Apple iMac (2009) review

4 out of 5
£1199

For

Crisp HD screen, fully upgradeable innards, small footprint on desk, stylish

Against

No wall mount option, no Blu-ray, hard drive not massive (but upgradable), no touchscreen interface

Apple has updated its iMac line of desktop PCs aimed at consumers, with Intel Core 2 Duo processors, new graphics tech, double the memory and up to 1TB of storage, but does the new model warrant you rushing out to buy? We get playing with the new hardware to find out.

There are now four models now on offer: the entry-level model for £949 is a 20-incher and offers a 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB memory, 320GB hard drive, 8x double-layer SuperDrive and Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics. The £1199 option has a 24-inch display, 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB RAM, 640GB hard drive, 8x double-layer SuperDrive and Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics.

For £1499 the next level up 24-incher improves the specs slightly with a 2.93GHz processor and better graphics - with Nvidia GeForce GT 120 with 256MB memory. The top-of-the-line model is the 24-inch £1799 iMac that offers a 3.06GHz processor, 1TB hard drive and Nvidia GeForce GT 130 with 512MB memory.

Here we've reviewed the mid-range £1200 24-inch screen offering.

The new 2009 edition of the iMac isn't really as all-new as you might expect. The design stays the same with the main changes coming in the form of performance upgrades on the inside rather than a massive overhaul on the outside.

The all-in-one design is still dominated by the glass screen - in this case 24-inches of high-def (1920 x 1200 pixels) glossiness. Encased in an aluminium chassis - white is so old school - the smooth design is broken only by a built-in iSight webcam included above the screen and the Apple logo below it.

As previously, the whole unit is perched on a solid metal stand that unfortunately can't be removed - no wall mounting option here. Around the bulbous curved back you get a line of ports including Gigabit Ethernet, a total of four USB 2.0 ports on the iMac itself, one FireWire 800 port, and Apple's Mini DisplayPort offering. The Mini DisplayPort connector allows you to connect the "pure" digital signal to Apple’s new 24-inch LED Cinema Display with adapters available for DisplayPort, VGA, DVI and Dual-Link DVI displays. The side sports a DVD rather than Blu-ray slot loading drive.

One change to previous models is the keyboard that now comes with the Apple iMac. Losing the number pad, the keyboard is a considerably smaller in width and makes for a tiny footprint. Typing on it is as straightforward as Apple's standard keyboard and you'll still get 2 further USB slots to connect devices to (like the mouse). As not to lose the arrow keys, the right hand cmd and alt keys have been reduced in width and the right control key lost altogether. Aside from the number pad you'll lose the delete key. It's more frustrating than loosing the numbers, but we suspect it's something you'll get used to.

Luckily Apple allows you to revert back to the standard keyboard (with number pad) in the buying process for no extra charge. The system also comes with a wired mighty mouse as well. Both are upgradeable to wireless versions, something we would recommend if you are going for the minimalist desk look, which considering you are buying an iMac you probably are.

Inside, and as listed above, you get a 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB RAM upgradeable for a whopping £800, 640GB hard drive upgradeable to 1TB for an additional £80, 8x double-layer SuperDrive and an Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics card which isn't upgradable. There are better cards available for the system however you will have to opt for a more advanced iMac to get them. Elsewhere you get built-in AirPort Extreme 802.11n Wi-Fi networking, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR.

The power means it's got plenty of oomph for doing office jobs, editing photos and light video work and basically being the all round workhorse you most likely need. It's not quad-core so you'll have to hold off editing that Oscar winning masterpiece for the moment but as a desktop computer this delivers alongside most PC offerings.

And it's here that the iMac shows its true colours. This isn't like so many of the all-in-one offerings from the likes of HP or Sony trying to be anything other than a stylish desktop computer.

Want the once included remote control? That's £15 extra. Want to play Blu-ray discs to benefit from the high-def screen? That's not available. Want a touch screen interface so you can interact with it in your kitchen like you can the HP all-in-one? You can't do that either. Want a HDMI input so you can connect it to a games console or Blu-ray player? Opps, sorry, that's a no as well.

Apple have stuck to their guns on this one: if you want multimedia and still go Apple, you'll have to go for an Apple TV connected to your network rather than expect the iMac to double up for you.

It's a shame as you could easily see this becoming the all powerful media centre in the kitchen or bedroom if only you could get more content to it, or at least wall mount it.

Verdict

As a desktop computer the iMac is a very nice, very stylish machine that will give you decent performance and get the job done. Out of the box to connecting to the Internet requires just three cables to be plugged in - the power, the keyboard and the mouse (if you've opted for the wireless keyboard and mouse it's just one) .

Connecting the Internet is all via Wi-Fi (although you can connect via a cable), and the opening setup makes this a dream - we were online in less than 5 minutes from receiving the computer from the courier.

Great! Well not exactly. If you are expecting this to be an all powerful home entertainment suite then you'll need to look elsewhere: the 2009 edition of the iMac is far from that. Yes you can add a TV tuner (from Elgato not Apple) and yes you can watch HD content that you've downloaded, but key features missing like Blu-ray, wall mounting, a touchscreen interface and even just a HDMI socket make this miss that all important multimedia experience marker, especially against the HP and Sony offerings.