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Apple iMac review: Unchanged on the outside, big improvements inside

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·Technology Editor
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Apple's revamped iMac line has gotten a serious power boost. (Image: Apple)
Apple's revamped iMac line has gotten a serious power boost. (Image: Apple)

Apple's (AAPL) all-in-one iMac desktops are iconic thanks to their superb design and seemingly unflappable performance. But much to the chagrin of Apple diehards, the company doesn't seem to have the same affinity for its iMacs as users do. Updates to the systems are few and far between. Which is why when it does give its desktops a little love, it's a pretty big deal.

And that's exactly what the company is doing now with its latest iMacs. Available now, the newest iMacs feature the same looks as their predecessors, but get some big-time performance upgrades under the hood. We're talking about all-new processors, more memory, and drastically improved graphics offerings.

All of that power and performance will certainly cost you — prices start at $1,299 — and my review unit topped out at a whopping $3,449. Still, for Apple lovers, this is definitely the desktop to beat.

A big step up

The last time Apple upgraded its iMac line was back in 2017, so the desktops were overdue for a power boost. And thankfully, Apple delivered. The latest iMacs are available in 21.5-inch and 27-inch varieties, with the 27-inch models getting the most powerful components.

The macOS-powered, $1,299 entry-level 21.5-inch iMac gets an 8th-generation Intel (INTC) Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM, Radeon Pro 555X graphics, and a 1TB hard drive. The iMac's display is also a 4K Retina display panel, which is great for watching movies, or doing video and photo editing.

My review unit packed a 27-inch, 5K Retina display; an 8-core, Intel Core i9 processor; 16GB of RAM, and a Radeon Pro Vega 48 graphics chip with 8GB of HBM2 memory. That's an incredibly powerful machine. For the average consumer, though, it's overkill. That said, I didn't run into a single hiccup during my time with the desktop.

Apple's 21.5-inch and 27-inch iMacs. (Image: Apple)
Apple's 21.5-inch and 27-inch iMacs. (Image: Apple)

The review model Apple provided is something that photo and video editors, or other professionals with a need for serious computing power, would likely opt for. If you're the type of person who browses the web, sends emails, and streams Netflix (NFLX) while filling out spreadsheets for your work, then you're better off snagging the $1,299 iMac.

Hardcore gamers looking to play the latest AAA titles will also want to look for Windows-powered PCs rather than the iMac, since most developers don't make their games for macOS.

Part of the value proposition for iMacs, though, is that they last quite a while. My brother had a hand-me-down iMac that was kicking around for nearly 10 years before he had to get rid of it to make room in his home for a nursery. Your mileage will undoubtedly vary, but in my experience iMacs have offered excellent longevity.

An unchanged look

While the inside of the iMac has seen significant updates, the outside is still the same sleek design from prior generations of the all-in-one. Would I have liked to see Apple update the look of the iMac? Sure, but that's by no means a deal breaker.

The 27-inch iMac dwarfed everything on my office desk. Its massive size is fantastic if you use multiple apps at the same time. I generally use my MacBook Pro and a secondary screen to view Chrome, Slack, Spotify (SPOT), and TweetDeck at once. With the 27-inch iMac, though, I could keep all of those apps open and still have room for another.

The iMac can be used as a standard at home desktop or video and photo editing powerhouse. (Image: Apple)
The iMac can be used as a standard at home desktop or video and photo editing powerhouse. (Image: Apple)

Around back, the iMac offers a plethora of connections including two USB C ports, four USB 3 slots, a card reader, headphone jack, and ethernet port. Of course, Apple also supplies you with a wireless Magic Keyboard and its wireless Magic Mouse. The Magic Mouse, however, can only be charged via a USB C port on its bottom, so you can use it while it's charging. Sure, you can plug it in when you're stepping away from your computer for a bit, but how many people are going to remember to do that?

Should you get it?

The iMac is one of the most versatile desktop computers on the market. Its display is fantastic, its power is impressive, and its design is iconic. But its price is also higher than some consumers may be willing to spend. If that's the case, and you're looking for an Apple desktop, I'd suggest looking into the company's Mac mini line.

For $799, you can get a base Mac mini with an Intel Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. Sure, you're not going to see the same kind of performance as the iMac, but the mini can more than handle your daily tasks with ease. The only downside is that you'll have to purchase a monitor for the mini, but even combining that with the price of the desktop can bring you in below the price of the iMac.

If you're expecting to pay up for the iMac, though, you're not likely to be disappointed.

More from Dan:

Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@oath.com; follow him on Twitter at@DanielHowley. Follow Yahoo Finance on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, andLinkedIn.finance.yahoo.com/