Apple iMac 21-inch review (late-2015): A little computer with a LOT of pixels

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Apple iMac 21-inch review (late-2015): A little computer with a LOT of pixels

Apple 21.5-inch iMac (2015) review: Performance


Apple has also been tinkering with the iMac’s insides. Curiously, Apple hasn’t transplanted the latest Intel Skylake processors, instead equipping the iMac with last year’s Broadwell chips. The spoilsports. Also, the discrete Nvidia graphics chips of last year have disappeared – the iMac now makes do with the integrated graphics chip on the Intel CPUs. That means you can wave goodbye to half-decent gaming performance, for starters.

“The entry-level model comes with a 1.6GHz Core i5-5250U processor. This is not exciting news.”

The entry-level model comes with a 1.6GHz Core i5-5250U processor. This is not at all exciting. If that CPU sounds at all familiar, it’s because it’s more commonly found in laptops – it isn’t the slightest bit fancy, nor is it particularly fast. It’s fine for basic tasks – an overall score of 42 in Alphr’s Incredibly Demanding Benchmark Suite proves as much – but if you need something that’ll fire through more heavyweight photo or video editing, then an upgrade to the 2.8GHz model will be very worthwhile. And as I mentioned earlier, the subjective experience isn’t helped at all by the 1TB HDD. Push the iMac with multitasking or tougher applications, and it gets bogged down quickly.

Gaming is not the 21.5in iMac’s forte, either. I fired up the Unigine Heaven benchmark, and at Full HD and Medium detail, the iMac managed a juddery average of 12.8fps. It’s worth noting that the faster Intel CPUs on pricier models do have better GPUs – and hence more gaming power – but they’re still not going to handle the latest titles. If you want to stand any chance of squeezing playable frame rates from the 21.5in iMac, you’ll need to drop the resolution and detail settings right down.

Apple 21.5-inch iMac (2015) review: Verdict


Depending on your point of view, and which model you’re looking at, the 21.5in iMac is either a stroke of minimalist genius or an overpriced poseur. Apple’s decision to employ slow HDDs across the range is cynical at best and, given the complete lack of upgradability, may end up hobbling many customers in years to come. Ooh, it makes me mad.

In all honesty, the entry-level £899 model probably isn’t worth considering at all. It’s underpowered, underwhelming and just doesn’t deliver the slick, assured performance that I’d expect from a machine at the price. A Fusion Drive will help, but the slow CPU means it’s likely to find itself out of its depth in just a couple of years.

“Actually, I’d ignore all but the top-end Retina 4K model.”

Personally, I’d ignore all but the top-end Retina 4K model. The Fusion Drive upgrade bumps the price of that pixel-packed model to £1,279, but, with that done, you’re looking at a very capable all-in-one PC that unites a high-DPI display and decent performance in a compact, unfussy package. The fact that it looks rather dashing certainly doesn’t hurt. 

As ever, the eternally power-hungry or upgrade-happy should look elsewhere (full disclosure: yes, you can buy dramatically faster, easily upgradeable desktop PCs for the same, or less, money), but if you want the best, compact all-in-one PC on the market – the 21.5in iMac is still, for all its flaws, the one to beat.

Read more: If 21.5in is roughly five and a half inches too few, then click here to check out Alphr’s review of the Apple 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K display. It’s bigger, better and rather beautiful, too.

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