Of all of Apple’s Mac news this fall, the updated 24-inch iMac is perhaps the most minor. The only difference between this model and the one from spring 2021 is an upgrade from the M1 chip to the new M3. Along with that upgrade comes improved Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios and a higher maximum RAM option. Nothing else has changed in terms of design, features, use cases, or price.
That isn’t too surprising considering the previous model was a complete redesign that replaced the older 21- and 27-inch Intel iMacs. The fact that Apple is updating it at all is a nice acknowledgment that it hasn’t totally forgotten about the iMac, which has gotten far fewer updates than the rest of the Mac lineup. (There was never an M2-equipped iMac, for example.)
The $1,299 and up M3 24-inch iMac remains an excellent all-in-one computer for lighter workloads. It’s still gorgeous, still comes in seven different colors, and still satisfies the pitch of the Macintosh all the way back in 1984: a simple, approachable computer that you can take out of the box, plug into the wall, turn on, and go.
But it’s clear at this stage that Apple does not intend the iMac to be anything more than that. The company has confirmed that it will not be making a 27-inch iMac with Apple Silicon, dashing the hopes of many that Apple might be working on a version with a larger screen or more powerful hardware.
That’s also not very surprising. For many years, the vast majority of Mac customers have opted for laptops. It seems that Apple is content to let the iMac stay as a niche device for people who want an all-in-one desktop computer for basic home use or for those trendy shops and spas that love the look of an iMac on the checkout counter or reception desk. But most people will continue to be better served by one of Apple’s many other Mac options.
Apple didn’t make any external design changes, but the 24-inch iMac remains as stunning as it was when it debuted over two years ago. When I set up my purple review unit in my living room, my extremely not tech-inclined spouse immediately remarked, “Wow, that looks nice.” There are few computers that can match the iMac as a design statement in your home (or place of business).
A big part of that appeal is due to the iMac’s shockingly thin profile — it’s hard to believe, even now, that there’s a whole computer housed in its 12mm thick aluminum frame. And the iMac remains a complete computer right out of the box: inside that frame are the webcam, display, and all the computing parts, speakers, and microphones. With the built-in stand, the whole thing weighs less than 10 pounds. Apart from the included wireless keyboard and mouse (or trackpad), there’s nothing else you need on your desk.
But there are improvements I’d have liked to see. The built-in, nonremovable aluminum stand still only supports tilting with no height adjustment, making it tough to get the iMac up to an ergonomic level without stacking it on a riser or pile of books. Those who want more flexibility need to opt for the version with a built-in VESA mount, but that means you need to provide your own stand — there’s no way to get both VESA mounts and a stand from Apple. It’s surprising that Apple hasn’t figured out a way to combine both options elegantly.
The iMac’s port selection remains limited, too. The base model comes with just two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports on the back and a 3.5mm audio jack on the left side. The upgraded models add two 10Gbps USB-C ports and an ethernet jack built into the power brick. Either way, it’s not a lot of I/O, and if I were using the iMac as my main computer, I’d need to plug in a Thunderbolt dock to accommodate the amount of peripherals I rely on.
The 4.5K (4480 x 2520) 24-inch display remains very good, with sharp resolution, punchy colors, and enough brightness to overcome the glare in even the brightest of rooms. I don’t have any problem with the white bezel, and the detail is sharp enough at comfortable distances that I never see individual pixels.
But unless you are coming from a 21-inch Intel iMac, the 24-inch iMac just does not have a very big screen. I immediately felt more cramped and had less room to spread out compared to the 27-inch Studio Display I typically work from. Splitting the screen equally between Slack and Mimestream on the 24-inch iMac meant I often had to scroll horizontally to see the content in emails, something I rarely encounter on my 27-inch monitor. Those who have a 27-inch Intel iMac will likely consider the 24-inch model’s screen to be a downgrade. But as I mentioned earlier, Apple has no plans to make a 27-inch iMac anymore.
The other components, such as the speakers, microphones, and webcam, remain great. The six-speaker system is not especially bassy, but it’s very clear and pleasant to listen to for YouTube videos, movies, TV shows, music, games, or video calls. The three-mic array had no issue picking up my voice in Google Meet calls for work, and the 1080p webcam is better than most external webcams I’ve used (and puts the webcam built into the $1,599 Studio Display to shame). Unless you are a very picky person or have specific needs like podcast recording, I doubt you’ll feel the need to augment the iMac with external speakers, mics, or webcams.
