Graphics: A substantial bump

There are three new GPUs in the new iMacs: the AMD Radeon 6750M, 6770M, and 6970M. Unlike their desktop counterparts, the 6750M and 6770M are true 6000-series GPUs, and not just rebadges of the 5750 and 5770 (though, as always, making direct comparisons between desktop and mobile parts remains difficult).

On the entry-level iMac, the 256MB Mobility Radeon HD 4670 has been replaced by a 512MB Radeon HD 6750M – you get double the graphics memory, a switch from GDDR3 to GDDR5, DirectX 11, OpenGL 4.1, and OpenCL 1.1, as well as Eyefinity+ and UVD3 and the other Radeon 6000-series niceties. For gamers, this should substantially improve performance, especially if you’re interested in trying to game at the 21.5” iMac’s native 1920x1080 resolution.

Moving up the chain to higher-end models, the 512MB 6770M isn’t as big a step up from the previous generation’s 512MB Mobility Radeon 5670 – like the desktop cards, the 6770M is essentially a higher-clocked and gently tweaked revision of its previous-generation counterpart, and higher clocks are likewise all that separate it from the 6750M. You pick up UVD3, but a lot of the on-paper specs are the same. It’s still an improvement over the previous generation, but compared to the low end and (as we’ll see) the high end, it’s not as substantial.

And, finally, we’ve arrived at the high end 27” iMac, which gets a 1GB 6970M to replace last year’s 1GB Mobility Radeon 5750. The 5750 is more or less a midrange graphics part – the mobility 5600 and 5700 series GPUs all share the same core, codenamed Madison – but the 6970M is a true high-end part, complete with a 256-bit memory bus (compared to a 128-bit bus for the 5750) and more than double the shaders (960 in the 6970 versus 400 in the 5750). This, again, will drastically improve the new iMac’s utility as a gaming machine – the 6970M is much more capable of driving the 27” iMac’s 2560x1440 pixel display. Update: Further research has revealed that the 5750 that shipped in last year's iMac was in fact a rebadged member of the mobility 5800 series using the "Broadway" core instead of the "Madison" core used in Mobility 5600 and 5700 parts. The 5800 series has 800 shaders and not 400, so while the bump in the new 2011 iMac is still a decent one, it's not as monumental as previously reported.

For the 27” models with two Thunderbolt ports, the 6000-series GPUs will also enable the use of three displays simultaneously, which will be handy for the Final Cut and Photoshop junkies who often invest in the higher-end iMacs.

Lion-Ready

The last thing I want to talk about is the subtle factor looming over these refreshed computers: Lion.

OS X 10.7 is supposed to bring a lot of iOS features “back to the Mac” when it releases this summer, and since these Sandy Bridge Macs are going to be the first computers the new OS ships on, we’re seeing some preparation for it on the hardware end.

To drive the iOS inspired touch enabled features, each new iMac can come bundled with either the touch-enabled Magic Mouse or the Magic Trackpad at no extra cost (it’s your choice – the Magic Mouse is the default option). The vanilla Apple Mouse is still a selectable option, but will save you no money compared to its touch-enabled counterparts, which are more expensive at retail.

Apple is also beginning to push SSDs in its laptops to replicate the quick boot and shutdown times of iOS, and we’re beginning to see that in the new iMacs – while none of the computers include an SSD by default, you can configure all but the entry level to include a 256GB SSD as either the primary hard drive or a secondary drive. Characteristically, Apple hasn’t posted anything about the manufacturer of this drive or its controller – Apple uses Toshiba SSDs in the Sandy Bridge MacBook Pros, and recently switched to Samsung SSDs for the MacBook Airs, but there’s really no telling exactly what these iMacs are packing until it’s in your hands.

To replace the mechanical hard drive with a 256GB SSD costs a whopping $500 ($600 to get the SSD and keep the mechanical hard drive as well), though that’s not too far above the market price for an SSD at this capacity. Also note that, at this point, TRIM only seems to be enabled in OS X for SSDs direct from Apple – even if you can put in an SSD as an aftermarket upgrade, you may not be as satisfied with its performance. This may change in Lion, but we have no solid evidence to that effect.

