At a Glance
If you need an iMac for less than £1,000 then look on the Apple Refurbished Store.
If you want a 24in iMac avoid the entry-level option and choose the 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU model.
If you are a pro looking for a new iMac the 27in iMac is still a great option thanks to its discrete graphics and gorgeous 5K Retina display. But if you don’t need one right now our advice would be to wait for Apple to introduce the replacement for the 27in iMac in 2022.
Price When Reviewed
Apple 24in iMac (2021) M1: From $1,299
Best iMac (2021): From $1,099
Best Prices Today: Apple 24in iMac (2021) M1
The iMac is, perhaps, the most famous Mac of all. First introduced in 1998, Apple’s all-in-one Mac has evolved through various different forms, from the original clear plastic and bold coloured CRT monitor to the most recent design change which brought colour back to the impossibly flat screened frame.
We’re in a sort of limbo right now, with two different types of iMac available to choose from: The 2021 24in iMac with Apple’s M1 chip (
read our M1 iMac review), and the
27in iMac (review) which, for now at least, has an Intel processor. Until relatively recently Apple still sold a 21.5in iMac with Intel processor, but that is no longer available. Should you find one on sale we would advise against buying it.
The two iMacs Apple sells right now might share the same name, but they couldn’t be more different.
Luckily we’re here to help you decide which of Apple’s iMacs will be best for your needs.
We’ll start by outlining the features and specs of each of the iMacs Apple sells, and the build-to-order options that could help you create the Mac you need.
Should you buy the 24in iMac?
Apple offers three 24in iMacs, but actually it all breaks down to two different options: an entry-level model with 8-core CPU with 7-Core GPU, two USB 4/Thunderbolt ports and a Magic Keyboard with Lock Key for £1,249/$1,299. Or a 8-core CPU with 8-Core GPU, two USB 4/Thunderbolt ports and two USB 3 ports (which will take those old USB A cables) and a Magic Keyboard with Touch ID for £1,449/$1,499.
There are plenty of good reasons to opt for the more expensive model, if you can afford to.
Probably the most obvious difference is the choice between seven or eight graphic processing units (GPU). If you pick the iMac with one less GPU you can expect a slightly worse performance in graphics-intensive applications.
In our tests we could see that the additional GPU does make a reasonable difference to the Mac’s performance. But the secret here is that there’s more at play here than an extra GPU core – the 8-core GPU model also has a second fan. This serves to stop the Mac from overheating when under strain. The flip side is that the one-fan Mac will slow down – or be throttled – to stop it overheating when it’s working particularly hard. Hence the entry-level 24in iMac is slower than its sibling despite having the same M1 chip with the same amount of processor cores. Read:
Cheapest 24in iMac only has one fan.
So, the message here is that it’s worth opting for the extra graphics core, even if you don’t use graphics-hungry applications.
The other difference between the two types of 24in iMac is the keyboard. The new colourful iMacs feature a keyboard that complements the colour of the iMac, but the keyboard that ships with the entry-level 24in iMac has a Lock Key where the keyboard that comes with the more expensive model has a Touch ID key.
The Magic Keyboard with Touch ID is actually available as a build-to-order option with the entry-level 24in iMac, but the option is well hidden. You need to click on “Change to another keyboard” and then you can choose the Touch ID version for an additional £50/$50. This additional cost already puts you part of the way to the full cost of the better model though, and we’d suggest that playing another £150/$150 extra to get that extra GPU core and fan would be money well spent.
Why you should get the Touch ID keyboard with the 24in iMac. We also have
How to buy the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID. And
Best deals on Apple’s keyboard, mouse and TrackPad.
However, price is what lets down the 24in iMac. It’s just so expensive when you compare it to the Mac mini, which has the exact same specs but just lacks the display. If it was just a couple of hundred difference in price this wouldn’t be such an obvious drawback, but we are talking £550/$600 difference between the entry-level models of the two Mac varieties. We find it hard to justify the extra expense when we could buy a decent 4K display and still have money to spare. Read:
Mac mini vs iMac.
