Should You Buy the iMac?
The iMac is Apple's all-in-one desktop computer. The latest iMac features a complete redesign, improved performance through the M1 chip, and a 24-inch 4.5K display. Apple typically updates the iMac on an annual basis, although the smaller, less powerful model has been updated less frequently.
There are two different main iMac models currently available. One is positioned as a lower-end model with an Apple-designed M1 chip, a 24-inch 4.5K display, a range of color options, and a price starting at $1,299, while the other is positioned as a higher-end model with an Intel processor, a 27-inch 5K display, a wider variety of ports, and a price starting at $1,799.
Announced in April of 2021, the 24-inch M1 iMac is the newest Mac in Apple's lineup and is very early in its product cycle.
On the other hand, the 27-inch Intel models that remain in Apple's lineup launched in August of 2020. These models are believed to be approaching the end of their product cycle. Apple is phasing Intel-based Macs out of its product lineup in favor of its own more powerful and efficient custom silicon chips, and a major overhaul of the 27-inch iMac is expected to arrive in the near future.
Users who are looking for a larger or more powerful iMac should wait for updated models with new designs, larger displays, and Apple silicon chips to launch later this year or early next year. We do not recommend buying an Intel-based iMac at this time.
Although the larger iMac is expected to be replaced with a redesigned model soon, the smaller 24-inch iMac will almost certainly remain in the lineup as the lower-end option as it has only recently been updated. For customers interested in the smaller, M1-powered iMac, now is the best time to buy it.
The M1 iMac will be the best iMac option for the vast majority of users, offering more than enough performance and important day-to-day features like a high-quality display, camera, microphone, and speaker system.
Power-users or professionals who need the largest possible display, a very high level of performance, and features like larger amounts of RAM and more ports, should get the larger iMac, but it will be worth waiting for updated models with Apple silicon chips and new designs.
The M1 iMac
Apple unveiled the new 24-inch M1 iMac in April 2021, a radically redesigned desktop machine that comes in a range of fun colors.
The iMac now features an Apple-designed "M1" Arm-based chip, replacing the prior Intel chips, to bring significant speed and efficiency improvements.
The M1 chip is Apple's first System on a Chip for the Mac, integrating the CPU, GPU, RAM, and more. The M1 has an 8-core CPU with four high-efficiency cores and four high-performance cores along with an integrated GPU that has up to 8 cores, and it is the same M1 chip that was first used in the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac mini.
According to Apple, compared to the previous generation 21.5-inch model, the M1 iMac offers up to 85 faster CPU performance, up to 2x faster GPU performance, and up to 3x faster machine learning. As with the prior entry-level 21.5-inch iMac models, RAM maxes out at 16GB, but the higher-end models that continue to have Intel chips are configurable with up to 128GB RAM.
The M1 chip enables the thinner design introduced with the new iMac. The logic board and thermals have been dramatically consolidated and reduced in size, so the new iMac takes up less space and fits more easily in different places. It is also considerably quieter than the previous version thanks to the thermals of the M1 chip and the new cooling system.
There are major external design changes with the M1 iMac. The design is extremely thin and compact compared to prior models, and the machine measures in at just 11.5 millimeters thick. The iMac also comes with a redesigned slim stand that allows the angle of the display to be adjusted.
Apple is selling the new iMac in a range of bright colors, including green, blue, pink, silver, orange, yellow, and purple. At the front of the iMac, there are softer, pastel colors, but the back of the iMac features much brighter and bolder colors. Powering the iMac is a new magnetic power connector with a color-matched woven cable.
The 24-inch 4.5K display features a resolution of 4480-by-2520, with 11.3 million pixels, 500 nits brightness, P3 wide color, more than a billion colors, and True Tone to match the color temperature of the display to the ambient lighting for a more natural viewing experience.
Apple's M1 iMac includes a 1080p FaceTime HD camera with a new image signal processor for improved performance in low light, and the Neural Engine in the M1 chip allows for better noise reduction, greater dynamic range, and improved auto exposure and white balance.
The iMac also includes studio-quality microphones and a six-speaker sound system with strong bass and clear mids and highs, along with support for Dolby Atmos and spatial audio.
There are two Thunderbolt 3/USB-4 ports at the back of the iMac, along with four total USB-C ports for some models. The iMac supports up to a 6K external display, and offers a headphone jack on its side. A 1Gb/s Ethernet port is available in the power adapter for the higher-end model, allowing for a less cluttered cable setup.