Conclusions

With this refresh, Apple has done what Apple typically does: offer faster hardware in a similar physical package while maintaining price points across the board. Quad core processors and beefier dedicated GPUs make these better buys, relatively speaking, than last year’s models, but the iMac is still the iMac: a midrange-to-high-performance all-in-one with a high-quality display. Today’s upgrades do nothing to change the iMac lineup on a fundamental level.

That is to say, if you were in the market for an iMac already, congratulations! Today’s iMac is faster and more capable than yesterday’s iMac on all fronts. If an iMac isn’t what would best suit your purposes, though, today’s update won’t do much to change your mind unless you were looking for better gaming performance on the low and high ends.

For more about the nitty-gritty on the new iMac's performance and internals, keep an eye out for our in-depth review in the coming weeks.

Specs and CPUs
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  • edsib1 - Wednesday, May 4, 2011 - link

    so u pay $2000 for ur mac and then have to revert back to windows to play a blu-ray.

    Nothing more needs to be said. Its nice of Steve Jobs to decide what you might want to do on your pc without asking you...
    Reply
  • royalcrown - Friday, May 6, 2011 - link

    Really if I can afford 2000.00 for my mac, I can't afford 100.00 for windows ?!

    Yeah, and MS never limits you...hmmm signed drivers, upgrade to DX10 requires Vista. Plus until vista, windows didn't play DVD's without 3rd party either.

    OSX probably NEVER will suppurt Blu ray tillJobs dies. Still, both machines are good and have good and bad points.

    If you want ALL of the OS features you have to buy the ULTIMATE version. If you want to compain about price: win 7 home premium retail $179.99...Ultimate 259.00 ...Snow leopard $30.00

    Plus until vista, windows didn't play DVD's without 3rd party either. OSX probably NEVER will suppurt Blu ray till jobs dies. Still, both machines are good and have good and bad points.
    Reply
  • royalcrown - Wednesday, May 4, 2011 - link

    All you people that say macs can't do "x..." are full of bs and have likely never owned one. I can play MODERN games on my iMac just fine (are Bulletstorm and Dawn of War: Retribution not current enough ?!). The only real "lag" so far has been MS FSX on "ultra"; is it as fast as a full on desktop ? No. However, Win 7 runs great and I can and DO game.

    Now before the flamers label me a "mac" something fanboy, my Prior system was an e8600 running on an EP45-UD3R with 8 gigs and a 1 gig 4890 that I gave to my friend to replace his junkbox.

    You know why I upgraded... because the mac doesent take up the TON of space that my Cooler Master tower did, I still have a large screen (27), and it is DEAD quiet (in the bedroom). No more vacuum cleaner sound from 120mm fans or XFX radeons is AWSOME, being able to hear music or play games and not have to turn it up to drown out crap is great.

    * Posted from iMac running Win 7
    Reply
  • joe_dude - Wednesday, May 4, 2011 - link

    But weaksauce for a desktop. 4 GB RAM? 1 TB hard drive? It's 2006 all over again.

    I'll wait for the Anandtech review, but it should be fast enough to play games at medium settings.
    Reply
  • ananduser - Wednesday, May 4, 2011 - link

    Since AT made some well researched reviews of the MAC platform, as limited as it may be hardware wise by OSX, scores of the naive kind of mac users(the ones that proactively praise the platform in the same time they ridicule the WinPC) have rushed the comment section of this glorious site. What they don't understand is that this is not the averages user's site, but the poweruser's site or hardcore user's(of both camps) site. Yet they come here lambasting the thoroughness with which PC users maintain their hardware, while praising their detached demeanor in relation with the "superior" mac hardware. I cannot help to observe the irony of their idiocy. Reply
  • marioyohanes - Wednesday, May 4, 2011 - link

    I used PC & Windows (and Linux) for like 15 years, I had fun with it, from national overclocking competition, asian to international overclocking competition with dozens of big companies as my sponsor. Then I moved to gaming competition, from Warcraft 3, DoTA and World of Warcraft in national & international events. My job? I'm a system architect designing a worldwide system involved biometric matching. So, Yes, I'm a power user who knows how to code an operating system and I know a lot about gaming & pc overclocking.

