iMac, iMac 4k, iMac 5k, or iMac Pro - which iMac should you buy?

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited March 29
Now that the iMac lineup has been refreshed, the choice of which model to buy is challenging again. AppleInsider helps you navigate the configuration options to find the best iMac for your needs.

21.5-inch 4K iMac
21.5-inch 4K iMac

The cheapest Apple desktop

This piece is focused primarily on iMacs, but there are still people out there that overlook the Mac mini. They ask what is the cheapest Apple desktop and that isn't the base 2.3GHz dual-core 21.5-inch iMac.

So without going into a lot of details on the Mac mini, if you want the cheapest Apple desktop, it is absolutely your solution. Grab your own monitor, grab a keyboard, grab a mouse, and enjoy the desktop experience.

2018 Mac mini
2018 Mac mini


However, if you want the best budget all-in-one, we once more return to the iMacs.




Best budget iMac

When looking at the iMac lineup, one should immediately skip over the 2.3GHz dual-core 21.5-inch iMac that doesn't have a Retina display.

This is a legacy unit held over while the rest of the lineup was refreshed here in early 2019. It only has an HD screen and integrated Intel Iris graphics for $1,099. For $200 more, you are immediately at a 4K display, a quad-core processor, faster DDR4 RAM, and Radeon Pro 555X graphics with 2GB of VRAM. This is a huge spec boost over the dual-core model.

21.5-inch 4K iMac
21.5-inch 4K iMac


The only issue with the $1,299 3.6GHz quad-core -- which applies to the dual core model above as well -- is the storage. It comes equipped with a 1TB, 5400 RPM hard drive. If the main use for the machine is browsing or Facebook, or other "average" uses, this doesn't matter at all, but this is the still biggest limiting factor to this machine.

We already know that if you're reading this article or watching this video, you aren't the target market for this particular configuration. Don't dismiss it outright with the hard drive as a satellite machine, or for more casual users, though. It would also be excellent as a gateway for an iPhone-centric user, who's become interested in Apple's larger product line because of a privacy stance, or other factor.

Apple allows you to upgrade this storage on this model, which we recommend for most of the AppleInsider audience. A 1TB Fusion drive can be had for $200 extra for a 256GB SSD. At this point, if you are spending a hundred or two extra, you might as well go for the next tier $1,499 model (currently $100 off with coupon code APINSIDER when used with this link).

That extra $200 for $1,499 21.5-inch iMac not only gets you the Fusion drive, but a six-core processor with Turbo Boost and better graphics to boot.

What that boils down to, is the best iMac for most people is that 3GHz 6-core 21.5-inch iMac for $1,499, with maybe a Fusion Drive or SSD thrown in for good measure. That doesn't mean the cheaper ones aren't solid machines -- it just means they are hampered just enough for most of you reading or watching to consider an upgrade beyond the base spec.

Balancing budget and performance

That same model above that we recommend for the bulk of people, also happens to be what we recommend for the best balance between your budget and performance. It has solid, fast enough storage, a beefy processor, and capable graphics.

5K iMac
5K iMac


At this point, you also have a choice between screen size. Both the top preconfigured 21.5-inch iMac 4K and the base 27-inch iMac 5K share nearly the same specs. All is in parity with one another, though the 5K 27-inch gets a slight graphics boost.

You can get the same performance with whichever screen size is best for your workflow.

Powerful performance

To get great performance, we recommend the 27-inch iMac with a few customizations. Upgrade the processor to the 3.6GHz 8-core 9th generation Intel Core i9 and beef up the graphics with the Radeon Pro Vega 48 with 8GB of HBM2 memory. Also up that RAM to 32GB of 2666MHz DDR4.

All of those upgrades bring you very close to the power of the iMac Pro for $1,250 less. We've got more testing coming that will more thoroughly explore where each machine excels, so keep an eye out for that.

iMac Pro
iMac Pro


The latest Geekbench 4 results show how similar these two machines are in terms of performance, with the iMac Pro only slightly winning in multi-core and being edged out in the single-core tests.

Sure, the iMac Pro has additional benefits such as the ability to upgrade it further, but looking at the base performance, going with the 5K iMac and these modifications is a more wallet-friendly alternative. More ports are also available on the iMac Pro, but a Thunderbolt 3 dock can just be the solution there.

