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Apple iMac M1 review: the all-in-one for almost everyone

A new design, new processor, and new screen make for a winning combination

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This is an iMac unlike any other iMac we’ve seen before, and it all comes down to the M1 chip.

Sure, there are some other differences between this 24-inch iMac and the 21.5-inch model from 2019 that it’s replacing. There are better microphones and better speakers. There are fewer ports, and some of them have moved around. The screen is bigger and better. The keyboard now has TouchID. But the M1 is the star of the show.

It’s not just the performance increase. It’s not just the fact that you can run iOS and iPadOS apps natively on the system. It’s not just the new advanced image signal processor, which helps create better low-light images than I’ve ever seen from an integrated webcam. It’s also the groundbreaking efficiency with which this processor runs, which has enabled Apple to create a slim, sleek, and quite unique iMac chassis.

Whether you actually get every upgrade here depends on the configuration you choose. The entry-level iMac is $1,299 for 256GB of SSD storage, two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports, 8GB of unified memory, and a seven-core GPU — but that’s only available in four colors and doesn’t come with TouchID. The model I tested bumps the storage up to 512GB and the memory up to 16GB. It has two USB-3 ports in addition to the two Thunderbolt, an eight-core GPU, Touch ID, and a gigabit Ethernet port (which is in the power brick). I also received both the Magic Mouse and the Magic Trackpad with my model. You’d need to pay a total of $2,028 to get everything Apple sent me (and which I’ll be sending back, for the record).

In short, this device costs money. And it’s true that you’d get similar performance and save a few hundred bucks, if you just plugged a Mac Mini into an external display. But this iMac has almost everything that most people need in one package: processing power, sure, but also a camera, speakers, microphones, a keyboard, a mouse, a trackpad, and a display. And they’re all good. This is a computer you can plonk on your desk and never think about again. And for some of the iMac’s target audience, that’s probably worth the extra money. You’re paying for simplicity.

The new iMac is completely redesigned, but instantly recognizable

The M1 processor uses what’s called a “hybrid” configuration. The easiest way to conceive of this is that most competing Intel and AMD chips have a number of equally “okay” cores, where Apple’s M1 has four very fast cores and four lower-powered high-efficiency cores. This allows M1 devices to deliver arguably the best performance-per-watt in the world. It also means that they’re nearly unbeatable in single-core workloads.

That advantage bore out in our benchmark testing. This iMac model achieved a higher score on the Geekbench 5 single-core benchmark than any Mac we’ve ever seen before — even the iMac Pro. That means if you’re looking for a device for simpler everyday tasks that don’t scale to every available CPU core (and that largely seems to be the demographic that Apple is trying to sell this machine to), there has literally never been a better iMac for you to buy.

You can see the rest of our benchmarks below:

Apple iMac 24 (2021) benchmarks

Benchmark Score
Benchmark Score
PugetBench for Premiere Pro 372
Cinebench R23 Multi 7782
Cinebench R23 Single 1505
Geekbench Multi 7668
Geekbench Single 1739
Geekbench OpenCL 19114

These results help illuminate where this iMac fits into Apple’s all-in-one lineup, and where its limitations are. The 24-incher is a significant improvement over the 21.5-inch iMac in both single-core and multi-core workloads. And it’s very comparable in graphics tasks — which is quite impressive, given that the 21.5-inch iMac has a discrete GPU and this one relies on what’s integrated with the M1.

On the other end, these results (with the exception of single-core performance) are not close to what we’d expect from the 27-inch Intel iMac with discrete graphics. In this comparison, multi-core results are more important. They indicate that the 27-inch iMac is going to do much better on the types of tasks that owners (or prospective buyers) are likely to be doing: intense multitasking, computations, design, video work, and other more complex loads that may leverage the GPU.

