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Apple iMac with Retina 5K Display (mid-2015) review: More affordable, but beware expensive upgrades

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Written by Cliff Joseph on
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8.5/10

Apple iMac with Retina 5K Display (mid-2015)

Excellent
Pros
  • Outstanding 5K Retina display
  • Competitive price
  • Slimline, all-in-one design
  • Good external connectivity
Cons
  • No internal drive bays or upgrade slots
  • Limited user upgrade or repair options
  • Apple's BTO upgrades are expensive
  • Editors' Review
  • Specs

The revamped 27-inch iMac that Apple launched towards the end of 2014 was tailor-made for high-end video-editing work. It was relatively expensive, of course, with a starting price of £1,999 (inc. VAT; £1,665.83 ex. VAT), yet that price was justified by the unrivalled clarity and 5,120-by-2,880-pixel resolution of its 5K Retina display, as well as workstation levels of performance for tasks such as 4K video-editing.

However, many of Apple's most loyal users work in fields such as photography and publishing, which can benefit from a high-resolution display but may not require quite the same amount of raw horsepower. With that in mind, Apple has now released a second iMac model with the same 5K Retina display, but slightly lower performance and more affordable pricing.

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The new 5K iMac has a slightly lower spec than the original model, and costs £250 less.

Images: Apple

Retina options

The new iMac With Retina 5K Display starts at £1,599 (inc. VAT; £1,332.5 ex. VAT), a price that allows it to replace the previous top-end non-Retina iMac. The base model includes a quad-core Core i5 processor running at 3.3GHz (3.7GHz with Turbo Boost), along with 8GB of RAM, a 1TB hard drive and discrete AMD Radeon R9 M290 graphics with 2GB of dedicated video memory.

At the same time, the original high-end Retina model that was introduced last year has now been reduced to £1,849 (inc. VAT; £1,541 ex. VAT) and runs at 3.5GHz, with 8GB of RAM, a 1TB hybrid HD/SSD and Radeon R9 M290X graphics. In contrast, Dell charges £2,002 (inc. VAT; £1,668 ex. VAT) for its standalone UltraSharp 27 Ultra HD 5K monitor, so £1,599 for the combination of a 5K monitor and a quad-core graphics workstation is pretty competitive.

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The 5K iMac has four USB 3.0 ports and two Thunderbolt ports, plus Gigabit Ethernet and headphone connectors and an SDXC card slot.

Image: Apple

However, the same can't be said of Apple's build-to-order upgrade options, which include £160 (inc. VAT; £133 ex. VAT) for just another 8GB of RAM, and the same again to upgrade to a 1TB hybrid drive. Thankfully, the 27-inch iMac is one of the few Apple products that still allows user upgrades for the memory. The iMac's lack of expansion slots means that there are no other user upgrade options available, but its complement of four USB 3.0 ports and two high-performance Thunderbolt 2.0 ports does make it easy to add extra storage when required.

Performance

There's not much difference in performance between the two iMac models either. The 3.3GHz processor in our review unit achieved a score of 11,804 for multi-core performance when running Geekbench 3, as opposed to 12,500 for its 3.5GHz counterpart. Graphics performance is close too, with the 3.3GHz iMac achieving 88.1fps for OpenGL performance, compared to 91.9fps for the 3.5GHz model. There are dedicated graphics workstations -- including Apple's own Mac Pro -- that provide stronger performance, but there's really nothing in this price range that can match the iMac's combination of performance and high-quality 5K display.

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Conclusion

In recent years, Apple has been criticised for focusing on consumer products such as the iPhone and the new Apple Watch. However, the 5K iMac is very much aimed at Apple's traditional creative users, and provides an unrivalled combination of 5K display and strong performance. Video editors may prefer to squeeze maximum power out of the more expensive 3.5GHz model, but this new, more affordable version of the iMac with Retina 5K Display will be an ideal tool for graphic design and photography.

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