Core i7 27″ iMac Impressions

Update: Since writing this post, Apple have refreshed the iMac line, including a new 27″ Core i5 iMac with superior specs to the one I have!

I’ve been waiting for Apple to refresh their iMac product line for ages. On the 20th October it finally happened and by the 21st October a Core i7 27” iMac with 4GB RAM and a 1TB hard drive had my name on it.

After nearly a month of waiting, my iMac finally arrived.

My Shiny iMac

No photo of the 27” iMac can quite convey just how large this thing is. It’s massive. I keep sitting back and going ‘Wow, it really is huge’. I’ve used dual/triple/quadruple/quintuple before, but there’s something different about having it all in one large workspace. I can keep Twitterfall, IRC, this blog post, a web browser, and a chat window all open and visible at once. Sure, I can do that with multiple monitors. But having everything within one environment definitely feels ‘cleaner’. It’s a lot more natural to throw windows around one big space than several big spaces.

As you can see from the second photo I opted for an Apple Wired Keyboard, so I can’t comment on what the wireless one is like. From what I can tell it’s very similar to the old one. Both have the same action as a MacBook (the white clamshell, not the unibody MacBook Pros, which are slightly different) and both are nice to type on.

The Magic Mouse is interesting. I like it, though I’ll see how my wrist likes it after extended use before committing myself to it. No problems with the bluetooth, though it doesn’t work in Window unless there’s a sneaky trick I don’t know about to get it to work [Edit: Sparkesinator has pointed out that released an update for Bluetooth in Windows which adds support for the Magic Mouse, thanks!] I just plug in a spare USB mouse anyway. If you’re unsure about the Magic Mouse I suggest trying it out first to see how it feels, it’s certainly different to ordinary mice.

The Core i7 is understandably extremely fast. In my unscientific test HandBrake reported 20 minutes to encode a 1.5 hour long film on default settings. I haven’t done any other benchmarks, I’ll leave that to people better versed in the art. The Core i7 has the same Hyper-threading technology as the old P4s, meaning OS X (and Windows) see an 8-core machine. Rest assured it’s very fast, and based on benchmarks I’ve seen it’s worth paying the (relatively) small amount to upgrade from a Core i5 to a Core i7.

I tried to install Windows XP in Boot Camp so I could try out some games. I installed it successfully but discovered that the audio drivers (Cirrus Logic HD) have problems with the inbuilt microphone, causing it to distort and slow down. After a bit of a struggle, I managed to get Windows 7 installed in Boot Camp (I might post my own instructions sometime, but in the meantime Google around if you’re trying to do this yourself) and discovered that the audio works perfectly there. I imagine it would be the same for Windows Vista.

On the gaming side, I’ve tried out Aion, GRID, Mass Effect, and Mirror’s Edge in Windows so far, and the performance was stunning. In Aion the HD 4850 performs admirably, pushing out between 30 and 100 FPS (mostly around 50) at the native resolution of 2560×1440. Aion is based on the 5 year old CryEngine but it still impressed me, and it looked amazing on the 27” monitor. Grid, Mass Effect, and Mirror’s Edge also performed well at the native resolution with everything turned up fairly high (except antialiasing, which was a performance killer). I preferred playing them all at a lower resolution however because performance was that little bit better, and it negated a lot of need for antialiasing (running at lower resolutions naturally blurs the image slightly). The iMac is definitely no slouch in the graphics department, though you’re always going to be able to build a better gaming PC for cheaper (maybe not with a 27” display though).

Overall, I’m extremely impressed with all aspects of the iMac and can’t really find fault with it. I could moan about missing functionality like no Blu-Ray, no adaptors (yet) for using the Mini-DisplayPort input, no SSD option, lack of upgradeable parts, and so on. But for what it is, the 27” iMac really is a brilliant piece of computing equipment.

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