There are other limitations that may put some workloads out of reach. As is the case with the MacBook Pro and Mac Mini, you can’t configure the iMac with more than 16GB of memory and 2TB of storage; we wouldn’t recommend those specs to anyone who regularly edits 4K or 8K video, for example. The memory and storage are soldered, so you can’t upgrade them after purchase. Only one external display is supported (up to 6K resolution at 60Hz). Ports are also bizarrely limited; the base model has just two Thunderbolt / USB-4 ports and a headphone jack, while more expensive models have an additional two USB-3 ports and Gigabit Ethernet. These all may be reasons Apple is pushing this iMac as a “home and family” PC, even though its processor is clearly capable of all kinds of professional work.

The M1 processor’s efficiency allows the iMac to get away with a thin design and minimal fan noise, and still maintain performance
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Another way to interpret these numbers is that I was getting effectively the same performance out of this machine as we got from the M1 MacBook Pro and the Mac Mini. That’s completely unsurprising, since these devices all use the same processor. But it’s a good proxy for gauging whether the iMac can handle your work: if you expect you could get a task done with the M1 MacBook Pro, you should be able to do it on this.

More anecdotally, I was able to use my test unit for all kinds of daily tasks, from emailing to YouTube to amateur photo and video work. I was able to hop between over 25 Chrome tabs with Cinebench looping in the background, with no stutter or slowdown whatsoever. If you’re buying the iMac for this kind of thing, I can’t imagine you’ll see too many spinning wheels.

During this testing process, I also got a sense of just how well cooled this chassis is. On thinner laptops that I test often (including the fanless MacBook Air), you’ll see performance decrease if you run heavy tasks over and over again. None of that on this iMac: I looped Cinebench R23 as well as a Premiere Pro 4K video export several times over and never saw scores go down. It took a lot to get the fans going — they were checked out during my daily office multitasking. When they did spin up, mostly while I was working in Premiere, I could barely hear them. They were quieter than the background hum of my refrigerator. That’s quite a quality-of-life improvement over prior Intel iMacs.

The M1’s advantage, after all, has never been raw power; it’s the combination of power and efficiency. We saw much better battery life in the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro than we did in their Intel predecessors. Battery life obviously isn’t a concern with the iMac, but efficiency certainly is. Chips are limited by two things: the power available and how well their systems can keep them cool. They vent almost all the energy they use as heat, and because the M1 has such incredibly high performance per watt, Apple doesn’t need a heavy-duty cooling system to keep it from frying itself. Because it doesn’t need that heavy-duty cooling system, Apple has finally been able to redesign the iMac from the ground up.

The iMac’s chassis is so thin it looks like a big iPad minus the touchscreen

This iMac is sleek. Even though it has a 24-inch screen, it’s close in size to its 21.5-inch predecessor. Apple reduced the screen’s borders by close to 50 percent in order to squeeze the bigger screen into the compact chassis. This device is also 11.5 millimeters thick, or just under half an inch — which is quite thin as all-in-ones go. Next to the 27-inch iMac, it looks like a tablet on a stand.

Size isn’t everything; this iMac also comes in seven colors. There’s blue, green, pink, orange, purple, yellow, and the boring silver we know and love. I’m not quite convinced that the jazzier models will fit in outside of especially stylish homes and offices. But I will say: I’ve never seen so many of my friends, or so many people on TikTok, as excited about a tech product as they seem to be about the colored iMacs. The hues are a nice change, aren’t obnoxious, and are clearly a hit with certain crowds.

Some traditional iMac touches remain, of course. The bezels are still substantial compared to those of some modern monitors. You can’t raise or lower the display height — the built-in stand only allows tilt adjustments. (You can also buy it with a built-in VESA mount adapter.) And there’s still that pesky chin, though it’s no longer emblazoned with the Apple logo.

Pretty much every other notable part of the iMac has been upgraded in some way. There’s a 4.5K (4480 x 2520) Retina display, a step up from the predecessor’s 4096 x 2304 Retina display (though both have effectively the same pixel density). It has Apple’s True Tone technology, which automatically adjusts colors and intensity based on your surroundings.