Where to buy

Apple's new 21.5-inch iMac 4K and 27-inch iMac 5K are currently $100 to $200 off at Apple authorized resellers with instant rebates and/or exclusive coupon discounts. Top picks can be found below, while a full list of the latest deals and product availability can be found in our Mac Price Guide.

2019 21.5" iMac 4K deals 2019 27" iMac 5Ks
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 24
    VariedThinkingVariedThinking Posts: 2unconfirmed, member
    Do any of these configurations come with strictly SSD's and no Fusion Drive? The reason I ask is that one has to look at the future since who wants to buy a new iMac with ancient technology in it like a spinning HD.
    macplusplusargonautikomrad
  • Reply 2 of 24
    Do any of these configurations come with strictly SSD's and no Fusion Drive? The reason I ask is that one has to look at the future since who wants to buy a new iMac with ancient technology in it like a spinning HD.
    Right now the coupon and instant rebates extend to configurations with a Fusion Drive, but stay tuned for discounts on configs with only an SSD. As soon as deals are available, we'll include them in our Price Guide, so be sure to check back.
    mmatzcurtis hannahwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 24
    macplusplusmacplusplus Posts: 1,919member

    Best budget iMac


    The only issue with the $1,299 3.6GHz quad-core -- which applies to the dual core model above as well -- is the storage. It comes equipped with a 1TB, 5400 RPM hard drive. If the main use for the machine is browsing or Facebook, or other "average" uses, this doesn't matter at all, but this is the still biggest limiting factor to this machine. 
    Absolutely not. This is an excellent home machine. You wouldn't BootCamp a 256GB SSD, the partitions would be too small. 1 TB is the minimum size to run natively both Windows and macOS on the same machine, considering that an average recent Windows game takes about 60 GB of space.

    Ask kids whether they want 1 TB hard disk or 256 GB SSD: all wil cheer for 1 TB hard disk because they have a lot of games to store, mostly Windows ones.. Apple could default to 256 GB SSD on that model but then the family would run shortly out of space: families have a lot of fun, photos, videos, games, music and movies to store in their home computers, 1 TB hard disk is chosen with families in mind.
    edited March 29 watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 24
    VariedThinkingVariedThinking Posts: 2unconfirmed, member
    Looking into the future which in the computer world you try to do with some success. I would stay away from HD's and drop the extra money on a 2TB SSD and get as much RAM as you can afford and what the hardware can hold. 
  • Reply 5 of 24
    Looking into the future which in the computer world you try to do with some success. I would stay away from HD's and drop the extra money on a 2TB SSD and get as much RAM as you can afford and what the hardware can hold. 
    I think that for a desktop machine, a 1TB SSD is plenty. I bought a maxed-out 5k iMac last year and that's the storage I opted for. I wanted enough to hold my OS, a couple of VMs, and my primary apps. For anything else I can hang external storage and pay less for it. For the price of going from that 1TB SSD to an internal 2TB SSD I could have added at least 2TB of external SSD storage and it would be plenty fast. For data (and backups), I have a Synology with four 8TB drives. Over a wired gigabit connection, access is plenty fast.

    For a laptop, however, I would agree that a 2TB drive would be better over the life of the machine. You don't want external drives dangling off a portable machine.
    VariedThinkingmuthuk_vanalingamargonautcurtis hannahwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 24
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,967administrator

    Best budget iMac


    The only issue with the $1,299 3.6GHz quad-core -- which applies to the dual core model above as well -- is the storage. It comes equipped with a 1TB, 5400 RPM hard drive. If the main use for the machine is browsing or Facebook, or other "average" uses, this doesn't matter at all, but this is the still biggest limiting factor to this machine. 
    Absolutely not. This is an excellent home machine. You wouldn't BootCamp a 256GB SSD, the partitions would be too small. 1 TB is the minimum size to run natively both Windows and macOS on the same machine, considering that an average recent Windows game takes about 60 GB of space.

