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Apple iMac 21.5-inch (2014) review

Apple iMac 21.5-inch (2014)
“Apple’s reduced-price iMac is a fine system for students and families whose computing needs are light and who prioritize style over performance.”
  • Handles day-to-day tasks with ease
  • Dead quiet
  • Elegant, sturdy construction
  • Sharp IPS LCD screen
  • Commendable built-in speakers
  • Bundled mouse and keyboard
  • Premium price
  • Disappointing CPU performance
  • Components are not user replaceable
  • Awkward mouse and keyboard

Cupertino recently lowered the price on its iMac desktops from $1,299 to $1,099. Though still spendier than many PC competitors, getting an iMac suddenly got significantly more affordable.

This iMac had the stock 500GB mechanical drive upgraded to a 1TB Fusion Drive, adding $250 to the price for a total of $1,349. Other specs match the base model, including a 1.4GHz Intel Core i5 dual-core processor, 8GB of RAM, and Intel HD Graphics 5000.

Apple envisions its newest iMac as the perfect computer for basic day-to-day use, tasks like Web browsing, email, and light gaming. While it may fit that description, $1,349 — or even $1,099 — is a lot to pay. Does the iMac’s performance justify the new, lower price?

Video review

Nothing new here

Aside from a change in specs and price, this 21.5-inch iMac doesn’t sport any radical changes on the design front.

The iMac’s chassis is made of aluminum, and feels as premium as any computer we’ve ever laid our hands on. The system is thin, measuring 5mm at its edge, and rests on a solid L-shaped pedestal. Tilting the display up and down is so effortless you can do it with one hand — no need to grab the base to steady it.

The iMac feels as premium as any computer we’ve ever laid our hands on.

If there’s one word that comes to mind when we look at the iMac, it’s “neat.” The computer looks slick and will earn a double take from anyone who passes your desk. Power for the entire machine comes from a single cable, which minimizes clutter on and around your workspace. We like that.

Apple’s dislike for cables extends over to the bundled peripherals, a standard keyboard and Magic Mouse, both of which are wireless. While they’re pretty, they’re both small. If you’re used to a full-size PC keyboard, Apple’s flat, wireless QWERTY will seem especially tiny.

Our other design complaint is that the power button is mysteriously located around the back left, where it’s difficult to find. Eventually, you’ll develop the muscle memory that ends the “find the power button” hunt, but we wish it was placed in the front. In fact, we think the Apple logo under the display would make a great power button.

The iMac’s 21.5-inch 1080p display produces crisp, luminous images, even if the gloss can be distracting when viewing at an angle. The built-in speakers will be more than good enough for most people, though audiophiles will probably want to add a nice pair of headphones, or some chic speakers.

Around back, you’ll find a sufficient set of ports: four USB 3.0, two Thunderbolt, Ethernet, a memory-card reader, and an audio jack. We like that all of the USB connections are of the speedy 3.0 variety, but we wish it had a mic jack, along with an HDMI port. Wireless connectivity comes courtesy of 802.11ac, and Bluetooth 4.0.

Do you hear that iMac? No, no you don’t

We’ve come across our fair share of noisy PCs, and we’re sure that you have as well. Though we’ve grown to live with whirring fans and clicking hard drives, some computers mask it better than others. And the new iMac is as quiet as PCs come. No matter what we were doing — browsing the Web, gaming, watching videos, or benchmark testing — we didn’t hear a peep out of this thing.


Apple envisions its newest iMac as the ideal home computer, best suited for handling basic tasks. So how does its 1.4GHz Intel Core i5 CPU hold up in testing?

Before we get into that, it’s worth nothing that Apple’s limited selection of hardware and the Mac OS led us to begin by comparing it to the MacBook Pro — a laptop — rather than other desktop PCs running Windows. Normally, we would not compare a laptop to a desktop, but considering that this iMac is priced alongside a MacBook Pro (which goes for $1,299), we thought it made a fair comparison.

Surprisingly, the laptop often won.

Apple iMac 2014 back left ports

In the Cinebench OpenGL benchmark, the iMac got 20.61 frames per second (fps). Though that’s not bad for a computer with an integrated graphics processor (GPU), the MacBook Pro 13 with Retina outperforms it at 24fps.

We also ran Geekbench 3 on the iMac, a good gauge of the CPU’s power. The iMac got single and multi-core scores of 2,835, and 5,449, respectively, while the MacBook Pro 13 edges out both with scores of 2,946, and 6,301.

