Welcoming the new Apple 27" iMac Core i7 to the family

December 13, 2009



This weekend, we celebrated the arrival of a new family member: a new Apple 27" iMac Core i7!

I just wanted to take a minute and post my experiences with the machine, and what led up to the purchase of this hot new piece of tech. Thanks in advance to Jeff on the help and the idea to write this in the first place. Enjoy!

Why the new iMac?

"Another new computer? Seriously?!?!"

That's a question I've been asked a few times in the past week. I know, I know: I'm not someone that lacks technology at home... Sometimes, though, having too much tech can backfire.

While it's true that I had a Mac server for storage, a Linux box for web dev & VMware sandboxing, and a gaming PC, all of those machines were getting a little long in the tooth. The Mac was a G4 Quicksilver, and couldn't run anything newer than OS X 10.4, the Linux box was maxed-out at 4GB of memory, and the gaming PC needed a CPU and video card upgrade. On top of all that, my desktop monitor was an old 20" Apple Cinema Display, connected to the gaming PC's DVI port via an ADC-to-DVI adapter box. So I had a few options: upgrade each of those components over time, or try and find one machine that could do all of the above.

When Apple announced the new 27" iMac in October, I knew I had found my machine. First, the iMac would fulfill my Mac desktop/server requirement, and the quad-core Core i7 processor is significantly more powerful than the Mac Mini lineup. Although the i7 processor was a little bit more than the i5, I wanted to squeeze every last bit of performance out of this box. Continuing with tech specs, the ability to throw 16GB of memory into the iMac would have me covered for the foreseeable future. I opted to start with 8GB, based partly on my requirements but also on the high cost of 4GB sticks. Third, since I could connect the iMac to my 13" MacBook Pro and use it as an external 27" display, that would save me from having to buy the standalone 24" Apple display — that's $900+ right there. Finally, the ATI Radeon 4850 graphics card was quite an improvement over my gaming PC's capabilities. Combine this with the quad-core i7 and 8GB of fast memory, and you've got a pretty sick gaming machine.

So not only did the new iMac serve to upgrade my old pieces of technology, but it actually allowed me to retire them all. Instead of having 3 machines and a monitor on my desk, I've got one beautiful combo machine/monitor.

The "Unboxing"

Not much to say here... In typical Apple fashion, taking your new iMac out of the box is a smooth experience. Their packaging is an exercise in simplicity: just the machine with a single keyboard/mouse/documentation/media box resting on top.

Step 1: Open the box.
Step 2: Pull out the accessory box.
Step 3: Check out the new keyboard.
Step 4: Remove the keyboard and see the screen wipe, the Magic Mouse & the docs/media.
Step 5: Remove the top styro and carefully pull out the computer. You're done.

After the iMac was out of the box, I had to stop for a minute, just to enjoy it. I knew that a 27" screen was going to be big, but I still wasn't prepared for it. As you can see from this photo, the box is really just large enough to hold the machine. For some perspective, those are my counter stools in the background, with a 27" seat height.

Getting it up and running

Jut like the unboxing, getting the iMac going is a simple process. Actually, there are only a couple steps: plug in the single power cable, connect your mouse/keyboard if wired, and hit the power button on the back left. Booyeah, just like that you're enjoying the "Welcome to OS X" Snow Leopard video from Apple.

After completing the initial account setup and configuration, we ran Software Updates to get the latest/greatest from Apple. I use Dropbox to sync common applications/installers/scripts between my machines, so that made it easy to get everything I needed installed. Certainly beats having to manually find and download each package.

We did notice a slight delay during booting, where the iMac would sit on the grey screen for 30 seconds or so before showing the Apple logo and proceeding normally. On Jeff's recommendation, we manually selected the Startup Disk in System Preferences, and subsequent reboots happened near instantaneously. Glad to get it resolved so easily, but strange to see on a new machine.

Happy that OS X was running smoothly, Jeff and I proceeded to install Windows 7 Professional via Boot Camp. Since the iMac has a 1TB internal drive, I carved out a 100GB partition for Windows, and let the installer do its thing. The entire process took about 15 minutes, but here's where we ran into our first issue. The installer seemed to hang with a black screen — no errors or anything, just darkness. Jeff diagnosed a graphics driver issue, which made sense considering the 27" iMac was brand new and pretty high resolution. We hooked up an old 15" Dell LCD monitor via the Mini DisplayPort-to-VGA adapter and were able to complete the Windows setup process. Then we installed the right drivers to let Windows see the built-in 27" display at full 2560 x 1440 resolution.

We eventually opted to run the Apple Boot Camp tool installer from Windows, and that took care of a bunch of other drivers: audio, iSight, keyboard (for the brightness and sound controls, etc), as well as networking. In hindsight, that probably would have helped with the video drivers, too. In any case, there weren't any showstoppers getting Windows 7 running on the new 27" iMac, so congrats to Apple for keeping the compatibility bar high.

Thoughts on performance, etc

This thing hauls. While I haven't run any official benchmarks yet, bootup and application launching is near instantaneous. Most of our evening was spent in Windows 7, getting the drivers sorted and playing CoD4 MW2, so I don't have much data on the Mac side of the house.

In Windows, however, the performance is ridiculous. Even Jeff was amazed at how smooth CoD4 MW2 was, especially with the dials turned up. Level loading was crazy fast, and I'm getting rock-solid-high framerates — such an improvement over the old machine.

I'll post updates as I spend more time with the machine. I'm especially looking forward to running some benchmarks in both OS X and Windows, and I'm interested to fire up a few VM's in VMware Fusion. Aperture is my daily workhorse application, of course, so I can't wait to see how that performs on this beast.

I'm hoping that my machine is free and clear of the various issues that have been plaguing some 27" iMac owners. Apparently Apple has halted future shipments of the 27" iMacs until things can be resolved. Looks like someone is keeping track of these issues, too. Fingers crossed.

In any case, at least my new desktop setup looks awesome. :)

My New Desk

You can see all the photos, from the unboxing to the setup, on my Flickr site.