Ever since I first saw what Apple calls the Retina display I was hooked. I could use non-pixel-dense displays, but after getting spoiled by the iPhone 4 there was no going back. If there’s a display in excess of a couple-hundred pixels per inch that’s all I’ve wanted to look at. But for desktop monitors that hasn’t really been practical until now and even though the iMac Retina 5K is tipping the scales at a hefty $2499 for the base model, it’s still a great value when you look at everything you get with the package.
I picked mine up this past weekend and while I could have hauled it to Louisville, I opted to leave it in Jason’s capable hands. Afterall, I’m moving back to Columbus in a little over a week and I’d just have to take it right back anyways. I got the distinct impression the iMac Retina 5K isn’t exactly flying off Apple’s shelves as I had no difficulty purchasing one online for in-store pickup that day. I debated ordering a non-base model with the upgraded CPU/GPU for an extra $500, but given Apple’s 14-day return policy I figured I could see if it suits my needs and then return it for the upgrade. Plus I’m extremely impatient when it comes to new tech and I didn’t want to wait any longer. It also gives me a chance to see if the iMac Retina 5K suffers from that ‘first-gen feel’ and give a more accurate account of what people can expect if they go for the cheapest model.
First, let’s talk about the obvious-
While it’s still the 27-inch form factor the iMac Retina 5K has a stupidly high resolution of 5120 x 2880 or for some more perspective 7 times the pixels found in a 1080p HDTV. Jason and I toyed with the floor model at the Apple store and hilariously set the resolution to this which makes the text and UI elements comically small. We’re talking buttons that appear to be about the size of a pinhead.
Realistically you’ll stick with the default 2560 x 1440 in which Apple scales up everything on the iMac Retina 5K to a more familiar size. Of course, since it’s scaled up to the same size but with higher pixel-density, that means everything looks exceedingly sharp. Lines, colors, UI elements- they all look breathtaking in a way that will leave you simply combing through those details looking for signs of a pixel, but you won’t find one. Nearly everything save for web content or 3rd party elements that haven’t been updated for higher resolution displays looks fantastic.
Text in particular pops in a way that makes anything less than a retina display look hazy and out-of-focus. Considering I spend so much time reading and creating web content using text, this was probably my favorite part of the new screen. I swear it feels like my eyes are physically less strained when I’m looking at this display and it’s almost painful looking at my more reasonable
No, the Mac’s specialty has never been and likely never will be gaming at the bleeding edge of graphical advancement. However, plenty of games do exist via the App Store and Steam that run competently and in some cases even great on the iMac Retina 5K. Before you get your hopes up, no, you won’t be playing Battlefield 4 at 5K resolution with graphics settings maxed out. It’s still rocking a fairly meager graphics card and pushing that many pixels at 60FPS (or even 30) at maximum resolution just isn’t going to happen in any playable way.
However, firing up Left 4 Dead 2 or World of Warcraft at 1080P or even 2560 x 1440 ran perfectly smooth at ultra settings and even though you’re not looking at a 5K resolution, gameplay was silky smooth, even with tons of NPC’s and enemies onscreen at once. I did notice the fan spin up a couple times but it never ran hot and performance remained snappy.
This is the primary justification I used to warrant picking up the iMac Retina 5K. We haven’t started shooting in 4K yet but at least when we do embrace that next step in visual fidelity we’ll have a machine more equipped to handle it. That being said, I reasoned that since we’re still predominantly shooting for a web audience and do most of our content in 720p, this should be more than capable and considering prior to my Mac Mini purchase last year I’d been doing most editing on a MacBook or worse, my aging 2008 iMac, it was an easy upgrade to shell out for.
I’ve not yet had a chance to cut anything in Final Cut Pro X, but will be doing a video break down of the unboxing and a review proper on our YouTube channel in the coming weeks so stay tuned for that and I’ll update this with my findings.
I’d heard some reviewers say they’d encountered stuttering when using features like Expose’ with the base iMac Retina 5K. So far I haven’t seen any of that. I don’t often have tons of applications open at once as I try (and often fail) to have a single-task sort of mindset, but just for fun I opened World of Warcraft, Spotify, Safari with a dozen or so tabs, Messages, and a few other applications to see how well it performed. Despite my best efforts I couldn’t get the system to chug at all and this was with the factory 8GB of RAM which you can easily upgrade (far cheaper) than buying through Apple.
I have a fondness for the iMac line as that’s the Apple machine that originally turned me on to Apple 5 years ago. I still have that machine and while it might not be running quite as quickly as it did when I first fired it up with OS X Leopard, it’s still going strong for the most part. But, its 24″ screen is starting to show its age and while still aesthetically pleasing it’s downright chunky compared to the 5mm thinness of the present-day iMac.
Fundamentally the design hasn’t changed all that much. It’s still a gorgeous slab of aluminum with easily accessible ports and a brilliant display. The only complaint I have is that the Magic Mouse that came bundled with mine is a bit stiffer than what I’m used to from Apple.
At the end of the day should you pick up the iMac Retina 5K? It depends. If you’re doing any type of video or image work it’s an amazing machine that will give you a more detailed look than ever at your work. However, if you don’t need the crispness of Retina, you can save yourself about $700 and still get a very capable machine with the non-retina iMac. The average consumer probably doesn’t need this machine and could save a chunk of change going for the lower-end model but be warned; Once you’ve looked upon its screen it’ll be hard to convince yourself to pass on it.