final rating

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Criteria Comments Rating
  • Speed and features i7-2600 + 6970M in a $3.3K desktop = a slightly bad joke. Couple that to system instability = slightly worse joke. poor
  • Design and form factor Classic aluminium Apple lines - sleek, minimalist, unisex-decor-friendly with all-in-one convenience. great!
  • Expandability Thunderbolt provides (relatively limited scope for a desktop) the sole upgrade potential once you've maxed out the HDD bays. so-so
  • Noise Not actually *that* noisy, but not as silent as claimed by some major reviews either so-so
  • Size and weight n/a so-so
  • Power consumption n/a so-so
Detailed review
Having anticipated no worthwhile update for the Pro, consequently I test-switched a couple of my Pros to iMacs quite recently - as I saw increasingly little point in buying what was even originally a slightly crippled workstation (in comparison to actual professional tools such as the HP Z800) which has seen no subsystem updates in basically three years, rendering it a dinosaur regardless of any desultory CPU updates. And given what has transpired post-WWDC, I can now really see the meaning of the phrase "Inbetween a rock and a hard place".

Given the signal sent by Apple by the state of the Pro as of the time of writing of this review, it's clear that Apple does expect all Apple users to regard the iMac as a viable desktop given the essential non-update of the Pro. And that really means an "Eff you" to anyone who is actually a professional user of a computer - and from my perspective that is someone who makes fairly strenuous demands from a computer, knows what they are using and realises what actually makes a particular computer an effective tool. The iMac is firmly a low-end-duty consumer computer, regardless of its specs - it is unstable at sustained high loads, and it is unstable in higher (but still perfectly human-tolerable) ambients.

The rock - an unstable, but current computer engineered with students and hausfrauen in mind.
The hard place - a slightly more stable, but antiquated computer where the subsystems lag well behind, furthermore the system being not as expandable as it promises to be.

$3350 buys you (and *did* buy me, as the iMacs I purchased are maxed-out Build To Order's) a display that I need to use in a blackout tent if there are any dark colours on the screen, and a core system that's destroyed for performance, realistic expandability, utility and above all, stability by e.g. a Dell business-lite desktop equipped with the same CPU, a performance SSD + HDD and a slot-powered Radeon paired with an actually practically usable version of the iMac panel totalling at least a thousand bucks less. Not, I would posit, the last word in value even if you do take into account the excellent design and attention to detail of the iMac's body.

The Thunderbolt expansion options are largely limited to storage at this time (and not Boot Camp compatible) - but it works pretty well (barring some hiccups) on the iMac. Using the Promise array, though the entire shebang ends up taking up practically as much room as a workstation it is possible to equip the iMac with a decent array of high-performance drives in addition to the built-in SSD + HDD.

Among one of the reviews - and actual critical reviews for Apple products are hard to come by as they invariably read more like fanboi love-ins - was Anand's describing the iMac as "too quiet". While the iMac is pretty quiet in absolutes, it is nevertheless only very slightly quieter (measured vent-on at the same distance) than some heavy-duty workstations and desktops I use. And of course, while a minitower can be set apart from you by some distance and live under the desk, the iMac is right in front of your face - so any noise it makes is far more noticeable. Consequently I can't call it silent. In fact, between the silence-specced (but still of a Mac Pro-crushing level of performance) Windows workstation and the air-cooled but silent running DIY equipped with the same CPU but a far better GPU, the iMac has the highest relatively perceivable noise level in my dead silent home office. To be fair though, since all these comparisons are rendered moot when I power on the Mac Pro with it's (relatively speaking) almighty racket, it is correct to say the iMac is the quietest desktop of a reasonable performance that Apple makes.

EDIT: After using it in various locations, the Pro is generally actually quieter than the iMac. The HDD is the particular culprit in terms of vibration noise transmitted to the desk, but the fluctuating cooling also makes itself fairly prominent as well.

Having said all that, it is undoubtedly a very pretty computer. And makes a very tidy setup possible.

I can recommend it highly if you like pretty, tidy and not actually noisy desktops with large screens and don't really do anything of any particular consequence. In other situations... My recommendation might not be as enthusiastic.
review history
Noise rating changed from 4 to 3
Updated detailed review