Apple iMac 21.5in (late 2013) review

24 Dec 2013

Apple delivers solid upgrade to the guts of the 21.5in iMac – it’s still the best compact all-in-one PC around

Price when reviewed: 
1,299inc VAT
Buy it now for 
5

Apple's iMac updates follow a reliable annual schedule these days: every other year comes a dramatic design change; then around 12 months later Apple updates that design with a milder, internal upgrade. The late 2013 iMac 21.5in is of the latter generation, and the standout change is the move to fourth-generation Haswell CPUs from last year's Ivy Bridge.

There's no big performance boost from the new chips, at least when running desktop applications. The focus with Haswell was always on efficiency, and improving battery life for laptops. However, performance is still impressive. For our review, Apple send a mid-range model, fitted with a 2.9GHz Intel Core i5-4570 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard disk, and it racked up 0.88 in our Real World Benchmark test, drawing 29W in idle and 93W while running full tilt.

Apple iMac 21.5in (late 2013)

The iMac 21.5in also enjoys a graphics upgrade this year. Everything from the mid-range upwards moves to an Nvidia GeForce GT 750M GPU from the GT 650M, and even the lowest spec iMac has improved gaming grunt, thanks to the CPU's integrated Intel Iris Pro graphics.

The effect is solid rather than spectacular, with our iMac averaging 35fps at High quality settings in the Crysis benchmark. That's slightly higher than the 33fps achieved by the top-spec, Core i7 21.5in iMac we reviewed last year.

Perhaps the most interesting change of all, however, is the move from 802.11n Wi-Fi to 3x3 stream 802.11ac. We tested this at close range to see how fast it would go, and using Iperf saw average throughput settle at a quick 82MB/sec. To demonstrate how quick this is, we switched our test router to 802.11n and saw speeds drop to 42MB/sec in the same test.

Other than that, the new iMac remains unchanged, not that we're complaining; it's still svelte with that 5mm edge that widens to a mere 40mm in the centre to house its components. Ports still consist of a generous four USB 3 ports, two Thunderbolt, Gigabit Ethernet, a full-size SDXC card slot and 3.5mm headset jack. The iMac 21.5in certainly hasn't taken a step backwards in the way of connectivity.

Apple iMac 21.5in (late 2013)

The 1,920 x 1,080 IPS display is as good as ever, too, netting excellent results in our tests. With a top brightness level of 400cd/m[sup]2[/sup] and contrast of 928:1, it's a cut above the panels we see in most other all-in-one PCs. Colour accuracy is simply superb, with an average Delta E of 1.9, although Apple's propensity to slightly crush the lower-end shades remains.

At £1,299 the iMac 21.5in isn't cheap. The top-end model, with a 3.6GHz Intel Core i7 processor, 1TB Fusion drive and additional 8GB of RAM, costs an intimidating £1,755. Even at its most modestly equipped – excised of an Nvidia chip, with Haswell's integrated Intel Iris Pro handling graphics, and a slower, 2.7GHz Core i5 on board – the price still comes out at £1,149, which is £50 more expensive than last year's most basic model

Yet Apple's all-in-one is such an accomplished all-rounder it's hard not to feel that the price is justified. While Apple's 27in iMac is our favourite all-in-one desktop, you can't go far wrong with the 21.5in model and it makes an affordable alternative.

Apple iMac 21.5in (late 2013)

Basic specifications

RAM capacity 8.00GB

Processor

CPU family Intel Core i5
CPU nominal frequency 2.90GHz

Graphics card

3D performance setting High
Graphics chipset Nvidia GeForce GT 750M

Hard disk

Capacity 1.02TB

Monitor

Resolution screen horizontal 1,920
Resolution screen vertical 1,080
Resolution 1920 x 1080

Operating system and software

OS family Mac OS X

Noise and power

Idle power consumption 29W
Peak power consumption 93W

Performance tests

3D performance (crysis) low settings 142fps
3D performance setting High
Overall Real World Benchmark score 0.88
Responsiveness score 0.80
Media score 0.94
Multitasking score 0.89

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