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Apple Launches iMac with Retina Display, Refreshes Mac mini

The largest — at least when it comes to screen size — of Apple’s hardware announcements on 16 October 2014 was the new iMac with Retina 5K display.

The new iMac features a jaw-dropping 27-inch display running at a resolution of 5120 by 2880. With 14.7 million pixels, Apple claims it is the world’s highest-resolution display. That’s not precisely true: the Hiperspace display created by the University of California at San Diego in 2008 easily bests it with more than 286.7 million pixels. Despite that quibble with Apple’s marketing, you would be hard pressed to find a higher-resolution display on the consumer market (or that would fit on your desk), much less one that’s so inexpensive.

Apple had to invent a number of new technologies to make the iMac with Retina 5K display viable, such as a new oxide TFT material to charge pixels, organic passivation to prevent pixel crosstalk, and a new, more power-efficient LED backlight. Thanks to Apple’s hard work, the new iMac manages to use 30 percent less energy than its predecessor.

So how much is it, and how powerful is it? For $2,499 you get a 3.5 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor (up to 3.9 GHz with Turbo Boost), 8 GB of RAM, a 1 TB Fusion Drive, and an AMD Radeon R9 M290X graphics processor with 2 GB of RAM. There are a few build-to-order options:

  • For an additional $250, you can upgrade to a 4.0 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor (up to 4.4 GHz with Turbo Boost).

  • 16 GB of RAM will set you back $200, while 32 GB adds $600 to the price.

  • Instead of the 1 TB Fusion Drive, you can opt for 256 GB of pure flash storage for free. A 3 TB Fusion Drive is available for $150, while 512 GB of flash storage costs $300, and 1 TB of flash can be had for $800.

  • The graphics processor can be upgraded to an AMD Radeon R9 M295X with 4 GB of RAM for $250.

While iMac users now have a Retina option, Mac Pro adopters don’t yet have an equivalent choice of displays — Apple has not revved the Thunderbolt Display to boast Retina-level specs. For many professionals, the iMac with Retina 5K display might be a better choice (for more on that, see “Is the New iMac the True Professional Mac?,” 17 October 2014). However, pros might consider the $250 graphics processor update, since the first-generation MacBook Pro with Retina display often overwhelmed its own graphics processors.

The iMac with Retina 5K display is being sold alongside the existing iMac lineup, so if you don’t have $2,500 to burn, don’t worry, you still have other options. The previous iMac models retain their specs and prices with no changes.

2014 Mac mini -- If you’re on a budget, you’ll be thrilled to learn that Apple has finally updated the long-neglected Mac mini. The bad news is that it’s nearly the same design that’s been around for years, it’s only slightly faster than the previous 2012 version, and the RAM is no longer user-upgradable. The good news is that the base model sees a price drop of $100, and now starts at $499. In addition, the new Mac mini supports 802.11ac (versus 802.11n in the previous model) and includes two Thunderbolt 2 ports (compared to a single Thunderbolt 1 port in the previous model), but drops FireWire 800.

The base $499 model features a 1.4 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5, 4 GB of RAM, a 500 GB hard drive (what do you expect in such a cheap Mac?), and an Intel HD Graphics 5000 processor. An upgrade to 8 GB of RAM costs $100, and 16 GB costs $300. You can switch to a 1 TB Fusion Drive for $250.

The $699 model features a 2.6 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, a 1 TB hard drive, and Intel Iris Graphics. An upgrade to a 3.0 GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 processor is available for $300, as is a $200 upgrade to 16 GB of RAM. For another $200 you can switch to either 256 GB of flash storage or a 1 TB Fusion Drive.

Finally, the $999 model has a 2.8 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, a 1 TB Fusion Drive, and Intel Iris Graphics. For $200, you can boost the processor to a 3.0 GHz dual-core Intel Core i7. An upgrade to 16 GB of RAM costs $200. Switching to 256 GB of flash storage is free, while 512 GB of flash costs $300, and 1 TB of flash costs $800.

