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M1 Apple iMac 24in review: A long time coming

Jonathan Bray
18 Jan 2022
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
1,249
inc VAT

The Apple iMac gets its redesign at last, but it isn’t a huge leap forward in performance terms

Pros 
Elegant and attractively minimalist design
M1 chip is fast
Runs iOS and macOS apps
Cons 
Pricier than buying the M1 Mac mini
Restrictive selection of ports
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Before Apple unveiled the M1 iMac 24in in April, the last time it had updated the design of the iMac was a very long time ago. It speaks to the relative lack of importance of the iMac range to Apple’s bottom line that after the move to the “slim unibody” design way back in 2012, everyone’s favourite all-in-one desktop wouldn’t receive a physical redesign for another nine years.

Back then, if you’d told me that Apple would take nearly a decade to overhaul the iMac’s chassis, I’d have laughed you out of the room. I might have also split my sides had I been told that it would also be powered by the same technology as a smartphone.

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M1 Apple iMac 24in review: What you need to know

Of course, that’s exactly what’s happened here. As you’ll know if you’ve read our reviews of the M1-based MacBooks and Mac mini, the good news is that it’s been a roaring success so far.

The redesign and introduction of Apple’s M1 chip aren’t the only big changes, however. Apple has also introduced a new screen size – moving to 24in from 21.5in –  added more colours to the previously rather drab palette, slimmed down the bezels and added better-sounding speakers. Oh, and it’s also introduced Touch ID on the keyboard to allow for faster biometric unlocking.

M1 Apple iMac 24in review: Price and competition

As with the M1 MacBooks and Mac mini, the iMac 24in is mercifully easy to buy. The only choice you need to make, after deciding which colour you’d like, is how much RAM and storage you can stretch your budget to. The cheaper variants of the M1 iMac 24in come with a 7-core GPU instead of an 8-core GPU, but that shouldn’t have a huge impact on performance, especially if the 7-core M1 MacBook Air is anything to go by.

Prices start at £1,249 for this particular variant and, at this price, it comes with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. Prices rise in £200 blocks from there. It costs £1,449 to move to the full 8-core GPU, then £1,649 to move to a 512GB SSD. It will cost you a further £200 to boost the RAM to 16GB.

What this boils down to is that the priciest M1 iMac 24in (with 16GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD) will set you back a hefty £2,449. The good news is that it won’t be much faster than the very cheapest model, so you can save on storage by purchasing an external SSD instead.

As for the competition, you have quite a few options on the Windows 10 front, although none of them occupies the premium space quite like the iMac does.

Dell’s new Inspiron 24in comes with the latest 11th-gen Intel CPUs, with Core i7 models starting at a very reasonable £619. HP has a 24in Pavilion model that comes equipped with an 8-core AMD Ryzen 4800H, with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD for £949.

And, if you can accommodate a little extra screen space, Lenovo’s IdeaCentre AIO 5i comes with a 27in display, 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. Its 10th-generation Intel Core i5-10400T can’t match the iMac’s M1 chip when it comes to all-out performance, however.

The killer competitor for the M1 Apple iMac may well come from within Apple’s own ranks. The M1 Mac mini starts at £699 and, coupled with a decent 24in monitor, would come in at well under £1,000 for the same performance.

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M1 Apple iMac 24in review: Design and key features

To say this is a redesign from the ground up would be an understatement, with very little remaining from the old iMac 21.5in. Essentially, Apple has started all over again with this all-in-one, with new innards and a completely revamped chassis.

Where the old iMac’s build bulged gently out at the rear from very thin edges, this model is a flat slab, measuring around 11mm thick across the entire chassis. The edges are, perhaps surprisingly, thicker than those of its predecessor, but the overall impression is of a more elegant and lithe design that’s more in keeping with other hardware in Apple’s current lineup.

The more modern look is partly due to the slimmer chassis, but it’s also thanks to skinnier bezels to the left, right and above the screen, as well as a lower-profile stand, which means the iMac occupies a mere 147mm (from front to back) on your desk. The colours are a nice addition, too, with a choice of seven different shades to go for (our review model was supplied in blue).

I was surprised to note, however, that the bezel around the display isn’t colour matched to the rest of the chassis – it’s flat white, whichever model you go for. As ever, there’s no height adjustment available either, but you can VESA-mount the whole thing if you want more flexibility, although that will cost you an extra £39 for the adapter panel.

As usual with iMacs, all of the ports and connections are located at the rear on the right-hand side, which is a bit of a pain but at least keeps the front of the machine free of clutter. Alas, Apple has taken the opportunity this year to slim down the selection.

Photographers will lament the loss of the SD card slot, as will those who have legacy USB-A devices to attach. At first glance, it looks as if Apple has also killed off the 3.5mm headphone jack and Ethernet connectivity, but it hasn’t. It has moved the former offboard to the power brick and the latter is now on the left edge of the chassis in the bottom corner.

After this, all that remains is a coterie of USB-C ports: two on the 7-core GPU iMac (both Thunderbolt 4/USB 4) and four on the 8-core GPU iMac (two Thunderbolt 4/USB 4 and two USB 3). Fortunately, the power cable doesn’t occupy any of these – it connects magnetically to a circular port in the centre behind the stand.

