Apple's hardware update policy seems to be dictated by how much competition there is in any particular market segment. In mobile, the competition is fierce and new iPhones appear annually as result.

The iPad range is also refreshed every year, with parts from the current iPhones. Laptops and desktop computers are a different story for Apple, which has copped flak for not offering the industry norm annual updates for its MacBooks, iMacs and Pro machines.

To some degree this is due to Intel-based computers becoming powerful enough to cope with most software out there a few years back: even if your box is two to four years old, it'll work just fine in the vast majority of cases nowadays.

However, there's a noisy market segment for Apple, the people who use computers for demanding tasks, and who can never have enough power. They're high value customers for Apple and its third-party ecosystem, as they buy not just computers but gear and software to cover their workflows - or gaming setups.


That crowd has felt neglected the past few years, and cast side-eyes towards the Windows PC camp where computers have been updated with the latest processors and more importantly, heaps of memory, fast disks and powerful graphics cards.

This year Apple obviously felt the heat from pro users and updated its entire range of laptops and desktops with higher performing components.

I had the chance to dig into one of the new systems, a 27-inch iMac Retina 5K. This was equipped with a quad-core 3.4 gigaHertz intel "Kaby Lake" 7th-gen Core i5 7500 processor, 8GB of 2.4GHz DDR-4 system memory, and a 1 terabyte hybrid solid-state/electromagnetic hard drive.

The box and the iMac design haven't changed for the past few years. In a sense that's good as everything's familiar to iMac upgraders, with only the addition of the USB-C port at the back being new.

I'll leave it to you to decide, and the current iMac design is very nice, classic and functional, but I think Apple should've done something to enhance the looks of the computer, as it does with iPhones.

Apple has changed the bundled small keyboard for the iMac though, which is now more compact and flat - I'd drop another $60 for the full-size Magic keyboard with a numeric keypad to go with the iMac. A Magic Mouse 2 is included, and you get a Magic TrackPad 2 for $90; buying both with the iMac costs $219.

The iMac has an AMD Radeon Pro 570 with 4GB of video RAM driving the new 5120 by 2880 pixel Retina screen at 60Hz refresh rate.

That's the low-end 27-inch iMac, and it costs $2999 including GST. Comparing Windows apples with Apple pears is difficult as the value to users lies in the combination of software and device integration, and not just the hardware itself.


However, the iMac comes with what's an expensive option for PCs: the great 5K Retina monitor built-in. This has 10-bit colour for the first time, a feature that was found on very pricey professional monitors only not so long ago. If you do photo and video work, 10-bit colour is great as it provides more natural gradations between hues.

Comparing Windows apples with Apple pears is difficult as the value to users lies in the combination of software and device integration, and not just the hardware itself.

You have to see it to appreciate the very high resolution Retina 5K screen which can display over a billion hues, and which can show a 4K video with the editing controls on the same display.

Pro users would want to upgrade the system memory to at least 16GB which costs $340; going to the maximum 32GB sets you back $680, and adding a fast newly developed solid 512GB state drive is $510. The base system is decent value, but specking up the iMac Retina 5K 27-inch gets costly fast.

I had time to run a few benchmarks on the iMac; first, Geekbench 4.0 reported that the Core i5 processor in the iMac scored 4845 in the single-core test, and 14098 in the multi-core one.

This makes it faster than the quickest older 27-inch iMac with Intel Core i7 inside, by a decent margin.

Maxon's Cinebench R15 graphics test is a bit old by now, but the 27-inch iMac with the upgraded AMD graphics card hit 105.8 frames per second in OpenGL which is quick, and an impressive 592 in the CPU test.

To see how what the Radeon Pro 570 could handle, I set the iMac display to the highest possible 3200 by 1800 pixel (you can go higher with a third party utility) and the Unigine Valley benchmark to Ultra high quality and 8 times anti-aliasing.

That was too much for the graphics card, which struggled to maintain over 15 frames per second. Dropping default to the default resolution made Unigine Valley run smoothly though.

The new 1TB Fusion drive in the 27-inch iMac is snappy, hitting just below 1400 megabyte per second reads and 900MBps writes which is very good. For editing 4K video you'd probably want an SSD though, an expensive option as per above.

It's a good thing that Apple has remembered its desktop audience and bumped up the performance on the iMacs substantially compared to the previous machines. The 27-inch 5K Retina iMac performs well, even at standard spec - and it does it quietly too, suggesting the new Intel chips rub cool.

Next time though, don't wait so long between hardware refreshes, Apple.