Is the Mid 2014 21.5″ iMac a Road Apple?

What happens when you take a MacBook Air’s logic board, a 2012 MacBook Pro’s hard drive, and shove them into an iMac’s case?  You have a modern day Mac Classic without the charm and without the sub-$1,000 price.  You’d also get a lot of people like me asking, Why?

Well, that is basically what Apple did when they quietly introduced the new base model iMac this past Wednesday.

21 inch iMac price comparison

Really?

The new base model 21.5” iMac, which we here at Low End Mac Headquarters have labeled the Road Apple Edition, is something that has left many of us scratching our heads. It’s the first Mac to merit a Road Apple badge in 8 years. We’re pretty sure you will be scratching your head too when you read the specs:

  • CPU: 1.4 GHz ULV dual-core Intel Core i5 (the same processor used in the low-end MacBook Air)
  • RAM: 8 GB 1600 MHz LPDDR3 (the same type of low power, non-expandable RAM used in the MacBook Air)
  • Hard Drive: 500 GB 5400 RPM (the same drive used in the 2012 13” MacBook Pro)
  • Price: US$1,099

All of the other specs are the same as the older (but much more powerful) Late 2013 iMac.

Is This a Joke?

When I first read about the machine, I thought that it was either a typo or a bad joke.

The Mac Web had been floating rumors for months that Apple would introduce a new low-end iMac at some point this year.  I thought maybe Mac Rumors had just received some bad information or made a mistake in writing up the specs. Imagine my surprise when I went to apple.com and saw that this was no mistake, these were the real specs for the new machine.

What Are They Thinking?

“What the hell are they thinking?” was the first thought to come into my mind when I read the specs and the US$1,099 price tag.  Come on Apple, you haven’t shipped a desktop machine with specs this low in a very long time, and you haven’t ever shipped a desktop with a ULV processor before.  Seriously, even a 2012 base model Mac mini has a 2.5 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor and expandable RAM.

The GHz Myth

So how bad is the performance of this new iMac?  Well, that really depends on how you’re using it.  Single core benchmarks show that the new iMac is only about 12% slower than its Quad Core counterpart, however in Multi-Core benchmarks the unit is only about half as powerful as the 2.7 GHz Quad Core i5 Processor in the $1299 version of the iMac (which was the previous entry level version).  This was interesting to me given the new iMac’s low clock speed.  Actually, the new iMac only benchmarks about 15% slower than the 2.5 GHz Dual Core i5 processor in the 2012 13” MacBook Pro.

The Apple Tax

The Apple Tax is something that I’ve denied and debated folks over for years, however this time around even I can’t deny that there is a serious Apple Tax on this machine.  There is no way that it is worth anywhere near the $1,099 price tag, especially considering you can get a current generation 2.7 GHz quad-core iMac refurbished from the online Apple Store for the same price.

The Value Equation

Based on the specs of this machine, I couldn’t recommend this machine to anyone.  You’d be much better off buying either a refurbished iMac with a quad-core processor for the same price or. if you’re on a tighter budget. get a used 2010 iMac starting around US$850.

The Bottom Line

Here at Low End Mac we value low-end machines.  The new base model 21.5” iMac isn’t necessarily a terrible machine.  I don’t have an issue with the specs on it; I believe that it would be fine for what most people would use a home computer for.  I take issue with the price point.  $1,099 is incredibly excessive for what the machine offers.

On the plus side, this machine probably won’t have much resale value, so it will probably be a much better value when it is discontinued and becomes available on the used market.  It’s too bad that Apple couldn’t get to $899 on this model – then I would have had no issues with it.  But based on the price tag, I think it is the worst machine for the money you could ever buy, and in my opinion the only Mac to deserve a four bullet Road Apple rating since the x200 series Macs nearly 20 years ago.*

* Publisher’s note: We have not officially given this iMac a four Road Apple rating – or any rating – yet. There are lots of ways of looking at it. For instance, it has the power of the $899 11″ MacBook Air but with a much larger display and more storage – and no SSD or battery. And while it has about half the horsepower of the $1,299 iMac, it probably has enough for most entry level users. In some ways, this compares to the Power Mac G4 Cube, which was overpriced as a Power Mac with such limited expansion – but if Apple had called it the Mac G4 Cube, it might have been perceived differently. Price is definitely the reason it will make the Road Apple list. At $899, we probably wouldn’t think twice about its value. Give us some time to look at the bigger picture before we publish our official Road Apple profile.

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6 thoughts on “Is the Mid 2014 21.5″ iMac a Road Apple?

  1. I don’t think this is a “bad mac”, but Apple is going in a different direction then what everyone’s expecting. Here’s my thoughts:

    1. The general public isn’t the target audience. This machine is for schools, and other organizations that want a Macintosh either for looks, for ease of management, or for software. By releasing this to the general public, it catches the eyes of the purchasing managers, and may result in more large volume sales.
    2. Apple may have a surplus of Macbook Air parts. Tim Cook is a master of logistics. Instead of returning the surplus parts, Apple decided to create a new, cheaper iMac.
    3. Apple can use this as a sales tool, if the margins on the $1299 is higher. “I notice you’re looking at the $1099 Mac. If you choose the $1299, you’d get 50% more speed for only $200 more!”. The low price gets people in the store, but they leave with a more expensive, higher margin, Mac.

    What do you think?

  2. Of major note: the CPU in this “reduced price” model actually costs *MORE* in bulk purchase than the CPU in the $200 more expensive model!

    Some online speculation is that this model was created specifically to appease a small number of “spec-required” customers (like government agencies,) that insist on a certain power use level to purchase. There is no other logical reason to replace a “standard voltage mobile” part with an “ultra low voltage mobile” part in a desktop that has plenty of cooling. There are other, cheaper, “standard voltage mobile” parts they could have put in there. (Of note, though, those other parts all have lower-end graphics. This is the cheapest “slower” part that contains Intel HD 5000 graphics; even though it costs more than the MUCH better “Intel Iris Pro” in the more expensive machine!)

    The big question is: why give a desktop an ultra-low-power mobile chip, that is far slower as a CPU, noticeably slower GPU, when said chip costs *MORE* than the part it is replacing; while charging less?

    (And the smaller hard drive doesn’t make up the price difference. The CPU price difference is $80; the 1 TB drive costs less than that alone – not even adding back the price of the 500 GB drive.)

    • That’s even more interesting! It’ll be extremely unusual for Apple to create a model just for a small segment like school or government. Apple’s main market since 98 is consumers, with a smaller secondary market for professionals. It’s not a good sign if Apple is going after a certain niche market.

      But, if Apple deliberately designed this machine for the government/school market (which I’m doubting), using an Ultra Low Voltage CPU will make sense. It will reduce the electricity cost for the schools. The regular iMac is 27 watts, the new one is even lower.

      Another note: There’s no option to upgrade the CPU on the BTO page.

      And here’s something else. I just went to https://www.apple.com/imac/specs/ . The Mid-2014 is missing. Something is up with Apple, and I’m not sure what.

      Humm… a mystery!

  3. Question regarding this model, how does this compare CPU / GPU score wise compared to the mid-range and compared to a C2D iMac? I assume most of us here are still getting by with a C2D Mac. I think maybe it might also be Apple’s attempt to lure some Snow Leopard (and C2D owners in general) hold-outs to a new machine so that they can set i3 chips and above minimum for Yosemite?