Apple 24-inch M1 iMac review: Much more than just a colourful Mac
Performance & conclusion
Let’s see the benchmark results of the 24-inch iMac. It was tested using our usual suite of benchmarks which are as follows:
- Geekbench 5
- Cinebench R23
- WebXPRT 3
- Unigine Valley
- Video transcoding test
As I mentioned earlier, my unit is the “full-fat” M1 with 8 CPU cores and 8 CPU cores. It has also been bolstered with 16GB of memory. So strictly speaking, this is a custom configuration. The memory helps if you are a heavy multitasker but it won’t necessarily improve performance if you are only running a handful of apps. The benchmarks indicate the M1 to have a clockspeed of 3.2GHz, which is similar to the 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro.
Here are the results:
Looking at the results, it is clear that there’s very little to separate the performance of the 24-inch iMac and 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro. Their results are almost identical. But what I want to draw your attention to is how the 24-inch iMac performs against a current-generation 27-inch iMac with a fairly high-end desktop-class Core i7-10700K Comet Lake processor. On CPU intensive workloads, the 24-inch iMac wasn’t that far behind and it even recorded higher single-core scores in Geekbench 5 and Cinebench R23.
The only benchmarks where the 27-inch iMac managed convincing wins were multi-core scores in Cinebench R23 and Unigine Valley – the latter only because it has discrete graphics in the form of AMD’s Radeon Pro 5500 XT. When you consider that the price of a 27-inch iMac with a Core i7 processor starts at S$3,339 (over a grand more than the 24-inch iMac), it's hard not to be impressed by the results. Apple's most basic chip – one that is used in mobile devices – is keeping up with one of Intel's fairly high-end powerful processors.
In the real world, the 24-inch iMac feels identical to the 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro. Apart from feeling extremely fluid and fast, it runs extremely cool and the fans hardly spin up during normal use. I only noticed the fans spinning under very heavy workloads like video transcoding and running Cinebench. And even when they do, it’s barely detectable. Unbelievably, even when it has its hands full transcoding videos or crunching Cinebench, I could still use it to reply emails, surf the web, and watch 4K videos with nary a stutter. You could never do this on an Intel-based Mac. In short, the 24-inch iMac has all the performance that most people will ever need.
iMac or Mac Mini?
Though the iMac and Mac Mini are desktop systems, they couldn’t be more different. The iMac is the obvious choice for users who value simplicity over everything else. You can unbox it and start using it in mere minutes. Its compact size also makes it ideal for users who are starved of space.
It’s tempting to think of the Mac Mini as the more affordable option. After all, prices start at S$979, which sounds tantalising. However, when you purchase a Mac Mini, it comes with the Mac Mini alone, which means you’ll have to get a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and speakers to match the out-of-box capability of the iMac. Consider also that 24-inch 4K monitors are uncommon and that a high-quality 27-inch 4K monitor is going to set you back S$700 or more. So if you want a comparable experience, it might not be cheaper at all. Therefore, it’s more appropriate to think of the Mac Mini as the option for more advanced users to pick parts to complete their Mac setup.
The Mac Mini is also more flexible in how you can deploy it. You can deploy it as a media centre with your TV in your living room or bedroom, and there are stories of how multiple Mac Minis are harnessed in server farms for complex processing.
I like this new iMac but what pushes me most towards a Mac Mini is the iMac’s inability to display video from other sources. Given how excellent the display is, this seems like a massive waste. I’m not sure how many readers would require such as a feature, but imagine being able to use the iMac’s gorgeous 4.5K Retina display for games with a PC or gaming console. For readers like me who run multiple systems at a desk, it will indubitably make the iMac a much more attractive system.
Which iMac model?
The 7-core GPU model is a great pick if you are on a tight budget or just looking to maximise value. It’s the most affordable model starting at S$1,849 and you can spec it up with additional memory and storage if you desire. You can order the Touch ID Magic Keyboard and fancy power adapter with integrated Gigabit Ethernet separately too. It also makes more sense to use the money saved to get a Thunderbolt dock which adds more utility. In the end, the key things that you are missing out on are the extra GPU core, the additional two USB-C ports, and the ability to spec the system with up to 2TB of storage. You’d have to consider how much these matter to you.
In other words, get the 8-core model (starting at S$2,149) only if you demand the best performance or if you require the additional USB-C ports and 2TB of storage. Or maybe you must have your iMac in orange, yellow, or purple because these colours are exclusive to the 8-core GPU model.
A terrific iMac
The iMac is a great desktop Mac, especially if you are looking for a fuss-free all-in-one solution. The display is terrific, the sound system is amazing (considering the limitations), and it comes with just about everything you need. You can set it up and start using it in mere minutes. And when you do, you'll realise that it's so capable, so powerful, and yet it runs so cool and quietly. We are so used to associating this type of simplicity with entry-level low-power systems but this new iMac, with its M1 chip, is fast enough to give much more expensive Core i7 iMacs a run for their money. If you have been holding out for a new iMac, there aren’t many reasons why you shouldn’t get this. I reckon this new model could be as important for Apple as the legendary iMac G3.