Five things you need to know about new Retina iMac

On Thursday Apple took the wraps off a new 5K iMac — the first desktop Mac to receive Apple's vaunted Retina display treatment. It's a fancy piece of kit, not necessary the best choice for every possible Mac user, but an interesting offering especially if high-end content creation is your bag. You probably have some questions, so here's what you really need to know about the Retina iMac, all in one place.

1. A new high-end offering

Apple already offers 21.5-inch and 27-inch iMacs that don't have the Retina display, and it will continue to do so. In fact, just a few months ago they introduced a new entry-level iMac with CPU specs similar to a MacBook Air, and a new lower price too. But up until now, the 27-inch iMac maxed out at $1999, unless you custom-configured it with faster components, extra memory and different storage.

The Retina iMac occupies one part of the iMac product line only - the very high end - with a price to reflect it. It's $2499, $500 more than the next closest regular 27-inch iMac configuration.

2. It's the fastest iMac

Underneath the hood is a standard 3.5 GHz quad-core Intel i5 processor. That's just a wee bit faster than the faster non-retina 27-inch iMac. It's also paired to an AMD Radeon R9 M290X graphics processor that Apple says is good for about 3.5 teraflops of graphics compute power.

"Graphics compute power" is an interesting word, because it doesn't mean your games will run faster (although it can). More and more high-end graphics packages and scientific calculation software rely on the brute compute strength of graphics processors to help power through complex calculations. Which means the iMac is a processing powerhouse, in addition to being a gorgeous high-res workstation.

You can customize the iMac to order with a faster CPU (a 4.0 GHz Quad Core i7 is optional) and faster graphics too.

3. Fusion Drive comes standard

You're pushing a lot of data on that screen, so let's not let the hard drive be a bottleneck, shall we? Unlike the regular iMac, the Retina iMac comes standard with a 1 terabyte Fusion Drive.

Apple's Fusion Drive combines the speed of a 128 GB flash storage drive with the capacity of a 1 TB conventional hard disk drive. Combined they operate as a single 1 TB logical volume.

Your most frequently used files - apps, the operating system, other various and sundry files, and your most frequently used documents - stay within easy reach of the flash drive, providing near-instant repsonse when you need them. All the other stuff gets pushed off to the regular drive and is there for when you need them.

And if 1 TB isn't enough, you can opt for a 3 TB Fusion Drive instead, or go pure SSD for maximum speed.

4. 5K not enough? Add another 4K screen!

The Retina iMac supports the ability to output to another display. It can simultaneously support full native resolution on the built-in display, along with up to 3840 x 2160 pixels (a 4K screen) on an external display.

5. It's the first iMac with Thunderbolt 2 support

Other iMacs are still saddled with Thunderbolt, not Thunderbolt 2, making the Retina iMac an even faster computer for use with high-end RAID systems, exotic network interfaces or external 4K displays (as I noted above).

By pairing two channels together, Thunderbolt 2 operates at up to 20 gigabits per second, twice as fast as the original Thunderbolt and up to four times faster than USB 3. The net result is that you'll spend more time doing things and less time waiting around for files to transfer.

Bottom line

There's a lot more to the Retina iMac that will find out about in the coming days. But is the better performance and the incredible new screen enough to make you order one? Or is the new iMac not for you? Let me know what you think, and if you have any other questions or comments, fire away.

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