Flash drives

SSD gives new 21.5-inch iMac signifcant speed boost

In our ongoing effort to provide benchmark data to help you choose the right iMac, we now present test results from a 21.5-inch 2.7GHz Core i5 iMac with a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD). You can use these results to compare with the standard-configuration iMacs and two build-to-order (BTO) models with Core i7 processors.

The iMac we ordered adds a 256GB SSD to the standard-configuration $1499 21.5-inch iMac ( ), which includes a 1TB hard drive. The $600 SSD upgrade brings the total cost of this iMac to $2099. Apple doesn’t offer SSD options on the entry-level, $1199 21.5-inch 2.5GHz Core i5 iMac ( ), so the model we ordered represents the least expensive iMac available with both an SSD and hard drive. If you opt for a 256GB SSD only (no hard drive), this adds $500 to the $1499 price of the standard configuration.

21.5-inch 2.7GHz Core i5 iMac with SSD (Mid 2011): Speedmark 6.5 scores

Longer bars are better. Blue bars in italics represent reference systems. Macworld Lab testing by James Galbraith, William Wang, and Mauricio Grijalva.

As we’ve experienced in past lab testing, SSDs are considerably faster than the standard 7200-rpm hard drives. In our overall system performance test suite, Speedmark 6.5, the SSD-equipped iMac outperformed the 21.5-inch 2.7GHz Core i5 iMac with just a 1TB hard drive by nearly 15 percent. The SSD-equipped iMac was 35 percent faster when duplicating files, 8 percent faster when compressing files and 47 percent faster uncompressing files. The SSD-equipped iMac was also 14 percent faster when opening a Word document in Pages, 42 percent faster when importing JPEGs into iPhoto, 9 percent faster at importing and processing photos in Aperture, and 16 percent faster importing a two-minute clip into iMovie.

As you might expect, processor or GPU intensive tasks, like those performed by Handbrake, Cinebench, MathematicaMark, and Call of Duty 4, didn’t reap any benefit from the SSD upgrade.

In overall performance, the SSD-equipped iMac posted higher Speedmark 6.5 scores than the 2011 BTO iMacs with processor upgrades. The SSD-equipped iMac even posted a higher score than the previous fastest iMac, a 2011 BTO 27-inch 3.4GHz Core i7 iMac with a 1TB hard drive.

Comparing the SSD-equipped iMac to the BTO 21.5-inch 2.8GHz Core i7 iMac with a 1TB hard drive, we see that the SSD iMac was about 7 percent faster in our Speedmark tests. Processor test results tell a completely different story, however, with the 2.8GHz Core i7 iMac posting 18 percent faster Handbrake results, 25 percent times Cinebench CPU test results, and a 24 percent higher MathematicaMark score.

Speedmark 6.5 individual application test results:
21.5-inch iMac 2.7GHz Core i5 SSD

Duplicate
1GB
file
Zip
2GB
folder
Unzip
2GB
folder
Pages '09
open Word
doc
21.5-inch iMac 2.7GHz Core i5 SSD
(BTO, Mid 2011)
13 124 25 54
21.5-inch iMac 2.7GHz Core i5
(Mid 2011)
20 134 47 65
21.5-inch iMac 2.8GHz Core i7
(BTO, Mid 2011)
20 130 45 65
27-inch iMac 3.1GHz Core i5
(Mid 2011)
20 144 48 70
27-inch iMac 3.4GHz Core i7
(BTO, Mid 2011)
20 130 45 63
27-inch iMac 3.6GHz Core i5 SSD
(BTO, Mid 2010)
14 131 24 56

Results in the above chart are in seconds; lower is better. Reference models in italics. Best result in bold.

Speedmark 6.5 individual application test results:
21.5-inch iMac 2.7GHz Core i5 SSD

iTunes 10
AAC to
MP3
encode
Import
movie
archive to
iMovie'09
iMovie '09
export to
iTunes
for
iPhone
Call of
Duty 4
framerate
21.5-inch iMac 2.7GHz Core i5 SSD
(BTO, Mid 2011)
72 60 46 88.1
21.5-inch iMac 2.7GHz Core i5
(Mid 2011)
74 71 49 87.6
21.5-inch iMac 2.8GHz Core i7
(BTO, Mid 2011)
72 60 49 88.1
27-inch iMac 3.1GHz Core i5
(Mid 2011)
74 66 51 88.5
27-inch iMac 3.4GHz Core i7
(BTO, Mid 2011)
68 55 46 88.6
27-inch iMac 3.6GHz Core i5 SSD
(BTO, Mid 2010)
78 80 57 79

Call of Duty 4 results are based on framerate; higher results are better. All other test results in the above chart are in seconds; lower results are better. References models in italics. Best result in bold.