    Ask kids whether they want 1 TB hard disk or 256 GB SSD: all wil cheer for 1 TB hard disk because they have a lot of games to store, mostly Windows ones.. Apple could default to 256 GB SSD on that model but then the family would run shortly out of space: families have a lot of fun, photos, videos, games, music and movies to store in their home computers, 1 TB hard disk is chosen with families in mind.
    I feel like you missed the first half of that sentence you bolded and the following paragraph.
    chemengin
  • Reply 7 of 24
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 7,438member
    Looking into the future which in the computer world you try to do with some success. I would stay away from HD's and drop the extra money on a 2TB SSD and get as much RAM as you can afford and what the hardware can hold. 
    Blathering nonsense. It all depends on what you are going to be doing with the machine. Typical home use would be email, browsing, online shopping, social media, downloading some photos, and maybe watching a few movies. Maybe Quicken for finances, Office 365 for the rest. The lowest priced 21.5 iMac with a 5400 RPM spinning drive would be more than enough for those tasks. Don’t try to impose your needs and wants on typical market. If you want all the bells and whistles, fine, buy them.  
    edited March 29 mike1muthuk_vanalingamargonautbaconstangcyberzombiewatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 24
    macplusplusmacplusplus Posts: 1,919member

    Best budget iMac


    The only issue with the $1,299 3.6GHz quad-core -- which applies to the dual core model above as well -- is the storage. It comes equipped with a 1TB, 5400 RPM hard drive. If the main use for the machine is browsing or Facebook, or other "average" uses, this doesn't matter at all, but this is the still biggest limiting factor to this machine. 
    Absolutely not. This is an excellent home machine. You wouldn't BootCamp a 256GB SSD, the partitions would be too small. 1 TB is the minimum size to run natively both Windows and macOS on the same machine, considering that an average recent Windows game takes about 60 GB of space.

    Ask kids whether they want 1 TB hard disk or 256 GB SSD: all wil cheer for 1 TB hard disk because they have a lot of games to store, mostly Windows ones.. Apple could default to 256 GB SSD on that model but then the family would run shortly out of space: families have a lot of fun, photos, videos, games, music and movies to store in their home computers, 1 TB hard disk is chosen with families in mind.
    I feel like you missed the first half of that sentence you bolded and the following paragraph.
    Gaming is not an "average" use, it is a specific use, and that machine offers an adequate minimum for gaming on both Windows and macOS. It can be upgraded to 1 TB Fusion drive + i7 + 4 GB of GPU RAM for just $200 to get better than minimum gaming experience. I agree with both before and after that sentence, but given that you usually forget BootCampers in your evaluations I just wanted to emphasize that 1 TB is the minimum to BootCamp, so there is a reason Apple has defaulted to that instead of 256 SSD.
    edited March 29
  • Reply 9 of 24
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,967administrator

    Best budget iMac


    The only issue with the $1,299 3.6GHz quad-core -- which applies to the dual core model above as well -- is the storage. It comes equipped with a 1TB, 5400 RPM hard drive. If the main use for the machine is browsing or Facebook, or other "average" uses, this doesn't matter at all, but this is the still biggest limiting factor to this machine. 
    Absolutely not. This is an excellent home machine. You wouldn't BootCamp a 256GB SSD, the partitions would be too small. 1 TB is the minimum size to run natively both Windows and macOS on the same machine, considering that an average recent Windows game takes about 60 GB of space.

    Ask kids whether they want 1 TB hard disk or 256 GB SSD: all wil cheer for 1 TB hard disk because they have a lot of games to store, mostly Windows ones.. Apple could default to 256 GB SSD on that model but then the family would run shortly out of space: families have a lot of fun, photos, videos, games, music and movies to store in their home computers, 1 TB hard disk is chosen with families in mind.
    I feel like you missed the first half of that sentence you bolded and the following paragraph.
    Gaming is not an "average" use, it is a specific use, and that machine offers an adequate minimum for gaming on both Windows and macOS. It can be upgraded to 1 TB Fusion drive + i7 + 4 GB of GPU RAM for just $200 to get better than minimum gaming experience. I agree with both before and after that sentence, but given that you usually forget BootCampers in your evaluations I just wanted to emphasize that 1 TB is the minimum to BootCamp, so there is a reason Apple has defaulted to that instead of 256 SSD.
    1TB is NOT the requirement for Boot Camp. You can do it on volumes as small as 128GB. The requirements is a minimum of 64GB for macOS and 64GB for Windows. You're going to be constrained, but you can do it.

