The 21-inch version of the iMac has found its way into reception areas in many businesses as a kind of technological fashion statement. However, its 27-inch big brother is a different proposition altogether. The iMac’s large, high-resolution display has always been popular with the designers and creative professionals who are Apple’s most loyal users in the business arena. And, since the discontinuation of Apple’s Mac Pro range, the 27-inch model has been the only real option for Mac users looking for a powerful graphics or video workstation. That emphasis on performance continues with this latest update, although it does come at the cost of even higher prices.

Screen Dream

The arrival of the new iMac didn’t get the same sort of attention as the recently-released iPhone 5S and iPad Air, but that was probably because the iMac’s basic design remains unchanged for this update and doesn’t include any really attention-grabbing new features.

As always, the iMac’s outstanding feature is its screen – a vividly bright IPS display with 2,560 x 1,440 resolution that is ideal for video editing, presentations or page layout work. The slimline design of the 27-inch display is also impressive, and remains unmatched by comparable all-in-one designs from rival PC manufacturers.

However, shaving a few millimetres off the thickness of the screen doesn’t provide any real benefit for a stationary 27-inch desktop machine. On the other hand, though, it does have some clear disadvantages. There’s no room for an optical drive, so anyone needing to install software from DVD or to archive their work files will need to pay £65 (inc. VAT) for Apple’s external SuperDrive.

Connectivity is also something of a mixed bag. There are four USB 3.0 ports tucked away – rather inconveniently – at the bag of the screen, along with two of Apple’s high-speed Thunderbolt ports. However, there ‘s no HDMI interface or audio input, so you’ll need to purchase additional adapters for those too.

Upgrades and service options are also quite limited. A small panel on the back of the unit does allow users to upgrade the machine’s memory, but that’s the only internal component that is accessible and there are no expansion slots available for additional upgrades either.

Performance Enhancements

The external design of the iMac may not have changed, but the performance of this new model has been enhanced with updates to key components. The entry-level 27-inch model (£1,599 inc. VAT) that we tested now includes a quad-core Haswell i5 processor running at 3.2GHz, rather than the 2.9GHz Ivy Bridge processor used by its 2012 predecessor.

Its 8GB of memory and 1TB hard disk remain the same, but graphics performance gets a boost with a new nVidia GeForce 755M graphics card. Apple claims that this combination provides graphics performance that is up to 40% greater than last year’s model, and our tests did bear this out, so this new model will certainly appeal to creative users looking for a high-performance workstation for graphics or video-editing work.

Other improvements include 802.11ac wifi and a faster PCIe interface for solid-state drives or Apple’s hybrid ‘Fusion’ drive, which adds a 128GB solid-state module to the standard 1TB hard drive. However, an SSD or Fusion drive is only available as an optional extra – and this is where Apple’s pricing starts to bite.

Budget Busting

It’s true that the iMac’s slimline design and high-quality IPS display leave most of its Windows-based rivals looking decidedly old fashioned. However, it also leaves its rivals looking a lot more affordable. Dell’s XPS 27 all-in-one system costs around £1,100 (inc. VAT) with a similar specification, a 2,560 x 1,440 high-resolution display, internal DVD drive and touch-screen controls.

At this price the iMac really ought to include an SSD drive or at least one of Apple’s Fusion drives, rather than a conventional 7,200rpm hard drive. Its 8GB of memory and mid-range graphics card also seem rather modest for a machine that is clearly intended – and priced – as a high-end graphics workstation.

If graphics performance is your top priority then you might be better off opting for the second standard configuration that is available from Apple, which provides 3.4GHz clock speed and more powerful GTX 775M graphics card for £1,749 (inc. VAT). However, stepping up to an i7 processor running at 3.9GHz takes the total price to £1,939 (inc. VAT), while adding a Fusion drive and another 8GB of memory brings the total to a budget-busting £2,258 (inc. VAT).

It’s also odd that the new iMac only includes Thunderbolt 1.0 ports, which provide a maximum speed of 10Gbps, rather than the Thunderbolt 2.0 ports (20Gbps) used in the latest MacBook Pro models. But that, of course, brings us to the forthcoming revival of the Mac Pro, which includes Thunderbolt 2.0 as well as dual-graphics cards and an innovative new cylindrical design. Apple obviously wants to leave some clear blue water between the two machines to ensure that power users head straight for the new Mac Pro when it becomes available in early 2014.

Consider Your Options

The 27-inch iMac is an undeniably stylish all-in-one system that provides strong performance and a high-quality display that is ideal for graphics and video applications. However, it’s disappointing to see the price of the Mac rising at a time when Apple’s MacBook Pro laptops have received price cuts. Some users may well think twice about upgrading existing models, or may prefer to wait and see if the new Mac Pro lives up to its promise for high-end professional users. [4/5]