Apple has announced a new array of M1-based iMacs, as expected. This is the first wave of ARM-powered Mac launches we’ve seen in 2021, but it’s not expected to be the last. There are a number of changes to the new iMac systems, some of them directly linked to the new SoC, and some improvements that are separate from it.
According to Apple, the new iMac is less than 50 percent the volume of the previous Intel version, a change the company attributes to the performance of its M1 CPU. The new iMac is just 11mm thick, with a 24.5-inch system squeezed into a chassis only slightly larger than Apple’s older 21-inch iMac, courtesy of slimmer bezels. The included 1080p web camera gets a quality boost by taking advantage of the imaging processor and neural engine baked into M1, and the new Macs use Apple’s TruTone technology to adjust the color temperature based on ambient light.
The new iMac debuts at $1,299 for an 8-core M1 CPU, 7-core integrated GPU, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage. The highest-end system Apple has shown runs $1,699, and ships with an 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 8GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage. These prices are higher than the Intel-based 21.5-inch iMacs that Apple previously sold at roughly comparable DRAM and storage options, but lower than the old 27-inch prices. We’re going to compare against the 21.5-inch iMac, since those systems were much closer in price to these new ones.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Apple’s old iMac line sucked. The dual-core Kaby Lake CPU at $1,099 was a terrible value. A Core i3-8100 for $1,299 doesn’t compare well against a modern PC, and neither does a $1,499 Core i5-8500. Even the top-end system’s GPU is only equivalent to a Radeon RX 560. When we see the inevitable comparisons showing the M1 demolishing these systems, keep in mind that the bottom-end iMac in 2012 was still using a dual-core chip from four years ago.
These new iMacs are a significant improvement over the older systems. Display resolution has increased from 1920×1080 to 4480×2520 and the integrated GPU’s performance is undoubtedly also much better than either the Intel integrated or lower-end AMD options. Objectively, we’d still like to see systems this expensive shipping with better storage and RAM options, but Apple hasn’t gotten better or worse in that regard with respect to the x86-ARM transition.
Apple claims that certain apps, like Xcode, Lightroom, and iMovie are up to 85 percent faster than on previous iMacs, while Final Cut Pro can edit up to five 4K streams simultaneously without frame drops. Other advantages include the option to receive phone calls and texts directly to your iMac, and the option to run iPhone games and apps on the device as well.
One thing I hadn’t noticed back when Apple launched the M1 in its laptops: The company literally doesn’t disclose any additional information about the chip, beyond its name. The CPU runs at 3.2GHz, but I don’t know how you’d know it from Apple’s product pages. We won’t see performance numbers for a bit yet, but given how weak the earlier iMacs were, an easy win for the new M1-powered iMacs seems likely.
It isn’t clear if these systems are still limited to 16GB of RAM like the M1 systems Apple launched last year. Apple will need to increase the maximum amount of RAM it ships in an M-class system before it can replace the Intel CPUs in the Mac Pro line, but we haven’t heard about any SoCs with 32-64GB of onboard RAM — at least, not yet.
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