Review 199: 22.07.2021 at 00:00 am
The 24” M1 iMac has been one of the most controversial product launches in years for 2 reasons, but neither of them really make or break your purchasing decision like the little secret that Apple conveniently didn’t mention at their launch event, which can make a world of a difference in your day to day use.
In this detailed review, I will cover both of those, along with our new findings based on real-world experience after 2 weeks of using this machine in a variety of tasks from simple use all the way to replacing a more powerful and expensive 27” iMac for professional use.
🕷 And I’ll finish off the review with a key software fix and some clear recommendations on which model and which upgrades you should buy based on your use case, which will either save you money or headaches since we actually purchased 2 iMacs, a base model and a high-end with twice the ram and found significant differences depending on what you’ll use it for. I’ll also comment on who should wait for the upcoming 28 or 30” iMac instead.
Guys, Let me warn you upfront, I’m a huge fan of this iMac so a lot of this will be very positive, but trust me, I will call Apple out on the few things that are actually wrong with this machine.
The 24” iMac is the new standard desktop mac that replaces the long outdated 21.5” iMac and if you’re wanting to upgrade from one of those, this new mac will be a huge improvement in every way but 1.
The first thing you’ll notice is the new striking, or shocking design.I want to spend a little more time on this than I usually do because there’s a lot of confusion and controversy on this which I was also in on, until we actually spent more time with the machine.
This is the first time Apple has made such a drastic design change since 2007, where they went from a plastic white bezeled 20” iMac to the 24”aluminum design that’s been slowly and slightly modified since then. This new iMac combines both of those machines along with colors that we haven’t seen since the now vintage G3 iMacs from 1998 that I grew up using as a kid.
This 2021 iMac is a great nod to apples heritage, all the way back the original iMac Hello but it’s more premium looking and feeling than before since it’s made of all aluminum and a full sheet of laminated glass on the front. The white bezel and color options give this machine a very consumer friendly look, but trust me, on the inside, Apples M1 chip makes this iMac pack way more of a punch then previous iMacs did for their price, so much so that it beats out my $15,000 Mac Pro in some professional tasks which never happened with previous entry level iMacs, but more on performance in just a bit.
A lot of people complained about apple decision to use white bezels, so much so that third party companies starting making stickers to change them to black, mostly because black helps you focus on the content of the display, but after using it I have to say that I am loving the white bezel, at least when using in a normally lit room and against a white wall that most homes have.
After the first day your eyes get used to it and the bezels blend into the background and it’s almost like your content is floating there in mid-air, and in dark rooms its not as distracting as I expected, because the bezel isn’t actually white but grey.
What was even more of a controversy was the big chin that Apple left on the iMac. What’s inside of there is very impressive, at least on the higher end model, but it’s the look that people are hating on.
Apple could have easily gotten rid of it and had a nice slim bezel all around, just like their Prodisplay XDR, but they didn’t, and there’s a good reason for it that I now agree with. No, it’s not that they wanted this machine to be as thin as possible, which is so thin they had to put the headphone jack on the side, it’s because the chin is iMacs standout design feature that is now so iconic that even windows pc companies have started to make their AIO’s chins larger while slimming down the bezels.
Ultralinx pointed it out best on Twitter, a chin makes the iMac instantly recognizable just like the notch on the iPhone make it stand out instead of looking like every other smartphone.
Finishing off the design, the new iMac is modern, friendly, and definitely looks brand all while being recognisable even without the Apple logo that I do wish they kept, and no you can’t just use the included sticker to add it back as Apple made it a little too big to properly fit. The colors are subtle on the front and striking on the back, and are a little more bold in person then on Apple’s website. Personally, I prefer the classic silver but overall the design get a big thumbs up from me and will stay looking new for a long time.
Getting into the hardware, this is where things start turning for the worse, and I have 2 main complaints and 2 minor ones. The first one is the ports.
On the base model we’re losing 4 usb-a ports, an SD card reader, and an ethernet jack. Now yes those new thunderbolt ports are powerful and can be greatly expanded like we showed off in our OWC Hub review, but that’s one more thing to buy and plug in.
The high-end gives you ethernet in the power adapter, which is extremely clever, and two more usb-c ports that don’t support thunderbolt.
In real-world use this has been a pain coming from an older mac and we’re already having to plug and unplug things. I know that USB C is the future and this isn’t a Pro machine, but Apple is rumored to be adding back ports into their upcoming Macbooks, so why not include an SD card reader on the side by the headphone jack.
The next one is that ethernet jack being the super old and slow 1gbe. Apple has been offering 10gbe for a few years now and they just added it as an option to the M1 Mac Mini, so if someone is going to use ethernet why not give use the full speed one. Who knows, maybe they’ll offer it as an option once M1X macs are out since those definitely have to have 10gbe, and since the upcoming new mac mini should be using the same magnetic power connector it will likely have 10gbe offered that way as well, it just sucks that you’ll have to spend more money later.
