iMac Analysis (2017) Technological ingenuity

Apple has always been connected to the world through Macs. One of the big changes in the history of computing was to think about the 70s that every home would need one in the future. With the surname «Computer», the brand made it clear that it wanted to bring the machines to our home world by integrating them not with the rest of the household appliances – considered at the time as «dumb» machines – but closer to us as tools of empowering and creativity.

The idea of the company in 2017 of «back to the iMac» relaunches several interesting concepts: one, is the bet on the basic icon with which the computers of the apple are identified. Its shape, its idea, its differentiation from the rest: we all know that what we are seeing on the screen is an iMac, even if in the film they cover the apple with a post-it. Today the Mac concept is spread across Mac mini, Mac Pro, iMac and the range of laptops, but despite that «skyline», which defines Steve Jobs’ idea of the whole in one is the iMac, the true heir to the original Macintosh.

It is important to understand that the necessary litany until we get here is no coincidence – as absolutely nothing in Apple – and that we continue to inherit as part of a DNA intertwined with the brand design guides that Hartmut Esslinger wrote in the early 80s within design language «Snow White»: simple lines, marked and unadorned, without textures, and the illusion of a housing that gave the impression that the computer is smaller than it really is. This got Apple’s computers to start being recognized and reach significant heights of popularity. The icon was important, immediate recognition was essential for us to see not only a Mac, but also the whole company and its vision on that table.

Design still in force at the iMac 2017

Physically it’s identical to the ones we already know. We also have easy access to change the RAM through a comfortable rear access door, and in this model you can even change the processor itself – something unpublished in Apple – although you’ll have to completely open the case separating the screen. Still, it’s an interesting step for – perhaps – a new generation of iMac more modular, more customizable – something that has been asked of Apple for years. At the moment we have this advantage over the previous generation, something that the first buyers are already taking advantage of.

imac 2017

All range sizes (21.5″ and 27″) feature exactly the same connectors and capabilities, which have obviously also been updated compared to the previous generation:

  • 3.5mm headphone jack.
  • SDXC card slot.
  • Four USB 3 ports (USB 2 compatible)
    Two Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports support:
  • Displayport.
  • Thunderbolt (up to 40 Gb/s).
  • USB 3.1 Gen 2 (up to 10 Gb/s).
  • Thunderbolt 2, HDMI, DVI, and VGA (requires adapters sold separately).
  • Gigabit Ethernet 10/100/1000BASE-T (RJ-45 connector).
  • Kensington security slot.

The iconic physical appearance to which we are accustomed to the iMac is still present, and current, for this internal renewal that puts the model back on the table. Perhaps for the next generation we should have something that would make the futuristic line of the model shine even brighter, and shoot it a little further into the future: remove the black frame from the screen to the maximum (at least the sides and the top). Surely this trend that from September we will see with the new iPhone, and later with future iPads, ends up also reaching the iMac. Meanwhile, the presence of the current model remains indisputable, becoming an icon after all these years – even if it still looks like the usual iMac.

The importance of improving the screen every time

The iMac, as at the time, was the Macintosh, is a metaphor for the window into the digital world behind it. It also happens with the iPad – especially – where what matters, what really becomes a tool for perfect feedback between the machine and the user, is the screen. The previous generation’s iMac had an amazing display that raised the resolution up to 5K to improve the detail of each image. It’s funny, because since the iMac 5K came out five years ago, the competition has imitated the «all-in-one» look of Apple’s flagship computer, but few – to say none – have featured a screen of this quality.

In this generation, Cupertino’s company maintains the astonishing resolution of 5120 x 2880 pixels, but improves the amount of colors to a billion – almost nothing – and climbs up to 500 nits of brightness. A nit is an estimated measure of light over an area, and typically desktop monitors typically reach 200 or 300 nits. With its 500 nits, this new generation of iMac is at the level of hdtelevision, which usually start at 450 – and according to the company itself, it is 43% brighter than the previous model.

In everyday use, we notice how these screen enhancements surprise us also when combined with the P3 color space – the cinematic standard – and is especially noticeable in movies and videos with a large spectrum of colors, being more realistic and vivid in the Viewing. The combination of all these new features on a screen and a model like this iMac make it especially attractive – also in the improvement of the graphic hardware that we will talk about later – for designers, video enthusiasts and 3D graphics.

Thanks to the Thunderbolt 3 connection, you can connect an external 5K monitor or two 4K monitors – although you still can’t use it as a monitor if you want to (for example) connect a MacBook Pro or even a console. Sorry the digital life hub as the iMac should be, this option should appear giving the user the versatility to enjoy this tremendous screen quality also with external video sources.

