Apple iMac 5K 27-inch (2019) Assessment: Appears to be like like 2012, Performs like 2020

"Its design has aged, but the 5K iMac is an incredibly powerful all-in-one."

  • Core i9 is super fast

  • Better GPU options

  • Classic, beautiful design

  • Outstanding build quality

  • Weird configuration options

  • Huge bezels, non-adjustable stand

The iMac is one of the most iconic designs of all time. Instead of changing its formula for success, Apple hasn't changed much over the years. From screen size to design, everything will be frozen in 2015 – with the exception of the components inside.

With the new 8-core Core i9 processor in our $ 3,000 configuration, the latest iMac is more powerful than ever. And with a price range below the iMac Pro, it could finally be the update that creative professionals have been waiting for. But can the iMac's design cope with the insane performance of the chips that Apple has?

Wait what year is it

You can look at the photos of this brand new iMac and wonder what year it is. We don't blame you if you can't tell it apart from its predecessor. Other than the screen resolution, you probably couldn't differentiate it from the 2012 model.

Dan Baker / Digital Trends

Seven years may be a long time to devote to a design, but Apple doesn't want to bring out new designs on its desktops. The Mac Pro has not been updated since 2016, and even the iMac Pro looked no different. Apple focuses far more on its iPhones than on Macs.

Still, the 5K iMac looks great. If nothing else, it shows how far the original design was ahead of its time. The frame and housing are made entirely of solid aluminum, as is the integrated stand and base. As we expect from Apple products, the build quality is second to none. The Surface Studio 2 with its aluminum design and fancy hinge is the only competitor that looks better and feels better.

Despite its age, the iMac is also thin. Some all-in-one desktops like the Surface Studio 2 or the Lenovo A940 have much thinner monitors. However, this is because the guts of the computer have been moved to the base. The footprint of the iMac is small and elegant and overall compact.

While Apple is pushing ahead with the removal of the iPhone's bezels, the 2019 iMac seems happy with the extra fat.

However, it is quite large for a 27-inch monitor. This is thanks to the huge bezels and the oversized chin. While Apple is pushing the iPhone away from its bezel, the 2019 iMac seems happy with the extra fat. One of the side panels of the iMac is thicker than all panels of the XPS 13 combined. It does not look good.

On the back of the computer, everything still looks what you expect, including a latch for a RAM upgrade. Unlike the new iMac Pro, you can later upgrade your system's memory to up to 64 GB (or 32 GB for the basic configuration). It's a good option to think about how expensive Apple's initial surcharge is.

There is a Kensington lock under the power and RAM latch. In the meantime, the connections are on the far left and the power switch on the far right. You will also receive four USB-A 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports, an SDXC card slot, a Gigabit Ethernet socket and a 3.5 mm socket for headphones / microphone. The Thunderbolt 3 connections also serve as a display output.

Dan Baker / Digital Trends

It's a wide range of ports, but Apple clearly wanted to change as little as possible. It's not like Apple stores the larger amounts of USB-C ports for pro experiences like the iMac Pro or the MacBook Pro. Let's not forget that even the Mac mini has four Thunderbolt 3 ports. Most people don't mind, but for those who want to use multiple displays, you may be running out of USB-C ports. It is still way ahead of the competition, but given how hard Apple pushed the introduction of USB-C, it's a disappointment.

The iMac's port location is also not the best. Although this ensures a clean desk, we miss quick access to things like an SD card reader or headphone jack that most desktops or external monitors offer.

5K is still invincible

Despite its chunky frame, the 5K iMac has a fantastic display. It was a standard bearer when it first appeared years ago, and it is no less impressive to sit in front of it in 2019. With a 16:10 resolution of 5,120 x 2,880, it offers a display that is so sharp that pixels themselves are never visible if you sit too close to the screen.

However, the 5K iMac has some competition these days. The 4: 500 x 3,000 3: 2 screen of the Surface Studio 2 is just as sharp and offers you a little more vertical space for working. In addition, it's the touchscreen, a nice feature for artists and designers.

The iMac and Surface Studio 2 also go from head to toe in other areas. The studio has a slightly higher contrast and a slightly higher brightness (for a retina with 524 nits), while the iMac has a color gamut with 100 percent sRGB and 93 percent AdobeRGB color spaces. No matter how you cut it, these are some of the best displays you can get. In this sense, the iMac is still a photographer's best friend and ensures that every pixel is color accurate.

The stereo speakers on the back are great. They won't take the place of a decent set of computer speakers, and they're not as good as the iMac Pro speakers. However, they fill a room well and even provide a subtle bass when playing music. Many owners will get along without ever feeling forced to buy better sound.

There is a strange omission in the specification list; Apple's T2 coprocessor. It stores encrypted data on a separate processor to protect it. Without the T2, the iMac Siri does not always support. I'm sure this isn't a deal breaker for many, but it would make sense to always have "Hey Siri" language support, as we'll find that in pretty much every other Apple product in 2019.

The fastest iMac ever

If you can't say it yet, we're a little sad that Apple hasn't given the iMac a thorough design update. In terms of performance, however, this new version is undisputedly modern. Apple has updated both processors and graphics cards on all versions of the iMac, except for the base model for $ 1,099, which still uses a 7th generation dual-core processor.

All other models now have the latest Intel processors, from a Core i3 with four cores to a Core i9 with eight cores. This Core i9 processor is particularly interesting because its number of cores corresponds to the Intel Xeon W of the cheapest iMac Pro. The Turbo Boost clock rate of 5 GHz is particularly impressive.

Our configuration we bought had the Core i9 processor and 16 GB of RAM. We were curious to see how this insanely powerful processor, which is usually reserved for large gaming desktops, works in a much smaller all-in-one design.

