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Review 27-inch 2012 iMac

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Review 27-inch 2012 iMac

The new iMac's signature design change is its new thin shape. Apple put a lot of effort into creating the illusion of an ultra-thin Mac by removing the optical drive,and laminating the display, anti-glare coating, and glass into a single piece.

Courtesy of Apple

Among the 2012 iMac lineup, the one that I would bring home is definitely the 27-inch model. When I reviewed the 21.5-inch 2012 iMac, I had a few reservations, but not so with the 27-inch version. You can't beat the large display, which is bright and sharp. The processor and graphics offerings, even in the base model, provide terrific performance for the price point. And unlike its smaller sibling, the 27-inch model isn't hobbled by a slow startup drive; it has the usual 7,200 RPM drive. If you have a need for speed, there's a Fusion drive option as well an all-SSD option, but the latter is pricey.

27-inch 2012 iMac Overview

The good news about the biggest iMac is that the new thin design actually works well. With more room because of its larger display, the 27-inch iMac doesn't have the same potential performance limitations as its smaller brethren. Instead, it's a well-conceived and well-designed iMac that can meet the needs of casual users who want a large display (and who doesn't?), as well as Mac professionals who need performance, both in processor and graphics capabilities, to make their work flow move along at a quick pace.

Display

Speaking of large displays, the gorgeous 27-inch display has been improved with the addition of an anti-glare coating that Apple says reduces reflections by 75 percent. I wasn't able to measure the glare reduction, but I can confirm that you can no longer use the iMac to check your hair or see who's sneaking up on you.

Thin Design

The new iMac's signature design change is its new thin shape. Apple put a lot of effort into creating the illusion of an ultra-thin Mac by removing the optical drive, relocating the SDXC card slot, and laminating the display, anti-glare coating, and glass into a single piece. Apple was able to trim the edge profile of the iMac down to a mere 5 mm (less than a quarter of an inch).

Of course, the thin design is mostly hocus-pocus; a bit of optical magic that fools the eye, but only for a minute. When you look at the iMac from the side or back, you'll see that its center is still as thick as ever, although it now tapers down to a thin edge.

From the front, the iMac looks the same. If you placed 2011 and 2012 iMacs side by side and viewed them from the front, you'd be hard pressed to tell them apart.

All the Ports You Need

The 27-inch iMac has the same port configuration as the smaller 21.5-inch model:

  • 4 USB 3.0 ports
  • 2 Thunderbolt ports
  • Gigabit Ethernet port
  • Headphone jack
  • SDXC card slot

Missing from the list is a FireWire 800 port. For most users, USB 3 is a good tradeoff for the slower FireWire port on last year's iMacs. If you need a FireWire port, you can purchase an inexpensive Thunderbolt to FireWire adapter from Apple.

The microphone port is also gone. The new iMacs have built-in dual microphones that should accommodate most users. If you need audio input, there are quite a few USB-based alternatives that supply microphone as well as line-level audio in capabilities.

27-inch iMac Configurations

27-inch iMac Configurations

The 27-inch iMac has the same port configuration as the smaller 21.5-inch model

Courtesy of Apple

The 2012 version of the 27-inch iMac is available in two stock configurations. You can also customize the iMac using the BTO (Build-To-Order) capabilities of Apple's online store:

27-inch iMac - $1,799.00

  • 2.9 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5 processor
  • 8 GB RAM, upgradeable to 32 GB
  • 1 TB 7,200 RPM hard drive
  • 3 TB 7,200 RPM hard drive - BTO option: add $150.00
  • 1 TB Fusion drive - BTO option: add $250.00
  • 3 TB Fusion drive - BTO option: add $400.00
  • 768 GB SSD (Solid State Drive) - BTO option: add $1,300.00
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M
  • Magic Mouse + wireless keyboard

27-inch iMac - $1,999.00

  • 3.2 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5 processor
  • 3.4 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7 processor - BTO option: add $200.00
  • 8 GB RAM, upgradeable to 32 GB
  • 1 TB 7,200 RPM hard drive
  • 3 TB 7,200 RPM hard drive - BTO option: add $150.00
  • 1 TB Fusion drive - BTO option: add $250.00
  • 3 TB Fusion drive - BTO option: add $400.00
  • 768 GB SSD (Solid State Drive) - BTO option: add $1,300.00
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 675MX
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680MX - BTO option: add $150.00
  • Magic Mouse + wireless keyboard

Additional BTO options for both stock models include replacing the Magic Mouse with the Magic Trackpad, adding a USB wired keyboard that includes a numeric keypad, and adding various software packages to the bundle. And of course you can also add AppleCare coverage to extend the warranty.