    And, gaming is absolutely an average use of the machine. It is one of the most common uses of a computer. More serious gaming, I will concede, though.
    edited March 29 curtis hannahchemenginwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 24
    canukstormcanukstorm Posts: 1,981member
    lkrupp said:
    Looking into the future which in the computer world you try to do with some success. I would stay away from HD's and drop the extra money on a 2TB SSD and get as much RAM as you can afford and what the hardware can hold. 
    Blathering nonsense. It all depends on what you are going to be doing with the machine. Typical home use would be email, browsing, online shopping, social media, downloading some photos, and maybe watching a few movies. Maybe Quicken for finances, Office 365 for the rest. The lowest priced 21.5 iMac with a 5400 RPM spinning drive would be more than enough for those tasks. Don’t try to impose your needs and wants on typical market. If you want all the bells and whistles, fine, buy them.  
    "Blathering nonsense. It all depends on what you are going to be doing with the machine. Typical home use would be email, browsing, online shopping, social media, downloading some photos, and maybe watching a few movies."

    People have iOS devices for those use cases now
  • Reply 11 of 24
    volcanvolcan Posts: 1,791member
    lkrupp said:
    Looking into the future which in the computer world you try to do with some success. I would stay away from HD's and drop the extra money on a 2TB SSD and get as much RAM as you can afford and what the hardware can hold. 
    Blathering nonsense. It all depends on what you are going to be doing with the machine. Typical home use would be email, browsing, online shopping, social media, downloading some photos, and maybe watching a few movies. Maybe Quicken for finances, Office 365 for the rest. The lowest priced 21.5 iMac with a 5400 RPM spinning drive would be more than enough for those tasks. Don’t try to impose your needs and wants on typical market. If you want all the bells and whistles, fine, buy them.  
    I don't know. He sort of has a point. If a use case example is as modest as you mentioned, your money would probably be better spent on an iPad or a MacBook. iMacs are generally used for content creation with the likes of Adobe CC which generally need generous amounts of storage and RAM.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 24
    lkrupp said:
    Looking into the future which in the computer world you try to do with some success. I would stay away from HD's and drop the extra money on a 2TB SSD and get as much RAM as you can afford and what the hardware can hold. 
    Blathering nonsense. It all depends on what you are going to be doing with the machine. Typical home use would be email, browsing, online shopping, social media, downloading some photos, and maybe watching a few movies. Maybe Quicken for finances, Office 365 for the rest. The lowest priced 21.5 iMac with a 5400 RPM spinning drive would be more than enough for those tasks. Don’t try to impose your needs and wants on typical market. If you want all the bells and whistles, fine, buy them.  
    A guy gives his opinion on what he would do and you call it "Blathering nonsense". You do realize it's possible to respond to a comment without pouring self-rightous sauce all over yourself. Try words like "I disagree because..."

    I disagree with your comment because as mentioned by others, email, browsing, online shopping, social media and the other light-weight use cases you mentioned can all be done on a phone which 99% of us all have. I would go with the SSD on an iMac. Spinning disks on computers need to go away.
    chemenginMacPro
  • Reply 13 of 24
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 7,438member
    volcan said:
    lkrupp said:
    Looking into the future which in the computer world you try to do with some success. I would stay away from HD's and drop the extra money on a 2TB SSD and get as much RAM as you can afford and what the hardware can hold. 
    Blathering nonsense. It all depends on what you are going to be doing with the machine. Typical home use would be email, browsing, online shopping, social media, downloading some photos, and maybe watching a few movies. Maybe Quicken for finances, Office 365 for the rest. The lowest priced 21.5 iMac with a 5400 RPM spinning drive would be more than enough for those tasks. Don’t try to impose your needs and wants on typical market. If you want all the bells and whistles, fine, buy them.  
    I don't know. He sort of has a point. If a use case example is as modest as you mentioned, your money would probably be better spent on an iPad or a MacBook. iMacs are generally used for content creation with the likes of Adobe CC which generally need generous amounts of storage and RAM.
    I’d love to see you offer any data on what iMacs are “generally used for”. Or is it just your horse blinder bias? And who are we to tell someone how to best spend their money?
  • Reply 14 of 24
    I'm still waiting on a real iMac update. Maybe even a modular Mac Pro if is not overly priced. There is no way I'm buying any of Apple's current hardware as most of it has internals that are very outdated and are not taking advantage of the current architecture of the CPU or the GPU.
  • Reply 15 of 24
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,885member
    The next iMac update most likely won’t let you upgrade the RAM, and be impossible to replace the storage, compared with merely difficult now.
    i am thinking this generation is the one to get.
    So, i9 27 inch, minimum RAM, Vega 48, can’t make up my mind between the fusion drive and a bit extra on a small SSD and a thunderbolt SSD enclosure off the back for storage..
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 24
    majorslmajorsl Posts: 119unconfirmed, member
    lkrupp said:
    Looking into the future which in the computer world you try to do with some success. I would stay away from HD's and drop the extra money on a 2TB SSD and get as much RAM as you can afford and what the hardware can hold. 
    Blathering nonsense. It all depends on what you are going to be doing with the machine. Typical home use would be email, browsing, online shopping, social media, downloading some photos, and maybe watching a few movies. Maybe Quicken for finances, Office 365 for the rest. The lowest priced 21.5 iMac with a 5400 RPM spinning drive would be more than enough for those tasks. Don’t try to impose your needs and wants on typical market. If you want all the bells and whistles, fine, buy them.  
    "Blathering nonsense. It all depends on what you are going to be doing with the machine. Typical home use would be email, browsing, online shopping, social media, downloading some photos, and maybe watching a few movies."

