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Apple iMac Retina 5K 27" Review

Nino Ricchizzi, Tanja Hinum (translated by Ariana Brodsky), 02/25/2015

Looking sharp. Last year, Last year, Apple presented us with the first iMac with a Retina display. Equipped with a desktop CPU and a mobile graphics card, this machine, that represents the apex of performance, is now ours to scale and lay bare.

For the original German review, see here.

Following the success of the MacBook Retina series, Apple is now releasing an iMac with a Retina 5K display. Like the displays in the MacBook Retina series, the display has an exceptionally high ppi value; a feature with which the manufacturer hopes to entice potential buyers. With a resolution of 5120x 2880 pixels, the display's ppi is 217, just below the 13-inch MacBook Pro 13's 227 ppi. However, we are particularly interested in the machine's inner workings. The iMac's slim build calls for a mix of mobile laptop hardware and powerful desktop components. In the configuration of our test device, an Intel Core i7-4790k is responsible for performance. The computer's AMD Radeon R9 M295X is particularly interesting. Apple was the first to implement this AMD graphics card, which performance-wise lies just below the Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M. At the beginning of the year, Alienware announced that they too would integrate this card in their brands. The starting price for the Apple iMac Retina is 2600 Euros (~$2950). In our case, we tested a version with a substantially more powerful performance, priced at 3300 Euros (~$3750). Input devices are included with every version. In terms of the keyboard, the buyer has a choice between a wired keyboard with a number pad and a wireless keyboard. Instead of a Magic Mouse, the customer has the option of selecting a Magic TrackPad.

Configuration options:

CPURAM HDD/SSDGPU
BasisIntel Core i5-46908 GB 1600 MHz DDR3 SDRAM 1 TB Fusion DriveAMD Radeon M290X 2GB DDR5
UpgradeIntel Core i7-4790K (+ 250 Euros)16 GB 1600 MHz DDR3 SDRAM (+200 Euros)3 TB Fusion Drive (150 Euros)AMD Radeon M295X 4GB DDR5 (+ 250 Euros)
32 GB 1600 MHz DDR3 SDRAM (+600 Euros) 256 GB flash storage
512 GB flash storage (+300 Euros)
1TB flash storage (+800 Euros)
Our test deviceIntel Core i7-4790K16 GB 1600 MHz DDR3 SDRAM1 TB Fusion DriveAMD Radeon M295X 4GB DDR5

 

Case & Connectivity

Apple has always stood out from the crowd with its modestelegant look. The 5K version does not stray from this beaten track. The display is housed in an aluminum case. The iMac's back is especially eye-catching. Instead of edges and corners, Apple has opted for a smooth, curved look. The stand has not changed since the G5 generation, and allows the user to adjust the screen vertically. As always, quick access to connections is hindered by their inconvenient position on the back of the device. When it comes to maintenance and upgrades, laymen should limit themselves to the simple task of expanding the working memory. As our colleagues at iFixit show, the entire display has to be removed for replacements and repairs.

Performance

It is not just the Retina display that makes the iMac attractive: The performance is also a showstopper. A desktop CPU combined with a high-end mobile graphics card gives the machine enough power to run numerous multimedia applications, and even to render new games smoothly at high quality settings. However, the graphics card quickly reaches its limits running current games. Often users will be unable to savor their favorite games at full resolution.

Processor

The Apple iMac 5K with Retina Display is equipped with an Intel Core i7-4790k CPU. This processor clocks at 4.0 GHz, and using turbo it can reach a frequency of up to 4.4 GHz. We have already seen this desktop processor once before, in the One K73-5N notebook. The Cinebench R15 benchmark should tell us whether the CPU is able to use its full processing potential. In the multi-core test, the iMac scores around 806 points under both Mac OS and Windows 8.1. The One K73-5N and an Asus desktop PC (equipped with the same CPU) were able to score 40-50 points higher. The iMac lags behind by about 10 points in the single-core test too. A look at the clock rates reveals that the CPU runs almost exclusively at its base clock rate and only uses part of its turbo at the start. The Cinebench R15 benchmark's OpenGL test shows a significant contrast between the two operating systems. Under Mac OS, the system reaches only 60 fps, versus 131 fps under Windows, more than double.

