1 Cool Thing: Apple iMac 27-Inch (2020)

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hello welcome to one cool thing here at pcmag.com where we show off the hottest hardware and other products that have come through pc labs pc labs is virtual these days i'm john burick reporting from home as is my colleague tom brandt one of our hardware analysts and uh today we want to talk about the 2020 version of the imac the apple imac all-in-one and the interesting irony here is that a big thing about the new imac is that it has some features that are optimized for working

From home so much so that tom is reporting to us from the apple imac so you can't see it because it's showing him but we'll be talking about it and showing off plenty of our photography of it as well and getting into the little details about it um so tom um you've had a few days with the imac um had a few video conferences with it done some benchmarking on it and um where should we start maybe we'll start with the components

Of the imac that's the big change here so you've got an i9 based 10 10th gen intel imac on your desk can you elaborate a bit on the processor uh changes that happened in the 2020 imac yeah so pretty much every year intel and amd come out with new processors and graphics cards and apple usually adds them to the imac this year the imac got an update with the um with the 10th generation comet lake intel core processors and you can choose from

Either two core i5s a core i7 or as you mentioned the 10 core 4i9 that we have here powering this machine which you cannot see because it's in front of me um the really the key thing to know other than you know typical slight advance and processing power is that all of these chips now that i just mentioned uh can process two instruction threads for each of the cores on the chip that's called hyper

Threading and it's something that um the previous generation did not have except for in one or two chips so that means that everyone uh who buys a new 27-inch imac whichever processor you choose you should be able to benefit from that um that hyper-threading capability that's right yeah because i believe um with intel's desktop cpu lineup last generation some of the um chip families uh dropped hyper threading where they traditionally had it like some of the i5s

And all of the i7s typically up until i believe 8th gen desktop supported hyper threading with the 9th gen um some of those fell away and only the i9 supported hyper threading so you might have for instance an 8 core processor that only supported a concurrent processing thread so it's a pretty big deal actually what apple has done here in terms of bringing hyper threading back to the line top to bottom um so you have an i9 in your machine over there so

The base model of the imac i believe and correct me if i'm wrong 17.99 for this 27 yes so the new the 27 inch imac version is the one we're talking about um that uh the base price for the for that is uh as one thousand seven hundred ninety nine dollars right so you've got um over four thousand dollars sku so what else was upgraded there the i-9 chip um what else has changed yeah so basically the difference between our um uh configuration which is more than

Four grand and the entry-level configuration is uh besides the core i9 is that we have the maxed out um graphics card which uh is in amd radeon pro that's slightly different from the radeon pro vega that was in last year's imac apple has moved to the latest uh radeon pro based on the rdna graphics architecture um the most notable thing about the maxed out version the radeon pro 5700xt is that it has 16 gigabytes of video

Memory um which uh is not the most we've ever seen but certainly for a device like this is a lot um so that adds to the cost but then the um the the other uh the main thing that's the cost is there's a new nano texture matte display option on the 27-inch imac which is trickled down from the apple pro display xdr um and basically this is a 500 option that you can select that will essentially transform the original

Glossy display that's been on the imac for a few years into a uh a finish that has a texture hence the word nano texture that prevents ambient light from hitting the um from from from washing out and adding glare to the screen whether or not that's worth 500 to you uh you know it's kind of unfortunate that that's how much it costs but if you do need that that glare reducing finish um it is now available and it's only the

Second apple product the only one of two apple products now that has that uh yeah i know it was also a pretty big markup on the xdr too right because there was a glossy version and a nano texture version um so you mentioned actually we were talking before uh this call that it would be ideal to do um video on this in the morning as opposed to later in the day because of lighting um so presumably you've got some lighting coming in off your window there how does the nano texture seem to you um

So in in this setup right here um uh i'm very well lit because there is light coming into the room from one direction that's great for video conferencing but um it actually isn't necessarily the the use case for for spending the extra 500 on the nano texture because there really isn't any light coming from from this direction and hitting the screen but apple basically says that anyone who uses the imac in a room with changing light conditions uh which is pretty much any room that

Has a window could benefit right it makes sense especially these days when we're working at home morning until night lighting conditions change you don't necessarily have the ability to control the lighting um in a home unless you're moving things around you know from uh hour to hour which with a 27-inch all-in-one typically isn't what you do so i can see how it could make sense for someone who is doing say video production work graphics production work is working in a place

