Apple iMac 2021 Review: Sleek, Colorful M1 Desk-Bound Machine
Apple’s transition away from Intel processors takes another major step with the release of the new 2021 iMacs, which as expected runs on Apple’s own M1 silicon. While the M1 dropped jaws and garnered gushy critical acclaim when it debuted in portable devices like the MacBooks last December and the iPad last month, but for it to be used in a proper desktop does raise some questions.
But first, let’s talk about the design, because there’s a lot that’s new. The 2021 iMac is the first major design overhaul in over a decade for the iconic computer line. It’s still an all-in-one device, but it’s significantly thinner and lighter than before, with a new pastel colored paint job (and matching colored accessories) to boot.
The 24-inch screen is bright and vibrant, and the bezels around it are thinner than before (though still thick compared to machines by other companies). The headphone jack has thankfully been moved to the side of the screen instead of behind—but the other USB-C ports and power cable still sit in the back. The latter, in particular, is cleverly designed with a magnetic attachment, so if a kid or a dog were to run behind the iMac and yank on the power cord, the machine is less likely to topple over than another machine.
Ultimately, what makes the iMac design stand out is just how thin it is—11.5mm, and this is not just a measurement of the thinest part of a curve machine. The entire iMac has a flat back, so it’s 11.5mm everywhere. And keep in mind this screen also houses all the computing bits. It’s also surprisingly lightweight at under 10 pounds. But then again this is a desk-bound computer that needs to be plugged in to a socket, so its compact sleek build is mostly for aesthetics.
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The above-base iMac model (starts at $1,499) I tested comes with four USB-C ports, with two being Thunderbolt ports and a keyboard with a fingerprint scanner in the upper right corner for Touch ID login. The base variant ($1,299) offers just two USB-C Thunderbolt ports and a keyboard without the fingerprint scanner. The above-base model also has one extra core in GPU, 16GB of RAM and more storage; the base model is powered by just 8GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage.
For those to whom $200 is not a big deal, it’s worth getting the above-base model, but the base model will perform just fine. RAM management is mostly a non-issue thanks to the M1 chip, and the low storage and fewer ports option can be remedied with an external hard drive and a dongle.
As mentioned, the iMac has matching colored accessories too: if you look closer at the above photo of the keyboard, you’ll see it has a blue tint to match the machine. The power supply cable also has the same shade.
Much has been written about the M1 chip, Apple’s own self-developed ARM-based silicon that performed so well in previous Apple products that it sent computer processor giant Intel into panic PR moves.
Long story short: the M1 is an all-in-one SoC (systems-on-chip) that resembles a smartphone chip. For over a decade, it was accepted in the industry that these mobile silicon are ideal for smartphones because they’re highly efficient, but lack the raw processing power to be used in real computers. Apple flipped the script with the M1, which is somehow not only powerful enough to handle a full computer, it outperforms the ubiquitous (and previously dominant) Intel processors.
It’s the same story here: the M1-powered iMac doesn’t skip a beat if we’re talking about basic computing tasks. I managed to slow it down slightly when I put together a multi-layered, 20-minute long 4K video, but that’s an extreme case.
However, Apple putting the M1 chip in all of its non-iPhone products now raises the question: why buy the M1-powered iMac if the M1-powered MacBook Air is almost just as powerful, except it’s cheaper and infinitely more versatile and portable?
Those who defend the iMac (and those who work at Apple) will say the iMac is for desktop use, while the MacBook Air is for on-the-go use. But I can easily just plug the MacBook Air into an external monitor at home and get almost the same experience.
I want to stress that this is not a knock on the iMac per se—in a vacuum it is a good looking machine that performs brilliantly—this is instead a testament to how good Apple’s M1-powered MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are.
In today’s world, as more people work remotely, the need for a desk-bound computer is increasingly rare. The exception, of course, are professionals with a complicated workflow. But those people would go for the iMac Pro, Mac Pro, or a fully spec’ed out PC, which has a lot more memory, a dedicated GPU, and more ports.
The iMac does have a market: people who just want an all-in-one machine that works at home and don’t want to think or stress about buying an external monitor; people with no need for portable work. The price is fair and the machines look great.