iMac FAQ: Apple introduces significant upgrades to the 27-inch iMac; also updates 21.5-inch models and iMac Pro

Apple rolls out big changes to the 27-inch iMac.

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The iMac is a direct descendant of the very first Mac, and it’s often the computer that longtime users think about when they think about the Macintosh. The iMac’s all-in-one design is popular and iconic.

The iMac is great for both novices and demanding users. It can handle general-purpose and heavy-duty tasks equally well. It’s ideal for someone who needs to buy 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. Apple has three versions of the iMac: the standard iMac, the iMac with Retina display, and the iMac Pro.

Updated 08/04/20: Apple has updated the 27-inch iMac with an improved True Tone display, 10th-generation Intel CPUs, Radeon 5000 GPUs, and better microphone, speakers, and camera. The iMac Pro's base model is now a 10-core CPU rather than an 8-core CPU. Also updated 8/7/20 with reports that the SSDs are part of the iMac's motherboard and not upgradeable parts.

The latest: A big refresh for the 27-inch iMac

Apple has updated the 27-inch iMac with several improved features and upgraded hardware, though the design remains the same.

  • The standard configuration models feature 6 and 8-core, 10th-generation Intel CPUs. A 10-core option is available.

  • The GPU has been updated to the Radeon Pro 5300 in the 6-core iMacs, while the 8-core model has a Radeon Pro 5500 XT with options for a Radeon Pro 5700 or 5700 XT.

  • SSDs are now standard (no more Fusion Drive), starting at 512GB and going up to 2TB in the 6-core model and 8TB in the 8-core model. According to reports by  iFun.de and MacRumors, The SSDs are part of the iMac's motherboard in order to support hardware encryption, thus they cannot be removed for an upgrade. For the 4TB and 8TB configurations, a flash storage expansion board is attached via connector on the motherboard.

  • The 5K Retina display now has True Tone and a $500 option for the nano-texture glass first introduced in the Pro Display XDR.

  • The FaceTime camera is upgraded to 1080p, and there are improved speakers and a new microphone array. These features seem taken directly from the 2018 iMac Pro.

Upgrades to 21.5-inch iMac and iMac Pro

Along with updates to the 27-inch iMac on August 4, 2020, Apple made a couple tweaks to its smaller sibling and the iMac Pro.

The 21.5-inch iMacs now feature SSDs standard, though customers can opt to configure with a Fusion Drive if they want to.

The iMac Pro's base model now features a 10-core Intel CPU rather than an 8-core CPU. The price remains unchanged.

Standard iMac

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iMac

Apple offers one standard iMac model. It is priced at $1,099. It was originally released in June 2017.

Processor, memory, graphics, and storage: The $1,099 iMac has a 2.3GHz dual‑core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, and Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 integrated graphics. It is available with a 256 GB SSD, or you an opt for a 1TB Fusion Drive.

You can’t upgrade the $1,099 iMac yourself after you buy it, so consider paying an extra $200 at the outset for a memory upgrade to 16GB. If you want to add more RAM later, you need to bring the iMac in to an Apple store.

Display: The $1,099 iMac has a 21.5-inch display with a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels and can display millions of colors. By comparison, the 21.5-inch iMac with Retina display comes with a screen that has a 4096x2304 display that offers more image detail and can display billions of colors.

The $1,099 iMac’s display is an sRGB display, which is the color space the display uses and is enough for most users. The Retina display uses the P3 color space, which is often used for digital movie projection and the film industry.

Input device: The iMac comes with Apple’s Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse 2. If you order online from the Apple Store, you can switch the keyboard to a version with a numeric keypad, and switch the mouse to a Magic Trackpad 2 ($50). You can opt to get both a Magic Mouse 2 and a Magic Trackpad 2 for $129 extra.

Connectivity: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 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 $1,099 is Apple’s slowest iMac. That said, it has enough power for productivity tasks, video and photo editing, and games. 

Macworld’s buying advice: For new Mac owners, the $1,099 iMac is a good alternative to the Mac mini, providing a nice performance increase. If performance is your top priority, consider a Fusion Drive upgrade. On a 21.5-inch iMac, the 8GB of RAM should be fine, but buying the RAM upgrade at the point of purchase could help you avoid some hassle in the future.

Ready to buy an iMac (with standard display)? Go to the Apple Store

iMac with Retina display

Apple offers two 21.5-inch and three 27-inch models of the iMac with Retina display. Here are the specifications and prices for the five Retina iMac models, which was released in March 2019 and updated in August 2020 with SSDs as standard equipment.

