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21-inch Apple iMac review

Apple's popular desktop gets a late 2013 refresh

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Our Verdict

For

  • Haswell processors
  • 802.11ac
  • Beautiful slimline design
  • Nvidia 7 Series graphics (2.9GHz version only)
  • Gorgeous screen

Against

  • No discrete graphics on cheaper model
  • No optical drive
  • Can't upgrade memory after purchase
  • More expensive than last year
  • No Hyper Threading

Less than a year after the chassis overhaul that gave the iMac its new slimline bodywork, Apple's innovative desktop computer enjoys another revision.

This time, it's a minor refresh, bringing Haswell processors, better GPUs and faster WiFi, but retaining the form factor of the previous generation. It's an unsurprising move.

Scores

iMac 27-inch review
iMac 27-inch review
iMac 27-inch review
iMac 27-inch review
iMac 27-inch review

Last year's update had already radically redesigned the all-in-one Mac, dropping the optical drive in favour of a new slimline design with better speakers, a revamped and less reflective screen construction, USB 3.0 ports and a second Thunderbolt port.

The upgrades for this year's model are all internal. If you were hoping for a Retina display, you'll be disappointed.

Naturally, the iMac isn't the only slimline all-in-one computer out there. The Scan 3XS Mirage AIO245 costs over £1,000 (about US$1,600, AU$1,600) for the entry-level model, which is not much cheaper than the cheapest 21-inch iMac, but it features a larger 23.46-inch screen and a wide range of configuration options.

Lenovo's IdeaCentre B540p starts at around £600 (about US$1,000, AU$1,000). It has a 23-inch touchscreen panel and 3D capabilities. The Acer Aspire 5600U costs a little more at just over £750 (about US$1,200, AU$1,200), but it's a great family media centre, and the Asus Transformer AiO P1801is a hybrid tablet and desktop with two separate processors, one running Windows 8 and one running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. For £600 (about US$1,000, AU$1,000), you could buy a Lenovo ThinkCentre M92p Tiny. It's not an all-in-one, but the PC is extremely small.

Apple 21-inch iMac

If you prefer to stick with a Mac, Apple's other desktop option is the Mac mini. This small form factor machine is the cheapest way to own a Mac, though it doesn't come supplied with a display, a keyboard or a mouse. The top-of-the-range Mac Pro isn't currently on sale in Europe and is about to be overhauled with a new release, so now is not the best time to invest in one.

Apple 21-inch iMac

As the new iMacs share the previous generation's form factor, they also suffer from the same limitations. As mentioned before, there's no optical drive, so if you want to use DVDs and CDs, you need an external model such as Apple's own USB Super Drive.

Upgradeability is also a problem. On these 21.5-inch models reviewed here, you can't add memory yourself, though a configuration option is available if you order from the Apple Online Store. Also, as the screen is glued in place instead of held by magnets, it's more difficult for even specialists to access the internal components.