Apple's latest update to the popular iMac brings Intel's iX line of processors to the entire lineup. The 21.5-inch model gets three processor options: a 3.06 GHz or 3.2 GHz Intel Core i3 in the two standard models, and a 3.60 GHz Intel Core i5 in a build-to-order configuration.
Apple has kept the best features of the previous iMacs and added more speed and better graphics performance. What's not to like?
- Better-performing processors.
- Improved graphics capabilities.
- Lacks dedicated HDMI output.
- No USB 3 or faster FireWire.
- i3-based models do not support Turbo Boost.
- No SSD option.
- Only up to 8 GB of RAM on the 21.5-inch model!
- Choice of Dual-Core i3 and i5 processors.
- ATI Radeon HD 4670 or 5670.
- 500 GB, 1 TB, and 2 TB hard drive options.
- One FireWire 800 port.
- Four USB 2.0 ports.
- One SDXC card slot.
- Mini DisplayPort
- AirPort Extreme 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, 10/100/1000 Ethernet.
- Built-in iSight, microphone, and stereo speakers.
iMac Processor Choices
The two standard configurations using the Core i3 processors support hyperthreading. This means that although the i3 has only two cores, it will appear to your Mac and all of the software you use as four distinct cores. Hyperthreading is now the norm in all iMac configurations, and provides a nice boost for applications that are multi-threaded.
Not all software can use the additional cores, however. For that reason, you can't overlook raw processor speed because it's the deciding factor for performance in all single-threaded applications. Luckily, Apple has configured the 21.5-inch iMacs with processors that have outstanding raw performance.
The performance improves further if you select the Core i5 option. Unlike the Core i3 processors, the i5 supports Turbo Boost. This lets the 3.60 GHZ i5 increase its raw clock speed to 3.86 GHz when only a single core is in use.
The iMac graphics represent a nice improvement. The base model uses a dedicated ATI Radeon HD 4670, while the 3.2 GHz i3 and 3.60 GHz i5 models get the beefier ATI Radeon HD 5670. Both graphics cards are an upgrade over the options seen in the previous generation of iMacs, and should provide a good increase in graphics performance. The HD 5670 also comes with 512 MB of dedicated video memory, which should further improve its performance.
The iMac's display is the same one used in the previous generation, which is actually a good thing. The display is an LED Backlit IPS LCD panel, with a 1920x1080 native resolution. The display looks sharp, colors are bright, and there seems to be a very wide viewing angle, ensuring that you won't see color shifts or brightness falloff if you move around near your iMac while you're working.
Storage and Memory
All of the 21.5-inch iMacs come equipped with 4 GB of RAM and the ability to install up to 8 GB using two RAM slots. The base 3.06 GHz iMac only comes with a 500 GB hard drive, while all other models include a 1 TB hard drive, with an optional 2 TB drive available.
There have been no changes in the iMac's port configurations. You'll find the expected four USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire 800 port, a mini DisplayPort for attaching a second monitor, and an SDXC card slot.
At £845+vat, the base model is the least expensive out of pocket, but you're restricted to a 500 GB hard drive and the slower ATI Radeon HD 4670. For only a £210 increase, you can upgrade to an iMac with a faster processor, a 1 GB hard drive, and the faster ATI Radeon HD 5670.
The i5 option gives you the best performing 21.5-inch iMac, but costs slightly more, which moves the 21.5-inch iMac into the price territory of the 27-inch model.