Review: The best iMac yet

GARRY BARKER
Last updated 05:00 25/01/2013
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The latest iMac's launch last year was overshadowed by the zeal accompanying the new iPad Mini.

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My great-aunt Maud, our tribe's self-styled Oracle on the Mount, often intones that much in modern life is akin to sorting oranges, in that one is faced with unending decisions.

A century ago, when Henry Ford was disrupting industry with his Model T, life was less complicated. You could have Henry's flivver in any colour you liked, so long as it was black. Today we have a richness of choice in almost everything, to the point where I have on occasion found myself all but paralysed in the supermarket by having to choose between the jazzy red plastic forks and the cheap white ones.

But choice in today's homogenised urban society can be useful, if challenging in the plastic-fork department, because one can tailor a purchase to one's needs and tastes rather than those of some modern-day Henry Ford. One can, for instance, economise on a less-essential feature and splash out a bit where it counts.

So it is with the iMac, the svelte and elegant new slimline models of which are here now. This new iMac generation, a comprehensive redesign of the line, was announced in San Jose, California, in late 2012. But at that event it was overshadowed by the feverishly anticipated iPad Mini. In some ways, the iMac was the real star of the show.

Aesthetically, it is the best iMac yet by Sir Jony Ive and his design team: impossibly slimmer at its five-millimetre edge than an iPhone 5, and smoothly curved across its back to cover its completely redesigned and seriously upgraded innards. It is faster, has better graphics performance, a markedly enhanced display and, in one option, intelligent storage.

The display puts all other desktops and most notebooks (with the exception of the MacBook Pro Retina Display machines) into deep shade. Though the resolution (2560 x 1440 on the 27-inch model) is the same as on the preceding iMac, the clarity, sharpness, colour rendition and an almost-3D ''presence'' are impressive.

Some of this comes about because the pixel-bearing backlit LED panel is now laminated directly to the glass that protects it, as are the screens on the iPhone 5 and the MacBook Pro Retina notebooks. A new type of coating on the iMac's glass helps by reducing reflection glare by 75 per cent, Apple says.

The visual result comes close to rivalling the Retina Display on my 15-inch MacBook Pro notebook. Apple says every iMac screen is individually checked and calibrated on the assembly line to ensure flawless performance.

Despite all the enhancements, Apple has not increased its prices.

Some may mourn the decision not to include an optical drive, further sign of Apple's devotion to the cloud. If you wish to play a DVD, you will need Apple's accessory USB SuperDrive ($89).

Another slight gripe: the SD card slot is now around the back, understandable because you can't get an SD slot into a five-millimetre edge. But you do get, in one of the most powerful computers on the market, four USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt ports, gigabit ethernet and a Mini DisplayPort supporting DVI, VGA and dual-link DVI. Standard memory is 8GB, configurable up to 16GB or 32GB depending on model.

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The iMac is not the cheapest all-in-one desktop computer around, but this new generation is undoubtedly the best of its kind, regardless of brand; worth every cent.

One can, for example, choose a 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor for the 27-inch machine instead of the standard 3.2GHz Core i5 chipset, or save $700 by buying the 21.5-inch model with a 2.7GHz i5 processor. It will boost to 3.2GHz and the 21.5-inch screen is still beautiful.

However, the biggest choice, over which I am agonising as I contemplate upgrading my current, mid-2011 27-inch machine, involves storage and something called a Fusion Drive.

Fusion teams a fast solid-state flash drive with a conventional mechanical hard drive full of spinning platters and adds intelligence that senses stuff you use more often and switches it to the flash drive, even the photos and music you call up more often. It's all automatic. If you lose interest in Mumford & Sons and switch to solid Springsteen, the iMac will make the change on the Fusion drive. Eerie but true, and when it comes to work files, Fusion is a boon in calling up files with zero delay.

All up, much better than sorting oranges.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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