The lone upgrade for this iMac is a switch from the M1 processor to the new M3. Apple claims it’s up to two times faster than the M1, with a 65 percent more powerful GPU and 35 percent faster CPU. In my benchmarks, the M3 does make the numbers go up. And in the real world, the iMac feels snappy: opening applications is quick; switching between virtual spaces is smooth; and it never really gets bogged down in my typical workload, which involves jumping between mail, Slack, the browser, social media, music, and other apps. It also remained quiet and composed the entire time — the only time I could get the fan to spin up was during very long benchmark testing, and even then, I could only hear it when I held my ear up to the front of the display.
iMac M3 benchmarks
|System||iMac M3 8C / 10C / 24GB / 1TB||MacBook Air 15-inch M2 8C / 10C / 16GB / 512GB||MacBook Pro M1 8C / 8C / 16GB / 1TB|
|4K Export||3 minutes, 45 seconds||3 minutes, 48 seconds||5 minutes, 28 seconds|
|PugetBench for Adobe Premiere Pro||369||328||243|
|Xcode Benchmark||140 seconds||121 seconds||150 seconds|
|Tomb Raider (1920 x 1200, highest)||35fps||28fps||20fps|
The base model iMac comes with an eight-core CPU and eight-core GPU; the unit I’ve been testing has the same number of CPU cores but a 10-core GPU. Base models start with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage for $1,299; my review unit has maxed out memory of 24GB and 2TB of storage for an eye-watering $2,858, including the extended numpad-equipped Touch ID keyboard and both the Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad.
Most people looking to get more than just a couple years out of this iMac should go for 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, and the upgraded GPU. That’ll run you $1,899, which is not a small number. Unsurprisingly, nothing is upgradable after the fact (aside from using USB-connected storage), so it’s best to spec it up as high as you can afford when purchasing. Much like the rest of Apple’s computers, I wouldn’t recommend the entry-level model to anyone. (The upgraded tier also gives you the ethernet port on the power brick, Touch ID on the keyboard, and access to all seven color options, including yellow, purple, and orange. The base iMac is only available in silver, green, blue, or red — and the ethernet port and Touch ID are optional upgrades.)
But if you were hoping for more powerful CPU or GPU options, you won’t find them here. Despite the fact that Apple has M3 Pro and M3 Max versions of this chip that are significantly more powerful (and it will very likely have an M3 Ultra version at some point in the future), the iMac is limited to the base chip and nothing more. It’s effectively a desktop version of the MacBook Air, which means it’s more than capable for basic computing and productivity tasks, and it can handle some light photo and video editing on occasion. But it’s unlikely to be the right tool for creatives who spend all day editing footage or developers who compile new builds of their apps all the time. Though the 27-inch iMac once served those needs rather well, Apple seems content to push those customers to a MacBook Pro or a Mac Studio instead of providing a more powerful iMac. And this should be obvious: unlike the Air, you can’t bring it on the go.
If you’re someone who plays games regularly, the iMac is also not the computer I’d recommend. It’s capable enough for casual, occasional gaming, but even its improved GPU does not compete with a dedicated gaming PC, and while it does have a very nice display, the iMac’s screen doesn’t have the fast response times and refresh rates found on gaming monitors (not to mention the fact that most popular AAA gaming titles still don’t come out for the Mac).
I really do like this iMac. I just wish it were something I could find a use for in my own life or something I could recommend to more people. Unlike the iMacs of years past, it’s not for students — they are much better served by laptops and, in the case of many younger students, Chromebooks. And it’s not for power users who want more powerful chip options, better upgradability, larger screens, and better port selections.
It even feels like a stretch to say that it’s a family computer. The concept of a shared desktop computer in a living room or den feels like a relic of an earlier era. It doesn’t align with the the choices for much more personal devices that the vast majority of people make. (Despite Apple’s marketing efforts, I’ve yet to meet anyone who keeps an iMac in their kitchen, either.) I have a family of five, but my two school-age kids would much rather use their Chromebooks for homework in the privacy of their rooms than take turns on a shared desktop in some central location. On top of that, once you equip the iMac with enough memory and storage to last it five-plus years, the economics are tough to justify, especially when I’d likely still need to get personal devices for the family.
The iMac is back to its roots
The current iMac certainly works great as a statement piece in a trendy spa, retail location, or doctor’s office, where customers get to see it from its best angle (the back), and the cashier or receptionist doesn’t have much say about what computer they get to use anyways. And for those who do think an all-in-one desktop computer fits their specific computing needs — ones that don’t involve portability and are largely composed of basic tasks — this iMac is a great choice.
If you’re holding onto a 21-inch Intel iMac and still want to stick with an all-in-one, upgrading to this model is a significant step up in every way. If you’re in the same boat but with a 27-inch iMac, it’s a little trickier because you’ll have to give up screen real estate for improvements everywhere else. And it should go without saying, but if you have an M1 version of this 24-inch iMac, you do not need to upgrade to the M3 model. (If you really think you do need to upgrade an M1 model because of the M3’s improved performance, perhaps an all-in-one isn’t a great fit for your desire to upgrade frequently — a Mac Mini or Studio and an external display would be better for your needs.)
The iMac started its life as a simple computer to help get people on the internet. Twenty-five years later, it’s back to its roots more than ever. But I just don’t know that a simple all-in-one desktop computer is something most people want or need at this point.
Photography by Dan Seifert / The Verge