At the top end, the iMac is now an attractive alternative to the iMac Pro as a powerhouse all-in-one. The entry-level version gets no update, and middle models go 8th and 9th Gen Core.
- March 19, 2019 8:30AM EST
- March 19, 2019
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New guts have come to most of the Apple iMac line. With an update to internal component configurations, Apple’s highest-end iMac significantly narrows its performance gap with the iMac Pro, and its mid-level configuration now offers more processing muscle for the same price as its predecessors.
The iMac updates, announced today, are minor. The new models look exactly the same as the old ones from the outside—there are no physical changes other than the memory, CPU, and graphics-processor options. Still, they will likely be very attractive to shoppers who are torn between the entry-level model and the midrange 4K version, or the top-of-the-line 27-inch version and the Intel Xeon-powered iMac Pro.
Perhaps the most significant change is to the 21.5-inch iMac with a Retina display. Formerly equipped with a 3GHz 7th Generation Intel Core i5 quad-core processor and a Radeon Pro 555 graphics processor, it started at $1,299. For the same price, it now offers an 8th Generation quad-core Core i5 and a Radeon Pro Vega graphics chip.
Meanwhile, the entry-level $1,099 iMac keeps its existing configuration, which comprises a 7th Generation Core CPU, a lower-resolution 1080p display, and no discrete graphics processor. For people deciding between the two, the $1,299 configuration is now the obvious choice. Spending $200 for a significantly higher-resolution screen and peppier graphics is nice, but now it’s also necessary to ensure that you aren’t buying an outdated processor.
If you need more power, you can now configure a 21.5-inch Retina iMac with a six-core 8th Generation Core i7 CPU and a more powerful Radeon Pro Vega graphics card. Aside from switching to the latest DDR4 memory specification, all of the other options for the 21.5-inch Retina machine remain the same. That includes the 1TB hard drive in the $1,299 version, which you’ll almost certainly want to upgrade to a speedier SSD or Fusion Drive.
Some 8th Generation Intel CPUs are also coming to the 27-inch iMac, including the base $1,799 version. Radeon Pro graphics is available too, in the form of a chip with up to 48 compute units. This Radeon Pro Vega 48 is a significant upgrade, because it moves the 27-inch iMac just below the entry-level iMac Pro, with its Radeon Pro Vega 56. For people who need lots of graphics muscle but don’t care about the Xeon CPU or other accoutrements that make up the iMac Pro’s lofty $5,000 starting price, the 27-inch iMac is now a more viable option.
For the ultimate power in a non-Pro iMac, you can now also configure a 27-inch iMac with a 9th Generation Intel Core i9 CPU, complete with eight cores, 16 threads, and a maximum 5GHz clock speed. Apple says this will deliver up to 2.4 times more performance than its predecessor.
A Surprise Speed Bump
The more powerful iMacs arrived quietly, without the fanfare of a keynote address, and just a day after Apple equally quietly unveiled new iPads. All of these new products come a week before the company is set to launch its TV- and movie-streaming service.
The upgrades are especially welcome news to prospective Mac owners, since many of the iMac’s competitors have long abandoned 7th Generation Intel CPUs.
By not unveiling a completely new iMac, Apple seems to suggest that the only thing its current ones need is more processing power. For many prospective owners, especially creative professionals who are already dedicated macOS users, that’s probably true. But there are several new and upcoming alternatives—most notably the Microsoft Surface Studio 2 and the Lenovo Yoga A940—that are challenging the iMac’s aspirations of being the perfect all-in-one.
Together with the MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and Mac Mini, which all received either minor or significant refreshes over the past few months, the only macOS machines that are currently long in the tooth are the MacBook laptop and the Mac Pro desktop. Apple has promised a refreshed Mac Pro, which appeals mainly to scientists and Hollywood types, and the MacBook is a niche 12-inch laptop. So if you’re shopping for a high-end laptop or all-in-one, Apple’s offering is currently as competitive as it gets.
About the Author
As a hardware analyst, Tom tests and reviews laptops, peripherals, and much more at PC Labs in New York City. He previously covered the consumer tech beat as a news reporter for PCMag in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, where he rode in several self-driving cars and witnessed the rise and fall of many startups. Before that, he worked for PCMag’s s… See Full Bio
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