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Apple iMac 2012 21.5in

By Edward Chester



Our Score:


21.5in iMac 2012 - Performance

As ever when reviewing a PC, performance is something that's a little difficult to judge as it will depend on what configuration you get, with in particular an SSD making a huge difference to the overall feel of speed you'll get when using a system. But, nonetheless, even with the entry level configuration we're reviewing this new 21in iMac offers good overall performance.

The Mac OSX interface seldom hangs or feels sluggish with only larger programs such as Photoshop taking a noticeable amount of time to load (this is where an SSD really helps). For the vast majority of users any and all configurations of the new iMac should be plenty fast enough, especially as 8GB of RAM and 1TB hard drive are the minimum you can expect.

PCMark 07

General: 2649

Entertainment: 3060

That said, what we're dealing with here is a desktop machine that's using slower 'laptop' parts because of the chassis' small size. This is typical of all-in-one PCs but it's worth noting as a differentiator compared to 'proper' desktop/tower PCs.

In particular in this 21in model, the small hard drives and low-power graphics cards are much slower than their desktop equivalents, plus maximum hard drive capacity is only 1TB. So if you’re regularly working with large files – say video editing – you may want to consider the Fusion drive upgrade for greater speed, or opt for an alternative machine altogether if you simply need more space. That said, you can get an external hard drive and utilise the iMac’s fast Thunderbolt ports for speedy file transfers.

Fusion is Apple’s name for a hybrid drive that uses a traditional hard drive for the bulk of its storage but then includes a portion of flash memory as used on SSDs. The flash memory is used to store those files that are accessed most frequently (say, operating system files, your web browser and Photoshop for instance), resulting in better performance for the majority of the time.


TrackMania Nations Forever (average fps, 720p, Medium Detail) - 94.5fps

S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Call of Pripyat (average fps, 720p, Medium Detail) - 66.3fps

Gamers, however, will be best off avoiding the 21in model altogether as its Nvidia GeForce GT 640M graphics card doesn’t really cope with the latest and greatest 3D games (Far Cry 3, Call of Duty Black Ops 2, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, that sort of thing). Older games do run fine and you can turn settings down (as in our benchmarks) but it's not exactly a stellar gaming experience.

The graphics card options (particularly the GTX 675MX) on the 27in iMac mean it’s more able to offer a decent gaming experience, though again if gaming is a major consideration an iMac really isn’t the way to get the best bang for your buck.

21.5in iMac 2012 - Upgrades

Upgrade options for the 21in iMac are very limited with just faster CPUs (from 2.7GHz to 2.9GHz or 3.1GHz), more memory (from 8GB to 16GB), and an upgrade to a 1TB Fusion drive on offer. This really does limit its potential so once again it’s worth highlighting that although more than capable for general word processing, picture editing, web browsing and the like, power users will probably find the 21in model constraining after not too long. What’s more, the price of upgrades is exorbitant. Apple limits the Fusion drive option to the 2.9GHz model, which starts at a whopping £1,249, up from £1,099 for the entry level 2.7GHz machine. And, suffice to say, the Fusion drive offers much more of an upgrade than the 200MHz processor bump. Meanwhile the 16GB memory option will set you back £160.

21.5in iMac 2012 - Touchscreen

Perhaps one of the biggest limitations of the new iMac range is that they don’t offer touchscreens. Although the jury is still out on whether people really want to use a touchscreen on a desktop PC, the enthusiastic uptake of touchscreen laptops certainly suggests there’s some interest and plenty of rivals, such as the Dell XPS One 27 and Sony VAIO Tap 20, do offer this. In particular what these alternatives can do is fold flat for a more comfortable touchscreen experience, and we’ve found that we have actually used the touchscreen when the option is there.


The new 21.5in Apple iMac (2012) delivers in all the ways we’ve come to expect iMacs to. It’s new super slim design is streaks ahead of the competition, as is the machine’s build quality. Plus it’s competent on all other crucial fronts, with a decent set of included peripherals, good screen, excellent audio and satisfactory performance. However, not only do you pay a serious premium for that design and build but you also miss out on some functionality offered by rivals such as an optical disc drive, adjustable stand, more connectivity, a touchscreen and upgradability. As such, it’s only really worth considering for those that are absolutely sure that all they require is simply the snazziest, most compact all-in-once PC currently available, whatever the price.

Overall Score


Scores In Detail

  • Design 10
  • Features 7
  • Image Quality 8
  • Performance 8
  • Value 7


October 24, 2012, 2:27 am

If you told me these are what computers will look like in 50 years time, I'd almost believe you. The new iMac looks like what I'd imagine a computer of the future to look like.

