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.
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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