Apple iMac 2012 Release Date Arrives: First Benchmarks Reflect Upgraded Specs, Speedy Ivy Bridge Processors

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Apple officially began selling the iMac through its physical and online Apple Stores today, and Primate Labs was quick to produce a summary of benchmark tests for Apple's latest Mac desktop within hours this morning.

Apple won't start shipping the bigger and badder 27-inch iMac until next month, but the company's 21.5-inch model proved it ain't no slouch in Primate Labs' initial Geekbench test results. (Geekbench, as described by Primate Labs' John Poole, is "a cross-platform benchmark that measures processor and memory performance. Higher scores are better, where double the score means double the performance.")

As expected, Apple's latest iMac is also its fastest one yet. Powered by Intel's third-generation Ivy Bridge processors -- a 2.7 GHz i5 with 8 GB of RAM with 3.2 GHz Turbo Boost to start but is upgradable to a beefier 2.9 GHz i7 with a 3.4 GHz Turbo Boost -- which simply outperform all previous iMacs, including last year's biggest, most decked-out 27-inch iMac.

"The benefits of the new Ivy Bridge processors are clear," Poole of Primate Labs wrote.

By far the most interesting finding was the surprisingly large disparity between the 21.5-inch iMacs powered by the i5 processor versus the i7, which costs $200 more. To cut to the chase, the extra $200 is worth your money.

Both i5 and i7 processors from Intel are quad-core, but only the Core i7 has hyper-threading technology, which allows for better, frictionless multitasking and executing multiple instructions at once -- the speed and responsiveness of the i7 simply makes the 21.5-inch iMac perform more efficiently, making a better experience for the end user.

So the experience is great, but how does it stack up to Apple's most powerful computer, the Mac Pro? Apple hasn't given a meaningful update to the tower since 2010 -- the computer still runs on the older Nehalem and Westmere processors -- which handicaps it to the point where the 2012 iMac performs better than the 2010 tower in a lot of ways. 

Even though the 6-core and 8-core Mac Pros from 2010 are still faster than the 2012 iMac, there isn't a meaningful difference. There is a significantly larger margin, however, between the 12-core Mac Pros and the 2012 iMac; those 2010 Mac Pro models are still a beauty, almost doubling the performance of this year's fastest 21.5-inch iMac.

In his Geekbench results, Poole favors the 21.5-inch iMac favorably but notes that he wouldn't necessarily choose the new iMac over the quad-core Mac Mini. Poole makes a good point: The quad-core Mac Mini is not only faster than the 2012 iMacs running on Intel's i5 processor, but the quad-core Mac Mini is still $500 cheaper than the cheapest 2012 iMac. It's tough to disagree with that math.

The 21.5-inch iMac is roughly 18 inches tall, 21 inches wide and weighs just 12.5 pounds. But the computer's main showcase is the beautiful display, which takes up 40 percent less volume than the previous generation with a stunning edge thinness of just 5 mm -- this is 80 percent thinner than the previous generation's thinnest point.

The 21.5-inch iMac features a 1920 x 1080 display resolution, and, with a new process called plasma deposition, the screen is 75 percent less reflective than in the previous iMac generation -- something many Mac fans will certainly appreciate.

The display is the next best thing to a Retina Display -- with LED backlighting providing instant-on, uniform brightness, as well as a technology called in-plane switching, or IPS, viewers get brilliant colors and brightness at any angle. 

"Everything you see on the big, glossy display -- from skin tones and dark shadows to bright blue skies and green fields -- is rich and vibrant," Apple says on its website. "And the colors are more true to life, too. That’s because every iMac display is individually color-calibrated using state-of-the-art spectroradiometers to match color standards recognized around the world."

As far as storage goes, the iMac can be configured with up to 3TB of storage with a Core i5 or i7 processor, but before they make their purchase, Apple will ask customers to choose between three new storage options: a hard drive for more storage, an SSD for speedy storage or a third, brand-new option called the Apple Fusion Drive.

Apple’s new Fusion Drive contains 128 GB of flash storage with 1TB or 3TB HDD, which is fused into a single volume. With access to storage, the new Fusion Drive performs almost as well as Flash, but it keeps documents significantly more secure on the HDD.

“Apple has some logic which figures out which apps you use the most and will shift those to the SDD,” explained Apple's marketing whiz Phil Schiller at the company's Oct. 23 unveiling.

The 21-inch iMac features the third-generation processor from Intel, a 2.7GHz quad-core i5 processor with 8GB of RAM, which tops out at 3.2 GHz (also known as Turbo Boost). For an extra $200, Apple will endow your 21.5-inch iMac with a beefier 2.9 GHz i7 processor from Intel with a 3.4 GHz Turbo Boost -- as noted in the Geekbench results above, this processor is noticeably faster and is highly recommended for anyone investing their money on this particular iMac model.

As far as graphics go, Apple has endowed the 2012 iMac with a GeForce GT 640M, which delivers a 60 percent greater performance for graphics-intensive tasks, from video games to video or photo editing.

The 21.5-inch iMac also comes with two speakers on the bottom sides of the "chin," a 720p HD FaceTime camera and dual microphones and runs on OS X Mountain Lion.

As far as connectivity goes, the new iMac has an SDXC card slot, ports for USB 3.0 and Gigabit Ethernet, as well as two Thunderbolt ports for ultra-fast connections. The 2012 iMac is also supported by the latest 802.11n Wi-Fi technology and also supports Bluetooth 4.0 (also known as Smart Bluetooth) for near-instantaneous connections with accessories and peripherals such as the Magic Mouse and Wireless Keyboard.

The 21.5-inch iMac sells for $1,299 at its most basic model; for better Intel processors, Apple sells the 2012 iMac for $1,499.

If you want to own a new iMac today and you don't want to stand in line, your best chance may be to order one online. As of Friday 5 p.m. EST, Apple is still shipping the 21.5-inch iMac in 1-3 business days.

Apple will sell a larger version of this iMac model; the 27-inch iMac will arrive in December, which comes with faster processors and more screen space for anything and everything you do. That computer will start selling at $1,799, with a similar choice to upgrade for an extra $200 to have some faster processors.

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