Apple 21.5-inch iMac

There's little doubt that 2010 is the year of the iPad and iPhone for Apple, with the company largely focusing on the new kids on the block.r

NameDesktop computer: Apple 21.5-inch iMac
At a glance:21.5 inch, 1920x1080, 16:9 display,Intel Core i3 3.2 GHz processor,ATI Radeon 512MB HD 5670 graphics card,4GB DDR3 SDRAM,1TB, 7200 RPM hard drive
Summary:Modest improvements of its immediate predecessor but discrete graphics might sway owners of older iMac models

There’s little doubt that 2010 is the year of the iPad and iPhone for Apple, with the company largely focusing on the new kids on the block. But the Mac isn’t entirely out of the picture. While the Mac business is a more mature product line than Apple’s mobile device line up, it remains an important segment. And though the four new iMacs (two 21.5-inch models and two 27-inch models) released in July provide only small speed boosts, these latest desktops will make most customers very happy.

Standard equipment

The Intel Core 2 Duo processors found in the lower-end iMacs of the previous generation are gone. Apple now uses dual-core Intel Core i3 processors with 4MB of Level 3 cache in three of the new iMacs. The $2,499, 21.5-inch iMac reviewed here has a 3.2GHz Core i3.

It’s worth noting here that the 3.2GHz Core i3 CPU in this model supports Hyper Threading, which allows the processor to use virtual cores to better handle heavy workloads, but doesn’t support Turbo Boost, where the processor shuts down unused cores and boosts the speed of the active core.

Memory comes courtesy of 4GB of 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM installed as a pair of 2GB SO-DIMMs. With a total of four memory slots, you can add more SDRAM without having to replace the memory that comes with the iMac. The iMac supports a maximum of 16GB of memory.

Storage is via a 1TB, 7,200rpm hard drive and a slot-loading 8X SuperDrive takes care of optical discs. Right next to the SuperDrive slot is a SD card slot, which has been upgraded to support SDXC, a new format that allows for SD card capacity up to 64GB currently (and 2TB in the future).

Apple includes its Wireless Keyboard and the Magic Mouse with the iMac, but if you order online from the Apple Store, you can switch the keyboard to a wired version with a numeric keypad and switch the mouse to an Apple Mouse, both for no extra fee. You can also add Apple’s new Magic Trackpad for $119 (see the review on page 26).

The external ports haven’t changed from the previous generation of iMacs. There’s a headphone/optical digital audio output mini-jack, an audio line in/optical digital audio input mini-jack, four USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire 800 port, a Mini DisplayPort (only the 27-inch iMac offers video-in support with this connection), and a Gigabit Ethernet port. The iMac also comes standard with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, built-in speakers, and a built-in iSight camera.

New graphics, same displays

Besides the processors, the graphics cards are the other major change with the new iMacs. Integrated graphics processors that use a portion of main memory for video memory are no longer featured in any of the iMacs. All of the new models use ATI discrete graphics, which have dedicated video RAM. This 3.2GHz model has a 512MB Radeon HD 5670 card.

As for the display, it’s the same 8-bit, 16:9 display as used in the previous iMac generation: LED-backlit, TFT active-matrix LCD with in-plane switching (IPS). The 21.5-inch display has a 1,920 x 1,080 native resolution. The viewing angle seems to be the same as the previous iMacs, which is good; there’s no noticeable colour shift when looking at an angle.

If you’re still holding out hope for an iMac with a non-glossy screen, I hate to tell you this, but it’s time to move on. The new iMacs all have a glass front, which creates a glossy effect with the screen. Apple seems to like this particular iMac design, and an anti-glare screen isn’t in the company’s plans. I’ve had different iMac models on my desk for quite some time now and I’ve adapted, but if you can’t figure out how to cope with the glare and reflections, you’ll have to consider another Mac model.

Customisation options

As usual, when you buy from the Apple Store, you can customise your order.

With this 3.2GHz Core i3 (Hyper-Threading only) model, you can upgrade the processor to a 3.6GHz Core i5 for $390. This dual-core Core i5 has both Hyper-Threading and Turbo Boost support.

Since Apple leaves two memory slots open, you might think about filling those slots with more memory. At the time of writing a pair of 2GB SO-DIMMs retailed for $200 plus $10 shipping. However, if you upgrade to 8GB (four 2GB SO-DIMMs) from the 4GB standard when you buy an iMac from the Apple Store, you’ll pay an additional $390. Adding memory to an iMac is an upgrade the user can easily perform, so you’ll save a few dollars if you shop for third-party memory.

Other upgrades include a 2TB hard drive for $300, an Apple Remote for $29 and the new $50 Apple Battery Charger, which includes six rechargeable batteries for your wireless keyboard, mouse and Magic Trackpad.


In tests the 3.2GHz Core i3 iMac managed modest speed improvements over its same-sized predecessor with a 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo CPU – the new iMac managing about a 16% improvement in its Speedmark 6 (Macworld benchmark suite) score. The 3.2GHz also had about a 7% improvement over the new 3.06GHz Core i3.

The iMac continues to be an attractive all-in-one computer for the family, home offices, and business. If you’re looking for a new Mac or you’re thinking about upgrading a desktop Mac that’s at least a couple of years old, you’ll be satisfied with the features and performance, as long as you’re willing to deal with the glossy display. If you bought a late-2009 iMac, the reasons to upgrade aren’t very compelling, unless you have the previous entry-level iMac with the integrated graphics and you want better graphics performance for games.

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Roman Loyola

Roman Loyola

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