Apple 21.5-inch iMac (Late 2013) review
The outer shell may have stayed the same, but Apple’s new entry level iMac reaps the benefits of this Haswell update
Review Date: 30 Oct 2013
Price when reviewed: £1,149
Reviewed By: Katharine Byrne
When Apple unveiled its brand new iMac last year, we were blown away by its stunning design which tapers in to a slender edge. A year on, it’s still one of the most gorgeous all-in-ones we’ve ever laid eyes on. While the new 21.5in iMac for late 2013 is still very much the same iMac we know and love, at least on the outside, inside the entire iMac range has been refreshed to accommodate Intel’s brand new Haswell CPU.
The 21.5in iMac comes in two main specifications. The more expensive model, which starts at £1,299, has more options for customisation, including the opportunity to upgrade its 2.9GHz Intel Core i5 processor for a faster 3.1GHz Intel Core i7 processor for an extra £160, but the entry-level model reviewed here has raised the bar set by the previous model quite significantly.
It’s a little more expensive this time round, starting at £1,149 instead of £1,099, but its quad-core 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 Haswell processor packs plenty of processing power. Apple has been vague on the exact model of the processor, but we believe it’s an Intel Core i5-4570R processor, which can Turbo Boost up to 3.2GHz when there’s enough thermal headroom. Paired with 8GB of RAM, it powered through our multimedia benchmarks with a super fast score of 90 overall, making it one of the most powerful all-in-one PCs we’ve tested.
This is to be expected of an iMac, but the real game-changer comes in the form of the processor’s integrated Iris Pro Graphics 5200 chip. All Haswell processors have substantially improved integrated graphics performance, compared the last generation, but the Iris Pro Graphics 5200 is by far the most powerful integrated Intel chip we’ve seen. It makes the entry-level iMac a much more viable alternative for playing games if you don’t want to pay extra for a dedicated graphics chip on the more expensive specification.
We couldn’t run our normal Dirt Showdown test, as it's not available for OS X, but when we played Team Fortress 2 at 1,280x720 on High quality, we achieved a constant 60fps. This is outstanding for integrated graphics, but the results were even more impressive when we increased the resolution to its native 1,920x1,080. The frame rate levelled out at 30fps on High and Medium quality settings, but it shot back up to a silky smooth 60fps when we set it to Low. With the increasing number of modern 3D games being released with Mac support, there’s never been a better time for iMac gaming.
Of course, most iMacs are never used primarily for gaming. Instead, they’re often used by media professionals to tackle heavy-duty image and video editing programs. The entry-level iMac only has two memory slots, but while 8GB of RAM should be plenty for most users, there is the option to upgrade to 16GB of RAM for another £160 at the time of purchase.
Round the back, you’ll find four USB3 ports, two Thunderbolt ports for super-fast external storage or connecting additional displays, an SDXC card slot, a Gigabit Ethernet port and a headphone jack. Its integrated speakers still remain the best in the business, though, producing full, rich sounds with plenty of bass.
The 21.5in IPS display is gorgeous. It may not have the huge 2,560x1,440 resolution of the larger 27in models, but our colour calibrator showed it was displaying an outstanding 99.5 per cent of the sRGB colour gamut, which is 2 per cent higher than last year’s model. This would be a superb score for any display regardless of whether it’s an all-in-one PC or a standalone monitor, so you can be sure that colours will be rich and vibrant across the board. Blacks were incredibly deep and inky, too, which reflected our low black level reading of just 0.17cd/m².
With such bright and accurate colours, our high contrast test images looked stunning. Our colour calibrator measured a high contrast ratio of 984:1, which is almost double what we’ve seen from other all-in-ones. Much like last year’s iMac, Apple has made the screen 75 per cent less reflective than your typical LCD panel, so we had no trouble at all picking out the finer shadow detail in our test images, even in our brightly lit test room. The display’s viewing angles were also fantastic, as we had to be practically side on before we saw the screen darken.
An Apple Wireless Keyboard and Magic Mouse come as standard, but you can switch the mouse for a Magic Trackpad at no extra cost if you prefer. If you want both, you’ll have to pay another £59. The compact keyboard doesn’t have a numeric keypad, but the keys are well-spaced and give plenty of tactile feedback. There’s also a great range of shortcuts mapped to the function keys, including media controls, screen brightness and shortcuts to the Dashboard and Expose, making it easy to navigate Apple’s OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion operating system.
The front of the Magic Mouse is touch-sensitive so you can use it for gesture controls and for scrolling through web pages. We found its default tracking speed was quite slow, but this is easily changed by opening the mouse settings in System Preferences.
The 21.5in iMac is already a fantastic all-in-one, but the late 2013 entry-level model really benefits from this Haswell refresh. With improved integrated graphics and a super fast processor, it’s finally a worthy contender to its more highly specified cousins, showing you don’t have to spend hundreds of extra pounds to get a great system. It wins a Best Buy award.
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