Sleek, trend-setting design remains. Stunning 5K display is brighter than before. Includes USB-C with Thunderbolt 3.
Rear-facing ports are inconvenient. Limited tilt and no height adjustment options.
- Bottom Line
The newest 27-inch Apple iMac is a gorgeous machine with a brilliant display and a handful of modern upgrades at an appealing price. It's not revolutionary, but it's the best version of the iMac to date.
The iMac defined the all-in-one (AIO) desktop a decade ago, setting the stage for a surge in premium Windows machines built in its mold. Apple has since refined the iMac's design before reaching the current super-slim aluminum version, which has remained largely unchanged since 2012. This time around the 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display ($1,799) gets a brighter screen, more modern connections, and a modest performance bump over its two-year-old predecessor, making it the Apple desktop to buy if a large display and macOS are necessities. But it's only a matter of time before high-end Windows AIOs like the Microsoft Surface Studio and the HP Envy 34 Curved All-in-One start cutting into Apple's pie.
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A Modern Classic
There's no denying that the new iMac looks a lot like the old iMac, so don't look for any new flourishes here. The genre-defining aluminum and glass build has stayed thin and sleek—it's easy to take it for granted since it's been around for so long, but it remains an impressive feat of engineering, especially as increasingly powerful parts are packed inside. This year's version of the smaller 21.5-inch 4K iMac shares the design of its larger counterpart, with no aesthetic variations beyond size (though there are some component differences described below).
The display is nearly the same as the last version, a beautiful 27-inch 5K Retina screen with a 5,120-by-2,880 resolution under edge-to-edge glass. There's no touch capability here, so if that's appealing to you, you'll have to take the Windows route. Apple does have a host of new features coming in the next MacOS, High Sierra, but touch interaction is still limited to iOS.
The Microsoft Surface Studio combines touch and greater convertibility with its 5K screen, if your work would benefit from a built-in digitizer and you still want the ultra-high resolution. The Surface Studio can recline almost fully horizontally to serve as a digital drafting board, while the iMac's screen can be tilted up about 45 degrees, it only tilts down slightly, and you can't adjust the height of the display. The Dell XPS 27 (7760) is another option that doesn't quite have the all functionality of the Studio, but features a large 4K touch screen and can similarly recline.
Still, the iMac's image quality is insanely crisp, right up there with the 5K screen on the Surface Studio. Images really pop, and it would be difficult to make text any sharper. The font and UI would be too tiny at a 1:1 pixel ratio in 5K, so a scaling setting is active (the default is a scale that appears as a 2,560-by-1,440 resolution) to make it usable, though you can tweak this in the system settings if you want to experience the native resolution.
The screen brightness across all of the new iMacs has been increased to 500 nits, and it shows. At full brightness the display is almost painfully luminous, and I wouldn't blame you for dialing it down from the maximum (there's also an auto-adjust option). If you need to see fine details, though, especially in photo and video editing, this is a big help, as is the display's wide color (P3) support. Colors on the new iMac are incredibly vibrant.
To get a more quantitive conclusion, I tested color accuracy using Datacolor's Spyder5Elite colorimeter and software. The package runs a test on the screen's ability to display different color spectrums used for a variety of purposes across industries. Color accuracy is important to many professionals for representing real-life colors digitally to facilitate physical printing, samples, and more. The iMac's display covers 100 percent of the sRGB specturm, 87 percent of NTSC, and 92 percent of Adobe RGB. The coverage isn't complete, but results are still strong, and should satisfy most use cases.
Overall, the iMac may not deliver the enveloping effect of the HP Envy's huge 34-inch curved screen, but unlike the Envy, its traditional 16:9 aspect ratio is supported by video streaming services and physical media.
Freshened Up Features
While the overall body design is largely unchanged, the iMac's ports have been modernized. The left bottom corner of the back panel holds four USB 3.0 ports, two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3, an Ethernet jack, an SDXC card slot, and a headphone jack. The 2015 iMac used Thunderbolt 2 ports, so the upgrade means faster data transfers and better forward-looking versatility for accessories. Given the inclusion of both USB 3.0 and USB-C, you won't need too many adapters as long as you have some USB-C peripherals. However, there are some exceptions, as you may have to purchase Apple's USB-C to Thunderbolt 2 adapter ($49) or a third-party USB-C to HDMI adapter if you have peripherals or accessories reliant on those ports.
The location of the iMac's connectors is slightly inconvenient, as it is with the Surface Studio, particularly for headphones, but it's the price you pay with a system this thin. The Envy shares many of the same connections, but has two HDMI ports and just one USB-C port with Thunderbolt 3. However, some of its ports are located on the right side of its base, which is thick enough to accomodate them.
The iMac has built-in speakers, which are of above-average quality for an all-in-one. You can play media loudly on the new iMac without much distortion, even if it's still short of a true stereo speaker setup. On the other hand, the HP Envy integrates a full high-quality soundbar along its base, which is one of our favorite things about it, and the Dell XPS 27 boasts an insane 10-speaker setup.
