IMac 21.5-inch 1.6GHz Late 2015
The low-end iMac gets a refresh, but doesn’t get the SSD it needs
£899 Manufacturer Apple, apple.com/uk Processor Intel Core i5 1.6GHz Memory 8GB Storage 1TB HDD
When Apple debuted this particular form of low-end iMac (pretty much a MacBook Air’s brains in an iMac’s body) last year, we weren’t impressed – and little has changed. The MacBook Air lacks overall horsepower, but its processor speed is fine when backed by fast solid-state storage. Lengthy pro tasks will still be slow, but most of your general use around the desktop is easily nippy enough because it can pull files and data rapidly from storage. But in this iMac you’ve got the same 1.6GHz processor, but it’s paired with a slow 5,400rpm hard drive – the kind that Apple moved its laptops away from a few years ago in favour of SSDs.
Now, the hard drive here is a 1TB model, so you do get loads of storage space, which for some people will be important. The iMac also bests the MacBook Air when it comes to RAM, since you get 8GB as standard, compared to 4GB in the Air. But for us, it’s still a misstep.
Weighing up options
The MacBook Air costs £150 less, and you get the flexibility of it being portable, and having a zippy 128GB SSD. Also, you can upgrade its 4GB of RAM to 8GB for £80. You can add on external storage or a larger external display with the extra money saved. Alternatively, the next iMac up costs £150 more and features a much more powerful processor and improved graphics chip (although it has the same hard drive). Put simply, we’d take either of those over this option. You can bump this machine to a Fusion Drive model for £80, which will help.
We should be clear that our problems with this machine all relate to its value compared to the other options – it’s not like it’s any less reliable than Apple’s usual offerings. If you really want an all-in-one for as little as possible and won’t ever care about games or pro tasks, and don’t mind if it’s just a little slow to do common things, this is still a reasonable package, and the upgrade to Intel’s latest chips has given it a little performance boost over last year’s model.
It completed our Handbrake video encoding test in 69 minutes (compared to 74 minutes from its predecessor) and we got 20fps playing Batman Arkham City at 1080p on High settings – up from 17fps last year. These are okay figures, but are a reminder of its limitations – the game is several years old, but is unplayable like that even at the iMac’s native resolution.
As we’ve said, though, the killer is where you just catch the slowness of that hard drive in general use: using Spotlight or delving through folders. The screen is still nice, of course, though it pales compared to the Retina options, and we’re fans of Apple’s new provided keyboard. For people who specifically want a cheaper all-in-one, this will work fine. For everyone else, we suggest an Air or an upgrade. Matt Bolton An iMac that works fine if it’s what you really want, but it’s not good value for money for most people.
8GB of RAM as standard
1TB storage is useful…
…but this needs an SSD
Poor value for money
The low-end iMac is essentially a MacBook Air, but with hampered performance thanks to a slow hard drive.
Even the low-end iMac comes with Apple’s latest Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, which are also reviewed in this issue.