improvements vary in different areas. Adding the optional Fusion drive makes a huge difference in overall feel and file access times.

Both reviews take pains to mention that the iMac isn't 5mm thin at all points -- despite Apple clearly showing this both in its public debut and in pictures on its web site. The reviewers miss the point of the entire iMac line, right the way back to its beginning: hide the computer. The new iMac does the best job yet of this, making the machine appear impossibly thin from every angle a user is likely to ever look at it from in normal use. Most previous models of iMac also had a thicker middle than edge, particularly in the last few iterations.

The obsession with the design means that some changes had to be made, including relocating the openable RAM panel to the back of the machine -- but overall Apple has significantly improved the iMac in every important way while losing 40 percent of its previous volume. Buyers will appreciate the speed, the much-improved (but still mobile-class) graphics, the screen quality and of course the advantages inherent in Mountain Lion. What they won't like is that the models cost $100 more than their predecessors, and continue to offer add-ons at more-expensive-than-retail prices.

The iMacs' use of Thunderbolt technology is for now an under-appreciated advantage over competitors, and though the Fusion drive upgrade is frankly overpriced (at $250, and only available in some configurations of the iMac), those who opt to spend the money will see a big performance jump on top of an already fastest-in-class processor. Even the box has been redesigned for the new iMac -- emphasizing the design through a sloping top-to-bottom opening.

The machine itself continues to be almost as quiet as the box it came in, with clearly better heat and fan management than anything available from Windows-based competitors. Combined with the less-glossy and well-calibrated display and the other technologies inherent in a Mac -- the integration of FaceTime and the camera, the noise-cancelling mic system, the ubiquity of Messages and iCloud integration -- the iMac is a somewhat pricey but clearly standout option for those who still want a desktop computer, particularly for productive and profitable use. [photos via CNet, Techcrunch]



By Electronista Staff
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  1. Kees

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 09-15-01

    I don't care much about optical drives, can't really remember the last time I used one, though it does happen. And for that reason, I want at least one computer in the house the has said drive.
    My desktop is the only computer where I don't care about bulk, so this is where I would expect the drive. Now I have to either waste space by permanently putting an external drive on my desk (that I have to purchase extra, despite the price increase on the iMac) or live with the inconvenience of taking it out of storage and plugging it in.
    The card reader now joining the user unfriendly position at the back, requiring you to swing around the entire iMac just exemplifies that this thinness is indeed an obsession, to be achievement at all cost.
    It's a bit like designing a house with the front door at the back, because the door distracts from the design of the house.
    And non upgradable RAM on the 21.5", a desktop, are you kidding me?

    It's bad design, imo. A goal was set to achieve thinness, and in the time taken to finish the design, the usability/user friendliness aspect was not adequately solved. To just ship it anyway constitutes a laziness that is sadly becoming more prevalent in Apple products.
    They're obviously still good products, but it seems to me, it's a hardware before anything else approach now, with the software, traditionally Apple forte, lagging behind in innovation (OS X ML, iOS 6 are both a bit disappointing to me)

    The total package is still superior to anything else on the market, but it's about time Apple comes up with something that really surprises and awes, because it's been a while, frankly.

  1. ShastaPhil

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 02-27-11

    I like it. I have plenty of Macs that I can burn CD's on when I need to, and I do occasionally burn CD's and DVD's.

    What I like is the light weight, thin design on a screen that I can really use for graphics and video creation. I can pick this up and use it anywhere there is a surface to set in on.

    I have been using MacBooks the past few years, because I don't like sitting at my desk to work on my older iMac. I like to move around while I am working. Sitting in one spot, on one chair is torture.

    So I have been squinting at my MacBook screen while editing images and video. I think that now I have found a solution with the new iMac. I will let you know, after I get one.

  1. hayesk

    Professional Poster

    Joined: 09-17-99

    Originally Posted by KeesView Post


    My desktop is the only computer where I don't care about bulk, so this is where I would expect the drive. Now I have to either waste space by permanently putting an external drive on my desk (that I have to purchase extra, despite the price increase on the iMac) or live with the inconvenience of taking it out of storage and plugging it in.



    Taking it out of storage? You mean, like a desk drawer? Is it really that much of an inconvenience?

