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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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