On that note, I have to point out how impressive Apple’s new accessories are. The attention to detail on everything all the way up the thick cloth handle on the box is shockingly good for a $1299 device.
The wires on the charging cable are color matched and braided, as is the cable leading up to the imac itself which ends in a new round magsafe connector that is also color matched and anodized.
Even though magsafe isn’t a necessity for a desktop it’s been a joy to use as it connects almost magically, lining up and snapping into place andlooking super clean and premium. With that, the color matched magic mouse and keyboard also look great.
This would have been the perfect time to finally move the charge port from the bottom where your mouse can’t be used while charging but nope, at least the mouse charges fast and lasts a long time.
Onto the keyboard, I absolutely love it and I think it’s definitely worth spending the extra $50 to upgrade to the touch-id version from the base iMac’s keyboard. Not only can you speed up logging in and make it much more secure, it’s also useful for Apple Pay, passwords, and more in MacOS.
What’s even cooler is if you have multiple people sharing an iMac, you can quickly go to your profile using touch-ID.
The updated keyboard also feels slightly better and quieter than my new Mac Pro’s keyboard when typing. My only complaint on the keyboard is that the launchpad shortcut is now gone so I can’t quickly open up the app launcher.
To fix this you can remap a shortcut like command and spacebar, or use the new spotlight shortcut and search for the app you need.
The next minor disappointment are the speakers, and not because they are bad, they are quite good for such a thin machine, but, because Apple hyped them up so much by saying they are the best in any iMac which I don’t agree with.
Apple spent a considerable amount of time designing these, with 6 total speakers and vibration canceling woofers that are connected to a very large but super thin enclosures that span most of the imac sandwich between the display and aluminum chassis.
This increases the sound quality and bass response of the speakers, but It’s still not enough to make them the best. Go ahead and listen for yourself how they compare to the 27” iMac.
Now sure it might be better than the iMac it replaces, but they still really lack bass compared to the larger imacs which makes a big difference for music, movies, and games. They also don’t get super loud. For most people they will do a decent job and you won’t need to get dedicated speakers, but I’d definitely prefer Apple’s previous ones.
As far as the display, it’s fantastic. We’ve already talked about the bezels, but the screen is just as color accurate and sharp as Apple’s 5K or 6K displays since they upped the resolution from 4K in the older 21.5” to 4.5K to keep that perfect 218 pixel per inch for apples retina rating. 24” or 23.5” to be exact is a great size for a consumer related computer. Its big enough to do everything from web browsing to photo and video editing, and it won’t look huge in peoples homes.
If you’re coming from a 27” you will notice the size difference, especially for pro work where you need to multi-task, but if you’re wanting to downsize you do get used to the smaller display after a day or two.
And if you’re coming from a windows PC or much older iMacs, it will blow you away with great detail, colors, and 500 nits of brightness and great coatings that fight reflections in bright rooms. This display alone is worth at least $700, like LG’s ultrafine 24 display which has the same brightness and color accuracy but has a lower 4K resolution.
Above the display is the first 1080P webcam in any mac under $5000. The Sensor is larger too which helps with noise along with M1 ISP chip processing. Check out the webcam and mic quality improvements.
The image is both brighter and sharper, and the microphones are more clear as well. I do think both are a little bit too flat compared to the older ones but on the plus side it makes web conferencing much more clear which is a good thing, and Apple could tweak this down the line.
And now for the biggest disappointment of the new 24” M1 iMac, something that can make or break your experience and even longevity of this machine, and something that Apple could have easily fixed for just a few dollars per machine but instead they didn’t even mention to us, and that is the fact that the base model is purposefully gimped which makes a huge difference in real-world usage.
When Apple announced this new iMac they showed off how almost all of the computer components are stuffed inside of the chin and the super efficient M1 chip is cooled with two fans and they even went as far as saying under most workloads it runs 10db, which is quieter than most background noise.
Now all of that is true, but only if you buy the $1499 model. It is pretty much silent even when doing video or photo editing, and, even gaming all while the computer stays cool as well even though the high end model has a more powerful graphics chip.
For the entry level model, Apple got rid of one of the fans, and it’s the one that had a heat pipe connected to it, leaving the left side fan which just blows cool air into the system and doesn’t have a heatsink, leaving the M1 chip just sitting there heating up like in the fanless macbook air.
The Performance is 10 to 15% worse depending on what you’re doing, and up to 25% worse if you’re pushing both the CPU and Graphics at the same time.