As for other features, the 2017 iMac integrates 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2, and comes with Apple's wireless Magic Mouse 2 and Magic Keyboard. The mouse supports touch-based scrolling, though I still find its shallow shape uncomfortable, and the keyboard angle and keys are similarly low-profile. Still, both the mouse and the keyboard are high quality for bundled peripherals.
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There are a handful of configuration options available: Ours is the starting-price Core i5 unit with 8GB of memory, Radeon Pro 570 graphics, and a 1TB Fusion Drive. This storage type comes basic in every 27-inch iMac (the entry-level 21.5-inch iMac starts with a standard hard drive); it's a hybrid style that combines Flash Storage memory and a spinning hard disk, so it's not as fast as an SSD. The only post-purchase upgrade options are for memory, so choose your processor, graphics card, and storage carefully when purchasing. It's worth noting that the new 21.5-inch 4K iMac doesn't come with identical components—the base version includes a 2GB Radeon Pro 550 GPU and a slower processor, for instance, so be careful in assuming it's only a decision between screen sizes.
You can configure the 27-inch iMac with up to a 4.2GHz Core i7 processor, a 3TB Fusion Drive or up to a 1TB SSD, 64GB of memory, and a Radeon Pro 575 or 580 graphics card. These top-end options get pretty expensive—the priciest model is $2,229 and can be significantly upgraded with those options.
Apple covers the iMac with 90 days of technical support, and a one-year warranty.
Making the jump to a Kaby Lake processor is one of the main draws of the 2017 iMac, and the 3.4GHz Core i5-7500 chip in our unit caused an uptick in speed over the 2015 model. We don't run Windows-based benchmark tests on macOS systems, but in the multimedia tests, the new iMac saw improvements across the board, with faster Photoshop and Handbrake times and a higher CineBench score. The increases, however, aren't too considerable, as shown in the benchmark chart below.
If you have a 2015 iMac, you may not need to upgrade purely for speed, unless you consider a more expensive configuration with a Core i7 processor. The HP Envy 34 Curved posted nearly the same time on Handbrake, but had a much higher CineBench score, while the Dell XPS 27 was faster across the board. The Surface Studio was also slightly faster on the two timed tests and fared better on CineBench.
3D performance is also improved, though it's not revolutionary. The AMD Radeon Pro 570 with 4GB of VRAM is an increase over the 2015 model's 2GB Radeon R9 M290. Animation and rendering software will be faster on this version thanks to the upgrade, which will benefit creative professionals. As for gaming, the 2017 iMac was able to average over 30 frames per second on the Heaven and Valley tests at ultra-quality settings and HD resolution, though the 5K native resolution is, of course, a bridge too far for the hardware. The Studio is a much more capable gaming machine, even though that's not any AIO's main purpose.
You may have to turn down visual settings in more cutting edge games, but you can definitely enjoy a variety of titles on medium-to-high settings on the new iMac when you're not working. Apple announced support for VR headsets at WWDC this year, but you'll need a better card than the 570 for a smooth VR experience. There will be support for SteamVR and external graphics cards, however, so VR isn't out of the question here.
The Good Gets Better
In terms of a straight generational comparison, the new model improves on the 2015 version in many facets, delivering faster components, newer ports, and a brighter display than its predecessor. The changes in speed aren't drastic over the previous model, but it's a fast computer in general, and if you do processor-intensive work like video editing, every minute counts. Some users simply need to stick with macOS for their professions, and if that's you, this is the most updated and powerful iMac you can buy right now. If you're truly wed to macOS and want more muscle, you should wait until December for the iMac Pro workstation, which includes much more powerful components.
That said, Windows-based desktops just keep getting better. The physical hardware is often as well designed, and there are important differentiators being added to the large-display designs. The HP Envy is more eye-catching with its huge curved display and high-quality sound bar for just a few hundred dollars more than the base 27-inch iMac. Its premium media-center-style design better embodies the high-end all-in-one category, and so it remains our top pick. Microsoft's Surface Studio is another attractive option that earns our Editors' Choice for its innovation, combining a touch screen and a highly convertible form factor for a powerful PC and digital art tool in one. While Apple hasn't exactly stagnated, the next lineup of iMacs will need a more significant overhaul to keep the Windows competition at bay. For its part, the 21.5-inch 2017 iMac nabs our Editors' Choice as a clearer standout compared with the competition at its size and price.
Other Apple Desktops
Matthew Buzzi is a junior analyst on the Hardware team at PCMag. Matthew graduated from Iona College with a degree in Mass Communications/Journalism. He interned for a college semester at Kotaku, writing about gaming. He has written about technology and video game news, as well as hardware and gaming reviews. In his free time, he likes to go out with friends, watch and discuss sports, play video games, read too much Twitter, and obsessively manage any fantasy sports leagues he's involved in. More »
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