Hands-on with Apple's new Core i9 iMac 5K with Vega graphics: benchmarks and first impress...

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in Current Mac Hardware edited April 4
Now that we have a new line of iMacs, we've upgraded the 27-inch iMac 5K with the 8-core i9 Intel processor and the Radeon Pro Vega 48 graphics for ultimate performance. Our first impressions with this new machine are very promising, so let's check out the benchmarks that back them up.

27-inch iMac 5K
27-inch iMac 5K


Apple refreshed the new iMac line just days before its March 25th "its show time" Apple News+ services-centric event. While that event grabbed a lot of headlines, desktop users were thrilled to see a much-needed spec bump to the iMac.

We already delved into the 4K base model and found the upgrades were decent enough for the low-end model. That didn't stop us from splurging on the much more powerful 27-inch however.

Specs and design

We also picked up the larger iMac 5K with the 8-core 3.6GHz Intel i9 processor, Radeon Pro Vega 48 graphics, and 16GB of RAM.






All of that is internal as the exterior is largely unchanged from what we've seen before. The design still looks good, but with large bezels and a significant "chin," it seems near enough time for a refresh and is catching some heat for not having a new look. We understand -- it just looks a bit dated at this point after it debuted four years ago in 2015.

27-inch iMac 5K
27-inch iMac 5K


Also on this machine is a 2TB Fusion drive and 2GB of VRAM.

This machine ran us $3349.00 before tax -- but at press time can be had on sale for $3,149 with coupon code APINSIDER.

Benchmarks

To start, we ran Geekbench 4. Our machine garnered a single thread score of 6313 and a multi-core score of 32954. These are pretty solid numbers, especially compared to the base iMac Pro. This model beats the base iMac Pro in single-core, and barely loses out on the multi-core test. This bump in performance is due to more cores and higher frequencies rather than any change in the actual chip architecture compared to years past.

27-inch iMac 5K Geekbench scores
27-inch iMac 5K Geekbench scores


Benchmarks are controversial. They are never a direct correlation to any individual's workflow. And, they keep changing as computer power grows and paradigms shift. Specifically, an AppleInsider testing stalwart, Cinebench now has an R20 version, completely incompatible with results from the R15 version.

The newer R20 version has increased the workload complexity, increased the memory use, and adopted the latest rendering engine from Cinema 4D R20 which ultimately will give us much better and accurate results. We'll be using this going forward, rather than the R15.

27-inch iMac 5K Cinebench R20 scores
27-inch iMac 5K Cinebench R20 scores


Our 2019 iMac 5K earned 4108 on Cinebench R20. Most importantly, monitoring the CPU with Intel Power Gadget, we saw no hint of thermal throttling below the rated speed of the machine. It never dipped below the advertised frequency even after running the test back-to-back-to-back and the heat increased.

27-inch iMac 5K Unigine Heaven
27-inch iMac 5K Unigine Heaven scores


Following this, we ran the Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0 which is primarily a gaming benchmark, but still a good indicator of graphics performance. We kept the settings by default and ran the test a few times. We earned an average FPS of around 68 FPS and a max of a whopping 125.3. Those Vega graphics really pay off.

27-inch iMac 5K BlackMagic disk speed test
27-inch iMac 5K BackMagic disk speed test


As we mentioned, this unit has the 2TB Fusion Drive. It is a good mix of capacity and performance garnering 725 MB/s average write speeds and 2490 MB/s read speeds in the BlackMagic disk speed test. To boost these numbers further, you could opt for a smaller internal SSD and use some external Thunderbolt 3 storage for additional capacity. That is likely what we'd do if we were to build this machine again.

We will continue to test this machine out and will have a full review coming soon, so stay on the lookout for even more coverage of the new 2019 iMac line.

How to save up to $150 on 2019 iMacs

This machine has so far impressed us -- especially when it comes to comparing against the iMac Pro. If you are in the new market, and don't need the potential warranty-voiding upgradability of the iMac Pro's processor, this is a powerful machine that gets you near the same performance at a much lower cost.