The iMac has Wi-Fi 6 support for the fastest possible Wi-Fi performance and can be customized with up to 2TB of SSD storage.
The new iMac comes alongside color-matched accessories with custom colors for the keyboard, Magic Mouse, Magic Trackpad, power cord, and Lightning to USB-C cable. Apple sells the iMac with a matching Magic Keyboard, with or without a number pad, and some models feature Touch ID built directly into the keyboard.
The Magic Keyboard features the first wireless Touch ID implementation, using a dedicated security component on the keyboard that communicates directly with the Secure Enclave in the M1 for seamless unlocking or making Apple Pay purchases.
The M1 iMac became available to pre-order on Friday, April 30, and began arriving to customers on May 21. The entry-level model is available for $1,299, while an upgraded model is priced starting at $1,499.
Apple is selling the new 24-inch M1 iMac models alongside the higher-end and more expensive 27-inch iMac models with Intel chips that were introduced in August 2020, as well as a single previous entry-level 21.5-inch iMac model equipped with an Intel chip and a 1080p display.
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How to Buy
The new M1 iMac models can be pre-ordered from the online Apple Store or purchased in Apple retail stores, with prices starting at $1,299. The Intel-based iMac models are also available from the online Apple Store.
In August 2021, refurbished M1 iMac models became available from the online Apple Store in multiple regions around the world. There are multiple color options and configurations available, though stock will fluctuate based on the machines that people are sending Apple for repairs and returns.
Reviews of the 24-inch iMac are largely positive, with reviewers praising the performance delivered by the M1 chip and the vibrant selection of colors. A thorough look at the new design is shown in the review videos below.
The most striking aspect of the new iMac is its long-awaited redesign, with an ultra-thin 11.5mm chassis that comes in up to seven colors, including green, yellow, orange, pink, purple, blue, and silver. While some reviewers were excited about the new colors, some expressed concern that they may not fit in well in some environments.
Reviewers were divided about some aspects of the new design such as the white bezels around the display, saying that it can be "a pretty dramatic contrast" to the display, and will likely prove controversial among some users.
The M1 chip in the iMac achieved a higher score on the Geekbench 5 single-core benchmark than any other Mac, making it ideal for everyday tasks. Benchmark results revealed the new iMac is up to 56% faster than the previous high-end 21.5-inch iMac with an Intel Core i7 processor.
Overall, reviewers tended to agree that the new iMac is the best 24-inch all-in-one-computer currently available. Reviews can help potential buyers make a decision about purchasing the new iMac, and more information can be found in our dedicated review roundup.
Some 24-inch iMac models appear to have a manufacturing defect that causes the display to be mounted on the stand in a way that is not perfectly aligned, leading to a crooked display. Some users have noticed a slight tilting on one side of their iMac, indicating that the unit has not been correctly mounted to its stand. There are seven screws holding the iMac's display to the mount, and the manufacturing issue does not appear to be user fixable.
Apple may opt to allow returns of crooked iMacs after the two-week return window, but it appears to be a problem that is limited in scale at this time so it is not yet know how Apple support staff will respond.
Apple customers who purchase a new iMac should check for a crooked display immediately when receiving a new machine so that it can be returned or swapped out within its two-week return window to avoid having to try to get support from Apple. So far there are only a handful of known iMacs with this manufacturing issue.
The 2021 iMac features a much more compact and thin design than previous-generation iMac models, facilitated by the efficiency of the M1 chip. The updated iMac offers powerful performance in a design that is just 11.5 millimeters thin, for a strikingly slim side profile.
Enabled by the leading power efficiency of the M1 chip, the logic board and thermals have been dramatically consolidated and reduced in size compared to the previous generations, allowing the side profile of iMac to reduce significantly. The much more compact design reduces the volume of iMac by 50 percent, allowing it to take up less space and fit easily in even more places.
The new iMac comes in a range of seven vibrant colors, including green, yellow, orange, pink, purple, blue, and silver, allowing customers to choose a color that they feel best suits them.
iMac features softer colors and thinner borders on the front to allow users to focus on their on-screen content, while the back features much more bold, saturated color. To complete the new design, the iMac comes with a new power connector that attaches magnetically and a woven two-meter-long color-matched cable.