In order to stack up the iMac against Windows machines, its primary competition, we dual booted Windows 8.1 with OS X via Boot Camp, and ran SiSoft Sandra and 7-Zip, two of our Windows benchmark regulars.

You can get a better balanced iMac by spending less.

The last Windows-based all in one desktop we reviewed is the Lenovo C560 Touch, a 23-incher with a $779 price tag powered by an Intel Core i3-4130T dual-core CPU clocked at 2.9GHz. How does the iMac stack up on the processor performance front?

In the SiSoft Sandra Processor Arithmetic test, the iMac scored 36.11 GOPS. That’s lower than what the Lenovo got – 48.46 GOPS.

Yet the roles were reversed a bit when it came to 7-Zip. The iMac got a score of 7,512, while the C560 scored just below that – 7,436. Even so, considering that the C560 was significantly cheaper than this iMac when we reviewed it, the scores shouldn’t be this close to begin with.

Real-world use

Processor performance aside, the iMac held up well when it came to real-world usage. We threw 20 to 30 browser tabs at it while installing League of Legends and keeping multiple windows open in OS X Mavericks.

We didn’t feel any delays when switching between multiple browser tabs in Safari, and scrolling up and down pages with all those tabs open was a smooth experience. We chatted, emailed, Facebooked, and more; the iMac never strained. If you’re looking for a desktop that can handle general tasks well, this iMac is more than adequate.

Mac OS X is not known for being much of a gaming platform. But one of the games we use to test real-world performance, League of Legends, also offers a Mac client. So, we fired the game up to see how the iMac’s Intel HD Graphics 5000 GPU would fare.

Apple iMac 2014 bottom screen

Without a frame-rate monitor for OS X, we had to judge gameplay by eye. With the game’s visuals set to medium, gameplay was buttery smooth. Even during the most heated 5 vs. 5 battles, the iMac didn’t choke, or even gasp. We would wager the frame rate on medium generally ranged from the low 40s, to the low 50s. That’s enough for an enjoyable gaming experience.

But the iMac didn’t fare as well when we turned the visuals up to very high. Here, the frame rate range dipped significantly enough to see stuttering, probably between the low 20s, to the mid 30s.

You probably won’t game much with the iMac anyway, but if you do, it can handle basic games like League of Legends and World of Warcraft fairly well. Just don’t expect to be able to crank the visuals up to the max while also maintaining solid frame rates.

Configurations and upgrade options

Unfortunately, this iMac’s components can’t be upgraded by the user, which means the decisions you make when you buy stay with you forever.

Our review iMac came equipped with a 1TB Fusion Drive, replacing the 500GB mechanical drive in the $1,099 base model and driving the price up $250 to $1,349. We wouldn’t recommend making this swap if you buy one, considering that you can get a better balanced iMac by spending less.

Right now, Apple sells a $1,299 iMac with the same size display, a 2.7GHz Intel Core i5 quad-core processor, the same amount of RAM (8GB), a better, Intel Iris Pro Graphics GPU, and a 1TB mechanical hard drive. So, for $50 less, you get a better central processor, and graphics chip, rather than a Fusion Drive. That would make for a better rounded system, overall.


Apple has always demanded a premium for its hardware, and even after a $200 price drop, that hasn’t changed. Any number of cheaper Windows machines will outperform Apple’s equivalent. For instance, the Lenovo A540 offers a larger 23.8-inch 1080p screen, an Intel Core i7 CPU clocked at 2.8GHz, Intel Iris Graphics 5100, the same amount of RAM (8GB), and a 1TB hard drive paired with an 8GB solid state drive for $1,299. Plus, like the iMac, the mouse and keyboard it’s bundled with are wireless as well.

But that’s not why you buy an iMac. Apple’s elegant design, sturdy construction, and gorgeous display are all unparalleled by any PC rival, and if you’re still not partial to Windows 8.1, there’s no value you can attach to OS X Yosemite as a replacement.

For that reason, we still recommend Apple’s iMac in its cheapest $1,099 configuration, which will handle day-to-day tasks just as well as our review sample, and the upgraded $1,299 model with a better CPU and GPU, which will perform better than this model for less money.

If you have the patience, we strongly suspect Apple will unveil new iMacs when Intel’s Broadwell CPUs arrive in five or six months, so consider holding out for better efficiency and graphics.


  • Handles day-to-day tasks with ease
  • Dead quiet
  • Elegant, sturdy construction
  • Sharp IPS LCD display
  • Commendable built-in speakers
  • Bundled mouse and keyboard


  • Premium price
  • Disappointing CPU performance
  • Components are not user replaceable
  • Awkward mouse and keyboard

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