Editor's Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0
The Apple iMac 27-inch (Nvidia GeForce GTX 675M) ($3,099 direct) desktop is a powerhouse system for those who need high-octane performance. It can be upgraded to 32GB of memory and a high-end third-generation Intel Core i7 processor. When combined with speedy Flash storage, it is the kind of configuration that will excite your graphic design and scientific users, at least until the next iteration of the iMac shows up later this year (probably).
Design and Features
On the outside, the latest iMac 27-inch is identical to the Apple iMac 27-Inch (Late 2012) ($2,688 direct) that we looked at last year. It has the same 20.3-inch-tall aluminum chassis with built-in tilting stand. Again, you'll have to budget about 25 inches of width and 8 inches of depth on your work surface for this behemoth. The current high-end all-in-one desktop Editors' Choice the Dell XPS 27 Touch All-in-One (2720) takes up roughly the same amount of space, within two inches in any given dimension. The iMac is thinner than the Dell XPS 27, particularly at the edges, where the chassis tapers down to a few millimeters. As such, there is no room for an internal optical drive, though Apple still carries its external USB SuperDrive DVD burner for $79.
Both the Dell XPS 27 Touch and the iMac 27-inch have better than 1080p HD IPS screens, with a 2,560-by-1,440 resolution. This means you can view and edit a full HD 1080p movie with plenty of room left over for toolbars and the like. Other 27-inch all-in-one desktops like the Vizio 27-inch All-in-One Touch PC (CA27T-B1) ($1,549) and Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon ($1,849) make do with only 1,920-by-1,080 resolution screens, which are to their credit, still full 1080p HD. The iMac 27-inch models don't have touch screens. The OS X operating system isn't optimized for touch screens, and for the time being Apple has limited touch to iOS devices like the iPad and iPhone. Like all current 27-inch iMacs, the system has a laminated glass cover for the screen, which reduces reflections.
The iMac 27-inch has four USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt ports, a SDXC card reader, headset jack, and Gigabit Ethernet on the back. There is an access panel on the back for access to the memory slots, but the system we reviewed came with them filled to the current maximum of 32GB. Any other expansion has to be done via Thunderbolt or USB 3.0. For the fastest throughput rates, we'd recommend one or more Thunderbolt SSD drives or arrays, but you can hook up everything from a 128MB USB 2.0 stick up to multiple Thunderbolt five-drive disk arrays for extra data storage.
The configured-to-order (CTO) system we reviewed came with 256GB of Flash Storage, which is totally enough for a single-use desktop like an audio engineer's workstation (with Apple Logic Pro X), as long as you have external storage for your music data files. For general-purpose use like a graphics artist's workstation, we'd recommend the Fusion Drive setup seen in last year's review, since that configuration has 1TB of internal storage for personal files like music and downloads. The iMac 27-inch comes with 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi networking in addition to the physical gigabit Ethernet port. You can use the Thunderbolt ports to connect up to seven devices each (including up to two Thunderbolt or mini-DisplayPort monitors). You'll need a third-party adapter for mini-DisplayPort to HDMI or one of Apple's mini-DisplayPort to VGA or DVI adapters to use the iMac with other screens. You can use the iMac's display with most recent Thunderbolt-equipped Macs (Mac mini, MacBook Air, etc.), so you stretch the life of the system's display once the internal components are obsolete. That said, Thunderbolt isn't as accommodating as a plain HDMI-in port like the one on the Dell XPS 27 Touch, which can connect to more devices like laptops, smartphones, game consoles, cable boxes, and anything else with a HDMI-out port.
Like all current Macs, the iMac 27-inch (Nvidia GeForce GTX 675M) comes with OS X 10.8 and Apple's iLife suite (iTunes, iPhoto, etc.). You'll be able to upgrade the iMac to OS X Mavericks (aka OS X 10.9) when it is released later this year, though the pricing and availability on the upgrade hasn't been released yet. The iMac comes with a standard one-year warranty.
The iMac 27-inch (Nvidia GeForce GTX 675M) we reviewed has 32GB of DDR3 1,600-MHz memory, a third-generation Intel Core i7-3770 processor, 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 675MX discrete graphics, and 256GB of Flash Storage instead of a hard drive. As a result, this system screams through some of our benchmark tests. It's in a dead heat with the 4th-generation Intel Core-equipped Dell XPS 27 Touch (2720) on the Handbrake video encoder test and the Photoshop CS6 test. Both are over a minute faster than the mobile processor-based Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon.
The iMac also turns in quite playable scores on the Heaven 3D gaming benchmark test. The iMac turned in a barely playable 31 fps at native resolution, but when stepped down to a more reasonable 1,920-by-1,080 resolution, the iMac returned a playable 55 fps. This tells us that this iMac is capable of playing strenuous AAA game titles fairly easily. You should be able to find a sweet spot that trades between resolution and rendering quality. It certainly blows away the integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 in the Vizio 27-inch All-in-One Touch PC (CA27T-B1). With more memory and Flash Storage, this iMac is a bit faster than the system we reviewed last year, particularly on Photoshop CS6 and CineBench, which renders 3D using the CPU and system memory instead of the graphics card.
The Apple iMac 27-inch (Nvidia GeForce GTX 675M) certainly makes a case for itself, you'll certainly get better performance when you max out the memory and use Flash Storage. If you're a Mac maven who already has external Thunderbolt storage, this is a good intermediary upgrade until the Mac Pro ships later in 2013. However, on a price and feature comparison, the Dell XPS 27 One (2720) holds on to its Editors' Choice for high-end all-in-one desktops. It matches the iMac on screen resolution and multimedia performance, trumps the iMac on port selection (which is the primary expansion method for all in ones), lags on 3D gaming performance, but more than makes up for it on storage capacity and in the final price tally. Essentially, if you're in the market for a high end Mac, this is the powerhouse system, but if you just need a high-end all-in-one desktop PC, the XPS 27 One (2720) wins the bang-for-the-buck challenge.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.