Geekbench's results are promising. They are slightly behind the gaming desktops that we tested on the same chip. However, this makes sense because the iMac is smaller and offers a less powerful thermal solution. Both the single-core and the multi-core evaluation are impressive, especially when you consider how quiet the system remains at full load.

We also used the Core i9 iMac for some challenging tasks. In the first place was Handbrake, where we encoded a 4K video in H.265 (x265), which took about a minute and a half. It's not as fast as the Origin Chronos or even the Alienware Area-51m gaming notebook, but almost 30 seconds faster than the Core i9-7980XE that we found in our Alienware Area-51 last year. This is a 165 watt processor with 18 cores. The Core i9 iMac destroyed it.

Finally, we wanted to try out some video edits on the iMac as this is an important population for the system. In Adobe Premiere, we rendered a two-minute ProRes 422 4K video in just eight minutes and 19 seconds. For our 15-inch MacBook Pro 2017 with its Core i7-7820HQ processor, which processes exactly the same rendering, it took exactly 20 minutes. It happens to be the same chip that Surface Studio 2 uses. The 2017 Core i5 iMac performed slightly better in the same rendering at 13 minutes and 27 seconds, but is around 38 percent slower than the Core i9.

Dan Baker / Digital Trends

The Core i9 iMac is less expensive and most likely more powerful than the 8-core iMac Pro. This is a huge success, especially because the iMac uses the same single-fan cooling system that it always has. It looks like the company has learned something from its previous attempt to integrate a Core i9 processor into the 2018 MacBook Pro.

One thing that Apple ignored, however, is the entry memory. All versions of the iMac come standard with a 1 TB Fusion drive, a mechanical hard drive with a small SSD cache. This is disappointing given the price of even the most basic iMac configurations. The Mac Mini also contains a standard SSD.

That's why we configured ours with a 512GB SSD for an additional $ 200. It came as no surprise that it reached rapid speeds. It is even faster than the Mac Mini's excellent SSD, this time with an average write speed of 1,880 MB / s and a read speed of 2,649 MB / s. Applications open at lightning speed and data transfers are faster than ever.

It can play games safely

The 5K iMac has several graphics card options, all of which are provided by AMD. The 2019 update increases the default options for Radeon Pro to "X", which should result in slightly higher graphical performance. We chose the Radeon Pro 580X, which is included as standard in the Core i9 configuration. As far as we know, it is a small upgrade from the previously offered 580.

There aren't many games that can be tested on MacOS without installing Windows, but there are some popular options. The first thing we tried was Fortnite. For fun we tried to play with the native 5K resolution, which was not possible. After lowering the resolution to 4K at medium settings, we finally reached a playable average frame rate of 36 FPS. At high graphics settings and 1080p, we saw an average of 75 FPS. That is fun.

Civilization VI was a little less impressive. Even at 1080p, we had to lower the settings to medium to get over 40 FPS. This corresponds to a GTX 1050 Ti. In contrast, the GTX 1070 in Surface Studio 2 with an average of 82 FPS in Civilization VI at 1080p offers much better game potential.

Also new is the option to upgrade to the more powerful Vega 48. However, this will cost you an additional $ 450. This GPU option would undoubtedly result in a better slot machine, but it's an expensive add-on that doesn't make sense to most people.

Peripherals are a missed opportunity

Another thing that hasn't changed is the included peripherals. You will continue to receive the Magic keyboard and Magic Mouse 2. The keyboard is fine, although some workstation professionals will miss the numeric keypad. The keys are nice and clicking, and the layout is familiar if you've used a MacBook.

However, the Magic Mouse 2 is much less forgivable. It's extremely uncomfortable and the lack of a right click feels silly. It only took us a few days to give up and switch to the Magic Trackpad, which is a far better solution. It's worth the extra $ 50, trust us.

The opportunity missed here is more than just comfort. It's also about functionality. The iMac still lacks any kind of biometric authentication. A few years ago that might not have been a problem. Today it feels like a misstep. Despite the FaceID and TouchID technology, Apple has not released a keyboard or camera that enables fast and secure login for the iMac.

Our opinion

Apple's lack of iMac design updates feels lazy. The look is dated, the peripherals are missed opportunities, and even some of the configurations offer unfortunate standard equipment, like the Fusion Drive. Mac fans deserve it better.

However, the performance gains of our $ 3,000 Core i9 iMac are hard to ignore. You should spend at least $ 2,000 on a solid iMac, but that's not a bad thing considering how much power is available here. The 5K screen continues to be a top-notch display and will remain outstanding in the years to come.

Are there alternatives?

The iMac Pro is the obvious choice, but only if you're considering the Core i9 iMac. The components of the iMac Pro workstation class have their place. However, if you're a video editor, photographer, designer, or music producer, the Core i9 iMac is a more sensible, high-performance option.

The Surface Studio 2 is the other serious competitor, although it doesn't have the computing power to compete with the Core i9 iMac. Whatever it loses in speed, it gains versatility thanks to its touchscreen and focuses on the use of pens in applications such as Illustrator or Photoshop. Despite the similarities with the iMac, Microsoft is aiming for a different kind of creative professional with the studio.

How long it will take?

The 5K iMac should last a long time. The screen resolution, build quality, port selection and processing power make for a system that can control your work for at least four or five years.

Apple has better guarantees and support than most PC manufacturers. It comes with a one-year limited warranty and up to 90 days of free technical support. This is not too exciting, but AppleCare + extends it by three years and provides coverage for accidental damage of up to two years.

Should you buy it

Yes. This is still a great desktop for creatives who need serious performance to run their workstation.

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