This poor comparison with the
Mac mini (review) leads us to conclude that the 24in iMac is simply overpriced, as is often the case with all-new Mac models.
But perhaps you are prepared to pay the extra because the beautiful design combined with the stunning display are worth the extra outlay, and that’s a perfectly good reason to choose the 24in iMac – we’d just suggest you pick the £1,449/$1,499, the best deals for which are below.
Should you buy the 27in iMac?
There is one other iMac you can choose from. The 27in iMac is an all-in-one iMac designed, and priced, for pro-users. It offers discrete graphics, a 5K Retina display and powerful Intel processors. The 24in iMac, as good as the M1 Chip is, is not really going to meet the needs of the typical user of the 27in iMac (we’ll explain why below).
However, before you make a decision about buying the 27in iMac there’s something you need to know: it is very likely that Apple will update it soon, perhaps in March 2022. Read:
2022 iMac rumours.
The 27in iMac on sale right now was last updated in August 2020, so it’s about a year and a half old. However, if you can’t wait around for Apple to update this model, or you want to stick with Intel and discrete graphics, the 27in iMac may be one to consider.
Here’s how the 27in iMac compares to the best of the 24in models:
The 27in iMac starts at £1,799/$1,799, in contrast you can spend £1,449/$1,499 or £1,649/$1,699 on the 24in iMac. The fractionally lower price does little to make the 24in iMac a more attractive proposition, in many ways it lends weight to our conclusion that the 24in model is overpriced for what it is.
The 27in iMac is, of course, more expensive than the 24in iMac, but it has a number of pro-focused features in its favour including 6-core or 8-core (or build-to-order 10-core) 10th generation Intel processors, the option to add up to 128GB RAM (while the 24in model maxes out at just 16GB RAM), and high-end Radeon Pro graphics cards.
The M1 Chip is impressive, and as you can see from our CPU benchmarks, it does beat the 2020 8-core processor in the 3.8GHz 27in iMac.
But when it comes to graphics performance there is no denying the advantage of the Radeon Pro graphics, which are leagues ahead. The M1 is good, but not that good.
This is where the M1 Pro and M1 Max found in the 2021 MacBook Pro and likely to make an appearance in the 27in iMac successor come in though. As you can see from the benchmarks below, these Macs, with the additional graphics cores and extra RAM are beating the old 16in MacBook Pro with its discrete graphics.
One other factor in favour of the 27in iMac is the 5K retina display, although the 4.5K Retina display of the 24in model is closing the gap. Both offer 500 nits brightness, Wide colour and True Tone, but the 27in model with its 5,120 x 2,880 pixels is clearly ahead of its sibling’s 4,480 x 2,520 pixels.
We expect that whatever Apple is developing as a replacement for the 27in iMac will make that gap even wider, of course, so you may wish to wait for that.
For more information read
Should I buy a 27in iMac now or wait?
Which iMac is best?
The right iMac for you is going to depend on a number of factors: your budget, your needs and how urgently you need to have one right now.
If you don’t have an unlimited budget then, rather than purchasing one of the Macs Apple is selling right now, you might want to consider maximising what you can get for your money by purchasing a discontinued 21.5in or 27in iMac at a discount. However, if you take this avenue then be aware that your Intel-powered Mac will not be as future proofed as an Apple silicon-powered Mac. The deal will have to be very good to make that a worthwhile sale – and you should expect the Mac to depreciate quickly if you have any plans to sell it on later.
With that warning, we are always on the look out for the best iMac deals and we often see really great discounts on iMacs that Apple no longer sells. You could purchase a discontinued 21.5in iMac, with discrete graphics and a decent Intel processor for less than the 24in iMac.
If you love the new 24in iMac design then we would suggest that you spend a bit more to buy one with 8-core GPU.
And if you need the ultimate iMac, the August 2020 27in iMac is still a good option, despite being quite old now and destined for replacement very soon. Right now it’s the best value option for anyone who needs a Mac capable handling the most demanding graphics, but it may well be updated in the next month or so, so we would hold off buying right now.
For more advice about which Mac to buy read the following: