CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. How we test computers

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

Apple iMac fall 2009 (Intel Core 2 Duo 3.06Hz

Rich Brown Former Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness
Rich was the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D printing to Z-Wave smart locks.
Expertise Smart home, Windows PCs, cooking (sometimes), woodworking tools (getting there...)
Rich Brown
6 min read

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.


Apple iMac fall 2009 (Intel Core 2 Duo 3.06Hz

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.

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.

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)

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

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

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Gateway ZX6810-01
Apple iMac (21.5-inch, 3.06GHz)
Acer Aspire Z5610
HP TouchSmart 600

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.

The only other major change to the iMac's hardware is the addition of an SD card slot underneath the slot-loading DVD burner. Apple continues to keep its distance from Blu-ray, and of course you won't find a TV tuner input, either, but the concession to SD card is a welcome change that digital photographers especially will appreciate. We'd hoped to find (and originally thought we had found) the capability to input video via this iMac's mini DisplayPort jack, a useful and potentially versatile capability Apple added to its new 27-inch iMacs. Sadly, the mini DisplayPort jack on this model can only output the video signal, which means connecting game consoles and other devices isn't possible.

The iMac's other inputs remain the same as those on iMacs from the previous generation. You get audio input and output jacks, four USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire 800 input, and a Gigabit Ethernet input. The iMac also comes with 802.11n wireless networking support, as well as Bluetooth, the latter primarily to communicate with the revamped mouse and keyboard, both of which are now wireless. Aside from its aluminum and plastic design, the keyboard isn't that unique. Apple's new Magic Mouse incorporates some interesting gesture-based input recognition thanks to its touch support, but we found in our full review of the new mouse that it's not quite as intuitive or as comfortable as we'd like it to be.

Juice box
Apple iMac (21.5-inch)  
Off (watts) 0.67
Sleep (watts) 2.39
Idle (watts) 40.5
Load (watts) 103.29
Raw (annual kWh) 173.6889
Energy Star compliant Yes
Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh) $19.71

Annual power consumption cost
Apple iMac (21.5-inch, 3.06GHz)

Despite a strong showing from HP's TouchSmart 600 last month, Apple's 21.5-inch iMac is the energy efficiency leader among higher-end all-in-ones. Apple attributes its power savings to a combination of its hardware and software working together. We can't pinpoint exactly what Apple is doing under the hood of the new iMac, but whatever it is, it seems to be working.

Finally, our criticism of Apple's AppleCare support policy remains the same as it always has. Apple's basic warranty policy is acceptable, covering you for one year out of the box. You also have a wealth of information available on Apple's Web site, and Apple's Genius Bars and authorized service providers can lend a hand, provided you're willing to bring your iMac in to a support location. Apple's phone support remains an anomaly in the industry, however, covering for only 90 days post purchase. AppleCare extends both your warranty and phone support for three years for $169, but with no middle ground offering, Apple requires you to pay quite a bit extra if all you want is more phone help.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

Apple iMac (21.5-inch)
Apple OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.1; 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E7600; 4GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 9400 integrated graphics chip; 500GB 7,200rpm Seagate Digital hard drive

Acer Aspire Z5610
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Pentium Dual-Core E5300; 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 512MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4570; 320GB, 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive

Apple iMac (27-inch)
Apple OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.1; 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E7600; 4GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Radeon HD 4670; 1TB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive

Gateway One ZX6810-01
Windows 7 Home Premium; 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD4670; 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive

HP TouchSmart 600
Windows 7 Home Premium; 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7450; 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 230; 750GB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive


Apple iMac fall 2009 (Intel Core 2 Duo 3.06Hz

Score Breakdown

Design 10Features 7Performance 8Support 5