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iMac with 4K Retina display review: A high-resolution desktop Mac for the masses

Jason Snell | Oct. 14, 2015
The transition of the iMac into the Retina display era is now complete—and worth upgrading to.

When four pixels are doing the work that only one used to do, the El Capitan interface really shines. Everything’s sharper. Photos look startlingly real, almost like they were printed on paper. And then there’s text, which looks razor sharp like it just rolled out of a laser printer. Even toolbars and Dock icons are more pleasant because all the on-screen graphics have added subtle details that were impossible at lower resolutions.

There’s also a whole lot of flexibility with a Retina display. Because the pixel count is so high, these screens can be set to alternate resolutions without sacrificing image quality. Want everything to be a little bit bigger? Go to the Display preference pane and set the 4K iMac to emulate a smaller monitor. Want a little more room in which to work? Set the iMac to display a higher resolution instead. The system does all the conversion and scaling on the fly, effortlessly.

Apple says that the display in this 4K iMac, as well as the revision to the 5K iMac that was announced the same day, offers an expanded color space. Thanks to new red-green phosphor LEDs, the displays can display a wider range of red and green light than before, allowing them to display 25 percent more colors.

In a demo at Apple, I was able to detect subtle differences. The new displays can offer more color detail and more vibrancy than the display on the older 5K iMac models. I’m a little red-green color blind, and even I could detect the differences. If you work in graphics or video, you’ll probably be happy to have access to a display that’s capable of displaying 99 percent of the P3 color space. But for most people buying the 4K iMac, the real difference will be the mind-blowing jump to Retina.

A long awaited update

On the outside, the 4K iMac (and its other 21.5-inch sisters) look exactly like those late-2013 models: They’re all the same design, thin at the edges but bulging in the back, where the iMac attaches to its metal foot. The 4K iMac is exactly the same in dimensions and weight as the previous model. The biggest change on the outside of the case is the addition of faster Thunderbolt 2 ports, replacing the Thunderbolt 1 ports on the older models.

On the inside, the 4K iMac (like the other new 21.5-inch models) is powered by fifth-generation Intel Core processors, known as “Broadwell.” According to Apple, the newer Skylake sixth-generation processors aren’t yet available with the integrated graphics processors that Apple has chosen to drive these models, so it’s sticking with Broadwell. (The new 27-inch iMac models, which are powered by separate GPUs, do use Skylake processors.)


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