The Quad-Core 27-inch iMac: The Night Owl’s First Look

December 3rd, 2009

So I get a call from MacMall on Tuesday morning informing me that my custom-built iMac with the quad-core Intel i7 processor was still backordered and that I’d have to wait for another week for it to ship. Oh well, I wasn’t surprised since Apple had extended its own delivery promise from five to seven days back to seven to 10 days.

The next morning, I just happened to check the order status out of habit and found out that the computer had already been shipped and was due for delivery by 3:00 PM that afternoon. It actually arrived closer to 11:30 AM. You can say that I was pleasantly surprised.

My purchase decision was a long time coming. For many years, I spent a whole lot of money buying the latest, greatest and usually the largest Mac on the planet. I began to wonder, though, whether having a fully equipped Mac Pro, with 16GB RAM, hooked up to a 30-inch display, was more computer than I needed.

In these troubling economic times, a lot of people are downsizing in one way or another, and it my case, I had to first evaluate my workflow. Would I suffer from selling my existing gear and depending on an all-in-one Mac to handle my work without suffering from any perceived performance disadvantage?

One matter that pretty much firmed up my decision was the fact that few of the audio apps that I use regularly benefit from more than a single processor core. Sure, I know some of them will ultimately be updated to support Snow Leopard’s Grand Central Dispatch feature, which will surely accelerate some tasks. But would a single quad-core Intel processor, which, according to Apple, has the capability to “Turbo Boost dynamic performance up to 3.46GHz” and supports “Hyper-Threading for up to eight virtual cores” be sufficient to compensate?

Well, certainly Macworld’s Speedmark 6 benchmarks told a promising tale, that this new configuration was actually faster in their tests than the best of this year’s Mac Pros, and I had last year’s model.

While the situation would likely change next year, when Intel is expected to release a gussied up processor with six cores that is expected to end up in the next Mac Pro, it sure appeared that I wouldn’t be suffering from much in terms of performance.

There is the issue of expandability. Yes, the iMac has four memory slots, and can carry four 4GB RAM modules, but since they are of the smaller mobile form factor, the price of admission can be hugely expensive, with current prices from third party retailers coming in at over $900. So I opted to pay Apple an extra $200 for the 8GB setup, containing four 2GB RAM sticks. Maybe as the 4GB variety becomes more prevalent, and higher density chips come online, the price will become sensible.

However, it doesn’t look as if I’m suffering for any lack of RAM at least so far. An external 1TB FireWire 800 drive, from LaCie, will replace the additional internal drive I had on the Mac Pro.

But after reading a few troubling reports about the iMacs with Intel i7s arriving with cracked screens, you have to know that I unpacked mine very carefully and slowly. With fingers crossed, I lifted the hefty iMac from its foam housing, discovering to my endless relief that it had evidently survived the trip from the factory in Asia to MacMall’s shipping facility in Memphis and finally to my Arizona home.

The setup and migration process was pretty typical and uneventful. Earlier that morning, I had run a full clone backup of the Mac Pro’s 330GB contents to that FireWire 800 drive, so I was ready for an easy file transfer. I had expected the process to consume much of the afternoon, but it was over and done with in just shy of 90 minutes.

The rest of the setup process was also essentially normal. I had to serialize a few of my professional apps again, but my printer drivers were transferred and everything seemed intact, except for iTunes. The first time I launched it, I got a prompt that it was damaged and I had to reinstall. Go figure.

Yes, it was strange that what is probably Apple’s most important application was the only one that exhibited a problem. Otherwise, the first 24 hours proved enlightening, but no further problems occurred.

Moving from a 30-inch display to the iMac’s 27-incher turned out to be easier than I anticipated since I am really giving up only a small amount of vertical screen real estate. I was also pleasantly surprised at the gorgeous picture and outstanding clarity delivered by the LED display. And no, my friends, the presence of a glossy screen was barely noticeable in my office.

