1.4 GHz iMac: What Is Apple Thinking?

We’ve published our first article on the Mid 2014 21.5″ iMac with its 1.4 GHz low-power dual-core i5 CPU, and Chris Carson was not impressed with its value. I want to treat is as fairly and unemotionally as possible, so let’s take a closer look.

At heart, this US$1,099 iMac is built around the same CPU that powers the $899 11″ MacBook Air (MBA). What you gain over the MBA is a much larger display and a lot more file storage. What you lose compared with the MBA is SSD speed (unless you pay Apple $250 additional to install one), a battery for use in the field, and portability. In this light, it looks overpriced.

On the other hand, the most natural comparison is to the 2.7 GHz quad-core i5-based 21.5″ iMac, which has exactly the same display but a lot more processing power, a larger hard drive, and expandable memory in addition to a dedicated graphics processor for just $200 more. In this light, the new 1.4 GHz iMac also looks overpriced.

21 inch iMac price comparison

In fact, we’re unable to come up with a comparison that doesn’t make it looked overpriced, and that’s our justification for calling it a Road Apple. These are not necessarily bad Macs, just ones more compromised than they should have been. And we can’t find any reason for putting a 1.4 GHz low power dual-core CPU in a desktop computer when $200 more gives you a 2.7 GHz quad-core processor.


Objectively, this CPU scores 2700 on the single-core 64-bit Geekbench 3 benchmark and 5254 in multi-core testing – at least when used in the 11″ MacBook Air. (We haven’t yet seen the new iMac benchmarked.)

By comparison, the 2.7 GHz iMac hits 3168 in the single-core test and 10,253 in multi-core testing. For tasks that use a single CPU, the $200 more expensive model is only going to provide about 15% more processing power. For tasks that can use four cores, the 2.7 GHz iMac provides nearly twice the processing power. For heavy lifting, it’s definitely worth the extra cost.

The other question is, Does it have enough performance? And for non-power users, it probably does. For instance, the 21″ Mid 2010 iMac with a 3.6 GHz dual-core i5 CPU was the fastest 21″ iMac in its day, and it only scores about 10% faster on multi-core Geekbench than this new econo-iMac – and it’s a virtual match in single-core performance.

In other words, today’s low-end, entry level, seemingly underpowered $1,099 iMac has all the power of the top-end 21″ iMac introduced just three years ago. That’s not bad at all!

Next, let’s compare it to some real low-end configurations. I have a 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo Mac mini from 2007. It hits 1202 on the single-core benchmark, 2077 using both cores.  The new iMac has about 2-1/4 times as much processing power when comparing single-core performance, 2-1/2 times as much when using both cores. My 2.0 GHz Late 2008 Aluminum MacBook scores a bit lower than the Mac mini, reaching 1188 in single-core testing and 2049 with both cores firing.

For me, this new iMac would be a real powerhouse. Why? Because despite it’s seemingly low 1.4 GHz nominal speed rating, it can go into turbo mode and almost double processing power. That’s the most impressive level of Turbo Boost I’ve ever heard of!

The Rest of the System

I get by just fine with 3 GB of RAM in my Mac mini, which has a partitioned 320 GB 7200 rpm hard drive with OS X 10.5 Leopard and 10.6 Snow Leopard installed. My MacBook has 4 GB of RAM, and its 500 GB 7200 rpm hard drive currently has OS X 10.9 Mavericks and the 10.10 Yosemite Developer Preview, each on its own partition. (I’ll reinstall Snow Leopard when I migrate to main partition to Yosemite upon its official release.) A 500 GB hard drive provides plenty of capacity for me, although I’d rather have a 7200 rpm drive than a 5400 rpm model. And 8 GB of RAM it twice what I’m comfortable with and should see me through many more years.

On top of that, I’d be getting USB 3.0, Thunderbolt, WiFi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, and better graphics. The only feature I’d be losing is a built-in optical drive, and how often do I use that?

What About the Price?

Apple could have cut more corners to make a cheaper entry-level iMac. It could have adopted an inferior display. It could have made 4 GB of system memory standard and soaked you $50 or even $100 to get 8 GB. But it didn’t make those compromises.

Compared with the $200 more model, I think Apple missed the boat when pricing this machine. At $1,099, it just doesn’t scream out value when compared with the slightly-more-costly iMac. Then again, this will probably sell primarily to the education market, home users, and businesses for areas that don’t require lots of power. Education always gets a discount, so for schools this is probably going to be a $899 to $999 iMac, and that’s right in the ballpark.

If Apple were selling this for the same $799 as the least expensive iMac ever – the 2000 350 MHz G3 iMac – it would be a runaway best seller, and there would be no Road Apple talk. If it sold for $899, I think everyone would be thrilled with the overall value of this model.

At $999, I think we’d reach the tipping point. A few people would grumble, it would probably earn a low Road Apple rating, and it would do well. But at $1,099, the overall value just isn’t there. You can buy a refurbished 2.7 GHz iMac for the same price and get a lot more power, storage space, and potential RAM expansion.

This is not a bad machine. The price is just a bit higher than it should be when you compare it to the rest of the iMac line. It’s not a high-end iMac, and for its intended market, I think it’s going to just thrill users. Tech types, on the other hand, need more tinkering options.

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2 thoughts on “1.4 GHz iMac: What Is Apple Thinking?

  1. Personally, I don’t see the point in this machine at the price it is at. For the average man in the street, they will look at the low end Mac Mini spec and see a faster processor at a lower price.

    I’m looking to replace our old 2008 iMac, as I have spare monitors, a keyboard (Or 4) lying around (Or just buy a small HDMI TV) have something a lot cheaper and on the face of it, faster.

    Ok, it has less memory, but a lot of people wont see that as justification for the higher price.

    Turbo mode is mentioned in the specs, but if my Dad was looking, he would see a 1.5GHz processor at almost twice the price of a 2.4GHz processor and dismiss the new iMac

    It just does not ‘fit’ properly into the line up. At that price it needs to be 2GHz, or cut the price.

    Overpriced and underpowered sums it up.