But the screen is also another reminder that this iMac doesn’t have “Pro” in its name. Twenty-four inches is on the small side as screens go; most of the best external monitors are 27 inches or larger these days. Professionals on The Verge’s video team also noticed some vignetting on the sides of the screen, which caused issues with off-angle viewing — we had a similar issue with Apple’s Pro Display XDR. Of course, neither of these limitations were a problem for my untrained eye; I thought the display looked great, with sharp details and plenty of room for my Chrome tabs and apps.

Elsewhere, Apple has upgraded the camera, microphones, and speakers. The company claims that they’re the best camera, mic system, and speaker system that have ever appeared in a Mac. I’d believe it. The six-speaker sound system is easily on par with a good external speaker. I played some music in my kitchen, and it was audible all over the house. Percussion and bass were strong, and I felt very immersed in the songs. It also supports spatial audio when playing video with Dolby Atmos.

The new camera has a higher resolution and better picture quality for video calls
There are just two or four USB-C ports on the new iMac, depending on configuration. You’re going to need dongles.
The power adapter is now external, like a MacBook, but it conveniently includes an Ethernet port
Photo by Becca Farsace / The Verge

I don’t have too much to say about the three-mic array except that nobody on my Zoom calls had any trouble hearing me. But the webcam was a very pleasant surprise. The iMac has a 1080p FaceTime HD camera, which has a higher resolution than the 720p shooter that lives in the 21.5-inch iMac (as well as the MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and many other AIOs). The M1 also lends a hand here: its built-in image signal processor and neural engines help optimize your picture in low-light settings.

I wouldn’t say I looked amazing on my Zoom calls — parts of my background were sometimes washed out, and the image looked processed in some dimmer areas. But I was visible and clear, which is better than you get from most webcams these days. And the difference between this webcam and the grainy mess the MacBook Pro has is night and day.

The iMac is the computer to get if you just want to buy it and not think about it for the next five to ten years

When I review a computer, my task is usually to figure out for whom that computer is made.

But all kinds of people use iMacs, from college students to accountants to podcast producers to retired grandparents. And this model has arguably the most widespread consumer appeal of any iMac that Apple has made in recent years. So it’s much easier to figure out for whom this iMac isn’t made.

It’s not for people who can’t handle dongles and docks; I kept a USB-C to USB-A dongle next to me on my desk while I was testing the iMac, and I used it very frequently. It’s not for people who already own a 27-inch iMac, because it would be a downgrade in display size and quality, port selection, upgradability, and raw power. And it’s not for people with serious performance needs.

It’s not for people who are looking for the very best value for their money. Most folks won’t need the specs and accessories that I tested here, but even $1,299, the base price, is certainly more than plenty of people want to spend on a computer. The base Mac Mini is $600 cheaper than the base iMac; plug that into a monitor and some speakers (you can find plenty of good ones for well under $600), and you’ll get the same M1 performance at a massive discount.

And that, right there, is the biggest reason that this iMac, despite its power, is primarily targeting the family market. Because it’s asking you to pay more in order to do less. You’re paying $600 not to have to research and budget out monitors, speakers, webcams, docks, keyboards, and mice. You’re paying not to have to arrange thousands of things on your desk. You’re paying for a device where everything, out of the box, works well. You’re paying to eliminate fuss.

Tech enthusiasts (especially those who want to pop their machines open and make their own upgrades) may see that as a waste of money. And for them, it probably is. But they’re not the target audience for this Mac — even if its specs might suit their needs.

Could Apple have done more with this iMac? Of course. I was hoping to see a 30-inch, 6K iMac with a powerhouse 12-core workstation chip this month as much as the next person. But I have faith that we’ll get one in the future — and in the meantime, I’m glad Apple released this. It’s not earth-shattering in its design; it doesn’t redefine its category. But it’s fun. It improves upon the 21.5-inch iMac to offer a simple, attractive, and very functional device for users across all kinds of categories. It’s not the iMac to beat — but it is the iMac for most people to buy.

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