21.5-inch iMac with Retina 4K display

  • $1,299: 3.6GHz quad‑core Intel Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD, and 2GB Radeon Pro 555X graphics
  • $1,499: 3.0GHz 6-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD, and 4GB Radeon Pro 560X graphics
Apple iMac with Retina Display Apple

iMac with Retina Display

With old 21.5-inch Macs, there was no way to install an upgrade after you bought it, so it was a good idea to add more RAM at the point of purchase. That’s no longer the story with the new 21.5-inch iMac. You can add more RAM later but the upgrade has to be done at an Apple store.

The 21.5-inch iMac with Retina display has a 4096x2304 resolution screen. It uses the P3 color space, which is often used for digital movie projection and the film industry. Also, these screens offer 500 nits of brightness, which is an increase over the screen in older iMacs.

27-inch iMac with Retina 5K display

  • $1,799: 3.1GHz 6‑core Intel Core i5 processor, 256GB SSD, and 4GB Radeon Pro 5300 graphics
  • $1,999: 3.3GHz 6‑core Intel Core i5 processor, 512GB SSD, and 4GB Radeon Pro 5300 graphics
  • $2,299: 3.8GHz 8‑core Intel Core i5 processor, 512GB SSD, and 8GB Radeon Pro 5500 XT graphics

The 27-inch iMac with Retina display has a 5120x2880-resolution screen. Like the 21.5-inch models, 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.

Users can upgrade the RAM on the 27-inch iMac easily. 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. Or if you prefer, you can upgrade the RAM at the point of purchase to 16GB ($200), 32GB ($600), or 64GB ($1,000).

Input devices: The iMac comes with Apple’s Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse 2. If you order online from the Apple Store, you can switch the keyboard to a version with a numeric keypad, and switch the mouse to a Magic Trackpad 2 ($50). You can opt to get both a Magic Mouse 2 and a Magic Trackpad 2 for $129 extra.

Connectivity: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 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, the Mac Pros with more than four cores are faster machines. 

Macworld’s buying advice: The allure of the Retina display is strong; you’ll love the way it looks. You may not love the way the price looks, however. If you are hesitant about the price, it won’t take long to get over it, once you’ve used the Retina iMac for a couple of weeks.

Ready to buy an iMac with Retina display? Go to the Apple Store

iMac Pro

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iMac Pro

The iMac Pro is the computer for people who work on the most demanding tasks. It’s targeted at creative professionals, scientists, and software developers. It features a 27-inch Retina 5K 5120-by-2880 P3 display and comes in single base configuration with lots of customization options:

  • $4,999: 3.0GHz 10-core Intel Xeon W processor, 32GB 2666MHz ECC memory, 1TB SSD storage, 16GB Radeon Pro Vega 56 graphics

The RAM on the iMac Pro isn't user upgradeable, but Apple says it will upgrade your iMac Pro at the Apple Store like the standard model. So if you're buying one you probably want to spring for the extra money up front rather than pay more later.

Design and input devices: The iMac Pro comes in an exclusive aluminum space gray case with a matching space gray Magic Keyboard with numeric keyboard and Magic Mouse 2 (or Magic Trackpad 2 for an additional $50). And Apple is supplying a one-of-a-kind black Lightning cable in the box as well for charging purposes.

Security: Apple is debuting the T2 chip with the iMac Pro, a step up from the T1 in the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. The chip is reposibiile for controlling a variety of components and tasks including the FaceTime HD camera, putting less stress on the CPU. Earlier rumors suggested the chip could be responsible for hands-free Siri on the iMac, but Apple has yet announce such a feature.

Connectivity: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are included for wireless conenctivity. The back of the iMac Pro has four USB 3 ports, four Thunderbolt 3 ports, a 10 gigabit ethernet jack, and a SDXC card slot.

Speed: The machine is a multi-processing beast, designed to work with pro-level apps that demand multiple processing cores. Apple has issued different configurations of the iMac Pro to select users, including mechanical and aerospace engineer Craig A. Hunter, director and photographer Vincent Laforet, and YouTubers Marques Brownlee and Jonathan Morrison, and all of them say the speed is very impressive.

In our review of the iMac Pro, we confirmed that the new Mac is at its best with software that can take advantage of processors with multiple cores. And the iMac Pro's graphics performance is spectacular, thanks to the Radeon Pro Vega

If you use software that's geared for single-core performance (which includes many general consumer apps), you won't see a marked increase. In fact, we found that the iMac Pro is similar in single-core performance to a 2014 Core i7 5K iMac. You're better off with a new 5K iMac in this case.

Macworld’s buying advice: If you use multi-core software and want the fastest processing speed available, this is the iMac to get. If you need even more performance, you'll want to look at the Mac Pro.

Ready to buy an iMac Pro? Go to the Apple Store



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