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Apple iMac review (21.5-inch, 27-inch)

£949 inc VAT (21.5in)

Manufacturer: Apple

Our Rating: We rate this 4 out of 5

The new Apple iMac design lends itself more towards use as central part of a home entertainment centre, as well as boasting top-end performance. [Updated with Quad-Core i5 and i7 speed tests, November 20, 2009. See LATEST 2012 iMAC REVIEWS link below]

The new Apple iMac design lends itself more towards use as central part of a home entertainment centre, as well as boasting top-end performance.

iMac hard drive

In addition to opting for a faster processor and more RAM, you can also max out the hard drive with a 2TB model for an extra £200.

That's going to be useful if you decide to use your iMac for downloading and watching a lot of digital video. Given the limited upgrade options for the iMac, it pays to assess your needs wisely and choose accordingly when you buy. No doubt, 2TB sounds like a lot of growing room now, but will it feel that way in three years?

iMac 2009 graphics

iMac graphics

On the 27-inch model I'm using, you can move from the ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics card with 256MB of video RAM to an ATI Radeon HD 4850, which doubles the video RAM and offers an 80 percent performance boost for £120 more. Videographers and gamers take note.

The hardware behind the screen combines to offer a level of performance that should be beyond plenty for most users. I fired up the Xbench benchmarking app for a quick performance test and got a sizzling score of 187 - 11 points higher than the same chip clocks in at on my 17-inch MacBook Pro.

It's so fast that I don't even miss the solid-state disk (SSD) drive I have in my MacBook Pro. (All things being equal, an SSD drive can make a computer feel a lot faster than it really is in day-to-day use.)

iMac Magic Mouse

The screen, which manages to crowd in 109 pixels per inch, is the biggest selling point. But it's not the only change Apple rolled out with this update.

It also unveiled its new wireless Magic Mouse. Along with a tweaked wireless keyboard that now uses two AA batteries (rather than three), the Magic Mouse is now part of the iMac bundle.

The mouse has no buttons and is made of aluminium on the bottom and white polycarbonate plastic with a smooth finish on top. You can scroll through Web pages, documents and photos vertically, or use two-finger gestures to swipe left and right.

iMac Magic Mouse

I love the scrolling and right-left "button" motions. I'm less enamoured of the two-finger swipes, because you have to hold the mouse in place with your thumb and ring fingers while swiping with your index and middle fingers. I tried it, it works, but I'm fine without it.

The mouse is darn stylish, though. There's something about the seamless curves and the materials that remind me of a Ferrari. (If you're interested in just the mouse, one will set you back £55. What price style?)

For more information read our full Apple Magic Mouse review.

NEXT: iMac vs Cinema Display - the Apple iMac media centre

PREVIOUS: iMac case design and iMac memory

PREVIOUS: iMac performance

PREVIOUS: iMac screen

Apple iMac (2009) Expert Verdict »

Apple iMac MB950B/A (Late 2009) reviews verified by Reevoo

Apple iMac MB950B/A (Late 2009)Scores 9.3 out of 10 based on 55 reviews
21.5-inch iMacs: 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
1920 x 1080 resolution
4GB memory (16GB max)
500GB-1TB hard drive
NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics or ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics (256MB). 27-inch iMacs: 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, or 2.66GHz Intel Core i5, or 2.8GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7
2560 x 1440 resolution
4GB memory (16GB max)
1TB hard drive
ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics (256MB) or ATI Radeon HD 4850 graphics (512MB).
  • Build Quality: We give this item 8 of 10 for build quality
  • Features: We give this item 8 of 10 for features
  • Value for Money: We give this item 8 of 10 for value for money
  • Overall: We give this item 8 of 10 overall

Apple's flagship iMac comes in a variety of flavours and two sizes, with the £1,349 model we've been using being the sweet spot. It offers the most value for the price and could spur desktop sales. In recent years, more and more Mac buyers have opted for Apple's popular line of laptops. Desktops, in some ways, have fallen out of favour, given the prevalence of wireless connections and the public's desire for mobility.
However, if performance is your top priority save up for the new £1,599 quad-core, 27-inch Intel i5-based iMac or £1,759 i7-based iMac.

With the new 2.66GHz Core i5 iMac and the 2.8GHz Core i7 iMac, Apple has not only blurred the line between consumer and professional systems, it's darn near erased it. The 2.66GHz Core i5 iMac offers faster performance at most tasks than the 2.66GHz Quad-Core Mac Pro. The Core i5 iMac also has more memory and more storage space than the 2.66GHz Quad-Core Mac Pro, while being £300 less (plus you get a 27-inch screen with the iMac). Unless you absolutely require additional PCI cards, multiple internal hard drives, or a lot of RAM, the Core i5 iMac makes a strong case for the being the go-to system for most Mac professionals.

But with an absolutely stunning screen, a lot of under-the-hood performance improvements, the wireless keyboard and the new mouse, and flexibility that makes it fit in at work or at home, this new iMac could lead to a resurgence in desktop sales for Apple.

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