Apple’s iMac is a direct descendant of the very first Mac, and it’s often the computer that first comes to mind when people think about Apple. The iMac’s all-in-one design is popular and iconic, and it’s versatile enough for both novices and demanding users. It can handle general-purpose and heavy-duty tasks equally well and is ideal for anyone who needs a complete computer setup (keyboard, mouse or trackpad, and display) and wants to maximize workspace efficiency.
If you’re in the market for an iMac, this guide will help you make the right choice. The only iMac in Apple’s lineup is a 24-inch version with a new design and an Apple M1 system on a chip. The 21.5-inch and 27-inch versions with Intel processors have been discontinued. Here’s how they break down.
Apple unveiled the 24-inch iMac at its Spring Loaded event in April 2021. It’s a fresh new take on the iMac and the first update in more than a decade, with a cleaner design, Apple silicon, and a choice of colors.
Processor, graphics, memory, and storage: The 24-inch iMac uses Apple’s M1 chip rather Intel’s processors, and there are several configurations available:
$1,299: Apple M1 SoC with an 8-core CPU (4 performance cores, 4 efficiency cores), 16-core Neural Engine, and 7-core graphics processor (GPU); 8GB of memory; 256GB SSD
$1,499: Apple M1 SoC with an 8-core CPU (4 performance cores, 4 efficiency cores), 16-core Neural Engine, and 8-core graphics processor (GPU); 8GB of memory; 256GB SSD
$1,699: Apple M1 SoC with an 8-core CPU (4 performance cores, 4 efficiency cores), 16-core Neural Engine, and 8-core graphics processor (GPU); 8GB of memory; 512GB SSD
The 24-inch iMac can have a maximum of 16GB of memory ($200 extra), and you can also upgrade to a larger SSD for an extra cost. These components can’t be upgraded after purchase.
Display: The 23.5-inch 4.5K Retina display fits right in between the 21-inch and 27-inch Intel Macs. The display has 11.3 million pixels and support for the P3 wide color gamut, over a billion colors, 500 nits of brightness, and True Tone. Apple treats the display with an anti-reflective coating to help with readability.
Design: The 24-inch iMac has a much different design than the 21.5-inch and 27-inch models. The bezels around the display are much smaller than on the other iMacs, but it still has a “chin,” a section located below the display that houses the iMac’s internals. The chin doesn’t have the Apple logo on the front. Instead, it’s on the back. Most notably, Apple the 24-inch iMac comes in several colors: The $1,299 model is available in blue, green, pink, and silver, while the $1,499 and $1,699 models are available in the same colors, as well as orange, purple, and yellow.
Input devices: The wireless Magic Keyboard that comes with the 24-inch iMac is different from previous models—it now has support for Touch ID. It is a standard feature in the $1,499 and $1,699 iMacs, but you’ll have to pay extra for it on the $1,299 iMac. An extended keyboard with Touch ID is also available for $50. The 24-inch iMac comes with a wireless Magic Mouse, or you can opt for a wireless Magic Trackpad. The mouse, trackpad, and keyboard come in colors to match the iMac.
Connectivity: The $1,299 24-inch iMac has two Thunderbolt 3 ports that also work with USB-C devices. The $1,499 and $1,699 iMacs have two additional USB-C ports. If you have a USB-A device, you need to buy an adapter, such as Apple’s USB-C to USB Adapter ($19). If you have multiple USB-A devices, wired headphones, and other items, consider a Thunderbolt hub.
The 24-inch iMac, unlike the older iMacs, does not have an SDXC slot. Once again, you’ll need an adapter, such as the Anker SD Card reader ($17). However, it does have a super-cool magnetic power cord.
Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 are built-in. Apple doesn’t put a gigabit ethernet port on the 24-inch iMac—instead, it’s on the power adapter. But that ethernet-equipped power adapter comes standard with the $1,499 and $1,699 models. It’s not included with the $1,299 24-inch iMac, but you can select it as an option at the point of purchase—and yes, that means you’ll have to pay extra for it ($30).
Speed: The 24-inch iMac checks in with a performance that is similar to the Mac mini, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air. The 24-inch iMac blew away its predecessor, the 21.5-inch iMac. It’s currently among the fastest Macs Apple sells.
Macworld’s buying advice: We were quite impressed with the first set of M1 Macs, and the new 24-inch iMac doesn’t disappoint. It brings an impressive speed boost and quiet operation, and nearly every Mac app we’ve tried has run just as well as it did on our Intel Macs thanks to the new Rosetta 2 emulation. And everything else about the iMac is greatly improved, from the design to the display. We think the sweet spot is the $1,499 model, which gets you more ports, Touch ID, and ethernet, but if you don’t need those things the $1,299 model will be plenty good.
Apple no longer offers the 27-inch iMac. The only way to buy a 27-inch iMac is through the Apple Refurbished and Clearance Store and third-party retailers while supplies last. It is no longer available at the Apple Store.
Processor, memory, graphics, and storage: The 27-inch iMac uses Intel processors, not the Apple M1 SoCs found in the 24-inch iMac. iMacs at third-party retailers will have the most current models, while the Apple Refurbished Store also has older models with older processors, but at lower prices than the most current models.
Users can easily upgrade the RAM on the 27-inch iMac, so it’s not as important to upgrade the memory at launch. The machine has four RAM slots, accessible through the back. Apple installs the standard 8GB as a pair of 4GB memory modules, so you can add more RAM after you buy the system. With iMacs sold in the Apple Refurbished Store, you do not have the option to add more RAM at the point of purchase.
Display: The 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display has a 5120×2880-resolution screen. It uses the P3 color space, which is often used for digital movie projection and the film industry. These screens offer 500 nits of brightness, which is an increase over the screen in older iMacs.
Input devices: The iMac comes with Apple’s Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse 2. If you order online from the Apple Refurbished Store, you do not have the option to replace or add input devices.
Connectivity: Wi-Fi (802.11ac) and Bluetooth 5 are built-in. The iMac has four USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports, a gigabit ethernet port, and an SDXC card slot.
Speed: The Retina iMacs are among Apple’s fastest computers when it comes to single-core performance. When it comes to multi-core speed, Apple’s M1-based Macs are faster.
Apple discontinued the 21.5-inch iMac. It is still available in the Apple Refurbished and Clearance Store and at Apple Authorized Resellers while supplies last. If you shop at the Apple Refurbished Store, prices will vary based on the computer’s configuration.
Processor, memory, graphics, and storage: The 21.5-inch iMac uses Intel processors. Apple offers a variety of speeds, but some processors are older than others, some speed comparisons aren’t as simple as referring to clock speeds.
You can’t upgrade the iMac yourself and if you want to add more RAM later, you need to bring the iMac into an Apple store.
The 21.5-inch iMac uses Intel integrated graphics and SSDs or Fusion Drives for storage.
Display: The 21.5-inch iMac is available with a display with a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels or a Retina 4K display, which is more expensive.
Connectivity: Wi-Fi (802.11ac) and Bluetooth 4.2 are built-in. The iMac has four USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports, a gigabit ethernet port, and an SDXC card slot.
Speed: It has enough power for productivity tasks, video and photo editing, and games. The iMacs with Apple’s M1 processor offer better speed.
Macworld’s buying advice: For new Mac owners, the 21.5-inch iMac is a decent alternative to the Mac mini, with a good screen and a decent chip. If you don’t have serious performance demands, the 21-.5-inch iMac may work for you.