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Apple iMac 21.5in review

Verdict

An attractive new design and a host of small improvements combine to make a stunning all-in-one; it’s Apple’s best iMac so far

Review Date: 21 Dec 2012

Reviewed By: Mike Jennings

Price when reviewed: £1,474 (£1,769 inc VAT)

Buy it now for: £1605
(see more store prices)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
6 stars out of 6

Value for Money
4 stars out of 6

Performance
5 stars out of 6

PCPRO Recommended

A process of constant refinement has established the iMac as the best-looking desktop PC around.

Viewed head-on, you might wonder what Apple’s changed with this year’s model. Peer around the side, however, and it quickly becomes apparent: the 25mm edge of the previous-generation machine has been whittled down to an astonishing 5mm.

The iMac isn’t this thin across the whole width of the chassis. It bulges to a more accommodating 40mm in the centre where all the components are housed, but it still makes a considerable difference to the way this all-in-one looks. Approach it from an angle and it seems to float above the desk, suspended in midair.

Interestingly, Apple says this newer, sleeker iMac can’t be manufactured using the old methods, so it now uses a technique called “friction-stir welding” to join the metal section below the screen to the rear panel.

Fancy production techniques aside, though, most of the rest of the design is familiar territory. The screen is still surrounded by a glossy black border, the silver “chin” houses the familiar Apple logo and the curved stand looks as good as ever. Build quality remains sturdy, despite the trimmer profile.

All the connections are located at the back of the screen – there are four USB 3 ports, two Thunderbolt connectors, a Gigabit Ethernet socket and a headphone jack. There’s no room on the side for the SD card slot or an optical drive, however, so the former has been moved to the rear and the latter has been removed entirely.

What’s inside?

This upgrade isn’t merely superficial. Inside, Apple has made major alterations, principally to the iMac’s storage subsystem. Instead of just a hard disk or SSD, there’s the option to specify Apple’s new Fusion Drive. This combines a 128GB SSD and hard disk to provide the best of both worlds – the speed and responsiveness of an SSD and the high capacity of a hard disk.

Apple iMac 21in (2012)

The idea is to store frequently used applications and files on the SSD for improved responsiveness, while keeping less critical data on the slower, platter-based hard disk. As you might expect, the operating system resides permanently on the SSD, and a selection of key applications is placed there, too, including Safari, iMovie, iCal and iPhoto. Over time, this changes as the system learns which apps and files you use most often, moving them to the SSD, and moving those that are rarely used back to the hard disk. (Note, however, that the benefits of the Fusion Drive aren’t available to those who install Windows via Boot Camp – that’s installed on the hard disk portion of the drive.)

The effectiveness of the system will only become apparent with prolonged use, but we can say categorically that the underlying hardware is excellent.

The iMac boots quickly, taking 15 seconds to reach the desktop, and the 128GB SSD is rapid. It scored 481MB/sec and 330MB/sec in AS SSD’s sequential read and write tests – not much slower than the 497MB/sec and 340MB/sec achieved by our A-List SSD, the Samsung SSD 830.

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User comments

Lower Model

In Germany, they tested the entry level model. Interestingly, it is slower than the Mac mini and the MacBook Pro 15".

The Core i7 sounds like it packs a bit more of a punch and the Fusion drive would certainly help boost its performance.

That said, why does it "need" to be so thin? it is a desktop, I'd prefer an extra cm or so in depth and good heat regulation than thinness. It is a different matter for a tablet, but for a desktop?

By big_D on 21 Dec 2012

Compare like for like

To compare to a windows machine add the OEM cost of windows 8 of £70.(If you wanted OS X, you wouldn't be considering anything other than Mac anyway).

I also don't understand why one would choose an iMac over Mac Mini and a display? Increasing modularity means you can upgrade the computer but keep the display.

I am also keen to understand the benefits and negatives of choosing OS X over Windows. Security and reliability are non-issues for me on the windows side.

By TheBigM72 on 21 Dec 2012

Is there a reason PC Pro didn't review one of the off the shelf models? These cost either £1099 or £1249. If I were spending £1800 quid on an iMac it certainly wouldn't be a 21.5" with some added options.

By pveater on 21 Dec 2012

@TheBigM72

You would choose an iMac over a Mac Mini presumably for the specs. The top specced Mini has a 2.3GHz i7, 4GB and HD4000 graphics. if that's good enough for you then fair enough but I'm guessing some want more grunt. Also the all-in-one package with small footprint and excellent display appeal. Upgradable? No, only by selling the lot. Better? Yes.

