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Review: Apple's new 5K iMac -- powerful, pixel-ful and pricey

Michael deAgonia | Dec. 17, 2014
There are 14.7 million reasons to want Apple's latest iMac -- the 14.7 million pixels that make up its stunning 27-in. 5K Retina display. At $2,499, the new iMac isn't cheap, but its screen makes this desktop a great value -- if you can afford it.

There are 14.7 million reasons to want Apple's latest iMac — the 14.7 million pixels that make up its stunning 27-in. 5K Retina display. At $2,499, the new iMac isn't cheap, but its screen makes this desktop a great value — if you can afford it.

Though the tech behind iMac displays has changed over time, the one constant on the 27-in. iMac has been the resolution: 2560 x 1440. Even as pixel densities have increased on other Apple devices — starting with the iPhone 4 and then the iPad and MacBook Pro — a Retina-class display on a desktop Mac was elusive. No longer — on this new iMac, the LED display features a mind-boggling resolution of 5120 x 2880 pixels. And despite the display's capabilities, Apple claims it uses 30% less power than previous models.

In order to make this high-end screen work, Apple had to introduce some innovative technologies. For example, to create a Retina display this size, the Oxide TFT technology — which gives each individual pixel its charge — had to be more precise, offer a quicker charge per pixel and deliver a consistent brightness across the entire 14.7 million-pixel array. In addition, Apple said had to create its own timing controller — called a TCON — to handle the high number of pixels.

Tech details aside, this display has to be seen to be appreciated. Fonts render sharp and crisp, regardless of size, while high-quality images and videos pop. But the 5K resolution has one unfortunate side effect: Low-resolution media looks pixelated when expanded to normal viewing sizes.

A refined design and impressive specs

I've always been a fan of the iMac lineup, from the ease of setup to the designs. I thought the original bubble design was cute, loved the swiveling Luxo-lamp iMac G4 and thought the G5's plastic white look was adequate. Apple shifted to aluminum and glass materials in 2007, and has since refined the overall style, shrinking the unit's weight and thickness.

The latest iMac is still housed in an aluminum frame. The glass display is bordered by a black frame that hides the iSight camera. Below the black border is a wide band of aluminum that bears, front and center, the Apple logo. If you're a fan of well-built hardware like I am, what you will notice is a seemingly unbroken frame — joined by a process called friction welding — and the tight tolerances between the glass and aluminum materials. The iMac is a thing of beauty.

And it performs well, too. The $2,499 Retina iMac runs on the Haswell chipset, powered by a quad-core 3.5GHz Intel Core i5 (with Turbo Boost capabilities that can push processing speeds up to 3.9GHz as needed), 8GB of 1600MHz DDR3 memory, a 1TB Fusion Drive for storage, and graphics powered by the AMD Radeon R9 M290x with 2GB of GDDR5 memory.

 

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