The current iMac range covers a wide range of applications. From the small 21.5-inch iMac with normal resolution display to the small 4K iMac and the 27″ devices with 5K retina display. As Apple has glued the display to the aluminium housing, we will give you tips for the essential upgrade options that must be included in your purchase.
Currently you should also note that Apple is switching all Macs from Intel to their own ARM chips. Whether this will be an advantage or a disadvantage for you, you have to decide yourself. We will explain this fact further below.
When to buy an iMac?
The 27″ models got an update in August 2020.
The 21,5″ iMacs are the same since März 2019. The iMac Pro is available since December 2017. We think this is the last iMac lineup with Intel chips.
green means: up to date
orange means: coming to the end of the product cycle
red means: don’t buy, an update is coming soon
Decision criteria for an iMac in 2020
There are two known display sizes, furthermore there are differences regarding the main memory, the processor performance and the built-in storage. When configuring an iMac, you need to compare several options: a small top-featured iMac can be more expensive than a large 27-inch iMac, which also offers more processing power and flexibility.
The most important question: Which storage option to get?
This question applies to both memory and mass storage, i.e. hard disk, Fusion Drive or SSD.
The answer is clear in terms of RAM for the 27″ iMacs: settle for the factory version and upgrade later at half the price. Apple has kindly left the possibility to upgrade the RAM with the help of a flap on the back of the devices.
The 21.5″ models are in a different situation: the RAM in these machines is soldered onto the board and there is no possibility to add more RAM later. However, 8 GB are quite sufficient. So if you know that you have very memory intensive tasks to do, pay a surcharge for the next higher model with more RAM and enjoy 16 GB.
The last iMacs with Intel chips
As previously reported, Apple is converting all Macs to its own ARM chips, which are also used in the iPhone and iPad. This chip architecture is more economical and offers advantages for Apple to further optimize the Macs in-house.
For users this change has disadvantages if a lot of virtualization software is used. Since the ARM differs from the x86 architecture, native virtualization is no longer possible. An emulation is necessary, which costs computing power. It is not yet known how significant this will be. Another limitation is that you will not be able to run any software other than macOS on the ARM Macs. So if Apple discontinues macOS support, the hardware is automatically worthless.
So the last Intel iMac series could already be a classic.
Die beste choice for a 21,5″ iMac
The smallest model without Retina Display may be justified for educational institutions or other applications where a great picture is not the primary concern. But for home use it would be disadvantageous to do without a Retina Display. After all, iMac isn’t supposed to be the only device without a high-resolution display along with iPhone, 4K TV, and MacBook.
So the choice really only starts with the middle model. This comes with a 256 GB SSD as standard, which is fair enough. Furthermore, a Radeon Pro 55X with 2 GB RAM and a quad-core i5 processor is on board. For normal tasks a fair price for this Mac.list not found:
Apple offers you one option at no extra charge: If you want more storage space, you can choose a 1 TB Fusion Drive instead of the 256 GB SSD. This combination of SSD and conventional hard drive may not be as fast as a pure SSD in every situation, but we’re glad to see that Apple is slowly moving to SSDs. But for certain applications, you won’t notice any significant difference, for example when you want to store your huge music collection or keep your desk free of external drives. It’s a different story if you have video editing or photo editing in mind: then either choose a larger SSD or attach an external one – a hard drive in the workflow is then no fun.
Buy without thinking? The 21,5″ iMac for $1.299.
For $200 more, there is the third configuration of the small computer: It then has a 3.0 GHz 6-core instead of a 3.4 GHz quad-core processor and a Radeon Pro 560X with twice as much memory. The other things are the same. So if your budget is limited, but you want to do video editing or something similarly computationally intensive: Take this model and upgrade to SSD memory externally. That way you will at least get better graphics and an internal SSD.
If you want the better processor and are thinking about doubling the memory to 16 GB, our tip is: Leave it alone. The small iMac then already costs $1.899 and is thus $100 above the smallest 27″ model with large display, better graphics and Intel processor of the 10th instead of 8th generation. Yes, you still have to upgrade the memory, but you can do it cheaply because that’s possible with the 27″. The idea is simple: huge display or not? (The answer is yes ;)).
The best choice for the 27″ iMac
Apple has made it easy for us with the entry-level iMac: Since it already comes with 256 GB SSD and 8 GB RAM, it is a good machine for a pure work Mac, which is used for Internet, Office, occasionally video processing etc. Moreover, even the basic configuration is fairly priced in relation to the small iMacs with options. If there is still some budget left, then take a larger internal SSD – otherwise upgrade externally. Memory can also be retrofitted later at a lower price.
27″ iMac for $1.799? Good.
Apple makes it interesting with the middle model: For $200 extra charge there is double the SSD capacity and a faster processor – even in the 21.5″ model the larger SSD alone costs $200. And here you can get the faster processor as well.