While it’s nice to see Apple finally paying some attention to the Mac mini, this update feels like the sort of minor mid-cycle update that the Mac mini should have received a year ago.

Of course, every Mac mentioned here ships with OS X 10.10 Yosemite.


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Comments about Apple Launches iMac with Retina Display, Refreshes Mac mini
(Comments are closed.)

Andreas Frick  2014-10-17 05:17
I want back the plastic iMac with antiglare display
David Buckley  2014-10-17 10:37
Buy a Mini and connect a lovely and reasonable-in-cost NEC monitor. So nice -- antiglare and elegant -- have to add a webcam though... Typing on this exact setup.
David Buckley  2014-10-17 09:19
So, can you still upgrade the mini's ram or is it soldered to the board? Can you put in a second drive or only 1 bay? The seduction of the last gen mini's was that they were the last macs you could rationally upgrade DIY...
Josh Centers  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-10-17 10:59
I'm anxious to find this out myself. Hopefully we'll have an iFixit teardown soon.
Vu Tien Khang  2014-10-17 10:37
Does anyone knows whether the new iMac 27" can boot Snow Leopard? I still need sometimes to use Claris, or to print on the Canon thermal wax printer Pixma.
Josh Centers  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-10-17 10:59
I doubt it.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-10-17 11:37
I'd be shocked if it could boot into Snow Leopard, but you could probably run it in a virtual machine via Parallels or VMware Fusion.
David Buckley  2014-10-17 13:15
There's no way it'll run on the hardware so I think Adam's suggestion of a virtual machine is the only way to go.
Frans Moquette  2014-10-18 21:25
Only if you have Snow Leopard Server. Apple does not allow running the normal Snow Leopard in a VM. VMWare 4 allowed that by mistake, but the option was removed in later versions. VMWare 4 does not run on Maverics (and therefore I expect not on Yosemity).
Bruce Young  2014-10-17 21:04
Looks like the Mac mini 2014 is sort of a step backwards.
What Apple frequently does - dribble out the barest of modernizing of a model it does not wish to be promoting.

So, sitting in front of the new 2014 mini running office software and web browsing, it seems one would not really notice much difference. Yes, $100 less, but basically, the same user experience.
When of course, actual computer chip power is now much higher in the two years since the last mini rev. Sigh.

Compare Mini 2014 vs 2012:
2014: 1.4/2.7GHz dual Core i5 4260U *
2012: 2.5/3.1GHz dual Core i5 3210M **
Looks to be same 4 GB DDR3 1600 MHz
Looks to be same 500 GB 5400rpm
Improved HD 5000 vs 2012 HD 4000
*Likely chip - has exact same Intel Ark specs as Apple new Mac mini listed specs, and it is same CPU used in recent low-end June 2014 iMac.
**Comparing benchmark scores at Passmark and Geekbench indicate that on whole the two CPUs are comparable, in same range, thus no noticeable improvement.
Frans Moquette  2014-10-18 20:15
It seems the RAM is now soldered, so you have to max out when you order at Apple prices. Also you lose the FireWire port.
If you have an older Mac mini I think you're better off spending your money on a RAM upgrade and swapping the HDD for an SSD. I did on my Mac mini and that made it a *lot* faster for much less than a new Mac mini.
Bruce Young  2014-10-18 20:44
Yes, 2014 Mini is using LPDDR3 soldered RAM. So either buy amount ever to be needed at order time, or suffer later...

So there are several marks against the new low-end Mac mini 2014 -- to get an actual improved user experience (vs 2012) one has to order the $699 mid-range model.

User upgrade is what I did with my Mac Mini 2009 model, increased the RAM and replaced the stock HD with a WD Black (larger faster) HD. It was a noticeable improvement over the Apple shipped configuration. And that model has FW800 - I have no Thunderbolt devices and don't anticipate any at this point - but do have a lot of FW.