One of the recurring questions in this era of touchscreens is why Apple doesn’t make the iMac a «touch» computer as Microsoft deiccated its Surface Studio. The answer is the same to when we are asked why the iPad does not carry macOS: the company thinks that the operating system should be designed and designed to support a touch interface, and not a simple layer above that emulates the click of a mouse on it. Only when the system natively controls this method of user input is that applications can squeeze it to the maximum and it’s really intuitive. A system like macOS doesn’t take advantage of 100% as it’s as a touch input interface because it’s not designed for that. And a touch interface is much more than «finger-clicking on buttons».

That’s why the iPad works precisely: Apple’s bet is to create with iOS an address designed for the touch world from scratch, and not to give us the feeling that we are emulating a mouse with a touch screen that has many more possibilities. Looking in the opposite direction, the iMac is not intended for its position on the desktop to be used with hands on the screen: it is not a natural response of the user, let alone seems a method of precision to enter or refine data inside the Mac.

However, Apple does make available to everyone a fantastic touch screen with which we can refine these contents for the Mac: it’s called iPad, and it’s really a surface designed and invented to specify these details and then finish them on the Mac taking advantage of the largest area. It’s not about having a lot of devices that do the same thing, it’s about having the right ones to do certain jobs on each one, in the best possible way and combining the results: that’s the real Apple ecosystem.

Virtual Reality Arrives

Undoubtedly one of the novelties of the latest Keynote from this year’s developer conference has been Apple’s commitment to Augmented Reality – which we will explore with iOS – and Virtual Reality – that we will enjoy with macOS and new generations of Macs. The first of them is this iMac that we are reviewing today, and is that Apple has put a lot of effort into turning it not only into a good machine for graphic professionals, but also a large powerful desktop computer in certain areas where typically the company wasn’t present, like VR.

The new processors are the latest Kaby Lake released by Intel, and in the analysis model we had an Intel Core i5 at 3.4 Ghz and 8 GB of DDR4 RAM at 2400 Mhz. The performance, even not to be the model that integrates the fastest version of the i7 is really good, beating its most direct competitor – the Microsoft Surface Studio.

To support the new iMac’s power surge, Apple has not hesitated to take the graphics subsystem to a new level, incorporating – except for the 21.5″ «base» iMac – the new Radeon Pro, a big step forward, especially thinking that we come from a card like the Radeon R9, more modest in terms of power. The new Pro is based on Polaris architecture and optimized to work with applications such as Adobe Premiere Pro, After Effects, Photoshop, etc…

The jewel in the crown is undoubtedly the Radeon Pro 580 that incorporates the highest model within the family of these new iMacs: a card that not only has power and performance to spare for the most demanding tasks of the graphic professional (we are talking about 5.5 TFLOP it’s gross power), but we’ll also have a perfectly prepared environment for the arid Virtual Reality that will arrive with the macOS High Sierra and the new products and games planned for next year. Interesting to understand how we are not only talking about brute power just over, but also new options for all the new developments in these fields, such as recording high-performance games in streaming with «zero load» in the main CPU or improvements designed specifically for Virtual Reality: this is the foundation of the Polaris architecture on which this new Radeon Pro is based, a very good decision from Apple with which to support this generation of new iMac.

Sound, accessories and hard drive


In this area, there has been no significant novelty compared to the previous generation, perhaps because there was little room for improvement here: the sound system is identical to the one we already knew, and maintains the improvement in power, sound clarity and depth in detail – maybe I would only ask for more forcefulness in the basses – but it’s still perfect almost for any office or house with enough quality to use in everyday life without having to buy some external speakers to be able to appreciate all the sound details – unless you are musicians or enthusiasts who need in this field to have complete control over it.

From the hard drive little can be said to what we have not already mentioned since for example the analysis of MacBook Pro of the end of 2016: it is one of the best SSDs on the market. The read and write speed makes typical benchmarking applications like blackMagic’s that i regularly used in these reviews no longer make much sense, as they exceed all points, one by one, in transfer and reading speed. This also speeds up the work with the Mac, both in the loading of large files, the initialization of the operating system… In my opinion, Apple should even stop offering the Fusion Drive option to directly integrate full SSD hard drives – which is one of the areas that most enhance a computer and work with it every day.

As for the accessories, we have the usual suspects: the latest Magic Keyboard, which improved compared to the previous generation in touch and comfort, although I still miss the backlight for low-light jobs in the room. The second generation Magic Mouse is also included in the pack: here it is a matter of tastes as we talk about ergonomics and almost personal whims when choosing mouse, but personally the Magic Mouse and its low profile and simplicity of use is my choice for the day. As a result, the terrible charging system with the Lightning cable forces you to disable your mouse while doing so, as we have to turn the device upside down.