27-inch iMac 5K
27-inch iMac 5K


Apple's new 2019 27-inch iMac 5K is also currently $50 to $150 off at Apple authorized reseller Adorama with coupon code APINSIDER. Prices start at just $1,949 for the CTO models after the coupon discount, with full step-by-step instructions for redeeming the code available in our savings guide.

For a full rundown of the latest deals and product availability, be sure to visit our 27-inch iMac 5K Price Guide, which is updated throughout the day.

2019 iMac 5K deals
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 32
    indieshackindieshack Posts: 154member
    Excellent writeup - just to note that the I9 iMac spec'd with 32gb RAM and 1tb SSD is about $250 less than what I paid for a new base iMac Pro a few months ago, and the Pro excels in other ways including partial upgradability
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 32
    neilmneilm Posts: 620member
    This machine has so far impressed us -- especially when it comes to comparing against the iMac Pro. If you are in the new market, and don't need the upgradability of the iMac Pro, this is a powerful machine that gets you near the same performance at a much lower cost.

    "Upgradability of the iMac Pro"? What upgradability would that be?

    You can't even add RAM to the iMac Pro, at least not without almost complete disassembly and throwing your warranty out of the window in the process. 
    williamlondon
  • Reply 3 of 32
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,636administrator
    neilm said:
    This machine has so far impressed us -- especially when it comes to comparing against the iMac Pro. If you are in the new market, and don't need the upgradability of the iMac Pro, this is a powerful machine that gets you near the same performance at a much lower cost.

    "Upgradability of the iMac Pro"? What upgradability would that be?

    You can't even add RAM to the iMac Pro, at least not without almost complete disassembly and throwing your warranty out of the window in the process. 
    I believe Andrew was referring to the socketed processor in the iMac Pro, whereas the iMac 5K does not have the same. I'll talk to him about it and see.
    randominternetpersonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 32
    big kcbig kc Posts: 118member
    I would enjoy these video reviews a lot more if ALL the AI reviewers would just speak in a normal voice, rather than the sing-song delivery that so many YouTube reviewers seem to have adopted. So annoying. Anyways.. I think it's criminal that Apple hasn't gone all-SSD on the iMac by now, or at least offering the upgrades to SSD at a reasonable cost.
    elijahgentropys
  • Reply 5 of 32
    While I do not care any benchamarks for this I still have question abou type of display panel and who supplies them. Previous iMacs (and not only) screens are really mediocre quality comparing to few other brands. It is not about resolution, but about white balance and aging pace.
    williamlondon
  • Reply 6 of 32
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,636administrator
    While I do not care any benchamarks for this I still have question abou type of display panel and who supplies them. Previous iMacs (and not only) screens are really mediocre quality comparing to few other brands. It is not about resolution, but about white balance and aging pace.
    LG, unchanged from the previous iMac 5K and the iMac Pro.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 32
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,652member

    All of that is internal as the exterior is largely unchanged from what we've seen before. The design still looks good, but with large bezels and a significant "chin," it seems near enough time for a refresh and is catching some heat for not having a new look. We understand -- it just looks a bit dated at this point after it debuted four years ago in 2015.
    I don't understand the rationale with the iMac's design.  Define "dated"?  Design is form and function, and the iMac is a gorgeous-looking machine.  Compare this "dated" design to any and every current AIO machine from competitors and come back to us. 

    Changing it for the sake of change is just wrong.  This design is elegant and functional.  When Apple feels the design needs updating to factor in internal requirements, all the better, but the public (or more specifically tech-heads) criticizing it just goes to show that it's more about having shiny and new to satisfy their short attention spans.

