Apple iMac 21.5-inch (December 2012) review: The smaller iMac Windows PCs can pick on

The combination of HDMI and Thunderbolt gives the Asus a significant edge over the iMac in terms of its out-of-the-box connectivity options. Yes, the Asus also has built-in WiDi capability, an eSATA port, and the aforementioned touch screen and DVD burner, but it's the combination of ports that really extends its usability. With HDMI alongside Thunderbolt, you can connect a cable box, a game console, an HD camcorder, or some other assortment of video source devices to the Asus system, adapter-free, and still have room to add a fast Thunderbolt data array. With the iMac you'll need a bird's nest of expensive adapters or Thunderbolt cables or both for the same functionality.

How many people will actually use those inputs on either system, much less in combination? Great question, and I don't know the answer. But I do know that, all else equal, I'd rather my $1,299 afforded me the most convenient option.

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iMac 21.5-inch (2.7GHz Core i5, November 2012)
215 

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iMac 21.5-inch (2.7GHz Core i5, November 2012)
65 

iTunes and HandBrake (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iMac 21.5-inch (2.7GHz Core i5, November 2012)
264 

Cinebench 11.5
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Apple iMac 21.5-inch (2.7GHz Core i5, November 2012)
4.44 
1.28 

Don't make too much of the performance difference in our charts. Between the iMac and the Asus system, the only statistically significant variability shows up on our iTunes MP3 conversion test, and the Asus system can certainly be forgiven for trailing the iMac on Apple-made software. Our test with HandBrake and iTunes converting files simultaneously is a much more challenging benchmark, and in that case the two systems have basically identical performance.

Gaming on either system is not an impossible prospect, although the 1,920x1,080-pixel-resolution displays will challenge their lower-end Nvidia graphics chips if you play demanding games at high image quality. The Witcher 2 on the iMac, for example, was not the most playable experience, but at lower image quality settings it's at least possible. The same goes for the Asus.

Along with the iMac's Thunderbolt ports, you also get four USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet jack, an SDXC card slot, and a headphone output that doubles as a digital audio jack. Like the 27-inch model, the 21.5-inch version has a pair of microphones that work in concert to minimize background noise during video chats. You do not, however, get user-accessible system memory in the 21.5-inch iMac, adding expense and hassle for those who might want to expand the default 8GB of memory. These new iMacs are also not wall-mountable.

Conclusion
Apple's 27-inch iMac is an Editors' Choice award winner for its large, high-resolution display and its high performance system components. The 21.5-inch version is also a fine computer, but its comparatively lower price puts it in more competitive waters. You can get more performance, including Apple's hybrid solid-state Fusion hard-drive option, by paying more, but at that point you enter even more challenging Windows PC territory with the non-touch version of Dell XPS One 27 looming for a mere $1,399.

Some need or some emotion-driven want may compel you to buy the 21.5-inch iMac, and if that happens you will own one of the best-designed computers available. If instead you're looking for the most functional capability hardware for the dollar, I would encourage you to comparison-shop, and weigh the Asus ET2300INTI in particular as an alternative.

All performance testing conducted by Joseph Kaminski. Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations

Apple iMac 21.5-inch (November 2012)
Apple OS X Mountain Lion 10.8; 2.7GHz Intel Core i5-3330S; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 512MB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M graphics card; 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive

Asus ET2300INTI
Microsoft Windows 8 (64-bit); 3GHz Intel Core i5-3330; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 630M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Vizio CA24T-A4
Microsoft Windows 8 (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M; 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 32MB Intel HD Graphics 4000 (embedded); 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive

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    Apple iMac (21.5-inch, 2.7GHz, fall 2012)

    Part Number: MD093LL/A
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    Quick Specifications See All

    • Regional specs shown for US. UK specs are unavailable.

    • Video Memory 512 MB GDDR5 SDRAM
    • Graphics Processor NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M
    • OS Provided Apple OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion
    • Monitor Type LED - IPS
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