Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/08/18/review_desktop_apple_imac_21in/

Apple iMac 21.5in 2010

Pro performance

By Stephen Dean

Posted in Hardware, 18th August 2010 07:02 GMT

Review While rather overshadowed by the mighty iPhone and iPad in recent months, Apple’s iMac desktop machines are still selling well and the company has just refreshed the entire product line ahead of the Christmas spending spree.

Apple iMac

Internal affairs: Apple's iMac range features Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 CPU options

The new iMac models haven’t been significantly redesigned this time around – the edge-to-edge glass panelling that was introduced in late 2009 remains the same, as do the glossy 21.5in and 27in backlit LED screens. However, the new range does finally phase out Intel’s Core 2 Duo processors altogether, adopting the newer i3 processor in the entry-level models while reserving the i5 and i7 chips for the higher end of the range.

Prices start at a fairly hefty £999 – edging up from the previous £969 – for a model equipped with an 3.06GHz Intel Core i3-540 processor. That’s the same clock speed as the Core 2 Duo in the previous model, although the i3 benefits from hyperthreading, which should improve performance when juggling multiple open applications. The other major change is the inclusion of a Radeon HD 4670 graphics card with 256MB of dedicated VRAM, rather than the integrated GeForce 9400M used in the past.

The rest of the spec sheet is essentially unchanged; 4GB RAM, a 500GB hard disk and the standard complement of four USB 2.0 ports, single Firewire 800, built-in webcam, Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1. The SD card slot has been tweaked to provide support for the SDXC format, allowing you to use cards up to 2TB in size.

The iLife ’09 software suite is included too. This can be bought for £71 and is definitely worth having, but surely due an update soon. As we’re nearly in 2011, this version is getting a bit long in the tooth now – and I could do with an option for creating rollover buttons in iWeb.

Apple iMac

Apart from the upgraded SD card slot, connectivity remains the same as last year's model

The final bits in the box are the tiny, thin Apple Wireless Keyboard – which I’ve never been comfortable with – and the Magic Mouse. However, I was disappointed to see that the near-as-dammit £1000 price tag doesn’t include one of its new Magic TrackPads too – that’s a £59 optional extra.

The new processor and graphics card provide very respectable performance, producing an overall score of 6436 in our PCMark Vantage results – well ahead of the 4594 achieved by the even pricier Vaio L13 that we reviewed recently (although, to be fair, the Vaio’s price does include a 24in touch-screen display).

Benchmark Tests

PCMark Vantage Results

Apple iMac

iMac tested running Windows 7 using Apple's Boot Camp
Longer bars are better

Apple iMac

iMac tested running Windows 7 using Apple's Boot Camp
Longer bars are better

Gaming and 3D performance is good too – I got 60fps when running Far Cry 2 at the iMac’s full 1920 x 1080 resolution, and at 1280 x 800 resolution (which suits my eyes better) the rate increased to 83fps. Apple has often cut corners on the iMac’s performance in the past, relying on its sheer good looks to win customers over, but the i3 processor and improved graphics mean that the consumer-oriented iMac is now punching at pro-level.

Apple iMac

I was curious to see how hot the i3 processor would get inside that slimline frame, but although the vent on the upper rear panel did get quite warm during tests, it never became as worryingly hot as the Core 2 Duo iMac in my office. It’s quiet too, with the only noticeable noise being the occasional whirring of the side-mounted optical drive.

Apple iMac

Performance penalty: even an entry-level desktop Mac is a pricey prospect

If you’re feeling flush then another £250 will allow you to increase the processor speed to 3.2GHz, and get you a 1TB hard disk and a Radeon HD5670 graphics card as well. The screen stays at 21.5in, though. So if you want to step up to the luxurious 27in model with its higher-than-HD 2560 x 1440 resolution, then you’ll have to cough up £1399.

At the top-of-the-range there’s the 27in model that costs £1649 with a 2.8GHz Core i5 processor, and which can be further customized with a 2.93GHz Core i7 processor to bring the total up to £1809. You could certainly spec yourself a cheaper system using a conventional tower PC with a separate monitor, but the iMac’s £999 price tag isn’t that bad when compared to rival all-in-one models, such as Sony's Vaio L13, even if it does lack a touchscreen.

Verdict

The weakness in the iMac range really lies in the models that aren’t available – I still miss the discontinued 24in model, while the lack of a more affordable machine in the £700-£800 range seems to suggest that Apple is simply turning its nose up at anyone that can’t afford its designer label pricing – and, no, I’m not forgetting the Mac Mini. Many people simply won’t need such a powerful machine – and many more won’t be able to afford it either – but at least the new iMac provides performance to match its good looks at last. ®

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