It was also incredibly bright and I turned it down roughly halfway before I used the Display preference pane to calibrate the screen. I also noticed that the few reflections I did detect were noticeably diminished once brightness was set at a level more suited to my needs.

Performance? The Core i7 iMac actually seems to handle those large audio files in a noticeably snappier fashion than with my Mac Pro. Actually saving a streamed file in MP3 format, though, took roughly the same amount of time.

Just one more thing: I set the standard Magic Mouse aside, and I am currently using my trusty Logitech MX Revolution instead. For now, I’m sticking with Apple’s keyboard — I ordered the standard aluminum model with the numeric keypad. Some things are just too hard to give up.

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21 Responses to “The Quad-Core 27-inch iMac: The Night Owl’s First Look”

  1. Andrew says:

    Sounds like a very nice system.

  2. John Fallon says:

    Unless I misread the MacWorld review, they compared the new I7 iMac to the single processor Mac Pro 2.66 or the dual processor 2.26 models; not to the dual processor 2.66 or the dual processor 2.93 models.

  3. Andrew says:

    I think the real difference is that the Mac Pro uses the server-grade Xeon processor and ECC memory, the former especially being a lot more expensive while not really being any faster. This matters for servers or scientific workstations, but likely means very little for what most of us use computers for.

    The difference between Xeon and non-Xeon processors are where most of the PC pundits claim speed parity against a Mac Pro with much cheaper systems. The Core i7 is a real rocket, but it is also a MUCH less expensive part than the Xeons in the Mac Pro.

  4. SteveP says:


    I’m hesitant to order outside of APPLE (eg Mac Mall etc.) because even though there is a slight price break – even more with TAX break! – (though my conscience is telling me I shouldn’t screw the state to try to avoid sales tax! It’s in bad shape, too!) – isn’t there still a service issue? I always thought that if you needed service you had to pack it up and send it back to Mac Mall etc. rather than being able to take it in to an Apple Store – of which I have one 10 minutes away and 2-3 more within a half hour! 🙂
    ( I’m ‘near’ Redmond!!)

    Am I wrong in this? Will you have to send your Mac away if it needs service or can you take it to your local Apple Store?


    • @SteveP, I’m not aware that it would reflect on your ability to get repairs at any authorized location.


    • Robert Morrow says:

      @SteveP, Steve, do yourself a favor and save more money by making your purchase at MacMall. Buying your computer at MacMall does not in any way effect the service issue. I am a Mac System Administrator and have purchased more than 15 Mac Pro Towers from MacMall without a single service issue. 😉

  5. javaholic says:

    IMO the decision not offer an anti glare option on the iMac is still a short sighted decision on Apples part so no sale here. Still, I’m only one customer, and these iMacs (the i7 in particular) certainly offer plenty of bang for the buck.

  6. javaholic says:

    Also Gene, you’ve written a few articles on the eventual decline of the desktop. Interesting you’ve just chosen to purchase another desktop 😉 Was a MacBook Pro ever a contender as a preference? Just curious.

  7. @javaholic, I’m glad glare doesn’t bother me, but I’m sympathetic to your plight. I absolutely agree there should be a non-glossy options for those of you who need it. The 27-inch iMac is a terrific product, but it’s all a matter of how many customers Apple is losing by sticking with glossy only. Only they know for sure.


    • Richard says:

      @Gene Steinberg,


      This sounds like a very nice machine indeed. I am pleased that the lighting in your office does not cause you problems with the screen, but I simply do not understand why Apple have made such a point of refusing to offer non-glare screens. Their attitude about this item is almost as though they were enjoying shoving a puppy’s nose in the mess he made. Very unseemly.

      I certainly will be giving the new iMacs consideration over a Map Pro when I upgrade next year, but I certainly will not be happy if I do not have the option to purchase a non-glare screen…which is what I presently use.


