Apple 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display (late 2015) review: Superb image … – ZDNet

Apple stole a march on its rivals last year when it launched a new version of the 27-inch iMac equipped with a state-of-the-art 5K display that was ideal for professional-level graphics, photography and video-editing work. That was barely a year ago, but Apple has already come up with a significant update that not only provides a new sixth-generation Skylake processor from Intel, but also manages to raise the bar on display quality yet again.

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The Retina 5K display is now available on every 27-inch iMac, which also include Intel’s 6th-generation Skylake procesors and new Magic Keyboard, Magic Mouse 2 and Magic Trackpad 2 accessories — the latter with Force Touch.
Image: Apple

5K revisited

Like its predecessor, the late-2015 version of the 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display boasts an elegant, slimline display panel with a remarkable 5,120-by-2,880-pixel resolution. The logic behind that particular figure is that the 5K resolution allows you to display a 4K video image at full size, while still providing a significant amount of additional space on the screen for the tools and palettes of video-editing software such as Adobe’s Premiere Pro or Apple’s own Final Cut Pro.

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Apple’s new Retina 5K (and 4K) displays feature a wider P3-based colour gamut that provides a 25 percent larger colour space than standard sRGB.
Images: noteloop.com

Regardless of the particular applications you plan to use, the image quality delivered by the 5K display is quite outstanding. It’ s clearly brighter and more colourful than the display on our three-year old office iMac, and even simple text in word-processor documents looks clearer and sharper. But while last year’s Retina 5K display supported the same sRGB colour-space as most conventional monitors, this new model supports a colour-space known as DCI-P3, which is used in many professional dSLR cameras and video cameras. Put simply, the P3 technology allows the iMac to display a 25 percent wider range of colours — including the precise red of a London bus, which according to Apple is not properly displayed by a conventional sRGB monitor.

Of course, that level of colour reproduction will be overkill for most users, and if you simply need a large display for presentations or simple design work then there are many more affordable alternatives available. However, Apple is clearly targeting the professional video and photography markets with the 27-inch iMac, and there are few rival products from PC manufacturers that provide a comparable graphics workstation for less than £2,000.

‘Entry-level’ pricing

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Apple’s high prices have often been cited as a barrier to the adoption of the Mac in the business market but, unusually for Apple, the combination of 5K display and strong graphics performance means that the 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display is genuinely good value for money. This year’s update continues that trend by driving down the entry-level price point for the 5K model even further.

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The 27-inch 5K iMac is joined by the recently updated 21-inch model with a 4K display.
Image: Apple

The original 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display launched in 2014 cost £1,999 (inc. VAT, or £1,666 ex. VAT), which dropped to £1,849 (£1,541 ex. VAT) earlier this year when Apple also launched a less expensive 5K model priced at £1,599 (£1,332.50 ex. VAT). And, to provide a more affordable ‘entry-level’ alternative, Apple also kept one older iMac model on sale with a more conventional 2,560-by-1,440 display for £1,449 (£1,207.50 ex. VAT).

Apple has now updated all three 27-inch models, and even the entry-level configuration now includes a 5K display while remaining at the same £1,449 price point. That price also includes Intel’s new quad-core Skylake Core i5 processor running at 3.2GHz (3.6GHz with TurboBoost), along with 8GB of memory, a 1TB hard drive and a Radeon R9 M380 graphics card. By contrast, Dell’s 27-inch standalone 5K monitor (model UP2715K) is currently selling online for around £1,500 (£1,250 ex. VAT) which makes the 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display look like something of a bargain. If you genuinely need a 5K display for professional applications such as photo- or video-editing then — just for once — Apple really does provide better value for money than most of its Windows PC rivals.

Skylake performance

The 27-inch iMac With Retina 5K Display also provides strong performance for video editing and other graphics-intensive tasks. We tested the mid-range model, which adds a 1TB hybrid Fusion drive and Radeon R9 M390 for a total price of £1,599 (£1,332.50 ex. VAT).

The Skylake update provides only a modest increase in processor performance, with this 3.2GHz chip achieving a Geekbench 3 score of 12,120 for multi-core performance, compared to 11,800 for its 3.3GHz Haswell predecessor. The updated GPU also provides a small speedbump — approximately 10 percent — to reach 98.4fps for OpenGL rendering in Cinebench.

There’s a third model available as well, with a 3.3GHz processor, Radeon R9 M395 and 2TB Fusion drive for £1,849 (£1,541 ex. VAT). For another £200 you can step the processor up to 4.0GHz clock speed, but it seems that Apple is intentionally limiting the upgrade potential of the 27-inch iMac in order to avoid undercutting the workstation-class Mac Pro, which starts at around £2,500 (£2,082.50 ex. VAT) without a monitor.

And, of course, upgradeability remains the iMac’s weak point. Memory is themselves via a small panel at the back of the display, and a pair of Thunderbolt 2.0 ports provides the option of connecting high-performance storage devices. However, the lack of internal expansion slots means that the GPU and internal storage are completely untouchable. Apple’s own build-to-order upgrades also remain very expensive — including £160 (£133.33 ex. VAT) for just an additional 8B of memory, or £200 (£166.66 ex. VAT) to step up to a Radeon R9 M395 graphics card.

Conclusions

It’s a shame that the original 27-inch iMac with 2,560 by 1,440 display has been completely discontinued, as that provided a stylish and compact desktop computer suitable for general business use. By contrast, the current 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display is clearly more of a niche product that will appeal primarily to professional photographers and video editors. Even so, that’s still a profitable niche market — and a growing one as 4K video becomes more widespread. The iMac’s competitive pricing and outstanding 5K display will make it a very tempting option for many creative professionals.

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