Given that no Windows all-in-one desktop manufacturer offers a model with a 27-inch display, Apple's highest-end iMac was unique and competitive even before yesterday's update. With the new, second-generation Core i5 CPU and a current, high-end AMD graphics chip, Apple has made the new iMac one of the fastest all-in-ones available.
If the all-in-one market was driven primarily by screen size and performance, the new iMac would be a clear winner, but Windows all-in-ones, especially at the high-end, have bigger ambitions. The glut of touch screens and accompanying touch software suites, Blu-ray players, and HDMI inputs, are designed to make HP's TouchSmart and Sony's Vaio all-in-ones full-fledged digital media command centers. Apple's iMac has none of those things.
Apple 27-inch iMac, spring 2011
We don't mind Apple steering the iMac away from that home entertainment market because it has directed its high-end all-in-one squarely toward digital media professionals and other more serious-minded users. Those kinds of buyers wouldn't consider an all-in-one for a touch-screen-based recipe application or passive media consumption. Instead, they'll appreciate the iMac's giant, high-resolution display, its performance, as well as its high-bandwidth Thunderbolt ports, which will make it easy to add additional monitors, and allow for much faster data transfers on and off the system.
The Thunderbolt ports are a key factor in the iMac's appeal for professionals. In addition to their ability to extend the iMac's display, their value will be measured by the first few batches of Thunderbolt-equipped peripherals. The majority of Thunderbolt device previews we've seen focus on fast data transfer and storage, as well as interoperability with professional-level video standards. We expect we'll see consumer-oriented Thunderbolt products as the standard proliferates across the computing landscape, but for now its benefits, and those of the new iMac, are more specialized.
The iMac's other customers are vanity users, those who might not make the most of the iMac's technical potential, but who like its looks, or otherwise demand a statement-making desktop. While those iMac buyers may spend time consuming media, the Thunderbolt ports, along with various available adapters, can streamline that process with the availability of HDMI and other adapters.
Our issues with the new iMac will sound familiar. As with most all-in-ones, a traditional desktop can provide superior performance, if not superior looks, for less. Apple also charges more for its hardware options than other vendors. Neither criticism is a new one, nor are they enough to dissuade us from recommending the new iMac to those who will make use of its speed, its display, and the formidable potential of its Thunderbolt ports.
Read the review of the 3.1GHz, 27-inch Apple iMac.