As for OSX I guess whatever floats your boat. I'm an 8 years Windows user and moved to OSX last year and couldn't be happier.

By pveater on 21 Dec 2012

Well, I'll admit if I had the money I'd probably buy one. But my budget is prohibitively tight and unless Apple change their high pricing policy (not gonna happen) then they will remain out of my range. But there are plenty of Windows PC's that will do the job perfectly well for me.

One thing I'll never understand is the excitement about how thin the screen is, 5 mm or something? Other review sites have nearly burst with excitement over it. Other than saying "Wow! It's thin!" what is the point? Is any screen that's thicker than 5 mm now somehow less worthy? It's like Jeremy Clarkson getting excited because one car goes from 0-60 mph 2.5 seconds faster than another, therefore the slower car is now rubbish. For the vast majority of drivers, it means nothing whatsoever.

Rant over.

By stormN on 21 Dec 2012

Matthew

"the new iMac can become toasty inside.

We stress-tested the system in Windows 7 and OS X and recorded peak temperatures of 100°C and 98°C under full load. The system never became unstable, and we don’t expect people to run the CPU at 100% load constantly, but it’s a concern."

Can't believe this isn't getting more attention, these are AWFUL temps. Sounds like a design flaw.

By Matthew94 on 21 Dec 2012

100°C

Is that a record? A laptop would get slated for a thermal performance that dire. Still if you can afford it, you will replace it next year anyway.
The one person I know who would buy one is also disappointed by the performance of the normal models compared to the outgoing iMac.

By tirons1 on 21 Dec 2012

£1,769 inc VAT!

Surely a misprint. Even Apple can't be that extortionate.

And the only time my (overclocked) PC exceeded 45°C at maximum load was when the CPU fan got stuck. 100°C is absurd.

By Alfresco on 22 Dec 2012

@TheBigM72

"To compare to a windows machine add the OEM cost of windows 8 of £70"

Why would you need to ADD the cost of Windows? It will come with the machine and be included in the price. A price that will be considerably better value for money than £1,769 (£1,769, Strewth!).

Do you seriously think that Apple don't add something to the computer price to cover the cost of OSX. At £1,769, they must add at least a couple of hundred quid!

By Alfresco on 22 Dec 2012

@Alfresco

What CPU were you running, what cooling were you using, what did you stress it with and how much did you overclock by?

By pveater on 22 Dec 2012

100°C?

Surely that can't be right? I would word it stronger than "a concern".

David.

By artiss on 24 Dec 2012

No VESA support

Apple have also announced that, unlike the previous models, there is currently no VESA mount convertor for the new iMacs - and it is unclear whether the 21" will receive them...

(Source ZDNet)

By big_D on 27 Dec 2012

I really don't see the new iMacs as improvements at all. its style at the expense of functionality. The inconvenience of the rear mounted ports esp the SDXC as well as the bonded screen; which so far as reflections are concerned not so good in reality.
I opted for Mac Mini with i7 2.6Ghz 16GB Ram and Fusion drive which amazing performance especially for its size. It runs quiet and cooler than my 2011 iMac. As I can use my existing monitors, this makes a much more flexible system which I can easily carry from home to office.

By daveperkes1 on 3 Jan 2013

iMac vs any Windows machine.

I have an iMac 27" Oct 2010 - plenty bells and whistles - 12gb ram. My first and last Mac of any shape or size.

It's very pretty, particularly the screen. But is has proved unreliable - constant crashes. Apple totally uninterested in my problems over two years of ownership. Total hard disk failure after 18 months. The 'wonderful' Findar app cannot search NAS HDs.

Mac OS X is highly overrated as are Mac machines. Windows, unfortunately isn't any better.

Will probably go back to Windows or Linux machines when this piece of rubbish dies. At least you can get into a PC to sort out hardware issues.

Mac zealots can bleat --- now :)

By wmike on 3 Jan 2013

Best looking teasmaid ever?

With 100°C temperatures kicking about, it sounds like you want a liquid cooling system running on Earl Grey....

By Big_Hal on 3 Jan 2013

All in one - really?

The all-in-one concept means that this performs as a PC, TV, and games console. To get games to run, you need Windows installed, so this should be mentioned explicitly when comparing the 'value' of this with the likes of HP or Dell. Is there a TV card built in to this? Can't see it in the specs...

By stefani on 7 Jan 2013

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