    People have iOS devices for those use cases now
    If that is the use case for a low end iMac, I wonder how much it would cost Apple to just start that low end with a 128GB SSD rather than a 1TB HD since storage would be fairly minimal. My mom does all those things, minus streaming movies, and a 128GB SSD would be excessive in size.

    In 2019, only the low end PC makers should be using spinning drives - not Apple.
  • Reply 17 of 24
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,409member
    Waiting for the next Mac Pro.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 24
    MacPro said:
    Waiting for the next Mac Pro.
    Other than modularity, what are the expected distinguishing features of the 2019 Mac Pro? Perhaps it will be a stackable series of modules with a bus connecting them all? I don't know enough about tech to anticipate specific new technology. Maybe 6K monitor support? Faster Thunderbolt? Faster PCI Express? Faster UEFI? USB-D? Maybe an optional module that contains an ARM processor (or 64 of them) that macOS can run software on? I'd like someone smarter than me to guess.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 24
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,409member
    MacPro said:
    Waiting for the next Mac Pro.
    Other than modularity, what are the expected distinguishing features of the 2019 Mac Pro? Perhaps it will be a stackable series of modules with a bus connecting them all? I don't know enough about tech to anticipate specific new technology. Maybe 6K monitor support? Faster Thunderbolt? Faster PCI Express? Faster UEFI? USB-D? Maybe an optional module that contains an ARM processor (or 64 of them) that macOS can run software on? I'd like someone smarter than me to guess.
    OK, I love it but my Trash Can but as you say, I am stuck with very outdated I/O, GPU, and CPU.  It is still an amazing machine but my new Mac BookPro can crunch H265 in minutes that takes hours on the older tech of the so-called late 2013 Mac Pro.  No USB-c and Thunderbolt 3  means a fraction of the speed for mt RAID 0 boxes.  That's enough reasons already but I could throw in the cost of upgrading my 32 GB RAM is not worth it this close to a new model. I don't recall ever waiting this long for a Mac Pro upgrade and I started with the Mac II fx which IMHO was the first Po Mac although I had Mac Plus, SE, SE 30, etc. but I didn't ever consider those Pro machines.  

    I was always both reseller as owning several Apple dealerships but also a serious end user as I owned a recording studio and later a typesetting bureau and graphics design company and a software company.  So I always saw both ends of these issues.

    Funny you mention a 6K monitor.  I recently bought myself the Sony a7 iii which shoots 6000 x 4000 RAW and I was just thinking what a compromise a 4K monitor is when editing in the likes of Capture One (sadly not Aperture).  Stop tempting me ;)

    Yes, I would like to see ARM tech but as coprocessors, in the new model although I'd hope Intel Xeon (dual) remains as well for now.  It would seem a sensible move for programming development. I am torn on GPU tech, I'd love to see the ability to have more than one option as I am hoping Apple will have their own soon but for compatibility, I'd like to have AMD and or NVidea options too with dual configurations possible.

    As to this stackability option, I am open to anything as long as it isn't close again.  Noise levels are important to me as I have so many machines in my den as is heat generation especially.  I'd like to see some innovative heat reduction system such as reusing heat internally for energy creation rather than simply exhausting it, I've such tech in the science web sites.
    edited March 30 watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 24
    knowitallknowitall Posts: 1,453member
    No Mac until its A chip based (seriously).
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