It’s a weird time to be in the market for a new Mac. Earlier this summer, Apple announced that it will begin rolling out Apple Silicon—its in-house-designed riff on ARM processors as seen before in the iPhone and iPad—to the Mac product line. That marks a seismic shift in direction for the Mac.
But the company also said it would be releasing new Macs that use Intel’s CPUs—the more traditional choice for desktop and laptop computers—in the future and supporting Intel-based Macs for years to come.Enter the new 27-inch iMac, announced just a couple of weeks ago. It’s the first new Mac product since the Apple Silicon announcement, and it’s a refresh for one of the company’s most iconic and popular products—one that’s been falling behind the rest of the Mac lineup for a while now.
With an ostensibly giant leap looming for the Mac, this new release is just an incremental step for the iMac. It boasts the usual updates: faster processors, better RAM and storage options, and better graphics processing. It also has a new webcam and better microphones.
But it’s not a radical change overall. Rather, the new iMac represents a subtle refinement of one of the world’s best (albeit priciest) computers. It's the calm before a coming storm.
Sometimes, though, you want the thing you’re already familiar with, especially when it costs several thousand dollars. So if you’re in the market for a new Mac, but you’re not ready to bet the farm on the first generation of a whole new architecture, is 2020’s 27-inch iMac refresh worth buying?
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Let’s find out.
Table of Contents
|Specs at a glance: 2020 27-inch iMac|
|Screen||5120x2880 at 27 inches|
|OS||macOS Catalina 10.15.6|
|CPU||3.6GHz 10-core Intel Core i9|
|RAM||64GB 2666MHz DDR4|
|GPU||AMD Radeon Pro 5700 XT 16 GB|
|HDD||4 TB SSD|
|Networking||802.11ac Wi-Fi; IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n; Bluetooth 5.0|
|Ports||2x Thunderbolt 3, 3.5mm headphone, 4x USB-A, SDXC (UHS-II), gigabit Ethernet|
|Warranty||1 year, or 3 years with AppleCare+|
|Price as reviewed||$5,999|
|Other perks||1080p FaceTime HD camera, nano-texture glass|
Apple iMac (27-inch, 2020)
All the 27-inch iMacs have a 5,120 x 2,880 display with a maximum brightness of 500 nits and a refresh rate of 60Hz. It’s an outstanding screen that’s tuned to near perfection—so good that it’s hard to find secondary monitors to pair with it that look equally as balanced beside it.
More than anything else, it’s this screen that you’re paying for when you buy the new iMac. It’s probably worth it if you care about working on a big, high-resolution screen. Of course, not everybody does, and there are much cheaper options out there for those who don’t. Also, there’s nothing new here. As far as I could tell, it’s the same screen as was included in the previous model.
Every 27-inch iMac also has stereo speakers, a three-microphone array (which is better than the previous model), and the following ports:
- 3.5mm headphone jack
- SDXC card slot (UHS-II, up from UHS-I in the last model)
- Four USB-A
- Two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C
- One gigabit Ethernet (upgradeable to 10Gb for $100)
The big upgrade here is arguably the webcam, which has gone from 720p to 1080p. Every computer manufacturer’s PR team is pitching nicer webcams in the pandemic environment of endless Zoom calls, so this is par for the course right now.Still, it’s a nice camera. I don’t actually do more than three or four Zoom calls a week, myself, but I could appreciate the difference. I’d love to see this upgrade in the MacBook Pro at some point.
Apple has also brought the T2 chip (first introduced in the iMac Pro, but now seen across the Mac line) to the iMac. It offers a number of security features we’ve discussed in prior Mac reviews. In this case, the T2 chip manages EQ for the audio, face detection on the camera, and Hey Siri, among other things. It’s also used to speed up video transcoding.
There are three default configurations at $1,799, $1,999, and $2,299. The lowest-end ($1,799) comes equipped with a 3.1GHz 6-core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB of DDR4 at 2666MHz, a Radeon Pro 5300 with 4GB of GDDR6 video memory, and 256GB of SSD storage.
Stepping up to $1,999, you bump that 6-core i5 up to a 3.3GHz clock speed and you double SSD storage to an almost-adequate 512GB. Finally, the $2,299 spec moves to an 8-core Intel Core i7 CPU at 3.8GHz and a Radeon Pro 5500 XT GPU with 8GB of GDDR6.
Unfortunately, even the top specification offers just 8GB of RAM and 512GB of solid state storage. Both are a bit low for some of the use cases Apple markets these devices for. That means that despite fast CPUs and GPUs, the base specs are only good enough for at-home office workers doing standard office-y things, but this thing is awfully pricey for that low-impact situation. Most of that money is going to the (admittedly impeccable) screen, as stated above. If you want to do video editing, game development, or music production with more than a few tracks and plugins, you’re going to want to spend a bit more on RAM at least.
What optional upgrades are available? Well, that $2,299 spec can get a bump to a 3.6GHz 10-core Intel Core i9 CPU for an additional $400, as well as a faster Radeon Pro 5700 GPU with 8GB of GDDR6 ($300 over the 5500 XT) or an even faster 5700 XT with 16GB ($500 over the 5500 XT).Our review unit came equipped with the 5700 XT, and it does offer solid performance—about on par with my Nvidia GTX 1070 in my mid-range desktop gaming PC, actually. That’s excellent for an all-in-one, though it is quite pricey for that kind of performance compared to what you could get in a Windows tower.
The quiet but big news here is that Apple has ditched the Fusion Drive, that hybrid solution that combined flash storage with a traditional hard drive. Now, like the rest of the Mac product line, the iMac is solid state through-and-through.
You can upgrade the SSD to 1TB ($200 more than 512GB), 2TB ($600), 4TB ($1,200) or 8TB ($2,400). The 1TB option seems like the sweet spot to me personally, but your needs may vary. Some people need very little storage space, while others can never possibly have enough. There are options for the whole range here, even though they aren’t cheap.
Finally, you can go above that 8GB of RAM to 16GB ($200 more), 32GB ($600), 64GB ($1,000), or a beastly 128GB ($2,600). It’s worth noting that unlike a lot of other Macs, you actually can replace the RAM in the iMac yourself, and there are much cheaper options than buying from Apple.
So while I’d normally recommend stacking the RAM at purchase when buying a Mac to stave off future frustration, I don’t in this case. You can get as much as you need now and add on later as required. Wild concept, that!
Mac Reviews 2019
The last thing you can add at purchase (besides a 10Gb Ethernet upgrade—and if you’re someone who needs that, you already know all you need to know) is the nano-texture glass option that promises glare-free viewing without any sacrifice in appearances. That costs a spit-take-inducing $500 over the base machine price, and we’ll get more into whether that’s worth it a bit later.