21 inch imac 2014

Lab Tested: New 21-inch 1.4GHz Core i5 iMac benchmarks

This week, Apple made owning its all-in-one desktop iMac a little more affordable. With a price that’s $200 less than the previous low-end 21.5-inch iMac, the new $1099 21.5-inch iMac cuts costs, but at the expense of storage capacity and performance.

Macworld Lab received and tested the new $1099 iMac, as well as a configure to order model that upgrades the drive from a 500GB hard drive to a 1TB Fusion Drive. We’ll leave the subjective analysis of the value of these new discounted iMacs to the upcoming full review, but our tests show the performance of the new low-end iMac to be considerably slower than the previous low-end 21.5-inch iMac.

The new $1099 iMac doesn’t displace any existing iMac: it brings to three the number of standard configuration 21.5-inch iMacs available. Apple’s previous low-end iMac was a $1299 model with a 2.7GHz quad-core Core i5 processor, 1TB hard drive, and Intel Iris integrated graphics. That model stays in the lineup with the same price and specifications. The new low-end iMac is $200 less but offers a slower integrated graphics processor, just half of the hard drive storage capacity, and uses a Core i5 dual-core processor that operates at a slower 1.4GHz.

Speedmark 9 scores

Mac modelScore
iMac/1.4GHz dual-core Core i5 (21.5-inch, Mid 2014) 116
iMac/1.4GHz dual-core Core i5 (21.5-inch, 1TB Fusion Drive, Mid 2014)* 143
iMac/2.7GHz quad-core Core i5 (21-inch, Late 2013) 179
iMac/3.2GHz quad-core Core i5 (27-inch, Late 2013) 211
iMac/2.9GHz quad-core Core i5 (21-inch, Late 2012) 180
MacBook Air/1.4GHz dual-core Core i5 (11-inch, 256GB flash storage, Mid 2014) 139

*Customize to build model.

Higher results are better. Best result in bold. Reference models in italics.

To see how the new $1099 iMac’s performance compares to the $1299 model, we put both to the test using our overall system performance benchmarking suite, Speedmark 9. Not surprisingly, the lower-priced iMac was slower than the $1299 iMac in every test, but how much slower was a little shocking. The $1299 model’s Speedmark 9 score was 54 percent higher than the new low-end iMac. Processor-intensive tests (like MathematicaMark, Cinebench CPU, and Handbrake) showed the new low-end iMac’s 1.4GHz dual-core i5 processor failing to keep pace with the quad-core 2.7GHz i5 found in the $1299 iMac. The Intel Iris integrated graphics found in the $1299 iMac posted frame rates between 37 and 56 percent higher than the Intel HD Graphics 5000 integrated graphics used in the new $1099 iMac. The two systems were closest in terms of performance in our file copy test, but the $1299 model with its 1TB hard drive was still 9 percent faster than the 500GB hard drive in the new low-end iMac.

We also tested a configured-to-order system with all of the same specifications as the $1099 iMac, except instead of the stock 500GB hard drive, this custom system ships with a 1TB Fusion Drive. Fusion Drive promises the value and capacity of standard hard drives with the speedy performance of flash storage. Unlike typical hybrid drives that have a few gigabytes of flash memory acting as cache, the Fusion Drive in this iMac pairs 128GB of flash storage with a 1TB hard drive ($250 upgrade). Our previous testing shows that the Fusion Drive is as fast as a standard SSD in most situations.

As you would expect, processor and graphics tests showed little difference between these two new 1.4GHz iMacs. Storage tests, however, showed much larger differences. The $1099 iMac’s 500GB hard drive took 151 seconds to copy a 6GB set of files and folders from one section of the drive to another. The Fusion Drive finished the same task in just 41 seconds. Unzipping a compressed version of this data set took well over three minutes with the 500GB hard drive, but just 67 seconds with the Fusion Drive in the CTO system. The Fusion Drive’s superior performance helped the custom iMac post a 23 percent higher Speedmark score than the new stock, low-end iMac. The Fusion Drive was also much faster than the 1TB hard drive found in the $1299 middle-configuration iMac; 70 percent and 45 percent faster in the copy and unzip tests, respectively. Unfortunately, the custom system was still held back by the dual-core 1.4GHz i5 and was 20 percent slower than the $1299 iMac, overall.

A few readers asked us to compare the new low-end iMac to a recent MacBook Air. The latest MacBook Air does use the same 1.4GHz dual-core Core i5 processor and Intel HD 5000 integrated graphics found in the new low-end iMac. The 11-inch MacBook Air we chose costs $1099 and has 4GB of RAM and 256GB of PCIe-connected flash storage. While that is just half the storage capacity of the stock 512GB hard drive in the new low-end iMac, the 256GB of flash storage was able to complete our file copy in about one-quarter of the time it took the new stock iMac. The iMac’s 8GB of RAM served it well in the graphics tests—where the Intel HD 5000 shares memory with the CPU, the MacBook Air with just 4GB had less to share. The iMac posted frame rates between 11 and 15 percent higher than the MacBook Air. The new iMac was also faster than the MacBook Air in the iMovie test. Overall, however, the new low-end iMac was 17 percent slower than the 1099 MacBook Air.

Check back soon for Macworld’s full review of the new low-end iMac.

Next page: Individual benchmark results

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