    That being said, this current i9 iMac is a serious and beautiful machine.  My one key gripe is that it only has two TB3/usbC ports.  It should have at least 4 like my Mac mini.  If Apple wants more folks to go to USBc, they're certainly discouraging me from doing it.


    williamlondonmacplusplusblurpbleepbloopwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 32
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,303member
    I'm puzzled regarding the Blackmagic disk tests on a Fusion Drive.  If you were writing 4K video surely the SSD buffer would stop working pretty quickly leaving you with HHD (is it 5400 of 7200 on this model?) and those results would plummet.  Aren't Fusion Drives' block allocation best suited for small files?  Maybe I am misunderstanding about how Apple's Fusion Drives works. I use RAID 0 externals for video and the only time I tested Fusion Drive technology it was abysmal for video but it wasn't Apple's own brand.
    edited April 4 watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 32
    Im interested to hear about the thermal management comparisons between the Pro and this model. Particularly under heavy usage under gaming or video editing and coding. Any insights there?
    indieshackwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 32
    indieshackindieshack Posts: 154member
    rottnmutt said:
    Im interested to hear about the thermal management comparisons between the Pro and this model. Particularly under heavy usage under gaming or video editing and coding. Any insights there?

    According to the link below, the heat management is quite different in the pro. https://9to5mac.com/2019/04/03/2019-imac-versus-imac-pro/

    My experience with an older high end iMac vs my new Pro is that the old iMac sounded like an aircraft taking off when building in Xcode or processing video, nothing on the Pro. It sounds like the I9 hasn't changed the cooling design.

    edited April 4 tenthousandthingswatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 32
    Great review, thanks guys. 

    Can you help me out with something - is the processor in these new iMacs the 9900k or the 9900kf? There’s a lot of debate on forums about this right now, no one has a definitive answer. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 32
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,636administrator
    joechilds said:
    Great review, thanks guys. 

    Can you help me out with something - is the processor in these new iMacs the 9900k or the 9900kf? There’s a lot of debate on forums about this right now, no one has a definitive answer. 
    It identifies as the 9900K.
    repressthiswatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 32
    joechilds said:
    Great review, thanks guys. 

    Can you help me out with something - is the processor in these new iMacs the 9900k or the 9900kf? There’s a lot of debate on forums about this right now, no one has a definitive answer. 
    It identifies as the 9900K.
    Thanks Mike!
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 32
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,751member
    As we mentioned, this unit has the 2TB Fusion Drive. It is a good mix of capacity and performance garnering 725 MB/s average write speeds and 2490 MB/s read speeds in the BlackMagic disk speed test. To boost these numbers further, you could opt for a smaller internal SSD and use some external Thunderbolt 3 storage for additional capacity. That is likely what we'd do if we were to build this machine again.
    I think I will buy this i9 Vega 48 but self install extra ram and spec up with a 512GB SSD and externally store files in a SATA TB external drive. 
    Or, do I go for a 256 SSD and spend extra on an NVME TB3 drive?

    decisions, decisions.
    edited April 4 williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 32
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,652member
    entropys said:
    As we mentioned, this unit has the 2TB Fusion Drive. It is a good mix of capacity and performance garnering 725 MB/s average write speeds and 2490 MB/s read speeds in the BlackMagic disk speed test. To boost these numbers further, you could opt for a smaller internal SSD and use some external Thunderbolt 3 storage for additional capacity. That is likely what we'd do if we were to build this machine again.
    I think I will buy this i9 Vega 48 but self install extra ram and spec up with a 512GB SSD and externally store files in a SATA TB external drive. 
    Or, do I go for a 256 SSD and spend extra on an NVME TB3 drive?

    decisions, decisions.
    I use a 12TB TB2 Promise Raid drive that's plenty fast, but even with that I would still accept no less than a 1TB internal SSD drive.  Even at 512GB, just the software alone - sans data - takes up 50% of that space. 
    edited April 4 watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 32
    mdriftmeyermdriftmeyer Posts: 7,282member
    Unigine is a useless benchmark, but if Apple had modernized their OpenGL stack to 4.5 you'd earn well over 100fps on average. Then again I'd rather see tests against Metal 2 Benchmarks.
    edited April 4 williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 32
    Hey Andrew, can you share the specific settings for your Unigene Heaven benchmark?

