iMac w/Retina 5K Display = Best iMac Ever

Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves

Episode #97


When I first heard about Apple’s 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display, I thought someone was pulling my leg. Earlier this year, when I was considering a new Mac Pro, I did a lot of research on high-resolution displays and the only 5K display I know of is a 27-inch Dell UP2715 that goes for a whopping $2,499, which happens to be the same price as the new 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display!

So Dell and Apple both offer a 27-inch 5K display for $2,499. Choose the Dell and all you get is a 27-inch 5K display. Choose the new iMac, however, and in addition to a 27-inch 5K display you also get a powerful desktop computer at no additional cost!

And it’s a hell of a computer, decked out with all the latest technology:

  • 3.5GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor (or 4.0GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 for an additional $250)
  • Two Thunderbolt 2 ports
  • Four USB 3 ports
  • SD card slot
  • Dual microphones with beam-forming technology
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • 1TB Fusion Drive

But while the guts are pretty much the state-of-the-art for a one-piece Mac, it’s the 5K Retina Display that will blow your mind. With resolutions that go up to 5,120 x 2,880 pixels, you’ve never seen a computer display that looked this good or offered this much screen real estate to work with. At its highest resolution, your icons and menu are tiny (of course), but still crystal clear.

The highest resolution (5120x2880) makes icons and menus tiny but still legible (click to enlarge)

So while you probably won’t opt for the highest resolution in the Finder or your word processor, it’s awesome for editing 4K video:

At 5120x2880 you can edit 4K video with room on screen for palettes, timelines, and inspectors (click to enlarge)

That’s nice, but since most of us don’t work on 4K video much, you’ll be happy to know it’s even better when you’re editing HD video. Just reduce the screen resolution to something more reasonable — like 2880 x 1620 — and you can see your full-size HD video (1920 x 1080 pixels) and still have room for palettes, timelines, and such:

At 2880 x 1620 you can edit HD video with room on screen for palettes, timelines, and inspectors

And editing still images at higher resolutions than I’ve ever seen on a Mac — in Photoshop or other graphics editors—is freakin’ awesome. It’s a pleasure to spend less time zooming in and out on details and more time actually editing photos. To demonstrate, I created a composite image that compares how much of an image you’d see at various resolutions:

What you see on screen at various resolutions…

One more thing you should know about this display: It looks great at almost all supported resolutions. The Displays System Preferences pane warns, “Using a scaled resolution may affect performance,” but I didn’t notice much, if any, performance hit, even at the highest and lowest resolutions.

As for performance, it’s a Mac, so everything worked as expected. The only quibble I have is that after working almost exclusively on a MacBook Pro with an SSD, the iMac’s Fusion Drive felt a bit sluggish to me. Apps that launch in the blink of an eye on my MacBook Pro take noticeably longer to open on the iMac. And opening or saving files on the iMac is significantly slower than on the MacBook Pro with an SSD.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that if your order your new iMac built-to-order, you can swap out the 1TB Fusion Drive for a 256GB Solid State Drive at no additional cost or upgrade to a 512GB or 1TB SSD for $300 or $800 respectively.  

The new iMac with Retina 5K Display is, hands down, the best iMac Apple has built yet, and you can make it even better by opting for an SSD instead of a Fusion Drive. If it had been available earlier this year when I bought my new (refurbished) MacBook Pro and 27-inch (Monoprice) display, I’d have chosen it instead of the MacBook Pro and external display in a heartbeat.

And that’s all he wrote…