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.
When to buy an iMac?
The iMac lineup got updated in March 2019 for the last time. The iMac Pro is available since December 2017. An update with a new Intel chip generation is overdue.
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 2019
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.
Why Apple still offers traditional hard drives as standard with the small iMacs can only be explained by the fact that the models are used with minimal equipment at hotel receptions and the like, where only one application is used. Our tip for everyday use, which goes beyond the above-mentioned profile: Never stay with a conventional hard disk. This is neither modern nor fun to work with, so at least reach for a Fusion Drive. Especially with the 21.5-inch iMacs, the standard disk is just too slow. The 27″ models all have at least one Fusion Drive, which is very nice to work with.
Fusion Drive or SSD option?
A question that is not necessarily easy to answer. Both are definitely better than a conventional hard drive. An SSD consists of memory chips, i.e. without mechanical parts, and is therefore much better in transmission speed and access time. A Fusion Drive is a combination of two parts: Apple uses a 24GB or 128GB SSD together with a 1TB, 2TB or 3TB hard drive and uses an algorithm to distribute the data over both to achieve optimal speed. The following speeds can be expected:
For large, sequentially read/written data volumes:
- SSD: 2.400 MB/s read, um 2.000 MB/s write
- Fusion Drive: 2.100 MB/s read, 750 MB/s write
As you can see, the pure SSD option is much faster. The mechanical hard disk is particularly noticeable when writing large amounts of data.
Die beste choice for a 21,5″ iMac
The smallest model without a retina display may be justified for educational institutions or other applications in which a great display quality is not what counts first and foremost. However, it would be disadvantageous not to use a retina display at home. After all, the iMac is not supposed to be the only device without a high-resolution display alongside the iPhone, 4K TV and MacBook.
So we start with the middle model. If your budget allows it, we would recommend a 256 GB SSD. This makes the system very fast and waiting times are virtually eliminated. Even a Fusion Drive makes the world a lot faster and provides 1 TB of storage space, which should be enough for most people. So if you don’t want to connect anything external to make it look good, one of these two options is mandatory.
Purchasing without thinking? The iMac for 1,499 dollars.
If you choose Fusion Drive or the SSD, you have to think again: For 100 dollars more – or the same price – you get the largest pre-configured small iMac. It has (also) only a Fusion Drive, but 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 third pre-configured 21.5″ iMac version without any selected options is the sweet spot.
If you want the SSD option and are still playing with the idea of doubling the memory to 16 GB, our tip: Let it go. The small iMac then costs 1.799 dollars and is the same price as the bigger 27″ model with a huge 27″ display, 3.0 GHz 6-Core processor, much better graphics and fusion drive. Yeah, no SSD, but the other things outweigh that. The idea is simple: giant display or not? (The answer is yes;)) The same applies to the better processor.
- display with 1920 x 1080 pixels
- 2,3 GHz Dual Core processor or 3,6 GHz Quad Core
- 1 TB hard drive, optional Fusion Drive or SSD
- Intel HD Graphics 640
4K iMac 21,5″
- display with 4096 x 2304 pixels
- 3,6 or 3,0 GHz Quad Core processor, optional 6-Core i7
- 1 TB hard drive, optional Fusion Drive or SSD
- Radeon Pro 555X with 2 GB or 560X with 4 GB memory, optional Radeon Pro Vega 20
5K iMac 27″
- display with 5120 x 2880 pixelx
- 3,0 GHz 6-Core i5 up to 3,7 GHz 6-Core i5 processor, optional 8-Core
- 1 TB or 2 TB Fusion Drive, optional SSD
- AMD Radeon Pro 570X or 575X with 4 GB or 580 with 8 GB memory, optional Radeon Pro Vega with 8 GB
Same specs over all models:
- 8 GB RAM
- FaceTime HD camera
- stereo speakers, two microphones
- audio port
- SDXC slot
- four USB 3.0 ports
- two Thunderbolt 3 ports
- one Gigabit Ethernetport
- ac Wifi and Bluetooth 4.2
The best choice for the 27″ iMac
Apple made it easy for us with the entry-level iMac: Since it already comes with 1 TB Fusion Drive and 8 GB RAM, it is well suited for all tasks that do not require a lot of performance (games, graphics-intensive applications, SSD-intensive tasks). For a pure work mac, which is used for internet, office, from time to time video processing etc. it is a good machine. In addition, the basic configuration is fairly fairly priced in relation to the small iMacs with options. If there is still some budget left, then take the SSD option.
27“ iMac for 1.799 dollars? Yes.
But you want a better graphics card, like the Radeon Pro 575X from the mid-range iMac offering? Why not. If you buy it without configuring it differently, well done. Otherwise it’s a trap: in the mid-range offer, the 2 TB fusion drive makes it 200 dollars more expensive and the top configuration then only costs 100 bucks more and brings along a much better an newer processor and better graphics. In short: the middle model is only worthwhile without any further options.
The 5K model with 3,1 GHz? It’s (maybe) a trap!
Once you have reached the top model, the rest is up to you. As usual, SSD is a good choice if you want to use your Mac as a video workhorse. The surcharge for the 512 GB SSD is fairly arranged at 100 dollars.
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″
- display mit 5120 x 2880 pixels
- 3,2 GHz 8-Core Intel Xeon W processor, optional 10, 14 or 18 cores
- 32 GB EEC RAM
- 1 TB SSD
- AMD Radeon Pro Vega 56 with 8 GB memory, optional Vega 64 with 16 GB memory
- FaceTime HD camer
- stereo speakers, four microphones
- audio port
- SDXC port
- four USB 3.0 ports
- four Thunderbolt 3 ports
- one 10-Gigabit Ethernetport
- ac Wifi and Bluetooth 4.2
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.