The original Apple iMac was a big success on its launch in 1998, all bulbous CRT style and fun colors. Since then it’s grown up a bit, becoming a slender aluminum supermodel with the heart of a racehorse, and one of our picks for best home computers.
Its position as a firm favorite among creatives has led to the release of the iMac Pro, a darker-colored model with the potential to be specced to a thunderously powerful level. For the rest of us, the standard model will do just fine, although a poke around in the build-to-order options increasing RAM and, most importantly, replacing any regular hard drives with SSDs, always delivers benefits.
The ideal computer for a first-time buyer, an iMac delivers everything you need to get started in its box, all software is already installed on delivery, you just plug it in and off you go. For those who already own a favored keyboard and mouse, you’ll likely find these are compatible too, although it’s worth trying out the bundled options as they’re nicely designed to fit in with both the iMac aesthetic and ecosystem.
Lastly, there’s the operating system. macOS is a bit different to Windows, although it was once a major influence on Microsoft’s product. The two share enough concepts and similarities, however, that anyone used to Windows 10 will feel at home in macOS in no time.
Apple iMac review: Design
- Sleek all-in-one design.
- Bezels are a little chunky.
The iMac has looked roughly the same for about six years now. Its elegant, slender neck rising to support a screen that tapers to an impossibly thin edge. The aluminum look doesn't offer much to complain about past the thick bezel and large slab of metal at the bottom that houses the Apple logo. In an age when monitors have thin frames around them, the thick bezels here are perhaps the price paid for all the electronics that Apple has crammed behind the screen.
The wireless mouse and keyboard are bundled, which means you need to enjoy using them or spend more money on replacements. Luckily, the current Apple keyboard is a very nice thing to type on, although we prefer the full-size model to the tenkeyless base model. The Magic Mouse 2, on the other hand, can be a bit more divisive. The idea of a mouse with a touch-sensitive top surface is sound, but for us the mouse lays too flat to the desktop, and could do with more height. Its method of charging is also utterly ridiculous, putting it out of use for the duration of the charge. This is all down to personal preference, of course, and many find it a perfectly usable mouse.
All the ports are round the back, which may cause an inconvenience if you’re constantly plugging and unplugging a portable drive. There are Thunderbolt port replicators and USB hubs you can plug in to move the ports into a more accessible position, or you can even dangle an extension cable from one socket, but these detract from the clean lines and unbroken surface of the iMac - which is why they’re all around the back to begin with.
Apple iMac review: Performance
- Highly configurable
- 21.5 or 27-inch screen
Take a look at the base model of the iMac, and you may wonder where its reputation as the machine of choice for creative professionals comes from. The base model has a 21.5-inch 1080p screen with a dual-core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and an old-fashioned spinning hard drive. It sounds like an office machine from a few years ago. The real power of the iMac lies in its build to order options and the existence of the iMac Pro, a machine released to fill the gap left by the Mac Pro before its triumphant re-emergence last year.
The 21.5-inch screen is fine, though the 4K option is well worth getting, but the 27-inch Retina 5K screen is truly a thing of beauty. It pushes the price up a bit, but brings with it more powerful CPU options and a discrete GPU that opens up the possibility of using the iMac for video rendering or even gaming. And adding more RAM always helps.
We’ve used Adobe’s professional Creative Cloud apps on a quad-core i3 21.5-inch iMac with 16GB RAM, and experienced no slowdown whatsoever. Serious applications may require 32GB or more, however, and the iMac is available with up to 64GB, while the iMac Pro starts at 32GB and can be specced all the way up to 256GB.
To get the best out of any modern computer, you need to replace any traditional hard drives with SSDs. Apple offers a Fusion Drive - a combination of SSD and hard drive that tries to accelerate performance while keeping costs down, but for the ultimate speed boost a full SSD is needed. Coming fresh to an SSD-equipped computer, you’ll marvel at how fast it starts up and how snappily applications open.
After a few days, you’ll wonder how you ever coped with a hard drive. As the documents created by applications and the photos imported from digital cameras and cellphones get bigger and bigger, faster means of moving them around a computer are essential, and you can spec an iMac with up to a 2TB SSD, or 4TB in an iMac Pro.
Apple iMac review: Value
This is a tricky one, as it’s probably quite possible to spec a similar Windows PC from the likes of Dell or Lenovo that will come in cheaper than the equivalent iMac. Apple tends to charge above the odds for its RAM - which in the 27-inch iMac is user upgradeable - and SSDs - which aren’t upgradeable in any model - which pushes prices up as you increase the spec of your iMac.
What isn’t in doubt is that these are fast, efficient computers that look great and run a rock-solid operating system (long-time Windows users should be at home within a couple of days of use). They’re also well made, and despite the lack of upgradeability, there’s plenty of scope for attaching extra storage, and even an eGPU, through the Thunderbolt 3 ports.
Should you buy an Apple iMac?
If you’re in the market for an all-in-one home or office computer, especially if you’re buying for the first time and don’t have a cupboard groaning with keyboards, mice and spare monitors, then an iMac makes a great deal of sense. It’s a true all-in-one, meaning you won’t need to go anywhere else for peripherals, and once it’s set up on your desk, especially if that desk is in sight of customers, the iMac is a desktop computer you can feel proud to use.