    I switched to Mac ecosystem after I got my job simply because I can't stand anymore with crappy Windows, anti virus, headache synchronization with my gadgets and not to mention I have to deal with multiple vendors to claim warranty for every pieces of hardware attached to my computer. I simply DON"T HAVE ENOUGH TIME FOR THAT ANYMORE.

    Apple is selling integrated system, like IBM in enterprise world. Do you think a big company like AT&T willing to assemble their servers by their own just to cut several millions in hardware? No! They will choose integrated system, where they can dial one number to complaint about everything on their data centre. Because they don't have enough time to deal with that.

    So, both PC & Mac users are equally great, just prefer different taste, that's why we should stop this whole PC vs Mac thing, it will never go anywhere.

    I'm happy working with my 15" Sandy Bridge MBP, old iMac at home, 13" MBA for travel and some of my iOS devices. I don't even use blackberry, because I love how Apple manage their devices to work and get connected seamlessly with each other. That's what I want from paying premium Apple taxes, and I enjoy it.
    Reply
  • ananduser - Thursday, May 5, 2011 - link

    You don't have to buy the PC by parts. You want integrated system you can buy PCs from various vendors(Sony Vaios, top end Dells,HPs, Lenovos etc) or specialized boutiques(like Maingear). Maingear for example is so streamlined that all you have to do is choose the parts and order. They will assemble it, install Windows for you or not, ship it, and if you have Win preinstalled on one of their BTO laptops, it is BLOAT FREE. You also have tech support assured and you can pay for additional support same as AppleCare.

    But you said crappy windows, so if it is crappy for you it's all for naught. Just don't make it seem like the ONLY WAY to own a PC is to build it yourself. You should have known that.
    Reply
  • XiZeL - Thursday, May 5, 2011 - link

    Unfortunately the people that read this kind of sites are tech savy technology enthusiasts.
    The target customer for mac is a mainstream user that wants an easy t use and nice looking pc without any hassle and the feeling that they have a top of the line equipment due to good marketing strategies.

    So yes we are happy that anand does post these articles, because we are tech savy enthusiasts and want to know whats happening in every front.

    the only useless part about this article is the part where enthusiasts post custom computers that with less money have more raw performance than the apple products presented. Once again we are not the target market.

    Only thing that really bugs me about the iMac is that the monitor is always top of the line, that combined with fairly weak GPU power just gives me the feeling the monitor is being put to wast. But still the monitor does give the end user a really nice feeling and a great work area, and good enough CPU power to work on some video/image editing.

    So if your into Gaming and benchmarks and heavy video/image editing/compressing build your own PC.

    if your into Facebook, email music, movies, editing your Holiday pictures/videos, syncing your ipod/phone, and some light photoshoping and have a cool looking easy to install easy to use/configure get an iMac

    if you gain a living on Photoshop and video editing get a workstation or a Mac Pro
    Reply
  • kasakka - Thursday, May 5, 2011 - link

    I work at an advertising agency and we use a combination of Mac Pros and iMacs. The iMacs work just fine for Adobe's programs.

    I currently have a desktop PC and a 30" 2560x1600 display at home but at times I think I should just sell it and get an iMac. The iMac has a very good display and the 27" model has very good specs - basically it's a $1000 computer with a $1000 display to go with it. I don't think that's a bad deal at all. The GPU in the latest ones is pretty powerful and should run most games just fine in 1080p.

    Yes you can build a faster desktop PC cheaper but add a similar quality display and you're pretty close to the same price but have a big box under the table taking space and it doesn't run OSX unless you Hackintosh it. Hackintosh isn't a perfect option because it makes updates more of a hassle and getting things to work requires pretty advanced knowledge at times. Despite writing some custom DSDT stuff I still can't get my motherboard (Abit IP35) to have working sleep in Hackintosh.

    The 27" iMac is a very well thought out and convenient machine.
    Reply
  • royalcrown - Friday, May 6, 2011 - link

    True, plus "PC" users have thhe huge mess of cables...I don't miss that... Reply

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