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We could go on at length about the superior design and build-quality of iMac, if we had space. Clearly in a league of its own iMac is the all-in-one to buy if quality, style and desirability are anywhere in your list of priorities. This new version is slimmer and more covetable than ever. See: more reviews of all-in-one PCs.

It may be the baby iMac, but the 21.5in model can certainly hold its own against the competition. Its IPS display delivers the same 1920 x 1080-pixel image as 23in models; and does so with far superior results and much more accurate colour reproduction.

It also features a 2.7GHz Intel Core i5-3335S low-power quad core processor which delivers excellent productivity and creativity results in the PCMark 7 benchmarks.

The nVidia GeForce GTX 640M graphics processor enables casual gaming at a much higher level to those systems relying on Intel’s graphics, although this can’t be upgraded to even gamer-friendlier levels like the 27in iMac.

Our review sample was the £1099 entry-level version. A faster version, featuring a 2.9GHz processor and faster graphics, will set you back £1249.

Both models can also be customised with increased memory or an external optical drive (there isn’t one fitted internally). The faster model can also accept an even quicker 3.1GHz processor.

Connectors include four USB 3.0 and a pair of Thunderbolt ports, along with an SDXC memory-card reader and a headphone jack. Apple’s built-in FaceTime HD webcam allows easy Skypeing and video conferencing.

For space reasons, the 21.5in Apple iMac (Late 2012) is fitted with a 2.5in notebook hard disk which is noticeably slower than the 3.5in version found in the 27in iMac, and this was reflected in our benchmark scores.It scored 3100 points in the PCMark 7 test this time.

But performance would be really improved by opting for the hybrid Fusion drive. This boosts storage performance by adding 128GB of flash memory, and an extra £200 to the asking price.

NEXT PAGE: iMac screen quality, Ivy Bridge and gaming performance, from our original review >>

Apple Macs are well known for their striking hardware designs, so it’s ironic that for the new iMac all-in-one PC its dazzling new design talking point isn’t even obvious while you’re actually using it. At first frontal glance, the new Apple iMac looks virtually identical to its predecessor. It’s only when you peek around the side that you notice the amazingly slim profile of this new model. See also: Group test: what's the best all-in-one PC?

Getting rid of the DVD drive helps of course, but a new lamination process has also helped to slim down the glass screen panel of the 21.5in iMac, reducing it to just 5mm thick around the edges. It does bulge out a bit more towards the centre of the back panel, but it makes the two-year old iMac in our office look decidedly chunky.

Apple iMac 21.5in (Late 2012): screen quality

There’s also a noticeable improvement in screen quality with the new 21.5in iMac. The screen itself remains unchanged – a 21.5in IPS panel with 1920 x 1080 resolution – but that new lamination process and an improved anti-reflective coating help to reduce glare and reflection quite considerably. Again, the contrast with the old office iMac is quite striking, with colours looking much brighter and richer.

It also runs a lot cooler than that old iMac. Even with various benchmarking programs thrashing away at full tilt the back panel never became more than merely warm to the touch. We couldn’t detect any significant noise from the fan or through the small heat vent at the back either.

Thankfully, Apple has finally updated updated the four USB ports on the iMac to USB 3.0, and there are two Thunderbolt ports also available, along with an SD card slot, ethernet and headphone socket. Sadly, though, this year’s model finally says goodbye to FireWire (and hello to the £25 Thunderbolt-to-FireWire adaptor). See: How to install extra RAM memory in the new iMac to save on Apple's high prices.

There’s no denying that Apple’s engineers have gone all-out with the design of the new iMac. It is, however, disappointing to see that the iMac is now even more expensive than ever before. We tested the ‘entry-level’ model, which has increased in price by £100 to £1099.

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Apple iMac 21.5in (Late 2012): Ivy Bridge

This model gets an Ivy Bridge update for its Intel quad-core Core i5 processor, and a modest speedbump from 2.5GHz to 2.7GHz, along with 8GB of RAM and 1TB hard disk.

That i5 processor does provide plenty of raw horsepower for tasks such as photo or video-editing – aided, of course, by Apple’s bundled iLife software suite. Yet there are signs of compromise elsewhere inside that slimline chassis. The use of a 5400rpm notebook hard disk is a cost-cutting measure that has a definite impact on overall performance.

Boot time is a relatively sluggish 40 seconds. Using Boot Camp to easily install Windows 7, we ran the PCMark 7 benchmark software and saw a modest score of 2487. This test, as in real life, rewards faster solid-state storage with the higher scores we’re now seeing with SSD-based computers.

Apple iMac 21.5in (Late 2012): gaming performance

And, at this price, gaming performance could be better too. To be fair, the GeForce GT 640M graphics card with 512MB of video memory will be fine for a spot of casual gaming.

It only managed 27fps when running the Mac version of Batman: Arkham City at full 1920 x 1080 resolution, but we managed to bump that up to a smooth 40fps by lowering the resolution to 1280 x 960.

Interestingly, we generally got an extra 5fps when using the Windows version of Arkham City at similar resolutions – even with all the DirectX 11 eye-candy turned on – which indicates the difference in raw performance between the OpenGL and DirectX graphics APIs available to OS X and Windows respectively.

In any event, a machine costing over £1000 might be expected to have a beefier graphics card – especially as it doesn’t provide any expansion slots for future upgrades.

There is another 21.5in model available, with faster nVidia GT 650M graphics and 2.9GHz quad-core, although that takes the price up to £1240.

Of course, nobody buys a Mac to use it just as a games machine, and if you treat the iMac as a general multimedia and entertainment system then it’s hard to beat. The slimline design is superb, as is the improved display, and the engineering quality is truly in a class of its own. It’s a shame that Apple couldn’t keep the price down below the psychological £1000 mark, however.

Cliff Joseph

Apple iMac 21.5in (Late 2012): Specs

  • 2.7GHz Intel Core i5-3335S
  • Mac OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion)
  • 8GB 1600MHz DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB hard drive, 5400rpm
  • 21.5in LED-backit IPS display, 1920 x 1080 resolution
  • nVidia GeForce GT 640M with 512MB GDDR5 VRAM
  • 4x USB 3.0
  • 2x Thunderbolt
  • 1x SDXC slot
  • gigabit ethernet
  • headphone socket/optical digital audio output
  • stereo speakers
  • 720p FaceTime HD webcam with twin microphones
  • Bluetooth 4.0, dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n
  • iLife software suite
  • 450 x 528 x 175mm (hwd)
  • 5.68 kg
  • 2.7GHz Intel Core i5-3335S
  • Mac OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion)
  • 8GB 1600MHz DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB hard drive, 5400rpm
  • 21.5in LED-backit IPS display, 1920 x 1080 resolution
  • nVidia GeForce GT 640M with 512MB GDDR5 VRAM
  • 4x USB 3.0
  • 2x Thunderbolt
  • 1x SDXC slot
  • gigabit ethernet
  • headphone socket/optical digital audio output
  • stereo speakers
  • 720p FaceTime HD webcam with twin microphones
  • Bluetooth 4.0, dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n
  • iLife software suite
  • 450 x 528 x 175mm (hwd)
  • 5.68 kg

OUR VERDICT

The 21.5in Apple iMac of late 2012 delivers a great deal of performance while taking up very little space. It delivers excellent screen quality and of course that unrivalled Apple design and build-quality. It is more expensive than other small all-in-ones and performance is somewhat compromised by the size.

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