Apple refreshed its iMac line in late 2012, updating the entire line with Intel's third-generation Ivy Bridge Core processors. While an upgrade to fourth-generation Core processors is rumored to be on the way, for now, performance remains better than ever, and if you opt for the highest-end 27-inch iMac (Est. $1,800 and up) , you can load it up further with discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 680MX graphics and 2 GB of dedicated graphics memory (Est. $150) to turn the iMac into a respectable gaming machine. Performance can be pushed yet another notable notch if you upgrade the included 1 TB hard drive to a 1 TB Fusion Drive (Est. $250).
Fusion is Apple's take on a hybrid drive design that marries a traditional spinning hard drive and a lightning-fast SSD. The SSD portion holds 128 GB of the most-often-used content -- files and applications -- so access is very fast, with the rest going onto the slower-spinning platter. It also serves to speed up boot-up times, with TheVerge.com reporting just 15 seconds in its tests. The Fusion Drive is an expensive upgrade, many experts say, but it is one that many also say is worth its cost for lots of people. "The drive works just as it should, and especially if you're coming from a hard drive-based machine, the Fusion Drive feels blisteringly fast," says TheVerge.com's David Pierce.
If you don't need quite so much horsepower or quite as large a screen, the 21-inch iMac (Est. $1,300 and up) also draws some praise, but also a few more quibbles. The screen size is cut to 21.5 inches and the resolution is reduced to 1,920 by 1,080 pixels (versus 2,560 by 1,440 pixels in the 27-inch screen version). You also get a slower Core i5 processor than the one found in the highest-end configuration (2.7 GHz versus 3.2 GHz) and lower-end but still discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 640M graphics with 512 MB of graphics memory. You can't upgrade the graphics in the 21-inch iMac, nor can you opt for the Fusion Drive unless you pick the step-up model (Est. $1,500 and up), which boosts the graphics capabilities and the processor speed slightly, and the price by some $200. You also lose the ability to upgrade the memory later on; the 27-inch iMac has user-accessible memory, while the 21-inch version does not. Virtually nothing else on either iMac is user accessible, upgradable or repairable, so it's best to be realistic about what you need from your computer at the time of ordering.
Regardless of which version you opt for, you do get the same new and absolutely stunning design. At first glance the computer looks impossibly thin, and it measures just 5 mm at its edge. There is a bit of a bump at the back (to house the computer part of the iMac, of course), something Apple failed to mention when touting this computer's profile at its launch. Critics were quick to pounce on that, but many softened their stance when they saw the computer in person. CNET's Rich Brown is among the chorus who felt "deceived" by Apple's presentation, but then added, "I was prepared to bring that scorn along with me into this review, but it didn't last. Bulge or no, the new design simply looks fantastic."
In general, the Apple Mac Pros are recommended for professionals who do extensive 3D work, graphics or video editing. Average consumers would probably be better served with an iMac, which costs significantly less, or the Mac mini, which costs even less (we cover the Mac mini elsewhere in this report). Though there have been some minor tweaks along the way, Apple's professional-level Mac Pro desktop computers saw their last major update in 2010. That's about to change, big time, as Apple has announced a major revamp, set to arrive before the end of 2012. You can read more about the new configurations at Apple's website.
For now, three Mac Pros are available. The entry-level Mac Pro (Est. $2,500 and up) comes with a 3.2 GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon processor, 6 GB of memory and a 1 TB hard drive. The 12-Core Mac Pro (Est. $3,800 and up) has two 2.4 GHz 6-Core Intel Xeon processors, a 1 TB hard drive and 12 GB of memory. Finally, Apple has a server version (Est. $3,000 and up) with a 3.2 GHz quad-core Intel Xeon processor, 8 GB of RAM and two 1 TB hard drives. An 8-core version of the Mac Pro has now been discontinued.
All of the Mac Pros come with ATI Radeon HD 5770 graphics. Ports include four FireWire 800, seven USB slots (five on the desktop and two on the keyboard) and a Mini DisplayPort. All of the Apple Mac Pros can be upgraded with faster processors, more memory, extra hard drives, SSDs and an additional graphics chip. Other features include an 18x double-layer CD/DVD drive, the Apple Magic Mouse and a wired keyboard. Keep in mind that (unlike the iMacs) the base price of each Mac Pro does not include the monitor. Apple offers only one display, the 27-inch Apple LED Cinema Display (Est. $1,000), which will significantly add to the overall price.
One benefit of the Mac Pros is that they can be customized and upgraded more easily than the Apple iMac desktops. "Whether your type of work requires a certain kind of display, add in card, or tons of internal storage, the Mac Pro offers power users the flexibility to create a system custom fit to fill their needs," says James Galbraith at Macworld. However, some reviewers would like to see a Blu-ray option. The Mac Pros also lack the high-speed Thunderbolt ports available on the all-in-one iMac desktops.