Mac Mini MSource: Apple

Best Mac Desktop iMore 2021

If you aren't sold on our favorite MacBook of the year, keep in mind they aren't the only game in town when it comes to Mac. There are also excellent desktop models. Our favorite desktop solution for 2021 is the 27-inch iMac 5K, which is packed full of terrific features at a reasonable price. This model was last updated in August 2020 and includes lots of new features. There are other desktop Macs worth considering depending on your needs.

Best Overall: iMac 5K

2020 27-inch iMac Source: Apple

Featuring an aluminum and glass enclosure with a five millimeter-thin profile, the iMac 5K ships with a matching Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse 2. It's our best Mac desktop of 2021.

Apple offers an excellent lineup of three 27-inch iMac versions, starting with the entry-level model that includes a 3.1GHz 6-Core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 processor with Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz, 8GB 2666MHz DDR4 memory, configurable up to 128GB, Radeon Pro 5300 with 4GB of GDDR6 memory, and 256GB SSD storage.

For more money, you can increase your RAM, processor, and storage. There's also an all-new option to get nano-texture glass instead of the standard glass.

The latest 5K iMac was released in August 2020 and includes Intel processors up to 10 cores, double the memory capacity, next-generation AMD graphics, superfast SSDs across the line with four times the storage capacity, a 1080p FaceTime HD camera, higher fidelity speakers, and studio-quality mics. It's likely to be the last Intel-based iMac produced.

The one negative about this (and all) iMacs is that they could soon get replaced by Apple silicon models. Regardless, Apple plans on supporting Intel-based models for many years to come.

Pros:

  • Beautiful Retina 5K 5120-by-2880 P3 display with True Tone
  • 1080p FaceTime HD Camera

Cons:

  • Price can rise quickly with add-ons
  • Apple silicon version could arrive in '21

Best Overall

2020 27-inch iMac

iMac 5K

Look at that display!

Forget 4K, when you can have 5K. Great internals and a robust display in one package.

Best Entry Level: iMac 4K

iMacSource: iMore

The iMac 4K is only available with a 21.5-inch display, which you should consider before purchasing. The least expensive model offers a 3.6GHz quad-core 8th-generation Intel Core i3 processor with 8GB 2400MHz DDR4 memory, configurable up to 32GB, 1TB hard drive, and Radeon Pro 555X with 2GB of GDDR5 memory. The more expensive version includes a 3.0GHz 6-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor and other extras.

Like other Macs, the iMac 4K ships with the macOS Big Sur update, which offers a fresh new design and other goodies.

When looking at the 21.5-inch iMac lineup, avoid the least expensive model. It's the one without 4K. The iMac 4K was last updated in March 2019, and we expect a new Apple silicon model to arrive later this year. Keep this in mind before making your purchase.

Pros:

  • Less money than 5K versions
  • Two main choices for 4K

Cons:

  • Avoid the least expensive 21.5-inch option
  • New model is likely soon

Best Entry Level

21.5-inch iMac

iMac 4K

Budget choice

You get Apple's impressive 4K Retina display on this iMac model. Inside you'll find less expensive parts than the 5K option.

Best for Hobbyists: Mac mini

Mac Mini M1 ChipSource: Apple

The latest Mac mini is the first Apple desktop to feature Apple silicon. It launched in late 2020 alongside Apple silicon versions of the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro. A more expensive Mac mini featuring an Intel-based processor remains on the market for those looking to add more memory or storage than the M1 version currently provides.

With the Apple M1 Mac mini version, you receive an Apple M1 chip with an 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 16-core Neural Engine, 8GB unified memory, 256GB SSD storage, and Gigabit Ethernet. Memory (up to 16GB) and storage (up to 2TB) are upgradeable.

The Intel version arrived in March 2020 with the least expensive model shipping with a 3.0GHz 6-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor with Intel UHD Graphics 630, Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz, 8GB memory, and 512GB PCIe-based SSD storage. You can upgrade the processor, memory (to 64GB), and storage (to 2TB) by paying extra.

If you're looking at a Mac mini, you are already aware that you need to add a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. In that situation, we recommend upgrading the memory beyond the minimum. Ideally, you should start with the more expensive version, if only because you'll get more storage too.

Pros:

  • Least expensive solution among desktops
  • Works great with all types of monitors

Cons:

  • Remember, no monitor or accessories
  • Can get expensive quickly

Best for Hobbylists

Mac Mini 2020 M1 Top

Mac mini

Look, no monitor!

Mac minis are a great solution if you already have a terrific monitor and other accessories. Otherwise, stick with iMac.

Best for Pros: iMac Pro

iMac ProSource: iMore

First introduced in late 2017, the iMac Pro includes an 8-, 10-, 14-, or 18-core Intel Xeon processor, 27-inch (diagonal) Retina 5K display, AMD Vega graphics, up to 256GB ECC memory, and 10 Gigabit Ethernet. In other words, this is one powerful machine!

Geared towards highly professional creatives, the iMac Pro can easily cost you five figures, depending on your configuration. Only buy this model if you need the expanded resources, like the color black, and a no-brainer, have a budget to support the purchase.

The biggest issues facing would-be iMac Pro buyers is two-fold. First, the product hasn't been updated in three years, which makes a refresh likely. Second, with the Mac Pro (see below) now on the market, the choice isn't nearly as simple anymore.

Pros:

  • Lots of customization
  • Memory up to 256GB
  • Only iMac that comes in black

Cons:

  • Extremely pricey
  • Not for most buyers
  • Hasn't been updated since 2017

Best for Most Pros

iMac Pro

iMac Pro

The one for massive projects

Get your boss to buy you this one -- or get it yourself if you're the boss!

Most Niche: Mac Pro

2019 Mac ProSource: iMore

No doubt, the Mac Pro (2019) is the best professional-graded computer Apple has ever created. Made in the United States, the Mac Pro has been designed for maximum performance and expansion. It features Xeon processors, an Earth-shattering high-performance memory system, eight PCIe expansion slots, and graphics architecture that supports what Apple calls the world's most powerful graphics card. There's also the all-new Apple Afterburner accelerator card that lets you playback as many as three streams of 8K ProRes RAW video simultaneously.

On the downside, no doubt is the price and the unproven aspect of the machine. The 2nd generation cylindrical Mac Pro (2013) was largely forgotten by Apple soon after its arrival. Will the new model go down the same path? Only time will tell.

Pros:

  • Workstation-class Xeon processors up to 28 cores
  • High-performance memory system with a massive 1.5TB capacity
  • Apple Afterburner accelerator card

Cons:

  • Recommended Pro Display XDR monitor adds to the price
  • Overkill for most folks
  • Unproven since it's so new

Most Niche

Mac Pro (2019)

Mac Pro

It's a Pro Mac!

Get this Mac if you want everything and have the resources to build the best machine to suit your needs. Otherwise, stick with iMac as your desktop app.

Best Mac Desktop of 2021

For 2021, we recommend the iMac 5K as our favorite Mac desktop. The model includes lots of great features for everyone in your household and most professional buyers. The entry-level model includes a 3.1GHz 6-Core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 processor with Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz, 8GB 2666MHz DDR4 memory, configurable up to 128GB, Radeon Pro 5300 with 4GB of GDDR6 memory, and 1256GB SSD storage.

Looking for more? Consider the most expensive iMac 5K, which you can now get with a 10th-generation Intel Core i9 processor.

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

Author:

Bryan M. Wolfe is a dad who loves technology, especially anything new from Apple. Penn State (go Nittany Lions) graduate here, also a huge fan of the New England Patriots. Thanks for reading. @bryanmwolfe

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