The M1 iMac features a 24-inch 4.5K Retina display with 11.3 million pixels, 500 nits of brightness, a P3 wide color gamut, and over a billion colors.
The display now has much narrower borders and features True Tone technology, which automatically adjusts the color temperature of the display as the environment changes for a more natural viewing experience. In addition, the 4.5K Retina display features Apple's industry-leading anti-reflective coating.
Every iMac features two Thunderbolt ports for superfast data transfers, giving customers high-performance options to connect to a range of external devices, including support for a 6K external display, such as the Apple Pro Display XDR. The iMac configuration with an 8-core GPU offers two additional USB-C ports and also features a 1Gbps Ethernet port in the power adapter, allowing for a less cluttered desktop.
The power adapter with Ethernet port is available as an add-on option for the lower-end iMac, but there is no option to purchase the additional two ports so the four port setup is limited to higher-end models.
There is also a 3.5mm headphone jack on the left-hand side of the machine for wired audio.
M1 Apple Silicon Chip
The new iMac joins the family of Mac models powered by the M1 chip, including MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and Mac mini, marking another step forward in Apple's transition toward its own custom silicon and away from Intel chips.
The M1 is Apple's first System on a Chip designed for the Mac, which means it has the processor, GPU, I/O, security features, and RAM is all one chip inside the Mac.
Like Apple's latest A14 chips, the M1 is built on a 5-nanometer process, which makes it smaller and more efficient than Apple's previous chips. It has 16 billion transistors, which Apple says is the most that it has put into a single chip.
The CPU has four high-efficiency cores and four high-performance cores. Compared to the high-performance cores, the high-efficiency cores use a tenth of the power while still delivering the performance that Mac users need for everyday tasks.
According to Apple, the 8-core CPU in the M1 chip features the fastest CPU core in low-power silicon and the 8-core GPU features the fastest integrated graphics in a personal computer.
One of the features of the M1 is a unified memory architecture, or UMA. This unifies high-bandwidth, low-latency memory into a single pool, meaning that the technologies in the M1 chip can access the same data without copying it between multiple memory pools for dramatic performance improvements across the entire system.
The new iMac delivers powerful performance when compared to standard models of the 21.5-inch iMac, according to Apple, including:
- Up to 85 percent faster CPU performance, to export video projects faster, easily work with large photos for editing, and compile new apps in Xcode in a fraction of the time.
- Up to 2x faster GPU performance for certain apps like Affinity Photo and Photoshop, and up to 50 percent faster than the most powerful discrete graphics in the fastest 21.5-inch iMac, allowing users to render edits in real-time.
- The ability to edit up to five streams of 4K footage, or one stream of 8K footage, without dropping frames, in Final Cut Pro.
- Up to 3x faster machine learning in apps that leverage the 16-core Neural Engine in M1.
Early benchmarks indicate that the M1 iMac is up to 56 percent faster than the previous high-end 21.5-inch model.
The entry-level $1,299 iMac option features an M1 chip with a 7-core GPU, while the $1,499 model features an M1 chip with an 8-core GPU. Apple previously offered the different GPU options in the MacBook Air.
The M1 iMac, like all of the other M1 Macs, comes with 8GB of RAM as standard, but it is possible to configure it with 16GB of RAM via a $200 build-to-order option.
The base model M1 iMacs come with either 256GB or 512GB of storage, but users can configure it with up to 2TB of SSD storage.
Like the other Macs with M1 chips, the iMac now features Wi-Fi 6 connectivity for faster wireless performance.
The 24-inch iMac includes a 1080p FaceTime HD camera, which Apple calls "the best ever" camera in a Mac. The camera delivers high-quality video and great performance in low light, according to Apple. The iMac also takes advantage of the image signal processor in the M1 chip and the Neural Engine, enhancing camera image quality with better noise reduction, greater dynamic range, and improved auto exposure and white balance.
The iMac now features a completely new six-speaker sound system. It has two pairs of force-cancelling woofers placed side by side for improved bass response, while reducing unintended vibrations. Each pair is balanced with a high-performance tweeter. The overall six-speaker sound system produces a "massive sound stage with strong, articulate bass and crystal-clear mids and highs." These speaker innovations, coupled with Apple's custom audio algorithms, enable the iMac to support spatial audio when playing video with Dolby Atmos for the first time.