Now is 10% more performance on an already fast chip worth an extra $200 if you don’t need the other improvements? Maybe not, but 25% definitely is worth spending more for, so maybe that’s why Apple decided to leave out the main cooling component that cost them just a few dollars to include.
Because of that, when rendering the base models CPU runs at up 95C, and when gaming the graphics core also runs at 95C, and the only reason they don’t get hotter is the M1 chip is slowed down from full 3.2Ghz performance down to 2.5Ghz.
The same thing happens with the MacBook Air, but the difference is that machine is designed to be mobile, where this is a desktop that doesn’t rely on battery power, and that is fanless so its totally silent where this still has a single but barely effective fan that spinns up often and under productive loads runs at full blast while its M1 chip is running slowly and super.
During most of these tasks the more expensive iMac fans are running at their slowest possible speed while running cool and completely silent, and under extreme loads the fans barely spin up from idle.
Why do you have to do this to us Apple?
🕷 all while bragging about its great cooling system. On the plus side, the ineffective single fan systems isn’t extremely loud but its definitely audible and annoying, and thankfully, I did find one alternative for those that don’t need the maximum performance of the high-end, but also don’t want a fan thats running at full blast when they push their machine.
I used fan control software to manually set the fan at about half speed which is barely louder than our hvac noise, and ran the same cinebench test which really pushes the cpu and to my surprise the M1 was only about 5% slower 6617 than running the fan at full blast, and the temps were the same.
That shows that the fan is doing almost nothing but making noise, and of course you can fine tune the rpm and setup profiles to maximize performance compared to noise, I’ll leave a link to the software in the description below.
And now let’s get to performance which is surprisingly good especially on the higher end and for two reasons. If you’ve been keeping up with M1 you’ll know that for certain optimized programs like Xcode it beats even my 15,000 mac pro, and for logic Pro music production it performs incredibly well compared to previous intel models. For these optimized apps Apple Silicon can beat out processors and graphics that have much more performance.
For example Angelikas 27” iMac has about double the graphics performance, but the M1 chip cuts through 4K footage easier and render video faster as well due to its dedicated encoders and decoders that also allow it to playback the newest toughest HEVC footage flawlessly where. Most computers, even my mac pro can’t and has to convert it first.
Apple even says it can edit 8K video which I was sceptical of, but it did in fact edit some 8K footage that I shot with the new Sony A1. Because of this, even though her iMac is technically more powerful, for the type of work that we do the M1 is actually faster and more efficient. But don’t think that this Machine will handle anything that you throw at it.
The issue it runs into is not having enough raw graphics performance when you layer too many effects or if you’re working with files or even programs that haven’t been properly optimized where more expensive and more powerful intel macs will be faster.
But every month more programs are optimized for Apples Silicon, and in those cases, these lower prices machines are incredibly fast, and for general use such as web browsing and simple apps the imac is incredibly responsive, making my Mac Pro feel slow when I go back to it.
For most people looking to buy a 24” iMac, even those that do photo and video editing, this machine will do a great job, punching way above its weight and most average 27” iMacs users can downgrade to an M1 iMac, but for those that have high specced models or iMac Pro’s, I would wait for the larger M1X models to get more raw graphics performance.
And now for the buyers guide section so you don’t waste your money or make a mistake.
To start off, those that are doing very basic things like web browsing, email, watching videos and never doing anything more difficult I would go for the base model. 8GB of RAM is enough and 256GB should be enough space especially if you use icloud fophotos. If you like convenience or have multiple users I would definitely spend $50 extra for Touch-ID but $30 more for ethernet isn’t needed unless you have lots of wifi interference since the wifi is fast on this iMac.
For people who want to do some photo and video editing and other intensive tasks like gaming, or could possibly do them in years down the line, get the $1499 model, and if you are doing 4K or raw photo editing or you want your machine to last a very long time
I would upgrade to 16GB of ram since that’s something that you can’t upgrade later. SSD is alway really hard to choose because it really depends on your usage patterns.
I’d go with the smallest since I keep my files externally and in the cloud, but if you don’t back them up often take a look as how much your current computer has and make sure to get more than that, but it gets very expensive since there are only ultra fast SSD options that cost a lot, and external SSD’s cost way less, I’ll link my recommended one in the description.
Overall the M1 iMac is an incredible machine, and would be perfect if Apple kept the proper right side fan and heatsink in the base model, and it would be an absolute steal at $1299.
Unfortunately, or fortunately for Apple, most people should spend at least $1499 which makes it less of a value but still a great all in one machine which not only looks great no matter where you put it but has a great display which alone is worth at least $700, a keyboard and mouse thats valued at $200, good webcam, mics, and speakers, and of course the extremely good performance of the M1, especially for the money.
Thank you and I’ll see you in the next review!😍👋