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iMac with Retina 5K display review: New US$1999 model almost as good as its predecessor

Roman Loyola | June 16, 2015
When Apple released the first 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K display late last year, all it took was just one look at the gorgeous images on the display and you knew you wanted it. Then you took a look at the $2499 price tag and suddenly you didn't want it as much as you thought.

For some users, a Retina display is a luxury — there's nothing wrong with Apple's standard display, which produces good image quality. But if you deal with the details all day long — either in text, images, video, or all three — you'll appreciate looking at the Retina display. I'd even say it could help you be more productive.

That being said, the glossy display makes the iMac a non-starter for some users, Retina or not. Apple has made improvements so the glare and reflections aren't as severe as in older iMacs, but there's a contingent of users who really want or need a matte display. I'll repeat what's been said before in past Macworld iMac reviews: If you want a matte display, you'll never find it in an iMac. You need to make other arrangements, like connect an external matte display or buy a headless Mac.

Lower price, slightly lower performance

Since the new $1999 Retina 5K iMac has a 3.3GHz processor, you probably expect it to be a few notches slower than the $2299 Retina 5K iMac with its 3.5GHz processor. And that's what the benchmarks show.

The Geekbench 3 results show that the $1999 Retina 5K iMac is 4 percent slower than the $2299 Retina 5K iMac in the 64-bit multi-core and single-core tests, and 3 percent slower in the 32-bit multi-core and single-core tests. The $1999 Retina 5K iMac is also 4 percent slower in the Cinebench R15 CPU test. And in the Cinebench R15 OpenGL video test, the two machines posted similar results.

These benchmarks isolate certain components of the system — mainly the CPU and graphics — and the $1999 Retina 5K iMac doesn't really disappoint when compare to the $2299 Retina 5K iMac. The main difference is the $1999 Retina 5K iMac's 7200-rpm hard drive — it'll adversely affect the machine's performance on disk intensive tasks. The $2299 Retina 5K iMac has the advantage in this regard, with its 1TB Fusion Drive. You can upgrade the $1999 Retina 5K iMac with a 1TB Fusion Drive, but the upgrade jacks up the price to $2199, and at that point, you should just go with the $2299 Retina 5K iMac.

If it's pure multi-processing speed that you need, the better choice is a Mac Pro. Even though the current Mac Pro is getting to be long in the tooth — it was released in December 2013 — it still sports better multi-core performance. But you'll have to buy a separate 5K display like the Dell UltraSharp 27 UP2715k, which costs $2500, more than either Retina 5K iMac. Or you can save some money and get an affordable 4K display. (You also need to be running OS X 10.10.3 or later.)


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