    Agree with you on the SD slot positioning though. As for the RAM, yeah, it sucks, but I wonder how many 21.5" owners ever upgraded their RAM?

  1. chas_m

    MacNN Staff

    Joined: 08-04-01

    Kees -- there's a lot in your post I'm not sure about. Let's review:

    Originally Posted by KeesView Post

    I don't care much about optical drives, can't really remember the last time I used one, though it does happen. And for that reason, I want at least one computer in the house the has said drive.
    My desktop is the only computer where I don't care about bulk, so this is where I would expect the drive. Now I have to either waste space by permanently putting an external drive on my desk (that I have to purchase extra, despite the price increase on the iMac) or live with the inconvenience of taking it out of storage and plugging it in.



    I'm not clear on this -- you prefer the space to be wasted by being permanently bolted in a casing, meaning that if it breaks or dies you must disassemble the entire machine? That seems ... odd.

    The truth of the matter is that having an optical drive built into an AIO has *always* been a bad idea, and I'm very happy they got rid of it. I've had a FW external burner for years, and really as small as optical drives have gotten these days it's just a joke to claim that it's a "waste of space."

    Finally, like most people I think I use my built-in optical drive on my MBP perhaps 1-2 times a year at most. I never use it at all when I'm home and have very rare need to use it at all outside of home. There are these things called thumb drives, you might want to look into that ...

    The card reader now joining the user unfriendly position at the back, requiring you to swing around the entire iMac

    Probably not, actually. As mentioned, I have an MBP which has a card reader like that -- its on the left side as you probably know. I have never actually looked at the slot even once -- I can find it very easily by feel (as it's the only thing even remotely shaped like that) and I am quite sure I could find one on the back of the iMac by feel as well. I haven't tried it on the new model, but neither have you.

    It's a bit like designing a house with the front door at the back, because the door distracts from the design of the house.

    Frank Lloyd Wright, probably the most famous architect in the US, did this all the time. The main door at Fallingwater is in the back; the main door to his own home and office in Oak Park was on the side and perpendicular to the wall, ie pretty-well-hidden.

    If you can't manage the reacharound because you have T.Rex-like arms or something, that's cool -- buy one of those tiny card readers for $5.

    And non upgradable RAM on the 21.5", a desktop, are you kidding me?

    Yes, we're kidding you. The RAM in the 21.5" is IN FACT user-upgradeable, though not in the same sense as the 27" model. MacFixit makes this clear: http://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/iMac+Intel+21.5-Inch+EMC+2544+Teardown/11936/3


    A goal was set to achieve thinness

    Not really, though that is a desirable by-product. The goal with the iMac is and has always been "hide the computer." It is the core foundation of every design of the iMac from the very first to the most recent. Most of the time, the goal is to hide the computer behind the screen (the G4 iMac was a notable exception, but still had the effect of making people wonder where the computer was. It was SO MUCH smaller than its PC brethen of the time ...). Thinner also means lighter (more important to portables than to desktops, I grant you) and easier to cool. It's actually as much a thermal thing as it is a design thing, Apple is constantly trying to figure out how to make their computers QUIETER. Can't wait to see how they solve this problem for the Mac Pro.


    (OS X ML, iOS 6 are both a bit disappointing to me)

    Not to me. I like software that makes me more productive, and both releases you reference were a BIG jump in productivity for me compared to Lion from Snow Leopard. The synergy (I hate the word, but if the shoe fits) between OS X and iOS is really coming together nicely and I can point to serious, important, concrete ways in which it has helped me get more done, particularly when I'm NOT at my desk.


    but it's about time Apple comes up with something that really surprises and awes, because it's been a while, frankly.

    Oh, this is about you being entertained like a five-year-old, not about hitting on a really good idea and then constantly trying to refine and improve it. I see. Yes, 2010 (the iPad introduction) was SO LONG AGO.

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    And ironically, the iPad introduction was met with a big fat "Meh" by large parts of the Internet punditry. The product that single-handedly virtually redefined the future of personal computing.


    Also:
    The RAM in the 21.5" iMac is way, way, way NOT user-upgradeable.

    It *is* upgradeable, but it requires complete disassembly of the computer.

