The New 27-inch iMac (i7) is a Sleeper, a Game Changer

| Editorial

Apple's new 27-inch iMac with the i7 quad core CPU and hyperthreading appears, at first, to be merely an incremental improvement to the iMac line. However, there comes a time when a sufficient confluence of features creates a quantum leap for a product, and this is it.

For a long time, Apple seemed to, pardon the expression, limp along with a Core 2 Duo in the iMac. That created a problem for me and many others. Namely, it's hard to justify a desktop computer when the CPU is no more powerful that that found in a notebook, say, the MacBook Pro.



iMac Family

That's why thousands of Apple customers, including me, when it came time to retire our PowerMac G5s, turned to the Nehalem-based quad core Mac Pro last summer. Prior to that, for about a year in my Hidden Dimensions column and in editorials, I urged Apple to move to quad core in the iMac line. Hewlett Packard and Dell had long since done that with the i5 predecessor, the quad core big brother of the Core 2 Duo.

Why Apple waited for the i5 & i7 isn't clear. Perhaps some at Apple thought that, in a recession, it would be best to keep the cost and scope of the popular iMac within more modest bounds. Now, however, with the recession on the wane and the i5 and i7 CPUs ready for shipment, Apple judged it time. And, of course, there's no real threat to the Mac Pro. Apple, it seems, will keep that Mac are the forefront of power and expandability.

The Game Changer

The real point here, however, is that in the process of moving to an LED backlit 27-inch screen and an i7 on the top end that includes hyperthreading, Apple has created a breakthrough desk top computer that is far beyond the competition. Hyperthreading is an Intel technology that allows a core to run not one but two virtual threads. So when you run activity monitor in an i7 iMac, you'll see eight hyperthread activity meters.

The advantage here is suddenly obvious. A MacBook Pro with 2 cores is hard pressed to run virtualization swimmingly. One CPU for the Mac and one CPU for the guest OS. We know that Snow Leopard would really like to have its two cores back. So while virtualization runs nicely with VMWare Fusion or Parallels Desktop, on a MacBook Pro, there is a class of desktop users who will really like giving two cores (with four virtual thread execution units) to both Snow Leopard and also to either Linux or Windows 7.

Next, that 27-inch screen is now big enough to finally have some real breathing room. After using my 24-inch Cinema Display on my Mac Pro, the 27-inch screen seems somehow enormously bigger. For once you can run a virtual OS on the Mac's desktop with plenty of room to spare and not even have to use Snow Leopard's Spaces.

Of course, the combination of a high quality LED backlit display married with iTunes makes for a very nice video experience. It may be just big enough, in some environments, say a small office, dorm room, or an apartment -- where a 50-inch Plasma is out of the question -- to serve as the complete video entertainment system. Whether it's iTunes, streamed Netflix, Hulu, or DVD movies, a large number of people will find that this computer, fed with a broadband connection, is simply the complete solution for everything. Work, UNIX workstation, app development, science & research, entertainment, home use, you name it.

Think how cool it would have been with a Blu-ray player inside as well? There were rumors that it might ship that way, and, someday in the future, it might.

As a result of the critical design factors, up to 16 GB of RAM, a huge LED backlit display, a powerful i7, the new high end iMac is a formidable computer. It literally takes your breath away. Combined with Snow Leopard, it's the dream machine we always wanted. It has the horsepower to run virtualization really well. For many, it's the only sensible computer to have, and the perfect computer to run Windows 7 on, if you must. This computer is so far advanced over the PCs you can purchase at, say, Best Buy, it isn't even funny.

This is an example of how incremental improvements can suddenly morph into a game changer, and, as Steve Jobs might say, create a computer than is more than the sum of its parts.

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Any day Dell will announce an answer to the iMac 27”. It will have less memory, a slower processor, and a smaller screen, but a lot more put into advertising. Check out the new Dell OblivION.


Joe Poor Guy

Wow!  I’m glad to get the news on MacObserver about the economy: “with the recession on the wane”!

Too bad all those folks currently unemployed and in foreclosure, and those that soon will be right after the holiday season, won’t benefit from “the wane”!


Hyperthreading isn’t an Intel technology, at least not in the sense that Intel invented it. It was invented by an academic and first used in the DEC Alpha processor; Intel started using it later, in the Pentium 4.