Using the 27-inch iMac

My first impression of the 2012 iMac is "Wow." I like the anti-glare coating, which reduces the reflections that were an issue with the glossy display used in most of the earlier iMac models.

My second reaction is "Ho-hum." The new thin profile doesn't improve design or performance, although it doesn't detract from them, either. The optical drive is gone, which isn't a surprise and won't be a problem for most users. The design forced Apple to move the SDXC card slot to the back of the iMac, which isn't the most convenient location if you're loading photos or video from a camera. Still, the design changes don't have as heavy an impact on the 27-inch iMac as they do on the 21.5-inch model.

Performance

All of the processor options are based on Intel's third generation of Quad-Core processors, known as Ivy Bridge. The resulting performance improvement, even with the base model's 2.9 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5 processor, is nice to see and even better to experience. Of course, the real powerhouse is the Quad-Core Intel i7 processor, which is available as a BTO option. Not only does this configuration provide a faster 3.4 GHz processor, it also uses hyper threading to allow two threads to run for each core, providing a close equivalent to having 8 cores instead of 4 cores.

If you're looking for the fastest iMac, and your budget can take it, add the 768 SSD or one of the Fusion drive options to ensure optimal drive performance. With these options, the iMac blows most other Macs away, including some of the current Mac Pro models.

Graphics

All of the graphics options, including the base model's NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M, are excellent performers. Most users won't have a compelling reason to upgrade the graphics, but if you're a graphics, photo, or multimedia professional, there are two alternatives. Both the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 675MX and the GeForce GTX 680M really rev up the iMac's graphics capabilities.

Internal Drives

The 27-inch iMac is available in various drive configurations, but even the basic 1 TB 7,200 RPM drive is a pretty good performer. If you want to pick up the pace, I highly recommend the Fusion drive options. The Fusion drive adds a separate SSD to the drive configuration. It then uses software in OS X to automatically manage performance by moving files that you use frequently to the SSD, and files that you don't use often to the standard hard drive. The result is a big boost in performance, without having to pay for a large SSD to hold all of your data.

Expandability

Unlike the 21.5-inch iMac, the 27-inch iMac still has user upgradeable RAM. You can save yourself some cash by buying the minimum RAM configuration, and then adding less expensive RAM from a third party.

Adding RAM is simple. A small door on the back of the iMac has a release button just above the power cord. Unplug the iMac, press the release button, and the RAM access door opens. There are four RAM slots; in the base configuration, two of the slots are taken and two of them are empty. Just pop in additional RAM as needed, close the door, plug the power cord back in, and you're ready to go.

Aside from RAM, the 27-inch iMac has no other user serviceable parts. So, don't plan on upgrading the internal drive or adding internal storage.

Final Thoughts

Review 27-inch 2012 iMac - Final Thoughts

Overall, I like the 2012 version of the 27-inch iMac. Yes, it lacks an optical drive, and the SDXC card slot is in an awkward location, but I haven't used either of those features much in the last year or two.

Courtesy of Apple

Overall, I like the 2012 version of the 27-inch iMac. Yes, it lacks an optical drive, and the SDXC card slot is in an awkward location, but I haven't used either of those features much in the last year or two. I would purchase an external optical drive if I had an overwhelming need for it, but I can easily get by without one.

I like the anti-glare display, and the much improved performance from the next generation of processors and graphics. I'm also glad to see that RAM remains a user serviceable part, which means you're not held hostage by Apple's high RAM prices.

I do wish Apple had found a way to make the internal drives accessible from the rear. If it had, I would give this iMac 6 stars on a scale of 1 to 5 stars.

The two standard models of the iMac will likely be the most commonly available, especially at retail Mac stores and authorized Mac dealers. Both are good performers, and will meet the needs of the vast majority of iMac users. However, I highly recommend spending the additional $200 for the basic Fusion drive upgrade. You will be thankful the first time you turn on the iMac and experience how fast it boots up. After a small transition period as the OS figures out where files should be stored, you'll have a fast system that flies when you open commonly used apps and data.

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