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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 media centre

Apple also added a Mini DisplayPort that can be used to hook up another display - though I can't imagine why you'd need to - or, more important, use the iMac as a display itself.

And that's where the office-vs-living-room debate arises. The screen size allows you to have numerous windows open at one time - perfect for word processing, digital photo work or any kind of graphics endeavours.

It also allows you to watch HD video in amazing clarity and with vibrant colour saturation. Given the top-notch industrial design for which Apple is known, this iMac would look as appropriate in the living room as it does on a desk.

iMac 2009 media centre

The wireless keyboard and mouse make it easy to set up the iMac as a media centre, since you can pretty much fire up iTunes and watch DVDs from a distance without having to worry about cords.

And if you have a digital camera that uses SD cards, you can now slip them right into the built-in SD card slot on the right side of the iMac (next to the CD/DVD slot). With Apple's iPhoto application, you've got an instant slide show.

iMac Blu-Ray

The only thing missing from this would-be multimedia showpiece is a Blu-Ray player. For whatever reason, Apple has been reluctant to add Blu-Ray drives to any of its hardware, and this iMac really cries out for it.

Regular DVDs look a little soft and can show digital artifacts, but if the HD movie trailers I viewed are any measure, Blu-Ray would be flat-out awesome. Of course, then you might be less inclined to buy or rent HD movies through iTunes.

(According to Apple, it's possible to connect up an external Blu-Ray player - but an adaptor will be needed to convert the HDMI signal coming from the player to the MiniDisplay Port on the iMac. And a scaler would be needed because of the screen's high resolution. Apple doesn't sell those, though, so it'll be up to another company to come up with a solution.)

iMac or Cinema Display

I do wonder what this iMac's introduction means for Apple's beautiful, but now aging, 30-inch Cinema Display monitor.

Sure, it has a slightly higher resolution because of its 16x10 aspect ratio. But it costs just £175 less than the 27-inch iMac and it's just a display.

With the iMac, you get 90 percent of the Cinema Display's screen real estate, and a high-powered computer built in. You'd have to really need that 30-inch screen to justify the expense.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Apple update the Cinema Display soon, either by bumping up its resolution or by downsizing it to 27 inches and cutting the price. That's just speculation; Apple doesn't talk about future product plans.

Speaking of cost, it's important to note that the 27-inch £1,599 quad-core model costs £200 less than the old top-end iMac. Apple has been bashed for too often holding the line on prices, so the price drop is noteworthy in these recessionary times.

NEXT: iMac tech specs

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Apple iMac (2009) Expert Verdict »

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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