Apple iMac Review (Mid 2011 Model, 21.5″ Display With Thunderbolt Port)

apple-imac-mid-2011With the introduction of Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors and a Thunderbolt port for high-speed data transfers, the latest refresh of the Apple iMac ensures that all the latest technology is inside one of the world’s most popular all-in-one computers.

Just for you, we’ve managed to get hold of a 21.5” model which sports a 2.8GHz Core i7 processor, 8GB of DDR3 RAM and an AMD Radeon HD 6770M graphics. In addition to this, there is a FaceTime HD camera hiding out at the top of the screen ready to provide you with high-definition video calling in a heartbeat. Excited yet? Good, let’s check it out!

Design & Features

The latest iMac has maintained the same design as the previous generation, with a thin chin below the 16:9 display. The seamless aluminum enclosure is supported by a low profile stand which is attached to the main unit. Glass encompasses the 1920 x 1080 display and although it looks absolutely stunning, it does create a mirror effect if placed in bright daylight, especially if you’re working opposite a window or bright light. Unfortunately, there isn’t a matte option for the iMac yet and it’s glossy or nothing if you’re looking at this machine for your next purchase.

This is less of a problem on a machine that’s going to be staying in one place as opposed to a laptop which will be used in numerous locations, but if you’re a lover of matte displays then it’s something to consider when deciding if the iMac is the right machine for you.

Around the back, there are numerous ports for all of your peripherals. The first thing that you will undoubtedly notice is the Thunderbolt port which replaces the Mini DisplayPort from the previous generation. Accompanying the Thunderbolt technology is an Ethernet port, FireWire 800 for all those professional users out there using FireWire cameras and accessories, four USB 2.0 ports and two jacks for audio in and out.

imac-mid-2011-ports

Unfortunately, if you want to swap out the hard drive for another more capacious one, or even solid state storage, you’ll have a tough time doing so. You can still access the hard drive, but the connection used to attach the hard drive is a custom design by Apple, so self-servicing would be pretty difficult.

When configuring your iMac, you can now choose to ship it with either the Magic Mouse or Magic Trackpad, as well as the standard wireless keyboard.

This was on the top of my list when I was checking my configuration, as the previous generation shipped with the Magic Mouse only and left you paying an additional arm and leg for the honor of using the trackpad. Of course, both the keyboard and mouse or trackpad look great when sitting next to the iMac, and there are fewer cables to take care of with both of these peripherals being wireless.

You may want to include the Magic Trackpad in your configuration, if only in anticipation for Mac OS X Lion which is due to arrive later this year. Having used all of the developer previews so far, I can say that gestures are very prominent throughout the operating system so the Magic Trackpad is sure to become as popular as ever in the next few months.

Thunderbolt & FaceTime HD

Thunderbolt now ships with the latest MacBook Pro laptops and the new iMac, but there still isn’t a massive amount that can be said about it just yet. I would have loved to test out the theoretical speeds of 10GB/s but until actual Thunderbolt devices begin to arrive on the market (of which the prospective LaCie Big Little Disk looks very promising), the port remains as useful as a chocolate teapot.

The FaceTime HD camera, on the other hand, is ready to follow your every move from the word go. I’ve tested it out with both Skype and the FaceTime application, and although the quality isn’t perfect, it’s as good as you can expect from such a small camera built into the screen. Compared to the iSight camera in my MacBook, it’s a vast improvement.

imac-mid-2011-keyboard-trackpad

Performance

With the bump up to Sandy Bridge processors in the latest iMac, it’s no surprise to see it score highly when measuring performance with GeekBench. Scoring a great score of 11299, our model places higher than those shipping with Core i5 processors and far higher than older MacBook models which shipped with pre-Sandy Bridge chips. In comparison, our older MacBook which has a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo CPU scored 3719, so even if you have a relatively recent Mac you will definitely see a big improvement in performance with this new generation.

I’ve been running Snow Leopard and the upcoming Mac OS X 10.7 Lion on the iMac, and both operating systems perform great. Interestingly, Windows 7 runs smoother on this machine than any other computer I’ve owned, so if you’re concerned about dual booting you won’t have any problems whatsoever.

Verdict

There’s no doubt that this new Apple iMac is punching as hard as ever, and with the move to Sandy Bridge processors it may just be getting some attention from the heavyweights. With faster graphics than ever and the option of Core i7 configurations, this latest generation could very well sway professionals away from the more expensive Mac Pro and towards the iMac.

If Thunderbolt starts to take off in the next few months, then having a port in the iMac all ready to go is bound to be a big advantage, but until then I’ll reserve judgement on the new standard. There’s no doubt in my mind that the iMac remains to be the best all-in-one computer available on the market. The 21.5” model starts at £999, and if you want to go for the 27” model you can start configuring it from £1399.

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