    You mentioned the default settings but in the very fuzzy screenshot, I can see "Custom" so I know it's not one of their Basic or Extreme presets.  If you're not using a preset you need to share all the Settings details to replicate. (antialias, volumetric shadows, etc).  Just curious because I want to compare this against my Radeon 580 eGPU setup!

    Also as Mdriftmeyer said, Unigine is really just a benchmark of OpenGL performance...something using Metal will perform way better.  But with that caveat, it can still be useful if you want to understand the card's performance for OpenGL games (i.e. most games....)
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 32
    Not complaining about the first writeup, but we could really use more info as you get it.

    1) The 9900k is well-understood, and you're claiming it doesn't throttle, but there's still more to be said: what speed will it sustain over long-term usage? Just rated, or is some boost still feasible? Either way, what do the fans sound like then?
    2) More benchmarks of the Vega! I have yet to even see anyone identifying what this chip is. Is it a cut-down Vega with 8 more CUs disabled, making it run at ~6/7th the speed of the Vega 56? (What about ROPs, memory type/bandwidth, etc.? I haven't seen anything at all on this hardware.) If not, what is it?
    3) Speaking of which, Unigine is fine (if we have the settings, as someone said above) but what would really be nice is a few comparisons! How does this stack up against the iMac Pro (V56/64) and previous iMac 5k?
    4) Did you find out if you can install a SATA disk in the SSD version? This is a pretty significant question. If you could stick a 2TB SATA SSD in there, then fuse it with the 256/512GB native SSD, that would make for a lot of very fast storage, much much cheaper than Apple's. How hard would it be to replace the HDD in the smallest fusion model (for those really on a budget)?
    5) Screen quality?
    6) Speakers?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 32
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,636administrator
    Not complaining about the first writeup, but we could really use more info as you get it.

    1) The 9900k is well-understood, and you're claiming it doesn't throttle, but there's still more to be said: what speed will it sustain over long-term usage? Just rated, or is some boost still feasible? Either way, what do the fans sound like then?
    2) More benchmarks of the Vega! I have yet to even see anyone identifying what this chip is. Is it a cut-down Vega with 8 more CUs disabled, making it run at ~6/7th the speed of the Vega 56? (What about ROPs, memory type/bandwidth, etc.? I haven't seen anything at all on this hardware.) If not, what is it?
    3) Speaking of which, Unigine is fine (if we have the settings, as someone said above) but what would really be nice is a few comparisons! How does this stack up against the iMac Pro (V56/64) and previous iMac 5k?
    4) Did you find out if you can install a SATA disk in the SSD version? This is a pretty significant question. If you could stick a 2TB SATA SSD in there, then fuse it with the 256/512GB native SSD, that would make for a lot of very fast storage, much much cheaper than Apple's. How hard would it be to replace the HDD in the smallest fusion model (for those really on a budget)?
    5) Screen quality?
    6) Speakers?
    A couple of these questions we already know. The screen is the same LG 5K panel that Apple has used in the iMac 5k and iMac Pro, as are the speakers. So far, in sustained loads, the machine will maintain right around 3.9 GHz for long periods of time. I'll ask Andrew about fan noise, but given that he did the voiceover for the video with it blazing, it probably isn't bad.

    While we don't know about the SATA header yet (and can't find out from this machine, as it has the Fusion Drive), getting in to the machine to replace it is non-trivial, and involves breaking the glue on the screen and pulling that off to get to the internals. It isn't impossible, but is a nasty job. Given that the machine doesn't have the T2, if this is the idea, we recommend going for the big fusion drive, and hanging a NVMe drive off of a Thunderbolt 3 port on a shelf or something similar on the support foot, or getting the internal SSD and storing working files on a NAS or similar.
    edited April 5 watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 32
    Does anyone know if the only way to get the VESA mount iMac is directly through Apple?  I haven't seen the VESA option on other web sites (Adorama, B&H, etc.).
    watto_cobra
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