'Studio Quality' Microphones
The new iMac features a studio-quality three-microphone array for clearer calls and voice recordings. The mics are positioned to reduce feedback from the rest of the system, while directional beamforming allows them to better ignore background noise and focus on a user's voice.
Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad
The iMac comes with a new, color-matched Magic Mouse, and users can opt to upgrade to or add the color-matched Magic Trackpad.
The M1 iMac comes alongside a redesigned Magic Keyboard, featuring an updated key layout and more rounded corners.
The biggest change coming to mid and high-end configurations of the new iMac's Magic Keyboard is Touch ID, bringing Touch ID to a desktop Mac for the first time. Touch ID on the iMac makes it easier than ever to securely log in, make purchases with Apple Pay, or switch user profiles with the touch of a finger.
Implemented wirelessly for the first time on the Magic Keyboard, Touch ID uses a dedicated security component on the keyboard that communicates directly with the Secure Enclave in the M1 chip, creating an encrypted channel to protect users' fingerprint data from end to end.
Customers can choose from three models of Magic Keyboard with aluminum enclosures that are color-matched to the iMac, with options including Touch ID and a numeric keypad. The entry-level Mac comes with a standard non-Touch ID keyboard by default, which can be upgraded, while the $1,499 model's price includes the Touch ID keyboard option.
The Intel-Based iMac
Apple refreshed the 27-inch iMac lineup in August 2020, introducing 10th-generation Intel processors, more RAM, more SSD storage, faster AMD GPUs, and True Tone support for the display. The current 27-inch iMac models use an older design and Intel chips that Apple is in the process of transitioning away from.
With the iMac's transition toward Apple silicon already initiated with the new 24-inch iMac replacing the 4K 21.5-inch iMac, a larger, more powerful iMac with Apple silicon is rumored to be coming in a major refresh later this year. Unless you specifically require an Intel-based iMac, it may be better to wait until later this year for a redesigned, more powerful iMac with Apple silicon.
The 27-inch iMac update refreshed the internals and the display only, and there were no major design changes to the body of the machine. The low-end 21.5-inch iMac, which Apple is keeping in the lineup as a more affordable option, received no refresh, though it does now ship with an SSD by default rather than a Fusion Drive. It otherwise continues to have the same hardware introduced in March 2019.
Both the 21.5 and 27-inch 4K and 5K iMacs continue to use the same "ultra-thin" slim-bodied design first introduced in 2012. Apple updated the display of the 27-inch 5K model, introducing support for True Tone functionality for the first time. True Tone adjusts the white balance of the display to the lighting of the environment for a more natural viewing experience.
There is also a new nano-texture glass option that was first brought to the Pro Display XDR, and which is available for the iMac for an extra $300. Nano-texture glass offers better viewing under bright lighting conditions and it adds a matte finish. Other than True Tone and nano-texture glass, the display of the 27-inch iMac is otherwise unchanged, featuring 500 nits brightness, 1 billion colors, and support for P3 wide color.
Inside, the 27-inch iMac is equipped with Intel's 10th-generation chips with up to 10 cores at the high end. Turbo Boost speeds can reach up to 5.0GHz for 65 percent faster CPU performance. Apple added Radeon Pro 5000 graphics to the new 27.5-inch iMac, which is up to 55 percent faster than the GPUs in prior-generation 27-inch iMac models. The high-end Radeon Pro 5000 option supports 16GB of video memory for the first time, double the memory capacity.
The 21.5-inch iMac is equipped with Intel's 7th-generation chips with dual cores, along with Intel Iris Plus 640 graphics.
The 21.5 and 27-inch iMacs come standard with SSDs, and the SSDs in the 27-inch iMac offer fast performance up to 3.4GB/s. The 27-inch machine supports up to an 8TB SSD, with far more storage space than before, while the 21.5-inch iMac offers up to 256GB SSD storage. For extra security, the 27-inch iMac includes the Apple T2 Chip, which is an Apple-designed chip that provides on-the-fly data encryption, checks software boot security, and more.
The 27-inch iMac offers up to 128GB of fast 2666MHz RAM, double the amount that was available in the previous-generation model. The 21.5-inch iMac supports up to 16GB of RAM.
The 27-inch iMac includes a 1080p FaceTime HD camera, while the 21.5-inch iMac uses a 720p camera. Apple says the 27-inch iMacs include speakers with variable EQ with better balance, higher fidelity, and improved bass along with a studio-quality microphone array. The 21.5-inch iMac has standard stereo speakers and a microphone.