But you want a better graphics card, like the Radeon Pro 5500 from the best iMac offer? Why not. It will cost you $300 more, but you will also get an 8-core processor in the package. You can say that Apple has clearly arranged the price levels and the technical equipment this year.list not found:
Two options are still to be considered, whereby one falls into the luxury category and the other into the future-proof category. Apple now also offers a matt display on the large iMac, the nano-textured glass known from the Pro Display XDR. This is nice to look at and offers a great picture quality, but costs $500 extra. If it’s worth it to you, take it, otherwise the normal anti-reflection coating is good enough.
But what we would always add is the 10 Gbit/s Ethernet connection for only $100. Not only is this price a gift by Apple’s standards, it also makes your Mac future-proof. Fast networks are coming and prices are dropping rapidly. If you want to upgrade such a connection later externally, it is much more expensive, annoying, looks bad and costs a lot of electricity. Yes, it’s not a fiber port, but this additional $100 can save you a lot of trouble in the future. We would buy the faster ethernet option without thinking.
iMac vs. Mac Pro
The Retina iMac comes with a maximum of one 6-core processor with very good computing power, the Mac Pro with Xeon processors and up to 12 cores is a real computing monster. The Mac Pro also supports ECC (Error Correcting Code) memory, which is very important for scientific calculation.
Also, the graphics cards are far more powerful than those in the Retina iMac and not only accelerate arithmetic hungry graphics programs, but also offer the possibility to strongly support scientific software with OpenCL interface.
Disadvantage of the Mac Pro: Since only Thunderbolt 2 is available so far, only 4K monitors can be controlled externally. A 5K display is only available in the Retina iMac.
As you can see, the Retina iMac is extremely powerful and covers a wide range of applications. The Mac Pro is indeed very professional and offers all possibilities to be used in science. For home or semi-professional use, the Retina iMac is often sufficient.
For pure processing power and speed? Take the iMac Pro
Many want a pure computing monster, but don’t want to connect all devices individually, as is necessary with the Mac Pro. Moreover, it hasn’t been updated for a long time and doesn’t even bring Thunderbolt 3.
So the iMac Pro is the first choice: it’s not only different from other iMacs in its space-gray appearance, but also on the inside: it’s crammed full of everything that makes it calculate faster. And it should remain quiet – Apple has designed the cooling system inside symmetrically so that the waste heat can be easily dissipated.
The basic version already 50% faster than the fastest iMac.
An iMac Pro is for you if you need all your calculations to go fast. You may already have a normal iMac with 4.2 GHz i7, 1 TB SSD and 32 GB RAM and are prepared to pay at least 3,699 dollars. The iMac Pro costs at least 4,999 dollars, so what’s available for the extra 1,300 bucks? In Geekbench, 50% more power is added: performance increases from just under 20,000 on the normal iMac with maximum features to over 30,000 on the smallest iMac Pro. This makes it faster than all Mac Pros still sold. So if you are always in a hurry, the decision making process is already finished for you. Another word about the other processors (10 and 14 cores): almost exactly 5000 benchmark points are added each time. The most powerful iMac Pro is twice as fast as the fastest iMac. However: if you have software that is not multi-core capable, so the normal iMac here sets the tone.
If pure speed is not worth 1,300 dollars to you, here are the things that are included in the price: ECC RAM (error corrected RAM), a Radeon Pro Vega 56 with 8 GB graphics memory, 10 GBit Ethernet for an extremely fast network and four instead of two Thunderbolt 3 ports. The keyboard and mouse are also black, but that shouldn’t be the deciding factor ;). In short, as a professional machine, the iMac Pro really lives up to its name.
Technical Specifications 5K iMac Pro 27″
Which options to choose for the iMac Pro?
Well, as usual, that depends on the purpose and budget. However, please note the following: as you can more storage always externally (possibly at a slightly slower speed), this is not the case with the RAM. Although it is possible to replace the modules, the iMac Pro must be disassembled. And there is another big catch: four modules are always used to achieve the high speed of RAM access.
So if you want to upgrade, you can’t just add some, but have to swap all four, so that the exchange becomes almost uneconomical. Tip here, just like with the graphics card: think about exactly what you need beforehand and order directly. The technically possible exchange is praiseworthy and great for a possible repair, but the price for later upgrading is not (yet) necessarily lower than the original option from Apple.
It works, that’s why an iMac.
That is actually enough to justify it. If you choose your iMac’s features wisely and add more storage space with external drives, you can use it for years without any problems. Nowadays the computing power is so high that with enough RAM and an SSD a very long usage time can be achieved. For the average user who doesn’t constantly scream for more computing power because 4K video or other applications need it, the iMac is a persistent companion. It is tidy, energy-efficient, looks good and comes with one of the best operating systems. The success of the device speaks for itself.