Cinebench R15 - CPU Multi 64Bit (sort by value)
Apple iMac Retina 5K 27 Late 2014 i7-4790K M295X
806 Points ∼18%
One K73-5N
836 Points ∼19% +4%
Sapphire Radeon R9 290X Tri-X OC
849 Points ∼19% +5%

Legend

 
Apple iMac Retina 5K 27 Late 2014 i7-4790K M295X Intel Core i7-4790K, AMD Radeon R9 M295X, Apple SSD SM0128F
 
One K73-5N Intel Core i7-4790K, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M, Samsung SSD 840 EVO 500GB
 
Sapphire Radeon R9 290X Tri-X OC Intel Core i7-4790K, AMD Radeon R9 290X, Intel SSD 530 Series SSDSC2BW240A
Cinebench R11.5 CPU Single 64Bit
1.92 Points
Cinebench R11.5 CPU Multi 64Bit
9.05 Points
Cinebench R11.5 OpenGL 64Bit
118.28 fps
Cinebench R15 CPU Single 64Bit
168 Points
Cinebench R15 CPU Multi 64Bit
806 Points
Cinebench R15 OpenGL 64Bit
131.13 fps
Cinebench R15 Ref. Match 64Bit
98 %
Help

System Performance

Working on the iMac is just plain fun - as long as it is under Mac OS. The reaction times and processing speed of our test device  are great under the Mac operating system. Using Bootcamp, we installed Windows 8.1, which proved to be perceptibly slower. Subjectively at least, under Windows the user is delayed by delays and waiting times, although this could be due to the Fusion Drive. The PCMark 8 results are good, although the iMac comes in behind the Schenker XMG U505 and the One K73-5N. The reason: The latter two are equipped with SSDs and more powerful graphics units.

PCMark 8
Work Score Accelerated v2 (sort by value)
Apple iMac Retina 5K 27 Late 2014 i7-4790K M295X
4918 Points ∼75%
One K73-5N
5468 Points ∼84% +11%
Schenker XMG U505
5172 Points ∼79% +5%
Lenovo Y70 DU004HUS
4076 Points ∼63% -17%
Creative Score Accelerated v2 (sort by value)
One K73-5N
5998 Points ∼57%
Schenker XMG U505
5394 Points ∼51%
Lenovo Y70 DU004HUS
3364 Points ∼32%
Home Score Accelerated v2 (sort by value)
Apple iMac Retina 5K 27 Late 2014 i7-4790K M295X
4746 Points ∼78%
One K73-5N
5353 Points ∼88% +13%
Schenker XMG U505
4970 Points ∼82% +5%
Lenovo Y70 DU004HUS
3096 Points ∼51% -35%

Legend

 
Apple iMac Retina 5K 27 Late 2014 i7-4790K M295X Intel Core i7-4790K, AMD Radeon R9 M295X, Apple SSD SM0128F
 
One K73-5N Intel Core i7-4790K, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M, Samsung SSD 840 EVO 500GB
 
Schenker XMG U505 Intel Core i7-4790S, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M, Plextor PX-G256M6e
 
Lenovo Y70 DU004HUS Intel Core i7-4710HQ, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M, Western Digital WD10S21X SSHD 1TB + 8GB SSD-Cache
PCMark 8 Home Score Accelerated v2
4746 points
PCMark 8 Work Score Accelerated v2
4918 points
Help

Storage Devices

Blackmagic Disk Speed Test
Blackmagic Disk Speed Test

In terms of mass storage, Apple has called their combination of an HDD and an SSD a “Fusion Drive”. Our test device is equipped with a 1 TB Fusion Drive. Apple allows up to 3 TB in their configuration. For more speed, it is possible to select just a solid-state drive at additional cost. Under Windows 8.1, CrystalDiskMark shows average speeds for a magnetic hard disk. This information tells us that the system only employs the HDD here. Under Mac OS, we used the program Blackmagic Disk Speed Test to analyze the computer's read and write speeds. Here we reached read speeds of up to 644 MB/s and write speeds of 313 MB/s. These numbers correlate with the speed of a 128 GB flash drive, revealing that this faster drive is used primarily under Mac OS. The most frequently used programs are automatically stored on the flash drive, and the rest of the computer's data is relegated to the slower HDD. Apple does not support this system under Windows.

Apple SSD SM0128F
Sequential Read: 109.7 MB/s
Sequential Write: 104 MB/s
512K Read: 26.47 MB/s
512K Write: 44.55 MB/s
4K Read: 0.261 MB/s
4K Write: 0.623 MB/s
4K QD32 Read: 0.534 MB/s
4K QD32 Write: 0.606 MB/s

Graphics Card

Apple has selected an AMD Radeon M295X for our test device. Alienware has announced that they will follow suit. The built-in graphics unit has a core clock frequency of 850 MHz and a memory clock speed of 1362 MHz. Performance-wise, this is a high-end card. A close look at the GPU's scores in 3DMark 11 and 13 reveal where the new AMD Radeon M295X positioned on the performance ladder. Although the AMD card can still keep up with the Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M in 3DMark 11, the story changes in 3DMark 13. The Schenker XMG U505, equipped with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970, scores 9% higher than the iMac. However, the Radeon M295X remains about 10% more powerful than the Nvidia GTX 880M.

3DMark 11 - 1280x720 Performance (sort by value)
Apple iMac Retina 5K 27 Late 2014 i7-4790K M295X
9516 Points ∼27%
Schenker XMG U505
9629 Points ∼27% +1%
Asus G750JZ-T4023H
8418 Points ∼24% -12%
Acer Aspire V 17 Nitro (VN7-791G-759Q)
5178 Points ∼15% -46%
3DMark - 1920x1080 Fire Strike Score (sort by value)
Apple iMac Retina 5K 27 Late 2014 i7-4790K M295X
6123 Points ∼23%
Schenker XMG U505
6644 Points ∼25% +9%
Asus G750JZ-T4023H
5574 Points ∼21% -9%
Acer Aspire V 17 Nitro (VN7-791G-759Q)
3633 Points ∼14% -41%

Legend

 
Apple iMac Retina 5K 27 Late 2014 i7-4790K M295X Intel Core i7-4790K, AMD Radeon R9 M295X, Apple SSD SM0128F
 
Schenker XMG U505 Intel Core i7-4790S, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M, Plextor PX-G256M6e
 
Asus G750JZ-T4023H Intel Core i7-4700HQ, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 880M, 2x Sandisk X110 SD6SP1M-128G RAID 0
 
Acer Aspire V 17 Nitro (VN7-791G-759Q) Intel Core i7-4710HQ, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M, Kingston RBU-SNS8100S3128GD
3DMark 06 Standard
35421 points
3DMark Vantage P Result
29972 points
3DMark 11 Performance
9516 points
3DMark Ice Storm Standard Score
146593 points
3DMark Cloud Gate Standard Score
22311 points
3DMark Fire Strike Score
6123 points
Help

Gaming Performance

To verify the results of 3DMark benchmark, we test systems under the specific conditions of the gaming world. Crysis 3 is a perfect candidate for this test. Even at maximum graphics settings (FHD), the computer is able to reach smooth frame rates. The iMac Retina 5K's 33.9 fps is on par with the Schenker XMG U505's result. The Schenker machine is equipped with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M. It is only when running the WatchDogs that the difference between the two cards is obvious. The MSI GS60, also equipped with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M, manages to render about 15% more frames per second. In order to reach the computer's maximum frames per second, we installed a Windows partition via Bootcamp. As we have seen in previous reviews, most ported games manage considerably fewer fps under Mac OS than under Windows.

Watch Dogs - 1920x1080 Ultra Overall Quality, Ultra Textures AA:4x MS (sort by value)
Apple iMac Retina 5K 27 Late 2014 i7-4790K M295X
31.2 fps ∼42%
MSI GS60 2QE Ghost Pro 4K (2QEUi716SR51G)
36 fps ∼48% +15%
Crysis 3 - 1920x1080 Very High Preset AA:2xSM AF:16x (sort by value)
Apple iMac Retina 5K 27 Late 2014 i7-4790K M295X
33.9 fps ∼28%
Schenker XMG U505
33.4 fps ∼27% -1%

Legend

 
Apple iMac Retina 5K 27 Late 2014 i7-4790K M295X Intel Core i7-4790K, AMD Radeon R9 M295X, Apple SSD SM0128F
 
Schenker XMG U505 Intel Core i7-4790S, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M, Plextor PX-G256M6e
 
MSI GS60 2QE Ghost Pro 4K (2QEUi716SR51G) Intel Core i7-4720HQ, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M, 2x Kingston RBU-SNS8100S3256GD (RAID 0)
low med. high ultra
Crysis 3 (2013) 134 33.9 fps
Need for Speed: Rivals (2013) 30 30 fps
Watch Dogs (2014) 41.5 31.2 fps
Alien: Isolation (2014) 161.4 81.2 67 fps
Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014) 142 51 35.2 fps

Emissions

Temperature

In 2012, Apple said goodbye to cuboid cases and rounded off the back of their iMacs. We use a stress test to determine how well the machine cools itself. For this purpose, we run the programs FurMark and Prime95 to simulate extreme load. As soon as we started the test on the iMac, the CPU clock rate fell to 3 GHz and occasionally climbed to higher frequencies of up to 3.4 GHz. The sensors recorded CPU temperatures of almost 100 °C (212 °F). After an hour in the stress test, the CPU's clock frequency leveled off at a little over 3 GHz. After our stress test was complete, we immediately started 3DMark 11 to determine whether the device could utilize its full performance power directly following an experience of heavy load. With a score of 9420, the machine is definitely able to do this. Another problem  with the old iMac was the case's tendency to heat up tremendously. Subjectively however, even after two hours in the stress test, our test device's case did not grow exceptionally warm.

Speakers

The iMac's speakers make a good impression. A broad spectrum of tones and good volume will please music and film lovers alike. However, for rich, full bass tones, the user will need to plug in external speakers or headphones. Overall, the test device does a good job.

Verdict

Apple iMac Retina with 5K Display
Apple iMac Retina with 5K Display

Let us set aside the question of whether the 5K display is an advantage for the average users. However, when it comes to video editing we quickly noticed a difference between this machine and the non-Retina version. Editing 4K films in particular, can benefit from the possibility of using the native resolution alongside toolbars and other menu bars. Our configuration of the iMac Retina currently costs 3300 Euros (~$3750; starting price 2600 Euros or about $2950). In this price range, we expect everything about the device to be high quality. In terms of the computer's case and manufacturing quality, the iMac definitely meets our standards. Unfortunately, it lacks upgradability and maintenance options. The hardware proves to be a good combination of mobile and stationary performance. Even so, the performance power is limited by the mobile graphics, and the CPU quickly dropped below its base clock frequency in our stress test. No one solely concerned with the computer's price/performance ratio would be pleased with the iMac Retina. But those who love excellent image quality and a good design - and have a certain degree of affinity for Apple - will find this computer, like so many of Apple's creations, to be an alluring product.

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In Review: Apple iMac Retina with 5K Display
In Review: Apple iMac Retina with 5K Display

Specifications

Apple iMac Retina 5K 27 Late 2014 i7-4790K M295X
Graphics adapter
AMD Radeon R9 M295X - 4096 MB, Core: 850 MHz, Memory: 1362 MHz, atiumdag 14.200.1002.1002 / Win8.1 64
Memory
16384 MB 
, 16.384
Display
27 inch 16:9, 5120 x 2880 pixel, APPAE01, IPS, glossy: yes
Storage
Apple SSD SM0128F, 128 GB 
, + Apple HDD ST1000DM003
Soundcard
Intel Lynx Point PCH - High Definition Audio Controller
Connections
4 USB 3.0 / 3.1 Gen1, Audio Connections: Audio combo, Card Reader: SD, Sensors: Brightness sensor, 2 x Thunderbolt
Networking
Broadcom BCM57786 NetXtreme PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet Controller (10/100MBit/s), Broadcom 802.11ac (a/b/g/n = Wi-Fi 4/ac = Wi-Fi 5), Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.0
Operating System
Apple OS X 10.10 Yosemite
Camera
Webcam: 720p
Additional features
Speakers: Stereo speakers, 12 Months Warranty
Weight
9.54 kg ( = 336.51 oz / 21.03 pounds) ( = 0 oz / 0 pounds)

 

Fan vent under the stand
Fan vent under the stand
Retina display for the first time on an iMac
Retina display for the first time on an iMac

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What we like

With the 5K display, 4K videos can be rendered without loss of detail and there's still space for the video software interface.

What we'd like to see

Unfortunately, Apple has eliminated the possibility of using the iMac as an external display. The positioning of the ports also needs rethinking.

What surprises us

In terms of quality, the Apple iMac sets the bar high and surprises us with its Retina display and good performance.

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > Apple iMac Retina 5K 27" Review
Nino Ricchizzi, 2015-02-25 (Update: 2018-05-15)