Apple iMac 21.5in review (mid-2014)

At £899, this is the cheapest iMac available. We find out if Apple has comprised on quality

  • Slimline design; 1920 x 1080 IPS display; Good connectivity
  • Modest performance; Limited upgrade options; Poor wireless keyboard

Apple is looking to increase the uptake of its popular iMac by lowering the starting price to 899. But with the modest hardware specification and limited upgrade options, is it value for money?

Despite the lower price, the 21.5in iMac has the same elegant, slimline design as all other devices in the range. Apple uses special lamination process allowing it to reduce the thickness of the display to 5mm around the edges.

The screen clocks a 1920 x 1080 resolution, and its bright IPS panel is ideal for web browsing, photo-editing, and office work. Apple has added a microscopic anti-reflective coating to reduce glare and reflections, and included an ambient light sensor so the iMac can automatically adjust brightness. 

Input is provided by Apple's wireless keyboard but this is cramped and not suitable for hours of typing or number-crunching. Investing in a full-sized keyboard accessory is a necessity.

Specs and Performance

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The 21.5in iMac is equipped with a dual-core Intel i5 processor running at 1.4GHz (2.7GHz with Turboboost), along with 8GB of memory and a conventional 500GB hard disk. 

A traditional 5400rpm hard drive instead of an SSD is a surprise inclusion and helps to explain the mixed results when it comes to performance.

The iMac delivered an overall score of 70/100 when we measured its performance in relation to office, multitasking, video rendering and music encoding tasks.

Thanks to its healthy 8GB of memory and Intel's integrated HD 5000 graphics, the iMac produced a respectable score of 85/100 in our Photoshop tests. However, the sluggish hard disk resulted in poor performance in intensive tasks such as video-rendering (39) and 3D rendering (47). 

Connectivity and upgradeability

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Connectivity is reasonable with 4 x USB 3 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet slot, and a pair of Apple's high-speed Thunderbolt ports. 

The lack of a HDMI port is a bigger concern. Connecting the device to pheripherals such as a projector will require a 40 add-on.

Upgrade options are non-existant. The motherboard is sealed inside rendering it inaccessible. The 8GB of RAM is soldered onto the motherboard and can't be upgraded at the time of purchase. Any repairs or upgrades will require professional help.

The customisation options available when purchasing the device are limited too. You simply have the choice of increasing the storage to 1TB hybrid Fusion' drive (200) or a 256GB SSD, for the same price.

In contrast, the next model in the range priced at 1049 provides a wider range of build-to-order options, along with a 2.7GHz quad-core i5 processor and integrated Iris Pro graphics. This looks like it will provide better ROI too.

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This entry-level iMac model is tailored for basic word processing and editing tasks - and you're likely to find it in reception areas or within SMB environments where huge amounts of raw graphical power is not required.

However, it's more expensive than comparable Windows PCs, and the lack of upgrade options will not endear it to IT managers. 


The entry-level iMac has limited performance as well as poor customisation and upgradeability options.

Processor: 1.4GHz Intel Core i5-4260U (2.7GHz Turboboost)

GPU: Intel HD 5000

Memory: 8GB LPDDR3

Storage: 500GB hard disk (5400rpm)

Optical: N/A

Connectivity: Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0

Ports: 4 x USB 3.0, 2x Thunderbolt, SDXC card reader, 1 x headphone

Dimensions: 450 x 528 x 175 mm (inc. stand)

Weight: 5.68kg


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