Very impressive design - I can't quite believe they've packed a fully functional PC into such a thin form factor.


October 24, 2012, 3:48 am

Just wondering why there has been a complete redesign and no Retina display added. Now that the tech has been adopted by Iphones, Ipads, MBPs it seems like a step back not to include it in the new Imac.
Is the reasoning
1. Just can't make an affordable 27" retina display
2. The argument that you sit so far away from a desktop that retina DPI is not needed.

All I know is that now I have my rMBP i would not consider buy the Imac as I view it as a step down.


October 24, 2012, 12:07 pm

You forgot to mention the slow 5400rpm HDDs in the new iMacs. Your article isn't very clear on the RAM-issue either. The 21.5" iMac is either stuck with 8GB or 16GB of RAM from the factory. There's no room for upgrades along the way.

I find it odd to include such slow hardware in 2012/2013 when 7200rpm is the standard today in high-end computers and SSD is ready to take over "soon". There are already heavy debates on various Mac-forums on this matter. The 5400rpm HDD choice from Apple is probably due to the new iMac's form factor. My guess is it's a 2.5" HDD.
Still, I wish they've made it a tiny bit more bulkier and add a 3.5" 7200rpm instead. While I still love the design, it's a 21.5"-27" stationary computer, it doesn't need to be THAT slim or light.

The retina exclusion this year is due to production costs. The technology is there but at the given time it's very expensive to include on the iMac. My _guess_ is we won't see iMacs with retina displays until 2014.


October 24, 2012, 6:08 pm

I currently use a late 2009 27in i7 iMac, and had a retina display been included in the current updates I probably would have upgraded. I'm sure many will be won over by the new thinner form factor, but as its a desktop machine I'm not really fussed and will hold on to my old iMac for the time being. My guess is that we may see iMacs with retina displays any time before late next year, with 2014 looking like a safer bet.


October 25, 2012, 1:10 pm

Hi there!!! I'm a videographer/photographer guy and been using mac since 2004. I need DVD in that iMac upgrade. I do weddings and brides want a DVD with their face on it… The DVD they provide at your cost will block a USB port that I need for other stuff… Firewire will need adapters also extra from your pocket... Good machine thou. Think it'll be really fast. Shame they don't think in audio/video people anymore…


October 25, 2012, 9:10 pm

"1. Just can't make an affordable 27" retina display"

This I think is a part of the issue, as a retina display would cost more to implement. However, more than any of these points, the reason we aren't seeing retina display iMacs, IMHO, is that the machines are not yet able to handle the graphics workload that it would require.

The current 27" iMac is already running at a resolution of 2560-by-1440. Retina display would quadruple the number of pixels the graphics card needs to render, bringing it up to something along the lines of 5120-by-2880. This would require a much better graphics card than the iMacs currently pack, in order to achieve the same level of performance. This would also add an additional bump to the price as well.

I am sure that retina displays are coming in the future for iMacs, I think it is just a matter of the technology becoming more feasible/affordable.


January 3, 2013, 2:18 pm

You can't really complain about the lacking retina-display in these desktops without knowing how much resource it would require from the hardware to render it properly. You'll need a powerhouse to be able to display the details at "retina scale" - especially if we're discussing the 27" model. However, I don't think hardware is the bottleneck here - it's the price. If you complain about how expensive the iMac line already is, including the recent price bump, then you'll get a heart-attack if you saw the prices AFTER Apple implemented retina-displays in their iMac line. It's would be insanely expensive. I'll even doubt you'll see retina displays on Apple desktops in 2013.

You'll also have to factor the iMac's "new shape". A retina display that big is going to cause serious heat in that tiny aluminum body.

The other thing is, is a retina-display really necessary on a 21.5-27" high resolution screen which your face isn't glued to like on laptops? I think there are other things we need to worry about.

I think this review is lacking and holding back on a lot of serious questions. The base 21.5" iMac isn't upgradable at all except for the hard drive - which is only at 5400RPM. You don't even have the permission to upgrade to the "Fusion Drive". You'll need to buy the more expensive 21.5" version to get that opportunity. Clever (and greedy) business move by Apple but the consumer is to pay.
The RAM on both of the 21.5" models are not "user upgradable". You CAN do it yourself but it'll take patience, steady hands and a heat gun + you'll need to buy some new adhesive for the screen. Yeah, that's right gentlemen - Apple decided to use super glue to hold the glass this time instead of magnets.