Where they want to have their natural lighting and you know not have to compromise but yeah 500 bucks that's your that's the cost of doing business there so the screen itself is the retina display it's like 5120 by i forget the vertical resolution uh 2880 i think is that correct yes um that hasn't really uh customized um yeah it's not something we typically see that that 5k resolution right okay so that hasn't changed the primary change

With the display is the um the nano coding option got it yes and also there's true tone on this as well which is apple's marketing term for uh automatic white balance adjustment um it's available on the macbook and macbook air as well and that basically adjusts the white balance of the screen to the ambient light how do you find it works do you notice it or is it um subtle ideally you shouldn't notice that but a few times when it's

When the sensor is confused you will see a bit of flickering but in general um and you can always turn it off if it does that uh in general you know it makes things look a little more snazzy a little more cinematic got it so yeah in terms of um the display and the other av capabilities of the new imac one of the big things has changed as i understand is the uh the camera and whether apple planned it this way or not given uh you know what's going on in the

World these days a lot of folks working at home and spending their days in zoom conferences like we are now um the camera's been upgraded in some pretty significant ways so whether that's a you know putting quotes happy accident or not um either way it seems to be very timely um tom can you tell us a bit about what's changed with the camera and since you were looking at you on it like how are you finding us different from working on your previous laptop that you were yeah so basically the new camera on the 27

Inch imac has a 1080p sensor that means that it can shoot video at a full hd or uh 1080p uh resolution at 60 frames per second um which is a vast improvement not only over the previous imax camera but over pretty much every computer with a built-in camera which typically they typically have 720p cameras which just don't look very good and and and that's always been the case but now people are figuring that out as they're doing video conferencing

So that's why we are using this camera to um to shoot this video um basically in addition to the 1080p the camera also has a new light sensor which apple says will um eliminate the the or help reduce the problems of less light coming in uh when they increase the the resolution that means that in lower light you should um have hopefully just as good if not better um low light performance that you did with the previous camera

In addition to the camera there is also a um i should mention that the camera is basically borrowed from the imac pro the imac pro uh had a 1080p camera from the get-go and now apple is bringing it to the regular imac um they are also they've also brought the the microphone system from the 16-inch macbook pro to this uh imac and that means that you get a three mic array two of them are mounted below the screen

And then the third mic is mounted on the back of the device um and and basically that should help um reduce ambient noise um and identify your voice or whatever source you want to record and make that stand out um and and and so that's pretty much the benefits of the new mics the new mics and the the camera got it yeah i was going over some of your notes from you're working on a review this of course as we speak and uh some of the notes that you mentioned there about the capabilities

Of the camera included um face detection and how that's different from face recognition which we see on some uh windows webcams can you get into that yeah well we see face recognition not only on lots of windows laptops with cameras but also obviously uh you have face uh um face id on the iphone the the new camera uh on the imac does not do any of that um their apple doesn't have any type of face recognition for either its desktops or its laptops

But what the new camera can do um is it that it now has an algorithm that has been on iphones and ipads for a couple years which is called face detection and that basically it just as an algorithm behind the scenes that finds your face in the scene and um you know optimizes the focus and the lighting for your face rather than for this green wall behind me um and that's something that as a minor benefit there's really no hardware involved with that it's just an algorithm that's operating behind the

Scenes got it so it's more about quality of image and focus and things of that sort rather than logging you in or power saving or things like that that's right okay cool so in terms of the um audio what are your impressions of the audio subsystem there um i understand that there is some uh enhanced audio that's enabled via um tuning of the speakers yeah basically the speakers haven't changed they're still stereo speakers um but apple has put their own t2 coprocessor chip into the imac

And that takes over all of the processing for the um the audio the the mics the camera and also the encryption of the boot drive um what that means for the audio system is that basically it can it has apple's own custom design equalizer which is a variable equalizer that operates at all volume levels um and so you know when you turn it up to the maximum volume level theoretically you should experience richer bass

At those maximum volume levels um really there's not a ton of difference it still sounds really good um you know this this is definitely way better than than laptop speakers um but we have seen some other competing windows all-in-ones that have that sounded even better one current one is the hp nv32 which has a giant sound bar uh mounted integrated into the bottom that is much better it has dedicated woofers