  1. cmoney

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 09-19-00

    Was there anything gained by making it superthin at the edges? Apart from the esoteric, "I can barely see it now," you lose the optical drive which fine, no big but you also lose easy access to the SD card and apparently sound quality. iMac speakers used to be pretty good, I'd hate to end up with it sounding like a loud MacBook in some quixotic quest for thinness in a desktop.

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    Originally Posted by cmoneyView Post

    Was there anything gained by making it superthin at the edges?



    Sales.

    Crazy sales.

    That should be quite enough, from Apple's perspective.

  1. wrenchy

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 11-03-09

    Originally Posted by Spheric HarlotView Post


    Sales. Crazy sales. That should be quite enough, from Apple's perspective.



    "Who cares if our products pi$$ off a bunch our customers. As long as we make lots of money. They will buy it anyways, screw them."

    That just sounds like greed to me.

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    Originally Posted by wrenchyView Post

    [QUOTE=Spheric Harlot;4204614]
    Sales. Crazy sales. That should be quite enough, from Apple's perspective.



    "Who cares if our products pi$$ off a bunch our customers. As long as we make lots of money. They will buy it anyways, screw them."

    That just sounds like greed to me.[/quote]

    I don't know what you're drinking, but I'll stick with my beer, thanks.

    "Crazy sales", from where I'm sitting, means MORE HAPPY CUSTOMERS than pissed-off ones.

    If you do something to a product that INCREASES sales, whatever it was made more people happier than it made people unhappier.

    We'll see how it pans out, but at the moment, it seems the response is overwhelmingly positive except from sad Internet bottom-dwellers who'd never be in the market for one anyway (so why should Apple give a shit about their opinion?).

  1. ShastaPhil

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 02-27-11

    The SD card thing was already answered, "Just reach around and stick it in".

    As for the speakers; If you really care about the sound, you would already know that built in speakers, in any device, are unacceptable and annoying. Hook up, or stream, your audio to a good sound system.

  1. chas_m

    MacNN Staff

    Joined: 08-04-01

    Originally Posted by Spheric HarlotView Post

    Also:
    The RAM in the 21.5" iMac is way, way, way NOT user-upgradeable.
    It *is* upgradeable, but it requires complete disassembly of the computer.



    You're correct, but what I was trying to say is that it's not soldered in like the Retina MBPs.

    Thanks for clarifying that, however.

  1. blue5ft3

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 07-22-11

    Yes that looks like quite a mess I would not bother, just order it with what you want in it, that's cheaper than paying to have it put in later, and not having to do this yourself.

  1. blue5ft3

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 07-22-11

    I agree I love it. I ordered the 27" this time. I've never had a screen that size before. I am really looking forward to it. The memory being user upgradable by just opening the little door is great too, so I did not waste my money on Apple's high priced memory. I hope the fusion drive is as good as it's reported to be. The specs are great and I've love my Macs.

  1. ClockNova

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 06-23-01

    Still no word on VESA compatibility. My desk is such that the only way I can have a machine like this is to mount it on a swing arm, and the current VESA mount bracket is incompatible with this iMac. If they have sacrificed VESA compatibility for this design, I will be sorely disappointed, and will also be forced to buy last year's model.

  1. hayesk

    Professional Poster

    Joined: 09-17-99

    Note sure if this works, but if not, I imagine we'll see a VESA mount soon.
    http://www.monoprice.com/products/product.asp?c_id=109&cp_id=10828&cs_id=1082820&p_id=9899&seq=1&format=2

  1. alex252

    Banned

    Joined: 04-18-13

    Worth Buying Mac mini

    I am thinking of buying mac mini and separate monitor from another brands like samsung etc. Why should i buy imac which is way too expensive around $1000 if i can get the same configuration mac mini at around $600 and a separate monitor will cost $200..it is worth saving $200. I am looking for direct bargains offer to buy one this summer. Also the new mac mini is energy efficient.

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    The cheapest quad-core Mac mini is $900, only comes with 4GB RAM, and does not have a discrete graphics card.

    Also, I'm quite certain that you won't find a display that compares favorably to what is built into the iMac at anything near $200. If you care about display quality.

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