Though the Apple iMac 21.5in (£1,099 list price) is technically Apple's entry-level all-in-one desktop, that price point puts it more in line with midrange all-in-one desktop PCs. Many, including a notable example from the largest PC maker in the world, mimic the iMac's industrial design.
If you're not too keen on joining the Windows 8 touchscreen PC crowd, the iMac is a perfect alternative. With a bit of extra work, it will even run the Windows XP/7 programs you want to continue to use. With a new slimmer profile and updated components, the 21.5in iMac continues to be an object of lust.
Design and features
The new 21.5in iMac is a lot slimmer than its predecessor, thanks to the elimination of the optical drive (the DVD based SuperDrive), as well as new manufacturing techniques like "friction-stir welding." The result is an aluminium chassis that is 5mm thick at the edges, though the chassis still bows out in the middle near where the stand connects to the system. It's not technically a unibody chassis, but it still manages to look and function like one. One downside to the build is a lack of any height adjustment of the screen.
Also, while there are ways for intrepid technicians to get into the system, the iMac is essentially a sealed system to end-users, so make sure you configure it for the future as well as the present. The system can handle up to 16GB of memory, and if you choose the more expensive £1,249 version of the 21.5in iMac (with the 2.9GHz CPU), the Fusion Drive is an optional extra (at £200 more).
The system we reviewed is the £1,099 base model. Aside from the thinner profile, the system still looks like the previous-generation Apple iMac 21.5in, especially from the front. It has a similar 21.5in, 1,920 x 1,080 resolution LED backlit IPS screen, but Apple has tamed stray reflections a bit with a combination of anti-glare coatings and tighter construction. In the back, you'll find the system's four USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt ports, Ethernet, a Kensington lock port, and an SDXC slot. The second Thunderbolt port replaces the FireWire 800 port that was on the last iteration of the iMac.
The SD slot was moved to the back from the side, where it was more convenient to use, but that is the price of slimness. As with the previous 21.5in iMac, you can use the Thunderbolt port as an expansion port for DisplayPort, HDMI, VGA, USB, and FireWire, but you'll have to get the adapter(s) separately. To get an idea of the size in comparison to the refreshed 2012 iMac 27in, take a look at the image below, where the 21.5in model is on the left.
The iMac comes with a wireless keyboard and Magic Mouse, though a Magic Trackpad is available as a no-cost substitution for built-to-order systems. If you want both, be prepared to shell out an extra £59, or pick up the Trackpad after your purchase. The included mouse and keyboard are the same standard Bluetooth-based ones that Apple has been using for years. While this is great if you're used to their feel, some folks don't like the way the height-challenged Magic Mouse feels in the hand. You can of course hook up a third-party keyboard and mouse set to one of the USB ports, should you wish.
The power cord feeds an internal power supply, so you won't have to use an external power brick. This keeps setup to a minimum, as you just plug in the power cord, power on, go through the initial setup, and you'll be up and running in minutes.
The system's 1TB hard drive is a "slower" 5,400rpm drive, but it's certainly fast enough for the multimedia hobbyist. There's plenty of space on the hard drive, since the only thing on it is OS X (10.8 Mountain Lion) and iLife. You'll need a £65 external SuperDrive if you still have programs on CD or DVD, or you can buy new ones from Apple's App Store online. The iMac comes with Boot Camp, a Windows compatible environment, where your iMac runs Windows (XP and above) seamlessly. You'll need your own copy of Windows to set up Boot Camp.
The iMac was as quiet as a mouse when in use: Even during CPU-heavy tasks we couldn't hear the system's case fans over the ambient noise in the test lab. We also enjoyed listening to the iMac's new speaker setup. It pumps out a good amount of quality sound, whether you’re listening to music or watching a movie. Though the screen isn't touch-sensitive, OS X doesn't require a touchscreen for daily operation.
There are hints to OS X's possible touch-based future with full-screen mode and the Launchpad application, but for the time being touchscreens on a Mac are totally superfluous. Like other Macs, the iMac isn't compatible with WiDi, but you can use an Apple TV to mirror the iMac's screen on an HDTV.
The late 2012 iMac 21.5in base model comes with a third-generation Intel Core i5 processor, discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 640M graphics, that 1TB hard drive, and 8GB of DDR3 memory. The system's components certainly help it out on multimedia tasks like our Handbrake (video encoding) and Photoshop CS6 tests, where the iMac recorded times of 43 seconds, and 3 minutes and 52 seconds respectively. Those are pretty nippy times.
The iMac also showed very good performance on the Heaven gaming benchmark test. While slow when all the quality and resolution sliders were turned up, the iMac hit a quite playable 30 frames per second on the middle quality Heaven test. You should certainly be able to handle fairly strenuous graphics tasks and gaming on the new iMac. This would be a good system for the rank and file graphics or scientific workers in your organisation, and it’s certainly enough for the average university-bound student.
If you're currently a Mac user, the refreshed, svelte Apple iMac 21.5in gives you everything you'd expect from a new Mac desktop. Granted, there are a few negatives here: It lacks any height adjustment of the display, or upgrade potential, and there’s no HDMI input. It isn’t particularly cheap, either, but the iMac performs very well, and is superbly designed, very quiet, and offers the new smartly designed Fusion Drive as an option, too.
Manufacturer and Product
Apple iMac 21.5in (late 2012)
Nvidia GeForce GT 640M
Intel Core i5 2.7GHz
Storage Capacity (as Tested)
Mac OS X 10.8