When it comes to the all-in-one desktop market, the Apple iMac is the standard bearer. And, like any other industry-leading product, this makes it a target for all of Apple's competitors. The unveiling of the new configuration is an annual event for the Apple faithful, and this year's was no exception. As an added bonus, the exterior of the iMac 27-inch (Core 2 Duo) has been updated along with the interior. The last iMac design refresh occurred in 2007, when the iMac went from a white plastic construction to mostly glass and aluminum. The 2009 update gives us a wider screen, even more aluminum replacing plastic, and a couple of neat new features. All that, and it offers a huge, high-resolution 27-inch screen. With a little tweaking, this desktop could replace the TV in your study, kitchen, or bedroom, while displaying crisp bright high-defintion video for all to see.
At first glance, the iMac looks the same as the ones produced over the past few years, since the industrial design cues are so similar. The black bezel around the screen helps the new look, since it now goes edge to edge, where before the bezel was ringed in aluminum. The iMac still floats over your desk, supported by a metal foot. Since the new iMac comes with a wireless mouse and keyboard, it's now even more of a minimal design statement. The back of the iMac is now matte-finish aluminum, where before it was black polycarbonate (plastic). This will no doubt make it prettier on TV shows and on desks.
The base iMacs (both 21.5-inch and 27-inch) now have 3.06-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processors (a Core 2 Duo E7600 in this case), upgradeable to 3.33 GHz. The 27-inch system also comes with 4GB of DDR3 memory with an option for up to 16GB, a 1TB hard drive (you can get up to 2TB), ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics (upgradable to a Radeon HD 4850 chip), and, like last year's model, the Apple Remote is now an optional extra. The 27-inch iMac can also be configured with a quad-core Core i5 or Core i7 processor.
The 27-inch screen is LED backlit and is bright and clear. HD videos look great on the iMac, and the system is powerful enough to play 1080p videos smoothly in Quicktime, iTunes, or on the Web like on YouTube. The screen is viewable from a wide angle, a plus when more than one person is watching. The system lacks a Blu-ray option, but Apple is expecting you to buy your HD movies from iTunes or view them online anyway. The system's 1TB 7,200rpm SATA drive is sufficient for most users: High-end graphics pros will want to upgrade to the 2TB option or connect an external drive via USB or FireWire 800. An eSATA connection is not an option on the iMac.
The 27-inch iMac's Mini DisplayPort can be used to connect one of Apple's 24-inch LED-backlit displays, or any other display with a DVI or VGA adapter. The connector can alternately work as a video-in port with an adapter. Theoretically this means you could hook up a Blu-ray player, satellite/cable box, or game console like a PS3 or Xbox 360 with a third-party HDMI cable to a Mini DisplayPort adapter. The drawback, of course, is that you have to find and buy the adapter separately. In a first for Apple desktops, the iMac now comes with an SD card slot—and only an SD card slot (there's no support for XD, Memory Stick Duo, and so on). It's better than nothing at least, and SD works in far more devices than any other digital card format.
All iMacs now come with a wireless keyboard and mouse, though the wired keyboard and mouse are still available as a no-cost option. The new Apple Magic Mouse is a vast improvement over the old Mighty Mouse it replaces. The quirky side buttons and trackball scroller are gone; now the top of the mouse is a two-finger trackpad-like surface. It can be used for left and right click (you have to set up right click in the mouse's control panel), 360-degree scrolling on websites and in other windows, zoom when the control key is held, and two finger swipe (for browsing websites and photos). The scrolling action has "weight" like on the iPhone, so if you swipe and let go, the scrolling continues with a little momentum then slows to a stop. All in all, it's pretty neat. (On a side note, if you use the Magic Mouse in Boot Camp, the scrolling function doesn't currently work. You'll have to use another mouse in Vista or Windows 7 if you need scrolling action.)
The iMac comes with green ratings: EPEAT Gold, Energy Star 5.0, corporate-sponsored take-back recycling programs, recyclability and energy efficiency. It uses about 120W while idling with the screen on and 150W while under load running CineBench. That may seem like a lot, but you also have to take the 27-inch screen into account.
As before, the iMac comes with the current version of iLife '09, including iPhoto, iTunes, GarageBand, iWeb, and iDVD.
The system performs pretty well, though it's not significantly faster or slower than the previous Apple iMac (Nvidia GT130), which also had a 3.06-GHz Core 2 Duo processor in it, and it's certainly faster than the lower priced iMac (Nvidia GeForce 9400M). I'm sure digital photo editors will appreciate the larger screen's resolution (2,560-by-1,440 up from 1,920-by-1,200 in its predecessor). People that absolutely need more power should look at the Core i5 or Core i7 iMac models.
The Apple iMac 27-inch is certainly a class-defining product. It's got a huge screen, looks beautiful, and has some serious power under the hood. The system is clearly the winner if you're an Apple fan or need more screen space and a resolution greater than 1080p. Compared to its rivals, the iMac comes out ahead.