The design overhaul isn’t restricted to the aesthetics of the main unit. Apple has also redesigned the Magic Keyboard that goes with it, adding a fingerprint Touch ID scanner in the top-right corner (although the 7-core GPU model lacks this feature). This makes authenticating software installs much easier – no more laboriously tapping in your password for every App Store install, you simply dab your finger to the reader and off you go.

As for the rest of the keyboard, it’s also been rounded off at the corners and colour-matched to whichever chassis colour you choose. It’s a shame Apple didn’t think to add a backlight, though, or improve the rather lightweight key action.

READ NEXT: M1 Apple MacBook Air review

M1 Apple iMac 24in (2021) review: Display and speakers

When you buy an Apple product, you know you’re getting a decent display, and the 4.5K (4,480 x 2,520) IPS unit that comes with the iMac doesn’t disappoint.

It isn’t a touch display, which isn’t a surprise given Apple’s steadfast refusal to convert macOS to touch, but in every other respect it’s a wonderful thing to behold. In testing, I found it was capable of reproducing 99.8% of the P3 colour gamut (that’s 140.9% of sRGB) with a highly impressive Delta E colour accuracy of 0.83. Peak brightness also reached 508cd/m², and the display’s contrast ratio was a respectable 1,104:1, too.

As with the MacBooks, the new iMac also benefits from Apple’s TrueTone tech, which adapts the colour temperature to the light in the room it’s being used in, and it will adjust brightness automatically as well. These might sound like insignificant things but, trust me, once you’ve used them it’s hard to go back to a monitor that lacks these features.

Hidden away below that picture of loveliness is an improved speaker array. Not that the previous iMac 21.5in speakers needed much in the way of an upgrade, but with a pair of force-cancelling woofers on each side of the chassis alongside discrete “high-resolution” tweeters, the iMac’s audio system is rather good.

I’d still rather connect my own speaker system for serious music listening – after all, there isn’t much in the way of bass here, despite the fancy woofer arrangement – but for background music while you work, podcasts and spoken word radio, it’s a very respectable system indeed.

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M1 Apple iMac 24in (2021) review: Performance and software compatibility

The real attraction of the new iMac, of course, is that it’s powered by Apple’s M1 chip and, as a result, it’s impressively powerful for the money, at least at the lower end of the price range. It comprises an 8-core CPU running at speeds of up to 3.2GHz coupled with a 7- or 8-core GPU and it’s paired with either 8GB or 16GB of RAM. We were supplied with the 8-core GPU variant and 16GB of RAM.

I ran our usual suite of benchmark applications on the machine, including our intensive 4K media conversion benchmark, which gets all of the CPU’s cores working at maximum click. In this test, I found that, unsurprisingly, the M1 iMac largely matches the performance of the M1 MacBook Pro 13in and the M1 Mac mini.

As you can see from the comparisons, it’s also faster than the previous 21.5in iMac, although that’s no surprise either since the last time that model saw a CPU upgrade was a couple of years back. The more interesting comparison to make is with the Core i7 27in iMac from last year. That machine’s Core i7 10700K desktop CPU pushed it to levels of performance far faster than the M1 24in iMac.

The M1 iMac is fast, then, and it hasn’t struggled with anything I’ve thrown at it while I’ve been using it, including 5K video editing and colour grading via DaVinci Resolve. And it remained responsive even when I ran our demanding in-house benchmarks in the background at the same time as my usual daily workload.

Just be aware that when compared with machines powered by desktop-class CPUs, the M1 doesn’t look quite as impressive as it does when compared with laptops that use Intel’s mobile chips.

There is one more thing to be aware of with the M1 iMac 24in and that is software compatibility. Although most pre-existing 64-bit software will run on the M1 iMac – via Rosetta 2 emulation – applications usually need converting to native M1 code to run at their best.

That effort is ongoing and many major applications have already been converted, including Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, DaVinci Resolve and all the major browsers, plus all of Apple’s own big software applications. However, if you rely on any software that’s even remotely esoteric, it’s worth checking that it will run before you splash out.

One of the upsides to switching to the ARM-based M1, which is also the same type of chip used in Apple’s iPhones and iPads, is that the iMac can now run iOS apps and games. Not every app is available to install – developers have to decide whether it’s in their best interests to do so – but this has worked well for most of the apps I’ve installed so far. You can even pair Bluetooth game controllers with the Mac, too.

READ NEXT: M1 Apple Mac mini review

M1 Apple iMac 24in review: Verdict

I’m delighted that the iMac has finally been given the overhaul it deserves after such a long leave of absence. I’m even more delighted that it’s ultimately a largely successful revamp. The M1 iMac 24in is slimmer, sleeker and faster than the previous 21.5in model, it comes with improved speakers, Touch ID and more colour options, and the price is pretty reasonable. 

However, there are some things that put a dent in its appeal. The first is that the M1 chip doesn’t quite give the same leap in performance over desktop CPUs as it does for mobile chips. The second is that you can buy exactly the same hardware in the M1 Mac mini (with more inputs and outputs, I might add) for £550 less and create your own iMac for less than a grand.

The latest M1 iMac is, no doubt, a fabulous thing, but those two things mean it isn’t quite the slam-dunk winner I was expecting. It’s an impressive all-in-one and an improvement over its predecessor, but the M1 iMac isn’t an automatic no-brainer of a purchase.

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