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Review: iMac with Retina 5K display is among Apple's brightest lights

Christopher Breen | Nov. 4, 2014
The iMac with 5K Retina display is a beautiful piece of work--both within and without. If you're particular about pristine video and images, this is the Mac you'll want to own.

Obviously, most of us don't spend our time zoomed in hundreds of percent to admire our Mac's screen resolution. In many cases the benefits of the Retina display will be subtle--an effect that may make staring at a display for hours on end less fatiguing. Where you'll see differences that can be startling is in very high-resolution images and video. The example below should give you some idea of the difference in details with a high-resolution image. Note the crisper lines in the bottom image, taken from the Retina iMac. (Click each image to enlarge.)

How good is the performance?
The iMac with 5K Retina display is being touted by some as a viable alternative for professionals who can't quite make the jump to Apple's new Mac Pro. After all, it offers a display that, from another manufacturer, would cost the $2,500 Apple asks for the iMac. The base model includes a 3.5GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, a 1TB Fusion Drive, an AMD Radeon R9 M290X graphics processor with 2GB of GDDR5 memory, two Thunderbolt 2 ports, four USB 3 ports, and 802.11ac wireless. That's a mighty powerful package. But can it can come anywhere close to Apple's top of the line Mac?

I thought I'd find out by conducting a few performance tests between it, Apple's top of the line Mac Pro (3.5 GHz 6-Core Intel Xeon E5 with 16GB RAM), and the late 2012 27-inch iMac (with a 3.2 GHz Intel Core i5 with 8GB RAM). The Mac Pro and Retina iMac, with their SSD and Fusion drives, respectively, have a significant edge in regard to reading and writing data--the older iMac's spinning hard drive just can't match their speed. So I chose tests that focused on processing and graphics power rather than disk-intensive tasks. Here's what I found.

By the numbers
For those who like raw performance numbers, I ran Cinebench's CPU and OpenGL tests on each computer. The Mac Pro scored an average CPU score of 930, the Retina iMac scored 530, and the older iMac, 452. This is a multi-core test.

In the single core test, however, the Retina iMac bested the Mac Pro. The Retina iMac scored 142, the Mac Pro 133, and the older 27-inch iMac, 125. This is in line with other reports on the iMac's single-core performance. In Cinebench's OpenGL tests it also came out ahead, producing an average 88 frames per second versus the Mac Pro's 72 fps and the older iMac's 56 fps.

Tasking the Retina iMac
Performance numbers are all well and good, but how does the Retina iMac handle the kind of chores that professionals conduct day in and day out? I tested this as well.


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