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By Jason Snell

Apple revises iMac line, adds 21.5″ Retina 4K model

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

The new 21.5″ 4K Retina iMac, with a 27-inch model lurking behind.

On Tuesday Apple announced a revision to its entire iMac product line, with a new 21.5-inch iMac with 4K Retina Display and the conversion of the entire 27-inch iMac line to the 5K model, all while retaining the line’s six previous price points. Apple also announced three new input devices: the Magic Keyboard and the Magic Trackpad 2 and Magic Mouse 2.

I’ve spent the last few days with the iMac, and you can read my review of the 21.5-inch iMac with 4K Retina Display over at Macworld. If you want to hear me talk about the new products in depth, check out the just-posted episode 58 of Upgrade.

21.5-inch iMacs, topped by a 4K model

The new 21.5-inch iMac fills the $1499 slot in the iMac product line. For that price, you get a gorgeous 4096-by-2304 pixel screen1 driven by Intel 6200 integrated graphics, a 1TB hard drive, and a 3.1GHz quad-core i5 processor. All the 21.5-inch iMacs are using fifth-generation Intel Core processors, otherwise known as Broadwell. According to Apple, they can’t use the newer sixth-generation Skylake processors because those don’t yet come in a version with integrated graphics.

As I mention in my Macworld review, this model’s biggest flaw is that hard drive, a slow 5400rpm spinning platter. As someone who’s been using flash storage or Fusion Drives for the past few years, it was shocking to see just how sluggish the iMac was at certain actions. The hard drive is clearly the slowest thing about the iMac—and it’s a shame Apple couldn’t figure out a way to include a Fusion Drive in the base price. Instead, you’ll need to pay an extra $100 to get an Fusion Drive with 24GB of flash2 to go along with 1TB of spinning-disc storage.

There is some very good news for those people who pungle up for flash storage: Following the lead of the recent update to the MacBook Pro, all these new iMacs can support 4 lanes of PCI and have faster storage controllers, leading to what Apple says is a “2.5 times” increase in SSD speeds.

Though the $1099 and $1299 configurations of iMac don’t have the snazzy 4K Retina display, they’ve also been updated. As previously mentioned, the processors are all Broadwell, a 1.6GHz dual-core i5 in the $1099 model and a 2.8GHz quad-core i5 in the $1299 version. As before, that means there’s going to be a major performance difference between the $1099 and $1299 models. All the models come with 8GB of 1867MHz LPDDR3 RAM standard, but you can pay extra to upgrade it to 16GB.3 And these models all gain support for Thunderbolt 2 for the first time.

Here’s the skinny on the three 21.5-inch iMac models:

$1099: No Retina, 1.6GHz dual-core i5 (Broadwell), Intel HD Graphics 6000. Upgrade options: RAM to 16GB, 1TB Fusion Drive, 256GB SSD.

$1299: No Retina, 2.8GHz quad-core i5 (Broadwell), Intel Iris Pro Graphics 6200. Upgrade options: RAM to 16GB, 1TB Fusion Drive, 2TB Fusion Drive, 256GB SSD, 512GB SSD.

$1499: Retina, 3.1GHz quad-core i5 (Broadwell), Intel Iris Pro Graphics 6200. Upgrade options: 3.3GHz quad-core i7, RAM to 16GB, 1TB Fusion Drive, 2TB Fusion Drive, 256GB flash storage, 512GB flash storage.

27-inch iMacs go all Retina

Say goodbye to the non-Retina 27-inch iMac. After debuting above the top of the line last fall and taking over the top two spots in the iMac price list this spring, the Retina 5K iMac now holds down all three slots in the 27-inch iMac line.

These new 27-inch iMacs are all running sixth-generation Intel Core processors, otherwise known as Skylake, and offer discrete AMD Radeon GPUs. 8GB of 1867MHz DDR3 RAM is standard, but it’s configurable or user upgradeable to up to 32GB. While the cheapest configuration still suffers with a stock spinning hard drive, the other two models come standard with Fusion Drives. (Previously the $1999 configuration came with a spinning disc drive, so this is progress.)

Like the Retina 4K iMac, all these Retina 5K iMacs feature a display with an expanded color gamut. Apple says that these new displays can show 25 percent more colors, covering 99 percent of the P3 color space. Most of the improvement is in the red and green color areas, and as someone who’s red-green color blind, I am probably not the most fit to judge the differences. However, when Apple showed me sample images in both color spaces, I was able to discern differences in detail and color variation in greens and reds. I’m not sure the average person would notice the difference beyond a general feeling of increased vibrancy, this will be a great feature for people in photography, video, design, and other industries where representing color correctly matters a great deal.

Here’s how the 27-inch models stack up:

$1799: 3.2GHz quad-core i5 (Skylake), Radeon M380 (2GB), 1TB 7200rpm hard drive. Upgrade options: 16GB or 32GB of RAM, Radeon M395X (4GB), 1TB Fusion Drive, 2TB Fusion Drive, 3TB Fusion Drive, 256GB SSD, 512GB SSD.

$1999: 3.2GHz quad-core i5 (Skylake), Radeon M390 (2GB), 1TB Fusion Drive. Upgrade options: 16GB or 32GB of RAM, 4.0GHz quad-core i7, Radeon M395X (4GB), 2TB Fusion Drive, 3TB Fusion Drive, 256GB SSD, 512GB SSD, 1TB SSD.

$2299: 3.3GHz quad-core i5 (Skylake), Radeon M395 (2GB), 2TB Fusion Drive. Upgrade options: 16GB or 32GB of RAM, 4.0GHz quad-core i7, Radeon M395X (4GB), 3TB Fusion Drive, 256GB SSD, 512GB SSD, 1TB SSD.

  1. No, you can’t use these any of these Retina iMacs as external displays in Target Display Mode. Don’t even think about it. 
  2. Apple has cut the amount of flash storage on the 1TB Fusion Drive option to 24GB and reduced the price of the option. The 2TB and 3TB Fusion Drive options come with 128GB of flash storage, and those configurations are a better idea for people who tend to use very large files. 
  3. As before, the 21.5-inch iMac doesn’t come with a door for user access to memory, so you can’t easily add it later. 

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