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Lab tested: 21.5-inch Core i3 iMac/3.06GHz benchmarks

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At a Glance
  • Apple 21.5-inch Core i3 iMac/3.06GHz

On Monday, Apple updated its entire line of iMac and Mac Pro systems. And while the new Mac Pro models won’t be available until sometime in August, the new iMacs are in the Macworld Lab right now.

The first system to finish our testing regime is the new entry-level iMac, a 21.5-inch model with a 3.06GHz Core i3 processor, and our Speedmark 6 test results show an impressive performance improvement over the system it replaces.

In the last generation of iMac, all but the highest-end standard configuration continued to use the older Core 2 Duo line of processors. But these new iMacs have now completely transitioned from using the Intel Core 2 Duo processors to Intel Core i3 and Core i5 processors. The Core i3 processor used in this iMac supports Intel’s Hyper-Threading technology, which gives the two-core processor four “virtual cores” for better performance in multithreaded applications.

Another positive step is the inclusion of discrete graphics across the entire product line, with the entry-level model using the ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics previously available on just the two middle-tier systems of last generation. (The Nvidia integrated-graphics technology used in the previous generation of iMacs isn’t compatible with the Core i3 processor, so a change was inevitable.)

In addition to the 3.06GHz Core i3 processor and Radeon HD 4670 graphics with 256MB of dedicated GDDR3 SDRAM, the new entry-level iMac includes 4GB of 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM and a 500GB hard drive for $1199—the same price as the model it replaces. That older model had Nvidia GeForce 9400M integrated graphics, a 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo processor, the same 500GB hard drive, and 4GB of slower 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM.

In our tests of the new entry-level iMac, we found that the new system was a little more than 20 percent faster overall than the Core 2 Duo system it replaces, and just about 9 percent faster than the previous $1499 3.2GHz Core 2 Duo model. We saw impressive improvement over the previous 21.5-inch systems in processor-intensive tasks, like MathematicaMark (40 percent), Cinebench (25 percent), and Compressor (11 percent).

The biggest gain, however, was in graphics performance. The previous entry-level iMac, with its integrated graphics, lagged well behind the new Core i3 iMac with the Radeon HD 4670 discrete graphics. The new system was able to display nearly four times as many frames per second as its predecessor. It even bested the old $1499 model by 12 frames per second.

But faster though the new Core i3 system is, it’s still 15 percent slower than the previous top-of-the-line quad-core 2.66GHz Core i5 iMac. That quad-core i5 system was 29 percent faster in Cinebench, 60 percent faster in MathematicaMark, and about 20 percent faster in Compressor. Interestingly, the new 3.06Ghz Core i3 was faster than the quad-core 2.66GHz iMac in iTunes import and WorldBench multitasking tests.

We’re busy testing the rest of the iMacs, so check back soon for more test results and full reviews of the new systems.

21.5-inch iMac Core i3/3.06GHz benchmarks

Cinebench R10 Mathemetica-
Mark 7
Call of
Duty 4
Finder Parallels
21.5" iMac 3.06GHz
Core i3
178 0:41 1:42 6.01 7:13 1:57 1:44 1:05 1:01 81.3 0:44 4:51 3:27 0:28
21.5" iMac 3.06GHz
Core 2 Duo
(Nvidia GeForce 9400M)
148 0:44 2:16 4.23 8:09 2:28 2:14 1:41 1:11 21.9 0:46 5:26 2:09 0:32
21.5" iMac 3.06GHz
Core 2 Duo
(ATI Radeon HD 4670)
164 0:41 2:15 4.42 8:06 2:32 2:16 1:18 1:16 69.1 0:43 5:20 2:20 0:32
27" iMac 2.66GHz
Core i5
209 0:39 1:12 9.64 5:44 1:50 1:22 1:03 1:07 86.9 0:43 5:07 1:22 0:26
20" iMac 2.66GHz
Core 2 Duo (early 2009)
134 0:47 2:33 4.22 9:03 3:10 1:40 1:53 1:28 19.2 0:51 5:46 2:24 0:36

Best results in bold. Reference systems in italics.

How we tested. Speedmark 6 scores are relative to those of a 2.13GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook, which is assigned a score of 100 (higher scores are better). Call of Duty score is in frames per second (higher is better). MathematicaMark is a performance score (higher is better). All others are in minutes:seconds (lower is better). The new 21.5-inch 3.06GHz Core i3 iMac was tested with OS X 10.6.4. Both 21.5-inch 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo iMacs were tested with OS X 10.6.1. The 27-inch 2.66GHz Core i5 iMac was tested with OS X 10.6.2. The 20-inch 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo iMac  (early 2009) was tested with 10.6.1. We duplicated a 1GB file, created a Zip archive in the Finder from the two 1GB files and then unzipped it. We converted 90 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 150 JPEGs into iPhoto '09. The Photoshop Suite test is a set of 14 scripted tasks using a 50MB file. Photoshop’s memory was set to 70 percent and History was set to Minimum. We used Compressor to encode a .mov file to the application's H.264 for video podcast setting. We ripped a DVD chapter to the hard drive. We recorded how long it took to render a scene with multiprocessors in Cinebench. We ran the Evaluate Notebook test in MathematicaMark 7. We ran the WorldBench 6 multitasking test on a Parallels 5 VM running Windows 7 Professional. We timed the import and thumbnail/preview creation time for 150 photos in Aperture.—Macworld Lab testing by James Galbraith, Mckinley Noble, Blair Hanely Frank, and Chris Holt.

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At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Impressive overall speed
    • SD Card slot supports SDXC


    • Apple Remote not included
    • Glare and reflections from screen may frustrate some users
    • FireWire 400 peripherals require an adapter
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