Another year, another fresh crop of Apple iMacs. Last year's model was pretty special, introducing a new body design and packing the touch-sensitive Magic Mouse. This time it's the innards that have evolved -- a new load of processors is the basis of Apple's latest harvest. This 21.5-inch model of ours, packing a 3.06GHz Intel Core i3 processor, will set you back £1,000 -- but is it worth it?
The design hasn't changed much -- Apple has stuck with the aluminium unibody, and we have to say we're pleased. Machined from a single block of aluminium, if this computer had pores, class would be oozing from every single one. Each edge is delightfully sharp and precise, and we can't help but like the Spartan, minimalistic approach Apple has taken. A glossy black Apple logo is the only decoration you'll find on the front of this all-in-one, with all the functional bits and bobs relegated to the sides or rear of the machine.
Down the right side you'll find a DVD rewritable drive and an SDXC card slot, while the left side is completely bare. Round the back, connectivity is still pretty sparse -- apart from the power switch, you'll get a 3.5mm headphone jack and an audio line-in socket, four USB ports, a FireWire 800 port, DisplayPort and Ethernet port.
You'll also get an Apple Magic Mouse in the box, which, in our experience, can get uncomfortable with extended use. There's an Apple Wireless Keyboard included, which leaves an impressively small footprint, but if you're going to be doing a whole lot of typing you might want to upgrade to something a little bigger and more comfortable.
The design is indisputably beautiful, and we've never seen an all-in-one as smooth and elegant (not since the last one, at least). In saying that, the sparse aesthetic has its drawbacks. Reaching around the back of the iMac to plug in your headphones or USB peripherals could well prove annoying, as could having to get your hand around the back to hit the power button. We're not convinced that four USB ports is really enough to cater to the peripheral-hungry youth of today, either. Unless you already own all the necessary connectors and adaptors, outputting video via DisplayPort is quite a hassle.
The lack of clutter on the face of this machine gives the screen a chance to shine. It's just as well, because this 21.5-inch LED-backlit panel looks rather stunning. It's incredibly bright and vivid -- enough so that it's able to cancel out all the annoying reflections you'd normally find on a panel this glossy. It boasts a maximum resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels, so hi-res imagery and video rendered on this screen will look pleasingly sharp. We threw some of our favourite 1080p video content at this display, and found it so bright and clear our eyeballs almost evaporated.
Working hard or hardly working?
When our vision returned to normal, we took a look at what's inside this iMac. This new line introduces Intel's Core iSeries. The 21.5-inch version is available with either a Core i3 or Core i5 processor, while the larger 27-incher comes with i3, i5 or i7 options. If you do decide to upsize, you'll also have the option to choose quad-core iterations of the i5 and i7 CPUs -- ideal for those who like their computer grunty (and their wallet empty).
Our review sample is the weakest possible configuration, but it's also the cheapest. Our iMac has a dual-core Intel Core i3 processor clocked at 3.06GHz, backed up by 4GB of DDR3 RAM and an ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics card. There's also a 500GB hard drive lurking in the belly of this beast.
So how does the weakest configuration of this machine perform? Very capably, we found. This computer is a million miles from sluggish, and we didn't find it struggling with any of the tasks we threw at it, including playing back some 1080p video content. Our iMac scored 202.71 when we ran the Xbench Mac benchmark test. For a sense of perspective, this 27-inch Core 2 Duo iMac we reviewed last October scored 190.52.
If you're looking for something to handle cutting-edge gaming, or you're in a line of work where you need something capable of handling CPU-intensive tasks (video editing for example), it would be wise to opt for a more powerful configuration. If, on the other hand, you're looking for a home desktop machine to handle ordinary computing and video playback, we reckon you'll do fine with this configuration.
It's a pricey piece of kit, but there's actually some very reasonable hardware stuffed inside this Apple iMac, and the high cost is justified by the impeccable build quality and an impressive display. Our only real gripes are with the relatively paltry connectivity options, and having to reach around the back of the darned thing to plug in a USB stick.
If you're all about the connectivity, check out the similarly priced MSI Wind Top AE2400. It isn't as slick, but it offers a tonne of connectivity options, including a TV tuner.
Edited by Emma Bayly