Apple iMac 2021 Review: A Sleek, Colorful M1 Desktop Computer
Apple continues its transition away from Intel processors with the release of the new 2021 iMacs, which run on Apple’s own M1 silicon. While the M1 stunned and garnered gushing critical acclaim when it debuted in portable devices such as MacBooks and the iPad last December and this month, its use in a proper desktop raises some concerns.
But first, let’s discuss the design, as there is a great deal that is new. The 2021 iMac is the iconic computer line’s first major redesign in over a decade. While it remains an all-in-one device, it is significantly thinner and lighter than before, with a new pastel colored paint job (along with matching colored accessories).
The 24-inch screen is bright and vibrant, and the surrounding bezels are thinner than ever (though still thick compared to machines by other companies). Thankfully, the headphone jack has been relocated to the side of the screen rather than behind it—but the other USB-C ports and power cable remain in the back. The latter is cleverly designed with a magnetic attachment, which means that if a child or a dog runs behind the iMac and yanks on the power cord, the iMac is less likely to topple over than another machine.
Finally, what distinguishes the iMac design is its extreme thinness—11.5mm, and this is not a reference to the thinnest part of a curve machine. The entire iMac has a flat back, making it 11.5mm thick throughout. Additionally, keep in mind that this screen houses all of the computing components. It’s also surprisingly light, weighing in at less than ten pounds. However, given that this is a desk-bound computer that must be plugged into a socket, its compact, sleek design is primarily for aesthetic purposes.
The iMac model I tested (starts at $1,499) has four USB-C ports, two of which are Thunderbolt ports, as well as a keyboard with a fingerprint scanner in the upper right corner for Touch ID login. The entry-level model ($1,299) comes equipped with just two USB-C Thunderbolt ports and a keyboard without a fingerprint reader. Additionally, the above-base model includes an additional GPU core, 16GB of RAM, and increased storage; the base model includes only 8GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage.
For those who don’t mind spending an extra $200, the above-base model is worthwhile, but the base model will suffice. RAM management is largely solved by the M1 chip, and the lack of storage and ports can be remedied with an external hard drive and a dongle.
As previously stated, the iMac has coordinating colored accessories: if you look closely at the keyboard in the above photo, you’ll notice it has a blue tint to match the machine. Additionally, the power supply cable is the same shade.
Much has been written about Apple’s self-developed M1 chip, which performed so well in previous Apple products that it sent computer processor giant Intel into panicked PR maneuvers.
In a nutshell, the M1 is a single-chip SoC (systems-on-chip) that looks like a smartphone chip. For more than a decade, the industry accepted that these mobile silicon are ideal for smartphones because they are extremely efficient but lack the raw processing power necessary for use in real computers. Apple turned the script on its head with the M1, which is not only powerful enough to run a full computer but also outperforms the ubiquitous (and previously dominant) Intel processors.
It’s the same story here: the M1-powered iMac performs admirably well when it comes to basic computing tasks. I was able to slightly slow it down when I created a multi-layered, twenty-minute-long 4K video, but that is an extreme case.
However, Apple’s decision to include the M1 chip in all of its non-iPhone products begs the following question: why buy an M1-powered iMac when the M1-powered MacBook Air is nearly as powerful and infinitely more versatile and portable?
Those who defend the iMac (and those who work at Apple) will argue that the iMac is designed for desktop use and the MacBook Air is designed for portability. However, I can easily emulate this experience by connecting the MacBook Air to an external monitor at home.
I want to emphasize that this is not a criticism of the iMac per se—in a vacuum, it is an attractive machine that performs admirably—rather, it is a testament to the superiority of Apple’s M1-powered MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.
As more people work remotely in today’s world, the need for a desk-bound computer is becoming increasingly rare. Of course, professionals with a complicated workflow are an exception. However, those individuals would opt for the iMac Pro, Mac Pro, or a fully configured PC, which offer significantly more memory, a dedicated GPU, and additional ports.
The iMac does have a market: those who want an all-in-one machine for home use without having to think about or stress about purchasing an external monitor; those who do not require portable work. The price is reasonable, and the machines are attractive.