Review: Apple iMac With Retina 5K Display

The iMac with Retina 5K Display has, without a doubt, the best desktop display currently on the market. With its ultra-high resolution 27-inch screen, everything looks exactly the way it should—text is sharp, colors are rich, and images appear true to life. But the machine doesn’t earn our highest rating on the display alone. It also has respectable processing capabilities that place it near the top of Apple’s desktop computer lineup.

Still, it’s nearly impossible to overstate the quality of the display. For examining and editing magazine-quality images, which can fall in the range 4,000 to 5,000 pixels long, a 5120 x 2880 resolution display provides an unprecedented level of precision and quality control. For the multitasker, that and its 27-inch width provide ample space for numerous apps and windows to be open onscreen at the same time, all of them sized comfortably large enough to use without requiring additional scrolling. You can play a full HD movie in a portion of the display, and it’s actually rendered in full 1080p. In fact, you could theoretically squeeze seven 1080p videos onto the screen at the same time. That’s how many pixels this thing has. Conversely, if you do regularly work with ultra high resolution video, 5K’s means videographers can edit 4K content in full resolution, while leaving enough room for onscreen toolbars and controls.

The only problem with the display is when websites, video, and FaceTime calls don’t scale to Retina standards, resulting in blocky, jagged text and images. But the bigger problem comes when you have to switch back to a non-Retina machine, where everything suddenly seems slightly blurry and less polished.

As for its motor, the iMac chugs along on a 3.5 Ghz quad-core Intel i5 (upgradable to a 4 GHz i7), AMD Radeon graphics, and a 1TB Fusion drive, a hybrid 128 GB Flash drive and 1TB HDD Apple introduced with the 2012 iMac. While it doesn’t have the jaw dropping specs of the Mac Pro, or Intel’s new Broadwell chips, this machine is powerful. With four HD videos playing simultaneously, I could still browse, scroll through, and interact with every website I visited just fine. Running and swapping between multiple programs, like iTunes, iPhoto, Twitter, Safari, and Chrome (something that would send one or more of those programs crashing in my mid-2013 MacBook Air), posed no issue. With both high-resolution photo editing and video editing, effects were added instantaneously, and preview video playbacks, even on 4K content, were stutter-free. Like the Mac Pro, you’ve got to be doing some seriously CPU-intensive activities to make this thing hiccup. If it does, RAM is still user-accessible on the back of the device so you can add more than the 8GB it ships with by installing your own post-purchase chips. Unfortunately, that’s the limit when it comes to DIY iMac upgrading.

Naturally, this desktop runs Apple’s newest software, OS X Yosemite, and it runs it swimmingly. The OS is built for Retina with all of its graphical user interface enhancements, and it looks right at home on this 5K display.

The 2014 iMac is packed into the same slender enclosure Apple introduced in 2012: a 5mm sliver at the edges that curves into a subtle bulb at the center rear. It’s still eye-catching, and an amazing feat of engineering. On back, it’s slotted with four USB 3 ports, two Thunderbolt 2 ports (for connecting peripherals that need high speed data transfer), Gigabit Ethernet, an SDXC card slot, and a headphone jack. If you want an optical disc drive, you’ll have to plug it in.

The price for the baseline rig is kind of insane—and for once, not in a bad way. While you can’t quite call $2,500 affordable, it’s amazing that Apple managed to keep the price in the same range as a competing 5K display. In fact, it’s the same price as Apple’s high-end 15-inch MacBook Pro. Considering I dropped close to this much for a MacBook Pro a few years ago, I feel almost used.

As for the iMac, there’s little more I could ask from a desktop machine. It sits at the top of Apple’s Mac offerings, bested only in processing power by the Mac Pro. Its display is the most beautiful, most pixel-packed screen on the market. If my desk at home were bigger, I’d buy one for myself.

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