Speedmark 6.5 individual application test results:
21.5-inch iMac 2.7GHz Core i5 SSD

iPhoto '09
200 JPEG
import
Photoshop
CS5 action
Handbrake
0.9.4
encode
Cinebench
R11.5
graphics
21.5-inch iMac 2.7GHz Core i5 SSD
(BTO, Mid 2011)
19 51 236 40.8
21.5-inch iMac 2.7GHz Core i5
(Mid 2011)
33 52 236 41.6
21.5-inch iMac 2.8GHz Core i7
(BTO, Mid 2011)
33 50 194 42.6
27-inch iMac 3.1GHz Core i5
(Mid 2011)
28 53 209 38.3
27-inch iMac 3.4GHz Core i7
(BTO, Mid 2011)
33 51 165 43.2
27-inch iMac 3.6GHz Core i5 SSD
(BTO, Mid 2010)
23 54 339 31

Cinebench R11.5 braphics results are a score; higher results are better. All other test results in the above chart are in seconds; lower results are better. Reference models in italics. Best result in bold.

Speedmark 6.5 individual application test results: 21.5-inch iMac 2.7GHz Core i5 SSD

Cinebench
R11.5
CPU
Mathe-
matica
Mark 7
Parallels
WorldBench
Multitask
test
Aperture 3
import
and
process
Multi-
tasking
21.5-inch iMac 2.7GHz Core i5 SSD
(BTO, Mid 2011)
96 10.6 241 95 51
21.5-inch iMac 2.7GHz Core i5
(Mid 2011)
96 10.7 262 104 61
21.5-inch iMac 2.8GHz Core i7
(BTO, Mid 2011)
72 13.1 254 101 59
27-inch iMac 3.1GHz Core i5
(Mid 2011)
85 11.7 247 107 58
27-inch iMac 3.4GHz Core i7
(BTO, Mid 2011)
60 15.3 226 100 55
27-inch iMac 3.6GHz Core i5 SSD
(BTO, Mid 2010)
130 7 289 99 68

MathematicaMark 7 results are scores; higher results are better. All other test results in the above chart are in seconds; lower results are better. Reference models in italics. Best result in bold.

How we tested. Speedmark 6.5 scores are relative to those of a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo Mac mini (Mid 2010) with 2GB of RAM, which is assigned a score of 100. We duplicated a 1GB file, created a Zip archive in the Finder from the two 1GB files and then unzipped it. We converted 135 minutes of AAC audio files to MP3 using iTunes’ High Quality setting. In iMovie ’09, we imported a camera archive and exported it to iTunes using the Mobile Devices setting. We ran a Timedemo at 1024-by-768 with 4X anti-aliasing on in Call of Duty 4. We imported 200 JPEGs into iPhoto ’09. The Photoshop Suite test is a set of 23 scripted tasks using a 50MB file. Photoshop’s memory was set to 70 percent and History was set to Minimum. For our multitasking test, we timed the Photoshop test again, but with the iTunes MP3 encoding and file compression tests running in the background. We used Handbrake to encode four chapters from a DVD previously ripped to the hard drive to H.264. We recorded how long it took to render a scene with multiprocessors in Cinebench and ran that application's OpenGL, frames per second test. We ran the Evaluate Notebook test in MathematicaMark 7. We ran the WorldBench 6 multitasking test on a Parallels 6 VM running Windows 7 Professional. We timed the import and processing time for 200 photos in Aperture.—Macworld Lab testing by James Galbraith, William Wang, and Mauricio Grijalva

Where the SSD is installed

Behind the screen of a 21.5-inch iMac.

If you get an SSD, the drive is installed underneath the optical drive.

The 256GB SSD in our 21.5-inch 2.7GHz Core i5 iMac.

When you order an iMac from the Apple Online Store with both an SSD and a hard drive, the SSD is hidden under the optical drive. The cables and bracket used to keep the SSD in place are not included in iMacs purchased without the secondary drive.

As we’ve previously reported, the iMac is not built to be easily user-serviceable and the hard drive replacement process is not recommended for the casual user.

Check back soon for more iMac results, including an “ultimate” iMac configuration with the fastest available processor and SSD. If you have tests you’d like to see us run, let us know in the comments.

[James Galbraith is Macworld’s lab director.]

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