John Martellaro

There are lots of components to a recession.  Regrettably, unemployment is always the last one to recover.  I didn’t mean to offend anyone in my remarks about Apple’s possible assessment of the recession as it relates to their product line.


Don’t get me wrong, I’d love one of these.

But aren’t you overstating the importance of hyperthreading?

In general, if you have 4 cores and you run 8 cpu hog processes, they will run about half as fast as 4 processes would, with hyperthreading either on or off.

It’s only fairly specialised applications where you get real speedups.


The glossy LCD display is a deal breaker for me, as with many other creative professionals I would guess.

I’m about to purchase a backup computer for my MacBook Pro (early 2008) and would seriously consider the new 27-inch iMac (i7) if only there were a matte screen option. In my graphic design/writing/photography work, I can’t use the high glossy screen.

So, I’m considering a Mac Mini to connect to my external 23 inch matte LCD.


Why not just hook up your 23” matte screen to the i7, and do your design work on the matte, and everything else on the 27”?


The core i7 iMac looks great, but as I run long computationally intensive jobs on my machines, I wonder how well it would handle such stress.  The Mac Pros and G5 PowerMacs do fine running heavy loads lasting more than a day. By contrast the first generation G5 iMac that I purchased strained (the fans would run high, and it succumbed to the defective power supply that made it into the early models.)  Does anyone have experience running heavy loads on the new i7 iMac for long periods of time?


Reading the “Tea leaves” on recession? I see zip on improvement except a short week for Thanksgiving when unemployment offices were shut, or the hiring of temp workers which is normal for the season. As for GNP, all I see is government spending, the other two components, consumer spending and business capital expenditures were non-existent for growth.
Now the OMB says we will spend via government as much in the first 60 days of 2010 as spent in 2009. Wow, then we will see the ‘what”
At the cost of $250000 per new job ( naught ) and a out of control government that is spending us to poverty.. yeah… I want the mew iMac to figure my taxes. Makes my head spin.  I listen to a lot of mac podcasts and it appears most hosts have a liberal bent and believe the media hook line and sinker.
Oh, I am a fan, just had to poke at yah a bit. At least one northern state politician is moving up in the polls and it isn’t Daschle or Franken


The confusion lies in that a ‘recession’ is a specific economic term with a specific definition. It really does not have much to do with what you or I experience. By the official definition the US left the recession a couple of months back. Similarly the official unemployment rate does not count those that have given up looking. Well, in my mind those people are still unemployed but my opinion has an impact of zilch.

John Martellaro

Don’t know if this helps or meets the needs of certain graphics professionals.

Christopher Raymond

I think you left out one of the coolest features of the 27” iMac—4 RAM SLOTS!!!

John Martellaro

And Target Display Mode!!


Don?t know if this helps or meets the needs of certain graphics professionals.

Putting a film over a MacBook Pro of iMac display sounds very dicey. Get a speck of dusk or an air bubble and it is will be worse than the glare. How can such a thing be clear? It’s plastic film!

I don’t understand why Apple can’t offer a matte option for the iMac.


The confusion lies in that a ?recession? is a specific economic term with a specific definition. It really does not have much to do with what you or I experience. By the official definition the US left the recession a couple of months back. Similarly the official unemployment rate does not count those that have given up looking. Well, in my mind those people are still unemployed but my opinion has an impact of zilch.

Maybe we should take this up in the political forum….somebody want to split the recession comments off so we don’t hijack a computer thread?

But anyway you are absolutely correct. The definition of recession is negative economic growth for 3 months in a row. Period. So one tiny upward blip on that (say due to 400 billion non-existent dollars being dumped into the economy from the government) and officially it’s over. It does not matter if half the population is out of work and standing in line at soup kitchens. Any positive uptick in economic growth for any reason and the recession is officially “on the way to recovery” as the pet media likes to put it.


After much deliberation, viewing the 27 inch i7 iMac at the Apple Store and in Best Buy (they position the iMacs in front of a black wall - cleverly diminishing the potential for glare and reflection), I’ve decided NOT to purchase one for my office.

I sent feedback to Apple requesting a Matte Screen option on the iMac. That will never happen. Unfortunately.

I don’t want another MacBook Pro and the Mac Pro is either too expensive (and loud) or out of date for my needs. The quad core iMac is perfect, except for the glossy screen.

So, I’ll stick with just the MacBook Pro and hope I never need a backup computer. It is so disappointing. If only Apple would listen.

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