Apple 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display (late 2015) review
Apple stole a march on its rivals last year when it launched a new version of the 27-inch iMac equipped with a state-of-the-art 5K display that was ideal for professional-level graphics, photography and video-editing work. That was barely a year ago, but Apple has already come up with a significant update that not only provides a new sixth-generation Skylakeprocessor from Intel, but also manages to raise the bar on display quality yet again.
Like its predecessor, the late-2015 version of the 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display boasts an elegant, slimline display panel with a remarkable 5,120-by-2,880-pixel resolution. The logic behind that particular figure is that the 5K resolution allows you to display a 4K video image at full size, while still providing a significant amount of additional space on the screen for the tools and palettes of video-editing software such as Adobe’s Premiere Pro or Apple’s own Final Cut Pro.
Regardless of the particular applications you plan to use, the image quality delivered by the 5K display is quite outstanding. It’ s clearly brighter and more colourful than the display on our three-year old office iMac, and even simple text in word-processor documents looks clearer and sharper. But while last year’s Retina 5K display supported the same sRGB colour-space as most conventional monitors, this new model supports a colour-space known as DCI-P3, which is used in many professional dSLR cameras and video cameras. Put simply, the P3 technology allows the iMac to display a 25 percent wider range of colours — including the precise red of a London bus, which according to Apple is not properly displayed by a conventional sRGB monitor.
Of course, that level of colour reproduction will be overkill for most users, and if you simply need a large display for presentations or simple design work then there are many more affordable alternatives available. However, Apple is clearly targeting the professional video and photography markets with the 27-inch iMac, and there are few rival products from PC manufacturers that provide a comparable graphics workstation for less than £2,000.
Apple’s high prices have often been cited as a barrier to the adoption of the Mac in the business market but, unusually for Apple, the combination of 5K display and strong graphics performance means that the 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display is genuinely good value for money. This year’s update continues that trend by driving down the entry-level price point for the 5K model even further.
The original 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display launched in 2014 cost £1,999 (inc. VAT, or £1,666 ex. VAT), which dropped to £1,849 (£1,541 ex. VAT) earlier this year when Apple also launched a less expensive 5K model priced at £1,599 (£1,332.50 ex. VAT). And, to provide a more affordable ‘entry-level’ alternative, Apple also kept one older iMac model on sale with a more conventional 2,560-by-1,440 display for £1,449 (£1,207.50 ex. VAT).
Apple has now updated all three 27-inch models, and even the entry-level configuration now includes a 5K display while remaining at the same £1,449 price point. That price also includes Intel’s new quad-core Skylake Core i5 processor running at 3.2GHz (3.6GHz with TurboBoost), along with 8GB of memory, a 1TB hard drive and a Radeon R9 M380 graphics card. By contrast, Dell’s 27-inch standalone 5K monitor (model UP2715K) is currently selling online for around £1,500 (£1,250 ex. VAT) which makes the 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display look like something of a bargain. If you genuinely need a 5K display for professional applications such as photo- or video-editing then — just for once — Apple really does provide better value for money than most of its Windows PC rivals.
The 27-inch iMac With Retina 5K Display also provides strong performance for video editing and other graphics-intensive tasks. We tested the mid-range model, which adds a 1TB hybrid Fusion drive and Radeon R9 M390 for a total price of £1,599 (£1,332.50 ex. VAT).
The Skylake update provides only a modest increase in processor performance, with this 3.2GHz chip achieving a Geekbench 3 score of 12,120 for multi-core performance, compared to 11,800 for its 3.3GHz Haswell predecessor. The updated GPU also provides a small speedbump — approximately 10 percent — to reach 98.4fps for OpenGL rendering inCinebench.
There’s a third model available as well, with a 3.3GHz processor, Radeon R9 M395 and 2TB Fusion drive for £1,849 (£1,541 ex. VAT). For another £200 you can step the processor up to 4.0GHz clock speed, but it seems that Apple is intentionally limiting the upgrade potential of the 27-inch iMac in order to avoid undercutting the workstation-class Mac Pro, which starts at around £2,500 (£2,082.50 ex. VAT) without a monitor.
And, of course, upgradeability remains the iMac’s weak point. Memory is themselves via a small panel at the back of the display, and a pair of Thunderbolt 2.0 ports provides the option of connecting high-performance storage devices. However, the lack of internal expansion slots means that the GPU and internal storage are completely untouchable. Apple’s own build-to-order upgrades also remain very expensive — including £160 (£133.33 ex. VAT) for just an additional 8B of memory, or £200 (£166.66 ex. VAT) to step up to a Radeon R9 M395 graphics card.
It’s a shame that the original 27-inch iMac with 2,560 by 1,440 display has been completely discontinued, as that provided a stylish and compact desktop computer suitable for general business use. By contrast, the current 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display is clearly more of a niche product that will appeal primarily to professional photographers and video editors. Even so, that’s still a profitable niche market — and a growing one as 4K video becomes more widespread. The iMac’s competitive pricing and outstanding 5K display will make it a very tempting option for many creative professionals.