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The 27″ iMac would be preferred IMHO, but it starts at $1,699. The 21.5 starts at $1,199.
The processor speed might benefit some regarding video/photo related program operation and speed, and could be a benefit for anyone doing either. But there’s probably not a big problem with going for the 2.7Hz instead of the 3.1Hz. And somebody with money to burn who wants the biggest, baddest, fastest specs, real-life operation be damned, could spring for the quad-core Intel Core i7 processor instead of the 2.7 or 3.1 i5.
There’s two slots in the current iMac models and it is a standard practice to occupy both slots with equivalent-size matched memory (this is NOT imperative or mandatory in many cases, but does seem to eliminate occasional memory issues) I would suggest getting all the memory the iMac can utilize and that you can afford.
That and the largest internal HD upgrade are the two major things I would consider if/when purchasing one.
I believe the top of the line 27″ could handle 16 GB RAM (two eights) and would absolutely go with one 8GB stick to start. These puppies come with two 2GB sticks, one for each slot, so the preferred route, again, is to populate both slots with matched memory. You’re going to lose money (so to speak) whatever you do, replacing the standard 4GB using two 2GB sticks, with fours or eights. I’ve heard, but cannot confirm, that memory replacement is easy enough to D.I.Y. so it might be a better call (if that’s the case … a google search should confirm) to order with the memory it comes with, then up it yourself with Crucial or other quality brand sticks.
The internal HD might also be an easy enough D.I.Y. project, making it more economical to replace the standard 500GB/1TB HDs “good enough” ordering online at Apple, then doing your own upgrade. They also offer a 2TB HD, but I don’t see going to the expense of getting/using a solid state drive at this time. Jury is still out on the FINITE (absolutely a limit to its lifetime) lifetime use limits of SSHDs.
The graphics processor/board that comes with the 27″ should be just fine. You can up the GDDRS memory from the standard 1GB to 2GB, but that could be more relevant to gamers than video editors, though a larger memory there could still be beneficial, but I doubt it’s going to make or break your intended operations … certainly is not a deal breaker IMHO.
I would suggest getting a pro rated external HD of at least 7200RPM with a FireWire 800 connection, at least a 1TB and use it to hold my project files. Maybe a second USB external drive with a USB 2.0 connection for routine storage of photos, documents, etc.
All this info, by the way, was found on the Apple website at the shared link. Hope this helps. Yes, I am a Mac user, but NOT by any stretch of the imagination to be considered a techhead or GURU. 😉