Apple iMac fall 2009 (Intel Core 2 Duo 3.06Hz review: Apple iMac fall 2009 (Intel Core 2 Duo 3.06Hz

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.8
  • Design: 10.0
  • Features: 7.0
  • Performance: 8.0
  • Service and support: 5.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Boasts Apple's always-appealing industrial design, a high-resolution display, and the best performance among all-in-ones in its price range.

The Bad Small screen for its price (despite its high resolution); not as home entertainment-friendly as other all-in-ones.

The Bottom Line Despite its good looks and a few useful new features, Apple's new iMac is all about business. You can find a larger screen for less, not to mention all kinds of digital entertainment features, but no other all-in-one at this price can boast similar performance. If you need a modestly priced all-in-one for getting work done, we'd recommend no other system.

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Editors' note: This review has been corrected to indicate that the system has only a mini DisplayPort output. Mini DisplayPort input capability is restricted to the 27-inch iMacs.

We awarded Apple an Editors' Choice for its new $1,699 iMac, largely because its 27-inch screen dwarfs its competition in that price range. So what to make of Apple's new lower-end iMac? At $1,199, its 21.5-inch screen is hardly the size leader for its price, and without a touch screen or a Blu-ray drive, it's missing some of the features common to midrange Windows all-in-ones. Fortunately, Apple hasn't cast its most affordable iMac as a home entertainment hub. This is a computer, and a fast one. If screen size or digital entertainment are priorities, we'd look elsewhere, but for anyone looking for a productivity-oriented all-in-one at a reasonable price, we recommend the iMac without hesitation.

Acer's Aspire Z5610 illustrates the iMac's screen size value challenge. Acer's Windows 7-based all-in-one has a 23-inch, 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution screen, and currently sells for $899. The Acer has many shortcomings next to the iMac, including its design and comparatively slow performance, but because consumers tend to equate bigger with better, the iMac's 21.5-inch display feels like a calculated risk by Apple. We don't imagine most people who buy this iMac will have issues with its screen size, not least because the iMac's LED-backlit LCD is bright and crisp, and it also has the same 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution as the 23-inch Acer. That said, we don't think Apple would get away with anything less than 23 inches at this price, even six months from now.

Screen size questions aside, there's a lot to like about the new iMac, both in its design and its features. This model debuted along with three others last month, all featuring a new, all-aluminum body and a piece of edge-to-edge glass across the LCD, similar to Apple's MacBook laptops. Apple was already far ahead of its competition in terms of its products' visual appeal, and the iMac's updated looks will help Apple maintain its lead into 2010.

  Apple iMac (21.5-inch) Gateway One ZX6810-01
Price $1,199 $1,399
Display size/resolution 21.5 inches, 1,920x1,080 pixels 23 inches, 1,920x1,080 pixels
Ethernet, 802.11n wireless 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E7600 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200
Memory 4GB 1,067MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 256MB Nvidia GeForce 9400 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4670
Hard drives 500GB, 7,200rpm 64GB SSD, 1TB 7,200rpm
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n wireless, Bluetooth 10/100
TV Tuner No Yes
Operating system Apple OS X 10.6.1 Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

As it stands now, the iMac is built primarily for computing performance. We would like to see a quad-core chip come to the lower-end iMac lineup before long. For now, Apple only offers fast dual-core Intel chips, which, for the most part, are more than enough to lift the iMac past its Windows competitors on our performance tests. The 500GB hard drive is on the smaller end of the drive space spectrum at this price (the Gateway outlined above sits on the opposite end), and if you want to dabble in Mac gaming you might bemoan the relatively small 256MB frame buffer allowed for the GeForce 9400 graphics chip. For sheer productivity-oriented performance, however, it's hard to argue with the iMac's fast CPU.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iMac (21.5-inch, 3.06GHz)
94 

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iMac (21.5-inch, 3.06GHz)
121 

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iMac (21.5-inch, 3.06GHz)
434 

Cinebench
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Gateway ZX6810-01
9,835 
2,815 
Apple iMac (21.5-inch, 3.06GHz)
6,506 
3,486 
Acer Aspire Z5610
5,446 
2,976 
HP TouchSmart 600
4,647 
2,479 

Our charts tell a fairly conclusive story about the iMac in relation to the more expensive 27-inch iMac, and also next to a few Windows all-in-ones. Both Apple systems got through our test workloads faster, leaving the Windows-based systems far behind. We also find it interesting that the $1,199 iMac offers basically the same performance as the $1,699 27-inch model. The 27-inch screen is fantastic, but if your budget dictates that you spend more conservatively, you might find it comforting to know that you're not giving up that much in terms of speed if you opt for the most affordable iMac.

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Where to Buy

Apple iMac fall 2009 (Intel Core 2 Duo 3.06Hz, Nvidia GeForce 9400M, 21.5 in)

Part Number: MB950LL/A Released: Oct. 20, 2009

MSRP: $1,199.00

Available direct from Apple. Starting price $1,199.00

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Oct. 20, 2009
  • Environmental standards EPEAT Gold
    EPA Energy Star
  • Graphics Processor NVIDIA GeForce 9400M shared video memory (UMA)
  • OS Provided Apple MacOS X 10.6
  • Monitor Type LCD