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New iMacs!

Welcome to the latest IvanExpert newsletter. We're going to take a look at a much-overdue new update to Apple's popular desktop computer, the iMac.

But before that: Did you know we have a blog? It's at https://ivanexpert.com/blog if you need a more frequent fix than our monthly newsletter, or enjoy diversions into slightly more esoteric topics. You can subscribe to receive it by email, too. Go check it out! 


New iMacs

The iMac has been Apple's stalwart all-in-one desktop computer for over two decades, starting with the first iconic "gumdrop" models in 1998, moving on to the "swivel-neck dome" models in 2002, before finally settling on the stately but dull current design: a thin display that tilts over a metal foot, first introduced in white plastic in 2004, then aluminum in 2007, with a minor revision in 2009, and a thinning in 2012. The design has not changed since, including this new revision.

Under the hood, the iMac hadn't changed much since 2014, apart from switching to Thunderbolt 3 in 2017. It's been long overdue for an update, and Apple finally produced one. Despite the same external appearance, the 27" model has improved considerably on the inside.

If you've been reading our newsletters for a while, I'm sure you've heard me rant about the disservice Apple has been doing to their brand and their customers by continuing to sell iMacs with slow hard drives (HD) in them. You had to custom-order them with fast solid state drives (SSD) in order to get them to perform well. Apple has, at long last, ameliorated that ill. All iMacs now come standard with solid state drives. Hallelujah.


27" iMac

The new 27" iMac starts at $1,799, which I think is pretty reasonable, given the quality of the display and the speed of the computer. The base configuration is an adequate minimum for casual use, with a 256 GB solid state drive for storage, and 8 GB of memory. You can hot rod it considerably from there, though: you can get a better processor (CPU), more storage up to an enormous 8 TB SSD, memory (RAM) up to a gargantuan 128 GB, faster Ethernet, faster graphics, and "nano-texture" glass, which is physically etched in such a way to produce a less reflective, more matte-like appearance. If you max out all the options, you'll have something like a low end iMac Pro (and you'll be set back $8,799).

The 27" model also has various new bells and whistles. Suitably for the videoconferencing era, it offers a higher-quality webcam, microphones, and speakers. It uses Apple's "T2" security chip at the heart of most of their other models. It has a "true-tone" display that tunes its color to the lighting of your environment. And it's generally faster, overall, due to its newer generation processor. As before, it's one of the very few computers Apple sells that lets you upgrade your memory (RAM) after purchase, so that detail is less of a commitment than it is with other Macs. (The 21.5" model and iMac Pro do not let you expand your memory without professional hardware service, and Mac laptops don't let you expand it at all.)

If you're in the market for a new desktop Mac, the new 27" iMac looks like a winner. I'd recommend a minimum 16 GB of memory. (If you're considering more, you do have the option of buying third-party memory for less than Apple charges, but you'd need to install it yourself.) I'd also get a minimum of 512 GB of storage, or more -- get 50-100% more than you think you need, based on your current usage, which you can see under Apple Menu > About This Mac > Storage.

If you're not doing heavy graphics work, then the standard graphics option is fine, and if normal screen glare doesn't bother you, then you don't need the nano-texture glass. And you almost certainly don't need the faster Ethernet option unless you need to exchange data with other computers on your same network at very high speeds. It's irrelevant for normal home use.


21.5" iMac

The 21.5" iMac has always been a lesser (as opposed to just smaller) version of its 27" counterpart, but the difference is much starker now, because it has not been similarly improved. Its stock models at least now come standard with a solid state drive, which simply raises the bar to where it should have been for years, but this model still contains technology from 2-4 years ago, with a slower processor, older design, and limited options.

If you do want the smaller iMac, and aren't in a rush, I'd wait six months to see if Apple enhances this model. If you can't wait, the 21.5" iMac starts at $1,049, but I would configure it with at least 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage, since you can't easily change those later. Do not opt for the 1 TB Fusion drive option (which they shouldn't even offer).


iMac Pro

The iMac Pro also received a minor CPU improvement, but is otherwise the same as when it was introduced in 2017. It can still perform faster than the 27" iMac can, but it costs much more, so its appeal continues to be limited to specialist professionals, or Apple enthusiasts who want the very fastest and best, at any price.. And the iMac Pro doesn't even offer the nano-texture display! It does come in Space Grey with a black keyboard and mouse, though.


Intel, or Apple Silicon?

Finally: it is interesting that Apple has introduced a substantial new iMac revision that is based on an Intel processor, when the company has announced it will be transitioning all of its products to an Apple-made processor, of an entirely different design, within the next two years (see our July newsletter). Whether it makes sense to buy a Mac now, rather than wait for Apple's new generation of machines, likely depends upon how soon you're expecting to replace it.

For the short term, an Intel-based Mac is probably a good purchase, because the first "Apple Silicon" Macs may well have unforeseen issues typical of first-generation products; and non-Apple software titles running on those machines may suffer from lessened performance, and compatibility issues, until their creators re-tool them.

But for the long term, it's not hard to imagine Apple abandoning support for Intel-based Macs as soon as they are reasonably able, and the fancy iMac you buy today may well be left behind five or so years from now.

If you have any questions about the new iMacs, or anything else, please let us know, and we'll be happy to help you out.

(August 2020)

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