In my dreams I was hoping that the 2014 Mini would be an actual cost-effective and noticeably faster performing option for me. But with mixed user comments I've read, some saying Yosemite needs 8 GB for good responsiveness, and the wash of spec mark comparing Mini 2012 vs 2014 -- It seems my hopes for a reasonable new Mac Mini are just vapor.
Frans Moquette  2014-10-18 21:21
I have the same Mac mini (late 2009). Also had a faster and bigger WD Black HDD, but recently replaced it with an SSD. You will notice the performance increase! I recommend Samsung EVO 840. It has a SATA 3 (6 Gb/s) interface that is compatible with the SATA 2 (3 Gb/s) interface of the Mac mini. Some SSD's are not backward compatible and will revert to SATA (1.5 Gb/s) speeds, so watch out for that.

Also the 2009 Mac mini will take 8 GB of RAM even though Apple specifies 4 GB max.

In my dreams a new Mac mini is all solid state and looks like a mini Mac pro! ;-)
Christopher Squire [UK]  2014-10-20 13:07
I am very surprised to read that I can put 8 Gb RAM into my 2009 Mac mini in place of its current 4 Gb instead of buying the new & apparently inferior model.

How can I inform myself about what to get and how to do it?/ask my local IT shop to do it? I am in the UK.
Josh Centers  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-10-20 13:13
Apple actually provides instructions. It's a simple procedure.
Christopher Squire [UK]  2014-10-20 17:11
Noted - thank you! Because I thought that the 4 Gb I have in my current Mac Mini [my third] was the maximum it could take, I have never enquired about this before in the 4 1/2 years since I got it.
Christopher Squire [UK]  2014-10-21 09:27
I have found a very helpful UK supplier, with good DIY videos from OWC and lookup tables to identify the model from the serial no.

My Mac is a late 2009 model which can indeed take 8MB. Thanks you for your help on this.
Bruce Young  2014-10-22 02:42
Yes, Apple publishes their 'maximum RAM' specs at time that machine is designed/manufactured.
Which is when memory chips are at a certain density per DIMM.
So for the 2009 Mac Mini, that meant the most that anyone could get would have been 2 GB DIMMs, thus two slots by 2GB would be 4GB max at that time.
But as RAM manufacturers shrink chips, more can be stuffed on a DIMM, which is why Crucial and OWC --and others as you have found-- now list 8 GB (4GB x 2) as the maximum. (Crucial states Maximum memory 8192MB.)
And at this point, that really is the max, as there are higher density DIMMs but they don't work in that Mac Mini.
It is typical of Apple to NOT go back and revise their specifications when RAM chips improve. sigh.
Christopher Squire [UK]  2014-11-24 05:34
Update: I have bought a discounted 2012 Mac Mini and installed 16 Gb RAM without difficulty except that the case was jammed shut and hard to open, so that the trivial first step 'open the case' almost defeated me.

Now for the 2010 model . .
instig8r  2014-10-20 21:07
This is really disappointing. The 2012 mini with an i7 quad core costs about the same as the 2014 midrange and probably would clean its clock. On top of that you can add your own RAM up to 16 GB and up to two drives. I run several in my server cabinet with SSD boot drives and large spinners for storage space. I see NOTHING compelling in the 2014s. Sooooo bummed out.
instig8r  2014-10-20 21:11
Oh, and the 2012 already had SATA III, USB 3.0, and two video out ports (mini-displayport and HDMI). Why would Apple not just stick Haswells in there and leave well enough alone. ::-(
Ed Wood  2014-10-21 14:42
No ram upgrade, one drive limit,
and no 4 core i7 server CPU makes this Mini DOA for me. WHAT IS APPLE THINKING
Someone please explain to me how the 2014 Mac Mini with a dual core processor, even at the fastest option, is better than the 2012 Mac Mini with a quad core processor (at the fastest option). Yes, I see that the processor has been upgraded, but will it make the difference? My 2012 Mac Mini (4 core) is clocked at 2.6 ghz while my mid 2009 MacBook Pro (dual core) is clocked at 2.8 ghz. The Mini is dramatically faster. And BTW a 2014 Mac Mini with the same configuration as my 2012 appears to cost $300 more, or is this just in Australia?