Yes, the new design is flashy if you're coming from an iMac G5 or the first 2007 model but nothing much has happened since then - and that's actually a good thing because it works and still looks classy. However, the new "slim design" isn't made for the consumer. It's made entirely for Apple. Can you imagine how much the production costs will be cut down due to minimizing the use of aluminum? And how much Apple will save on shipping costs? They'll be able to ship more units for the same costs or lower compared to the bulkier 2011 iMac.

Clever business moves by Apple but again, the consumer will pay. And I mean literally because oddly enough the new iMac has gone up in price. Suddenly, a subtly upgraded 21.5" iMac is getting closer to the 27" model in terms of price. My guess is that in time Apple will discontinue the 21.5" and stick with the 27".

I was ready to ditch my Mid 2011 iMac for the new 2012 version. When I saw how many disadvantages the new one had over the prior model I came to the conclusion that I was better off with my current one.

For the money, the base 21.5" used to be a good bargain if you wanted the best "All-in-one" solution that was user-upgradable. Now, with the current iMac it's one step forward, two steps back.

Glenn Gore

January 4, 2013, 10:45 am

One thing this review missed is that now there is only ONE audio port, which handles both input and output. Earlier iMacs had separate input and output ports. So if you have something like an external satellite or whatever player you would like to listen to, and a set of really good speakers with subwoofer, etc, you can no longer use both these devices at the same time. A pretty significant step backwards IMO.

August Studios

January 4, 2013, 4:45 pm

My 27" 2012 iMac arrived yesterday and I went 27" mainly due to how crippled the 21" appears. I have upgradeable Ram upto 32Gb over the 16Gb max on the 21 (have 32 kit coming from Crucial) and a 7200 HDD and a fair bit extra grunt. I dont game but I live in Final Cut Studio 3 and recently CS6 Prem Pro/After Effects et al and `Im more than pleased with the performance of the new iMac its a massive bump over my 2011 15' MBP. Over all money well spent

August Studios

January 4, 2013, 5:01 pm

Hi Pirugoro although I already knew they didnt come with a Superdrive I rang Apple enquiring about my options and they threw it in with the order as Id been waiting over a month for it. As for £25 for a Firewire adaptor its a pain but these things happen, new standards come along and old ones get pushed back but whats in place of the dropped Firewire port is very special indeed. I saw a Thunderbolt drive demo with Final Cut Pro and they are staggering, so in this instance they have us photo/video people well and truly covered. In our industry more than most things can become obsolete quick as a flash. Wont be long before the fortune we invested in CF cards is wiped out by something new. Nature of the beast Im afraid. However it is a very nice machine


January 4, 2013, 6:15 pm

The base 21'5" is severely crippled compared to the 21.5" mid 2011 iMac. If you want to upgrade the new 21.5" specifications you're going to pay more than the 27" base model which still has a 7200rpm HDD, better GFX, bigger screen and upgradeable RAM plus the option to upgrade to a Fusion drive - as standard!


January 5, 2013, 12:06 pm

I don't know where to begin with this review. Why is he comparing iPhones and iPads to a desktop all-in-one? Show me another desktop display that has Retina-quality pixel pitch and he will have a point.
If you don't like the keyboard you can switch to a full-sized wired version at no cost, which also cures the USB port problem — likewise the mouse can be substituted for a trackpad at no cost.

Do your research please!


January 5, 2013, 12:11 pm

Not true about needing a 'powerhouse' to display retina graphics. The 15" MacBook Pro with Retina Display has an NVIDIA GeForce GT650M graphics chip and a resolution of 2880 x 1800 — more than even a 27" iMac. It wouldn't take that much more to drive retina graphics on that size of a display, especially since the graphics on the iMac easily supports simultaneous display on up to three monitors at 2560 x 1440.

August Studios

January 6, 2013, 11:25 am

Its baffling why they made it so difficult to upgrade and crippled the max specs Im sure there are people who just dont have the room for the 27". Then again Ive been a Mac user 15+ years now and baffling choices from Apple are nothing new


September 24, 2013, 4:02 pm

I wouldn't call a Fusion drive a subtle upgrade. It's a very noticeable speed increase.


September 24, 2013, 4:06 pm

you say it would require a much better graphics card. Say one graphics card that would work at this resolution, because I can't think of one.

Mike Christie

September 25, 2013, 12:15 pm

7200 RPM 2.5" hard drives exist - this move is just cost paring on Apple's part.

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