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Late 2013 iMac review: Faster than before, but the gains over previous models are modest

James Galbraith | Jan. 17, 2014
Back in October, we reviewed the new $1299 entry-level iMac, the first of the new iMac models that we could get our hands on. Regrettably, it took us a while to get the other three standard-configuration iMacs in the Macworld Lab to test. We finally took a good look at the rest of Apple's iMac line.

Options for the 27-inch models include the same storage choices as the 21.5-inch iMacs but add an available 3TB hard drive for $150, 3TB Fusion Drive for $350, or 1TB of flash storage for a cool $1000. The 27-inch models can also be configured with 32GB of RAM for an additional $600. The high-end 27-inch iMac can be upgraded to include a 3.5GHz Core i7 processor for $200 and graphics can be upgraded from the 2GB GeForce GTX 775M to a GTX 780M with 4GB of video RAM for an extra $150.

Late 2013 iMacs: Speedmark 9 scores

Mac model

Speedmark 9 score

iMac/3.4GHz (27-inch, quad-core, Late 2013)

235

iMac/3.2GHz (27-inch, quad-core, Late 2013)

211

iMac/2.9GHz (21.5-inch, quad-core, Late 2013)

189

iMac/2.7GHz (21.5-inch, quad-core, Late 2013)

179

Mac Pro/3.0GHz (eight-core, Late 2013)*

350

iMac/3.5GHz (27-inch, quad-core i7, 8GB RAM, 3TB Fusion Drive, 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M, Late 2013)*

326

iMac/3.2GHz (27-inch, quad-core, Late 2012)

204

iMac/2.9GHz (27-inch, quad-core, Late 2012)

201

iMac/2.9GHz (21.5-inch, quad-core, Late 2012)

180

   

*Customize to build model.

All results are scores. Higher scores are better. Stock configurations tested, except where noted. Best score in bold. Reference models in italics. — Macworld Lab testing by James Galbraith and Albert Filice.

The $1499 iMac was 5 percent faster overall than the 2012 2.9GHz quad-core Core i5 (Ivy Bridge) iMac it replaces. iPhoto, Photoshop and MathematicaMark scores were within 2 percent between these new and 2012 iMacs. The 2013 2.9GHz iMac was 20 percent faster in iMovie, thanks to improvements Intel made in its Haswell processor's Quick Sync Video feature. HandBrake encoding was 17 percent faster on the new $1499 iMac.

Interestingly, all of the new iMacs were slower than their predecessors in our folder Zip and Unzip tests. At first we thought it was the hard drive, but both the 2013 and 2012 low-end 27-inch iMacs use the same 1TB Seagate Barracuda ST1000DM003 drives. Watching at the processor utilization during the Zip test, we noticed that the test uses a single processor. We saw that while the Haswell processor in the 3.2GHz 2013 27-inch iMac would run at a higher rate than the 2.9GHz Ivy Bridge processor in the 2012 27-inch iMac (both can go up to 3.6GHz in Turbo Mode), the Haswell processor often dropped as low as 800MHz, while the Ivy Bridge processors maintained a more consistent speed — falling to 1.6GHz occasionally, but not as often as the Haswell. We also tried the Zip test with a 480GB Thunderbolt Helios +E2 drive, and the 2012 iMac was only a bit faster with the Helios, but the new iMac with Helios finished the task 130 seconds faster, in line with the older iMac. It's possible that Haswell's energy-saving features are kicking in as it waits on the slower hard drive to provide data to crunch. We're investigating this and will update this review when we have an explanation.

 

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