We just got done with our hands-on time with Apple’s new products, and we’ll start with what’s likely the sneakiest of them, the iMac with Retina Display.

Why “sneaky”? The answer is all in the HiDPI display, which Apple calls the “Retina 5K Display”. The retina display is definitely the star of the new iMac, as the rest of the hardware is largely a minor specification bump from last year’s model. In fact turned off you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the 2013 (non-retina) and new retina models, but the screen is immediately evident once on.

At 5120x2880 pixels, the new Retina 5K Display is precisely 4x the pixels of the 2560x1440 panel in last year’s model. What this means is that Apple can tap their standard bag of tricks to handle applications of differing retina capability and get all of it to look reasonably good. This also means that 2560x1440 content – including widgets – will scale up nicely to the new resolution. Apple does not discuss whom they have sourced the panel from, but given the timing it’s likely the same panel that is in Dell’s recently announced 27” 5K monitor.

Much more interesting is how Apple is driving it. Since no one has a 5K timing controller (TCON) yet, Apple went and built their own. This is the first time we’re aware of Apple doing such a thing for a Mac, but it’s likely they just haven’t talked about it before. In any case, Apple was kind enough to confirm that they are driving the new iMac’s display with a single TCON. This is not a multi-tile display, but instead is a single 5120x2880 mode.

This also means that since it isn’t multi-tile, Apple would need to drive it over a single DisplayPort connection, which is actually impossible with conventional DisplayPort HBR2. We’re still getting to the bottom of how Apple is doing this (and hence the sneaky nature of the iMac), but currently our best theory is that Apple is running an overclocked DisplayPort/eDP interface along with some very low overhead timings to get just enough bandwidth for the job. Since the iMac is an all-in-one device, Apple is more or less free to violate specifications and do what they want so long as it isn’t advertised as DisplayPort and doesn’t interact with 3rd party devices.

Update: And for anyone wondering whether you can drive the 5K display as an external display using Target Display Mode, Apple has confirmed that you cannot.

Meanwhile driving the new display are AMD’s Radeon R9 M290X and R9 M295X, which replace the former NVIDIA GTX 700M parts. We don’t have any performance data on the M295X, though our best guess is to expect R9 285-like performance (with a large over/under). If Apple is fudging the DisplayPort specification to get a single DisplayPort stream, then no doubt AMD has been helping on this matter as one of the most prominent DisplayPort supporters.

The rest of the package is very similar to the 2013 iMac. It comes with an Intel Haswell desktop class CPU paired with 8GB or more RAM, 802.11ac support, and Apple’s SSD + HDD Fusion drive setup. Apple now offers a higher speed CPU upgrade option that goes up to 4GHz (4.4GHz Boost) – likely the Core i7-4790K – that should make the high-end iMac decently more performant than last year’s model by about 10%.

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  • fredzer - Friday, October 17, 2014 - link

    On http://www.apple.com/imac-with-retina/osx/ it says : "If you want to run Windows on your Mac, you can do that with Boot Camp." So I suppose they have included Windows drivers as well for the display - would be awesome!
  • milleron - Saturday, October 18, 2014 - link

    Hope that's not just boilerplate text copied and pasted from the features list of prior iMacs.
  • odedia - Friday, October 24, 2014 - link

    I wouldn't consider that as confirmation. Fact is - you cannot run Windows on a machine with a Fusion Drive, meaning that no standard configuration iMac 5k will run Windows. So this text is just irrelevant.
  • ImRightYoureWrong - Sunday, October 26, 2014 - link

    Fact is - You CAN run windows on a Fusion Drive.

    Please GTFO this website if you're not going to do actual research. You're just spouting pure BS.
  • casperes1996 - Monday, November 24, 2014 - link

    The other bloke responded quite aggressively. He's right however. Fusion Drive equipped Macs can run Windows just fine, you're not entirely off bat however. The Windows part of the machine will use only the spinning platter part of the disk, and ignore the SSD.
  • iPhil - Friday, October 17, 2014 - link

    Something tells me that if Apple had the time to make custom silicone, they likely took the time (or are taking the time now) to write a driver as well. Of course, there are no guarantees... but they know that people rely on that functionality, so it would stand to reason that they would.
  • Deelron - Friday, October 17, 2014 - link

    Agreed, but I'd be in no rush to be one of the first ones to find out!
  • TEAMSWITCHER - Saturday, October 18, 2014 - link

    PC's don't work properly with Windows installed.
  • tralalalalalala40 - Friday, October 17, 2014 - link

    Amazing that dell is going to release a similar monitor for the same price. Apple is including a free computer lol. I thought Apple was the expensive one? Finally apple is taking advantage of it's amazing supply chain to offer crazy technology at the lowest prices and the highest profit margins.
  • tipoo - Sunday, October 19, 2014 - link

    And isn't the Dell one multiple tiles, while this is single tile?

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