Apple iMac (Late 2013) Review

Apple’s updated the iMac line with fourth generation Intel Core processors, making for powerful desktop machines with just a few compromises.

Apple iMac (Late 2013): On the plus side

The Late 2013 version of the iMac brings with it Intel’s fourth generation (“Haswell”) processor lines in a variety of configurations. The version Apple sent me to test was a 27″ model with a Core i5-4570 3.2GHz processor, 8GB of RAM and a 1GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 755M 1GB GPU; there are cheaper and smaller models, or you can go all out with all the trimmings for more cost. Of note, the version I tested with was the straight mechanical hard drive variant, and not one with one of Apple’s hybrid SSD “Fusion” drives.
Apple hasn’t redesigned the iMac this time around to any appreciable degree, which means it’s the same slender design it’s been for the past couple of years. Even internally, things haven’t changed that much, as iFixit’s teardown confirms, for better or worse. Here’s a video I shot of the late 2012 iMacs; you genuinely wouldn’t be able to tell them apart from the newer models

The processor is the big change for this year’s iMac, and certainly at an observational level it’s a very quick machine, but what does that mean in quantifiable terms? To test that, I grabbed the iMac that forms my daily work machine (a mid 2010 27″ Core i7-870 2.93Ghz with 16GB of RAM) and the new iMac and ran Geekbench 3 over both. It’d no doubt be interesting to compare with last year’s model, but does anyone actually upgrade an iMac each and every year? I’d hope not, although I’m sure Apple would love that particular revenue stream. As always, synthetic benchmarks aren’t the be all and end all of performance, but they can be decent indicative tools.
Geekbench 3 32 bit Results, Single Core Score, Multi-Core Score
Apple iMac 2010, 2236, 7900
Apple iMac 2013, 3279, 10357
Geekbench 3 64 bit Results, Single Core Score, Multi-Core Score
Apple iMac 2010, 2463, 8947
Apple iMac 2013, 3528, 11285
Interesting results; the fact that the older machine is running a higher class of processor and twice the RAM still doesn’t stop it being beaten quite neatly across the board by the Core i5 based 2013 iMac.
There are other aspects of Haswell’s performance that aren’t going to be as evident on desktop hardware; it’s pretty good at low power consumption, but you won’t see that in the same way as you might on a laptop. I could be tempted to say that you’d see lower power bills, but with a 27 inch display glowing away merrily, that might not be that noticeable either.

Apple iMac (Late 2013): On the minus side

I’ve stuck with my mid-2010 iMac for, quite obviously, some time now, and that’s down to a few design decisions with the more “modern” iMac that I find irksome. They’re not unique to this model by any stretch of the imagination, but then the reality is that this is a processor upgrade to an existing design.

Those sides are thin, but would sticking just one USB port (or SD card reader) really spoil it?
Those sides are thin, but would sticking just one USB port (or SD card reader) really spoil it?

Yes, it’s a matter of taste/utility, but I’m not fond of the fact that Apple dropped optical drives on iMacs some time back. I can accept that on an Macbook Air, but while the slender sides of the iMac do have some appeal, the practical side of me realises that I’m not likely to spend much time looking at the sides anyway.
That same slender design means that the ports are never going to shift away from the back of the iMac. That’s a concern if you’re someone who regularly plugs and unplugs a lot of devices — or, in other words, budget for a USB hub if you buy an iMac and want easy port access.

Apple iMac (Late 2013): Pricing

Apple’s new iMac lines start at $1,599, but the model I’ve tested with sells for $2,199 via Apple’s store. The existence of new iMacs means that some retail channels may be selling off older iMacs at discount. That could be good, but check carefully what you’re getting for your money, as it’d be painful to pay near-retail for a much older machine.

Apple iMac (Late 2013): Fat Duck verdict

As should be evident, I’m not the biggest fan of the current thin thinking around the iMac, if only because while it’s pretty, there’s not much functional benefit to it, but there are functional drawbacks. That aside, though, the new iMacs are solid productivity machines if you don’t want a Mac laptop.
You can’t get Haswell on a Macbook Pro, at least not yet. Until we see what the pricing and configuration options are going to be for the new rotund Mac Pros, the late 2013 iMacs are the most powerful Macs you can buy, and they’re now faster than ever.

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