Apple sells three versions of its 21.5-inch all-in-one desktop iMac, differentiated by processor speed, hard drive capacity and graphics card. Here we speed test the Mid-2014 iMacs and look at which is best for you.
The iMac is, of course, a great example of Apple’s elegant industrial design. It houses everything – display, processor, graphics, storage, memory and so on – within its super slim case. It manages to pack everything into the thin case by use of advanced friction-stir welding, full-lamination display and micro engineering.
It comes with a wireless keyboard and wireless Magic Mouse (buy the £25 Apple Battery Charger), so all you need to add is a modem/router and you’re in business.
The LCD screen is big, glossy and vibrant – great for web browsing, editing, games and watching movies. If you want a bigger screen Apple offers huge 27-inch iMacs too. For more on the whole range, see 2014 iMac range review.
The resolution of the widescreen displays remain at 1,920-x-1,080 on the 21.5-inch iMac, compared to 2,560-x-1,440 on the 27-inch iMac.
Each of the 21.5-inch iMacs is powered by a quad-core Intel Core i5 (Haswell) processor, with a build-to-order option up to a 3.1GHz Core i7.
Every iMac comes with four USB 3 ports and two Thunderbolt ports for fast transfer speeds and expansion opportunities. The iMac supports ultra-fast 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology is also built in.
None of the iMacs offers a DVD drive. You can buy these separately from Apple for £65.
The entry-level 21.5-inch iMac costs £899, and has a 1.4GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, 500GB hard drive and Intel HD Graphics 5000 video card.
Mid-range 21.5-inch iMacs
For £1,049 you get a 21.5-inch iMac with a much faster 2.7GHz Intel Core i5, 8GB memory, 1TB hard drive and Intel Iris Pro Graphics card.
For £1,199 the fastest 21.5-inch iMac comes with 2.9GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB memory, 1TB hard drive and enhanced Nvidia GeForce GT 750M graphics card with 1GB of video memory. This model can, for £160, be upgraded at point of purchase to use a 3.1GHz Core i7 chip.
Low-cost iMac worth the saving?
As you can see the entry-level iMac looks under-powered compared to the other models. Indeed in our tests it’s 54 percent slower overall than the next iMac up the speed chain, and only 15% or £150 cheaper. Test results are from Macworld Labs.
You can speed up the low-cost iMac by over 20% by ordering one with a 1TB Fusion drive – a mix of hard drive and solid-state flash storage – but that increases the price by £200, and so actually over the cost of the next model up yet still slower overall.
That said this low-cost 1.4GHz iMac runs most applications just fine, and you wouldn’t notice the difference on most everyday tasks (web browsing, email, etc). We wouldn’t recommend it if you edit a lot of video but for most tasks it does what you need it to.
Faster 21.5-inch iMacs
So what do you get for the extra money by choosing a faster iMac?
Performance, clearly, is much better than the low-cost iMac. As we note above over 50 percent faster, and so better at higher-intensity tasks such as photo or video editing.
The 2.9GHz iMac is only 5.5 percent faster than the 2.7GHz iMac, so the only real difference you get with the top-end 21-5-inch iMac is the faster graphics – great if you play a lot of games on your Mac.
The two slightly more expensive 21.5-inch iMacs are much more customizable than the entry-level iMac.
If you want a larger or faster internal drive or more memory, it’s best to customize your iMac at the time of purchase if you’re buying the 21.5-inch models. The 27-inch iMac allows for more, later user customization but the smaller iMac is hard to customize post purchase.
Available options for the £1,049 21.5-inch model include 256GB or 512GB of flash storage (£160 and £400, respectively) or a 1TB Fusion Drive (£160) that marries 126GB of fast flash storage and 1TB hard drive into a single volume that performs much like an SSD, but with the capacity of a hard drive.
Upping the memory from 8GB to 16GB will cost £160. Again, do this at the point of purchase as upgrading later is not at all an easy task.
The higher-end 21.5-inch iMac’s processor can be upgraded from the standard 2.9GHz Core i5 to a 3.1GHz quad-core Core i7 processor for another £160.
Of all these upgrade options we think the Fusion Drive is the one to go for as it really increases speed, especially in copying files.
We wouldn’t bother upgrading the low-cost iMac. You’d be better off buying one of the faster 21.5-inch iMacs anyway.
The 21.5-inch iMac is a beautiful all-in-one desktop Mac, starting at a reasonable £899. For that price you get a Mac that is fine for everyday tasks but a little slow for more labour-intensive jobs like editing photos and videos, but it’s still capable of that too. The two slightly pricier iMacs are much faster, although the top-end model isn’t that much speedier than the mid-range model. For that reason we recommend the mid-range £1,049, 21.5-inch iMac with 2.7GHz processor. If you can afford the extra £160 upgrade it at time of purchase with the super-fast Fusion Drive.