Review: Apple 27-Inch iMac

Put one of Apple’s new 27-inch Core i7 iMacs on your desk, and you run the risk of alienating yourself from your friends, co-workers and loved ones.

Sure, the sheer speed of the thing is amazing — the new Core i7 processor is outrageously fast — but it’s the massive screen that will turn your brain into a gob of HD-saturated jelly. Seriously. The iMac’s screen is so freaking huge, so bright and so crisp, it will render you dumb with child-like glee. You’ll just want to sit there and watch movies all day and night.

Don’t get us wrong, the guts aren’t so bad, either. The top-of-the-line iMac is stocked with Intel’s 2.8-GHz Core i7 “Lynnfield” quad-core processor. It’s not only ridiculously fast to begin with, but it has the ability to dynamically overclock itself when it needs an extra boost. (Intel calls this Turbo Mode.)

The base-model Core i7 iMac also comes with a 1-TB hard drive, 4 GB of RAM (the model we tested had 8 GB) and an ATI Radeon HD 4850 graphics card — not the best graphics hardware, but perfectly acceptable for everyday tasks like watching movies, editing HD videos and playing most games. A wireless keyboard and the new multitouch-enhanced Magic Mouse complete the package.

The machine’s “chin,” the aluminum strip that runs along the bottom edge of the screen, is notably slimmer on this model than previous iMacs. Hidden underneath it are a pair of speakers. They sound a bit muffled, but they pump out enough volume to annoy the neighbors properly.

That said, the iMac’s most striking feature isn’t the chip on the inside or the refashioned chin. Make no mistake: This machine is all about its gargantuan, stupidly massive, comically oversized but utterly gorgeous display.

The 16:9 widescreen panel is LED-powered, so it’s extremely bright. Whites appear truly white, blacks are solidly black, and bright colors burn with intensity.

The screen is encased in edge-to-edge glass, and it reflects an uncomfortable amount of glare in a sunlit room. That’s where the extra brightness becomes a plus, but you’ll find yourself cranking the brightness down to about 50 percent after sundown.

Glare aside, it is exceedingly handsome display. With 2,560 x 1,440 pixels, it’s well beyond high-def resolution. Any HD movie looks terrific, whether it was shot in Hollywood or in your apartment. We soaked up Watchmen on DVD, a few episodes of House on Hulu, and an HD capture of a Radiohead concert, all in full-screen mode. Nothing came close to testing the limits of the processor or the graphics card, and of course everything looked stellar.

While the iMac’s supersized 27-inch screen commands attention, the speed of the Core i7 processor commands respect. We hooked up a Drobo filled with about 350 GB of music, then watched iTunes index the whole thing in under 4 minutes. Compare this to the 20-or-so minutes it took our Core 2 Duo Mac Mini to index the same library. Ripping a 2-hour DVD in Handbrake took just under a half an hour — the MacMini took twice as long.

The are some minor touches that earn bonus points. If you want to upgrade the RAM yourself (we beefed ours up to 8 GB) the memory bay is easy to access through a trapdoor under the chin. The aluminum case isbeveled and sleek, but it hides an array of ports (four USB and one FireWire, optical in and outs for audio) tucked in the lower corner around back. The Mini DisplayPort also doubles as an input, so you can use your iMac as a secondary display or even (with the correct adapter) as an HDTV.

A SuperDrive and an SD card reader are also standard issue. A nice touch: Your SD card sticks out about a third of the way when fully inserted, so you won’t leave it in the computer and forget to put it back into your camera.

One last caveat. The iMac is so large, it’s tough to sit in front of it properly. Ergonomic experts recommend you situate the top of your screen at or just slightly below eye level, a position we found impossible with two different desks and three different chairs.

Time for a trip to IKEA.

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