Wed, 19 Dec 2012 Apple iMac (Late 2012) review (21.5- and 27-inch)
New, thinner, faster iMacs reviewed
- Manufacturer: Apple
- Pros: Super thin edges, speed boost
- Cons: 21.5-inch iMac's RAM non user-ugradeable, lack of CD/DVD drive, no FireWire port
- Min specs: 21.5-inch iMac: 2.7GHz or 2.9GHz quad-core Intel Core i5. 27-inch iMac: 2.9GHz or 3.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i5, configurable to 3.4GHz Core i7. Standard RAM 8GB, configurable to 16GB or 32GB (27-inch).
- Price: £1,099 to £1,699
- Star rating:
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. [Updated with full 2012 iMac speed tests, 16 January 2013.]
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.
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.
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.