Um and then years ago there was dell had an xps 27 um uh remember that one yeah that basically had a total of 10 speakers that obviously was better um but there just isn't a lot of investment in the high-end 20 you know large screen all in one space the 20 xps 27 is no longer available so really the audio um you know on this is perfectly good and and you know it will if not blow you away at least entertain you right yeah no i

Do remember that 27 inch xps uh that you were talking about everybody was cranking it up in pc labs that thing just getting painfully painfully loud uh to the point where i think it was disturbing people across the floor um so yeah someone could do a you know a really jazzed up high-end all-in-one one of these days and sort of throw this marker on its head it's kind of ripe for it i mean apple's you know imac here is great that the design is you know quite a few years old at this point um

So one other thing uh in sort of the details of the um the configuration that is curious or at least interesting uh is that there's an option for 10 gbps uh ethernet which is new here uh could you get into that a little bit yeah typically an ethernet port is a gigabit ethernet port these days very few um laptops have ethernet ports anymore desktops obviously do um now you instead of the gigabit

Ethernet which is standard and has been for a while you can instead opt for 10 gigabit uh ethernet which isn't gonna you know typically you're gonna have at most a gigabit download speed from your internet service provider moving to 10 gigabyte gigabits won't change that but if you have a lot of network activity if you're if you're you know working in a in a photography studio or something like that and you've got you know lots of files moving around the

Network um that there even a gigabit port could introduce a bottleneck and so that's apparently a feature that a lot of prosumers need and so apple has decided to add it this year yeah it makes sense in that if you set up a home network or a small office network with um the idea of moving around large video files in a production environment for video or graphics that you might want to move things between a whole bunch of macs right and you know all you need is a 10 gbps

Switch and the proper sort of network infrastructure to do it so that's actually something that sounds more like an imac pro feature that's in the the straight up imac now so interesting yeah i mean and the mac pro the mac pro has had multiple ethernet ports available as well so you know this is kind of bridging the gap there got it cool yeah in terms of the other ports i mean it's pretty standard stuff i mean although unlike the i

Um the macbooks you have usb-a ports on the back of this machine you can connect your legacy devices you don't have to get um usb-c converters to uh plug things in so that's that remains the same uh is there anything else worthy of note i know the sd card slot is faster or is rated for faster cards yeah there's the ultra high speed standard which which is um basically uh the standard that that defines transfer speeds for um sd cards uh they've added the latest

Version of that um which is not something that you typically see in a spec list but it now supports the uhs2 standard which is going to involve faster um let you get your images and video off of your sd card assuming it supports that faster than before got it cool yeah and the other sort of uh you know sort of core spec thing this is a maybe of interest to a subset of buyers but maybe not many right now is uh the wireless networking not being

Wi-fi six we're starting to see wi-fi six and a lot of high-end um business and some consumer laptops but it's not on this and presumably you buy an imac like this you're going to keep it for a few years do you think that's a big deal um it is a big deal if you're buying a laptop um because as you mentioned it's not as future proof because wi-fi 6 is the future i'm not as worried about it on the imac because um we have the ethernet port that we just

Mentioned and uh you know you can plug that in it's going to be set on your desk if you really need fast reliable internet in the future whatever that may be um run an ethernet cable got it fair enough um so in terms of performance you've done a bit of testing on this it's um tricky to find comparable benchmarks that will let you directly compare say this to a competing windows 10 all in one but you've done some testing using cinebench to see how the processor shakes out i mean an i9 is

An i9 so there'll be a certain amount of score inflation because of that but what were your overall impressions of um testing with i guess cpu intensive and the graphics applications that you tried well i mean that's really one area where the imac really stands out and has done for quite a while as i said there just aren't that many large screen all-in-ones um and there certainly aren't that many powerful large-screen ones um the the with the core i9 and the

Radeon pro that we have um on on a task like you mentioned uh cinebench which is basically rendering a 3d image the imac performs really really well um and and and that's mainly of note because because competing devices like the cert the microsoft surface studio 2 just do not have that amount of um of computing and graphics horsepower even that mb32 that i mentioned earlier it it uses previous generation chips so for raw performance if you need it for those cpu intensive tasks

