Apple iMac 21.5in (late 2012)

The latest iMac comes with some trade offs, but remains one of the best all-round desktop computers on the market

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  • Thinner design, better screen
  • Update to Ivy Bridge processors
  • Fusion Drive tech compromises speed and space


  • As usual, pricy for an all-in-one
  • Questionable upgradability

Bottom Line

Apple’s reinvigorated iMac has the expected updates to processing and graphics performance, but the move to a hybrid flash- and traditional-disk hard drive is an interesting one. These class-leading all-in-ones are also predictably pricy.

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Apple's latest iMac has been completely revamped, with the major emphasis on an incredibly good looking design that tapers to just 5mm at the edge. The latest iMac comes with some trade offs, including poor positioning of the SD card slot, the lack of a built-in optical drive and limited upgradeability of internal components. However, it remains one of the best all-round desktop computers on the market.

Strikingly the right angle

The new Apple iMac actually doesn't look too different to the previous model from the front. There's still the striking gloss black bezel surrounding the screen, the black Apple logo below the screen and an aluminium stand that's attached to the back. It remains unmistakably Apple. The biggest changes to the design are on the back — instead of a largely flat piece of aluminium on the rear, the new iMac is a sphere like shape, bulging out in the middle where the stand attaches and tapering inwards towards the edges.

The iMac's design looks impressive when viewed at the right angle but it creates somewhat of an illusion.

This design is certainly looks impressive when viewed at the right angle but it creates somewhat of an illusion. Apple says the iMac is just 5mm thin but that's only on the direct edges. Catch it at a different angle and the back bulge is immediately apparent. We're certainly not criticising the design here, merely stating that the press shots of the iMac can be a little deceptive.

The new iMac design has both advantages and disadvantages. Apple says it has up to 40 per cent less volume than the previous generation iMac so if you're tight for space then this is one of the best solutions, even if it doesn't actually take up any less room than the previous model. By the same token, however, the 5mm edge has resulted in some changes. There's not enough room for a built-in optical drive, which has been removed altogether, and the SD card slot has been relocated from the side to the back. The latter is a particular annoyance if you use it often.

The iMac is an impressive 5mm thin but that's only on the direct edges.
The iMac is an impressive 5mm thin but that's only on the direct edges.

There's still some glare thanks to the glossy surface, but this is much improved from previous models.

Thankfully, the design changes on the new iMac haven't affected the display, in fact they've actually improved it. The smaller iMac comes with a 21.5in LED-backlit screen with a resolution of 2560x1440. If you've been spoiled by the retina display of the 3rd or 4th Generation iPad's or the MacBook Pro with Retina, you'll be disappointed that individual pixels can be distinguished. However, the screen is an excellent one overall, providing excellent colour reproduction and good viewing angles. Apple says the display is now laminated to the glass, which reduces reflections. While there's still some glare issues thanks to the glossy surface, this is much improved from previous models.

On the rear of the iMac you'll find four USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt ports, one Gigabit Ethernet port and a headphone jack. There's also stereo speakers on the bottom, dual microphones on the top and a 720p FaceTime video camera on the front. Disappointingly, we found the speakers lacked bass. The sound is still loud enough to fill a small room, but it's a very tinny sound without much punch.

The SD card slot has been moved to the back of the new iMac, which is an annoyance if you use it often.
The SD card slot has been moved to the back of the new iMac, which is an annoyance if you use it often.

Hardware and performance

The 21.5in iMac comes in two configurations. An entry level model ($1429) has a 2.7GHz quad-core Intel i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB 5400rpm hard drive and a NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M graphics processor with 512MB of memory, while the top model ($1698) bumps the processor to 2.9GHz.

Our review unit came with a number of built-to-order options, however, including a 3.1GHz Intel Core i7 processor ($240), 16GB of RAM ($240) and a 1TB 'Fusion' drive ($300) pushing the price up to a hefty $2478. Unfortunately, you can't upgrade the RAM on the 21.5in iMac after you purchase it and it's a shame there is no regular SSD drive offered as an option. A 5400rpm hard drive as standard is also disappointing.

The 1TB Fusion Drive is a curious option. Technically, it's two drives acting as one — an SSD for and a traditional rotating drive that offers more storage. The Mac OS X operating system automatically works out which applications and files you access most, and puts these on the faster SSD. Other, less used files are relegated to the slower hard disk drive. Everything runs smoothly when regularly used files are being accessed, but you'll immediately notice when large files (like videos) are stored on the 5400rpm hard drive. A faster 7200rpm drive, or a larger SSD option would have been appreciated in these situations.

Everything runs smoothly when regularly used files are being accessed.

Generally, performance during testing with our upgraded machine was excellent. Even with multiple applications running, including editing large image files, our iMac rarely showed any signs of lag or slowdown. The test machine recorded a Geekbench score of 12,591, significantly better than previous models. We ran Blender 3D rendering and iTunes MP3 encoding tests and the 21.5in iMac recorded only 12sec in the Blender test and 21sec in the iTunes test — both better results than the 15in Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display we reviewed last year. We also ran some video encoding tasks using Handbrake, in which the iMac took just 8min to convert a .vob file into an H.264-encoded MP4 file.

The 21.5in iMac (left) next to the larger 27in model.
The 21.5in iMac (left) next to the larger 27in model.

The iMac is a quiet machine during use. Even during taxing tasks like gaming or large image editing, we could only just hear the fan. The rear casing does get slightly warm during heavy processing, but it was never hot to touch.

Overall, the new 21.5in iMac is a great option as a home computer for most day-to-day tasks. Just be aware that its stunning design does come with some trade offs and that upgradability is limited once you've made your purchase.

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