  8. Badboy says:

    I’ve taken apple products I bought elsewhere into the apple store and treated just as if I bought them there, both in and out of warranty.

  9. Beautiful machine. I ordered mine the day they were announced and it arrived a couple of weeks ago. It’s a beaut and a lot of fun to use.

  10. David H Dennis says:

    I never like the waits associated with mail order, so I bought the slightly slower and cheaper quad-core i5 iMac. So far, it’s the best computer I’ve ever owned – it’s superbly fast and the display is just sensational.

    You know, you can hook up your 30″ monitor to the MiniDisplayPort on the iMac. All it takes is the $99 adapter. So far, though, I really love the super-bright 27″ unit, and glare has not caused even the tiniest concern – it’s wonderfully bright and clear, and I see no glare at all once i get past about 50% brightness.

    If you have a monitor with lower resolution than the 30″, you can hook it up using the $30 adapter. I have an ancient Cinema HD Display and it hooked up just fine when I bought the adapter. It sure is a lot duller, less vibrant and less wonderfully clear, so I only use it for auxillary stuff.

    I would give the Magic Mouse a chance. The scrolling is very well designed. At first I had a hard time adjusting to the momentum-based scrolling but it’s now second nature. I was tempted to order the conventional keyboard with numeric keypad, but I really love the freedom of not dealing with any wires. To tell the truth, I like it a lot more than I expected to, even though the keyboard and mouse seem pretty hard on batteries. I have had the system for about a week, and keyboard is at 76%, mouse at 70%. So it’s likely they will last about a month of heavy use, which is worse than I thought.

    I’ve written a full review with details here.

    Hope that was of interest.


  11. SteveP says:

    Thanks, all, for comments on mail order.
    I’m not in a rush, but I did notice that Mac Connection has a really good deal on the i5 as well as no shipping or tax (in WA.)

    Not the i7, (deals on “BTO” not so good!) but maybe too good to pass up.

    Thanks again for the help.

  12. dfs says:

    I was just on the verge of springing for an i7 when I started reading a lot of bad stuff on the Web about problems with the display: not just the cracks on the lower left hand corner (which may be caused by poorly designed styrofoam for the packing or because the front plate is attached too tightly on some units) but problems with banding, intermittent blackouts, and a yellow tinge towards the bottom of the screen. Huge long string about these issues on the Apple Discussions board at I realize that people who encounter these problems are probably a small but vocal minority, but I wonder if it might be better to hold off the purchase for a few weeks until Apple straightens out the kinds of problem that can occur at the beginning of a production run and the bad units all these complainers write about having returned to Apple resurface in the refurb store. Anybody have any thoughts or advice about this? Has anybody had any experience with these issues? Gene evidently had no problems.

  13. cheater says:

    I just wanna know who you had to bribe (or worse… LOL!!) to actually get a call from MacMall telling you about your iMac order status?

    My i7 2.8GHz iMac with 8GB was ordered at 7:30 AM on 11/27/09 (Black Friday, you know) and MacMall will barely give me the time of day when I call. Online order status showed “pending” until today, when it changed to “backorder”. I’ve called Customer No-Service twice in the interim and was told first, it was due in 12/4 and then a few days ago, it had slipped to arriving on 12/14. And NOW it’s on backorder… grrrr.

    First new box I’ve purchased since my late lamented IIci in 1991 and I’m betting I won’t even see it until after Christmas, since cheap bastard that I am, I only popped for UPS ground to Atlanta.

    I just hope the delay is due to Apple selling way more of them than they anticipated, rather than a delay imposed due to addressing the flickering problem so many have reported.

  14. cheater says:

    Maybe MacMall has always liked you better? LOL!!!

    Thanks for letting me vent. I want that new box so bad I can taste it, but of course not so bad as to have ordered via a channel where I’d have to pay sales tax on it…

    Do I understand you to be saying that MacMall’s still showing your iMac as being on backorder even after you’ve received it?

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