A 10 core core i9 and an all-in-one the imac is one of the only places that you're going to find that got it yeah and also if you're on mac os and that is your sort of flow and your production flow or maybe your colleagues production flow it's kind of the only game in town anyway or the imac or the imac pro if those are your your well the imac pro basically now starts with the 10 core processor um so so so the the the entry-level configuration of the

Imac pro and this top-end imac um are are roughly the same in terms of theoretical performance obviously the imac pro uses a xeon processor instead of core i9 but that's that's the comparison there right also the other thing uh performance mods which i don't think we talked about earlier we talked about ssd capacities um i believe that this comes with a terabyte ssd and you did some uh benchmark runs on the boot drive but what's notable here is that all the skus from top to bottom are pure

Ssd now there's no more fusion drive right yep and that's one other thing that sets the imac apart now from windows competitors like the nv32 which has a combo drive in the base configuration of a solid-state drive a small solid-state drive and a larger hard disk drive which is much slower than just using an ssd well that said i mean i would actually argue that perhaps having the option for a secondary hard drive you know might not be a bad thing depending on

Your workspace setup and whatnot i mean you can always attach thunderbolt 3 external if you need more space um but this is a big machine and you know probably being able to throw a laptop size you know four terabyte driving every night so do you know anything about the upgradability of this or is that um pretty much a non-starter with this user upgradability yeah no you can't really access any of the components it's sealed shut um that that that hard disk kind of was the last

User accessible component now that that's no longer in there you buy what you get is what you what you buy is what you get got it right so everything's just gonna be an external box or component at this point um thunderbolt 3 is that on the machine i assume it is right so you could yeah an array there are many thunderbolt 3 ports there are enough thunderbolt 3 ports that you will not be missing them on the island fair enough so oh as i understand we were talking about this earlier as well that the thunderbolt 3s could also be

Used for something else which is um chaining off external displays such as the pro display xdr so you can use uh that as a video output as well as just a you know data conduit yeah yeah okay so you could i believe run up to two pro display xtr of course you'll run out of money before you do any of this but you could conceivably do two produce pro pro display xdrs off this machine you could in order to do that you do need to upgrade to the highest level radeon pro 5700 xt that enables the support for

Connecting two external 6k displays which is what the pro x uh pro display xdr is got it okay so you're basically buying an upgraded version of this so you can attach those to well it's only money at that point right i mean you're already in the hole for 10 grand for the monitors plus the stands and then the uh you know the actual upgraded imac is a mere trifle compared to that right i mean you could find another 6k monitor again like the imac there aren't that

Many 6k monitors but it doesn't have to be the pro display xdr but that's that's the likely use case right fair enough yeah i mean i will get back to you on that after i win the new york state lottery um cool so anything else um you would like to get into on this machine here i mean one thing that you had cited when we were discussing this before is that there's sort of a trickle-down effect going on here right from other apple products yeah don't buy the configuration that we have here this

Four thousand dollar unless you really need that performance if all you want is a big uh a big all-in-one with a really really nice 5k display and a 1080p camera so your co-workers can see all of your imperfections in your face just get the entry-level model and maybe think of springing for the extra nano texture display if you want to that will serve you perfectly well um the imac really is the best option for that and it's the best option as you're mentioning for that overlap zone between

The imac pro and the prosumer use case so um you know pay attention if you don't have to spend four thousand dollars uh to get the the the configuration that would suit you best gotcha yeah i mean that's the good thing about this machine is that a lot of the the cool stuff in there so to speak is standard issue the display um you know being the retina display the upgraded camera you know the ssd only um you know uh data storage sort of architecture now

And uh some of the other stuff you know the peripherals presumably also are um standard issue you know even at the 1799. so you're getting a pretty high quality machine from you know the bottom level and that base model is less than half of what our tester was so cool any other uh observations on um the 2020 imac you'd like to make before we wrap it's great for working from home well i'll say uh you know you're looking good over there so you know i can't

Argue with the camera so there we go well great tom thank you for giving us the rundown we'll have a full review up shortly on pcmag.com of the 2020 imac and looking forward to showing you more cool stuff in the coming days thanks very much folks


1 Cool Thing: Apple iMac 27-Inch (2020)





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