The iMac models are equipped with two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports, four USB-A ports, a headphone jack, an SD card slot, and a Gigabit ethernet port.
The 27-inch iMac ships with an Apple Magic Keyboard that can be upgraded to a Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad for $30 and a Magic Mouse 2 that can be upgraded to a Magic Trackpad 2 for $50. Pricing on the 2020 27-inch iMac starts at $1,799, while pricing on the 2018 21.5-inch iMac starts at $1,099.
There are three standard configuration 24-inch iMac models available from Apple:
- $1,299 - Apple M1 chip with 8-Core CPU and 7-Core GPU, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports, and Magic Keyboard.
- $1,499 - Apple M1 chip with 8-Core CPU and 8-Core GPU, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports and two USB 3 ports, gigabit Ethernet, and Magic Keyboard with Touch ID.
- $1,699 - Apple M1 chip with 8-Core CPU and 8-Core GPU, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD, two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports and two USB 3 ports, gigabit Ethernet, and Magic Keyboard with Touch ID.
Apple is also keeping four older Intel-based standard iMac configurations on sale, including one 21.5-inch model with a 1080p display:
- $1,099 - 21.5-inch iMac with 2.3GHz dual-core 7th-generation Intel Core i5 Processor and Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz, Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, and 1920-by-1080 sRGB display.
- $1,799 - 3.1GHz 6-core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 processor and Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz, Radeon Pro 5300 with 4GB of memory, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, and Retina 5K 5120-by-2880 P3 display with True Tone.
- $1,999 - 3.3GHz 6-core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 processor and Turbo Boost up to 4.8GHz, Radeon Pro 5300 with 4GB of memory, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD, and Retina 5K 5120-by-2880 P3 display with True Tone.
- $2,299 - 3.8GHz 8-core 10th-generation Intel Core i7 processor and Turbo Boost up to 5.0GHz, Radeon Pro 5500 XT with 8GB of memory, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD, and Retina 5K 5120-by-2880 P3 display with True Tone.
Build to Order Options
Entry-level 24-inch iMac with 256GB of storage:
- 16GB RAM - +$200
- 512GB SSD - +$200
- 1TB SSD - +$400
- Gigabit Ethernet - +$30
Mid-level 24-inch iMac with 256GB of storage:
- 16GB RAM - +$200
- 512GB SSD - +$200
- 1TB SSD - +$400
- 2TB SSD - +$800
High-end 24-inch iMac with 512GB of storage:
- 16GB RAM - +$200
- 1TB SSD - +$200
- 2TB SSD - +$600
Color-Matched Accessory Options
All M1 iMac configurations come with a color-matched Magic Mouse as standard, but users can opt to upgrade to the Magic Trackpad, or purchase both the Magic Mouse and the Magic Trackpad together.
- Magic Trackpad - +$50
- Magic Mouse + Magic Trackpad - +$129
Apple also notes that it is possible to upgrade from the standard Magic Keyboard with the entry-level iMac to the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID for an additional $50. All base configurations will also offer the option of upgrading to the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID and Numeric Keypad from the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID for an additional $30.
M1 Mac How Tos
Since the M1 Macs are using a new type of chip designed by Apple, there are some tips and tricks for doing things like transferring files, entering recovery mode, and finding apps optimized for the new machines. We have several M1-specific how tos that are worth checking out.
- How to Install Rosetta on Your M1 Apple Silicon Mac
- How to Start Up in Safe Mode on an M1 Apple Silicon Mac
- How to Use Apple Diagnostics to Test Your Mac
- How to Tell Which Apps Are Optimized for M1 Apple Silicon Macs
- How to Transfer Files Between an Apple Silicon Mac and Another Mac
- How to Reinstall macOS on an M1 Macs
- How to Install Any iPhone or iPad App on an M1 Mac
What's Next for the iMac
Apple is still developing a larger version of the iMac, but paused work on the larger version to launch the 24-inch iMac model. The larger version of the iMac is expected to include an M1X or M2X chip, which would be a more powerful version of the M1 chip that's in the 24-inch iMac.
An updated and redesigned version of the larger 27-inch iMac will launch in 2022 rather than the fourth quarter of 2021, according to leaker Dylandkt. He claims that Apple does not want devices to compete for attention and that there have also been issues with product delays.