Best Mac Desktop for Students iMore 2019

Students don't have a lot of choices when it comes to buying a Mac desktop. Of those that are available, we recommend the 21.5-inch iMac 4K (2019). There are other options worth considering depending on your needs.

Best Overall: 21.5-inch iMac 4K (2019)

Featuring an aluminum and glass enclosure with a five millimeter-thin profile, the iMac 4K ships with a matching Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse 2. The iMac 4K (2019) that we're recommending comes with a 3.0GHz 6-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz, 8GB 2666MHz DDR4 memory, Radeon Pro 560X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory, and 1TB Fusion Drive for storage. You can upgrade any of these for more money. Our tip: splurge on the memory, if you can, which is available up to 32GB.

The iMac 4K (2019) ships with the macOS Mojave (upgradeable to macOS Catalina), which includes a system-wide dark mode for the first time and new privacy controls. The current version of macOS also includes three iOS apps jumping to Mac for the first time: Home, News, and Stocks. There's also a new desktop Stacks feature and improvements to Finder.

There's nothing negative to note about this desktop, except knowing it's the most expensive 21.5-inch iMac currently on the market. Additionally, if you've been counting on a 27-inch model, you'll no doubt be disappointed with this one.


  • 4K Retina
  • Fusion drive


  • Only con would be the display size
  • Most expensive 21.5-inch model

Best Overall

21.5-inch iMac 4K (2019)

Best for most students

Your dorm or apartment will love this computer, which can remain a prominent fixture for your entire college career.

Best Value All-In-One: 21.5-inch iMac 4K (entry-level)

For $200 less, you can purchase this entry-level iMac 4K Retina model, which offers a 3.6GHz quad-core 8th-generation Intel Core i3 processor, 8GB DDR4 memory, Radeon Pro 555X with 2GB of GDDR5 memory, and 1TB Serial ATA Drive. This iMac model is the one you should buy in a pinch if you can't wait to purchase our overall winner.

Don't start upgrading the internals, however. By doing so, you'll start adding more costs that could make it more expensive than our recommended model.


  • Less money
  • Still a 4K monitor


  • i3 vs i5 processor
  • No Fusion drive

Best Value All-In-One

21.5-inch iMac 4K (entry-level)

Budget choice

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

Best Budget: Mac mini (2018)

Mac mini

In late 2018, Apple released the fourth-generation Mac mini, nearly four years after the last model was revealed. The least expensive model offers a 3.6GHz quad-core 8th-generation Intel Core i3 processor with 8GB 2666MHz DDR4 memory, and 128GB PCIe-based SSD storage, while the more expensive version starts with a 3.0GHz 6-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor and 256GB PCIe-based SSD storage.

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 (once again) recommend upgrading the memory from the minimum. Ideally, you should start with the more expensive version, if only because you'll get more storage.


  • Least expensive solution
  • Recently updated


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

Best Budget

Mac mini (2018)

Look, no monitor!

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

Best Large Display: 27-inch iMac 5K (2019) entry

2019 iMac 4K

The entry-level 27-inch iMac 5K offers fantastic features, including a 3.0GHz 6-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz, 8GB 2666MHz DDR4 memory, Radeon Pro 570X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory, and 1TB Fusion Drive storage. Like with our overall pick, if you can only upgrade one component, considering increasing the memory size.

For most students looking for a 27-inch iMac 4K, this model is ideal. However, if you plan on using your computer for photography, illustrating, or video-editing, you should consider the next model on this list.


  • Beautiful Retina 5K 5120-by-2880 P3 display
  • Just $300 more than our overall pick


  • Price can rise quickly with add-ons
  • 8GB of memory might not be enough
  • Difficult to move

Best Large Display

27-inch iMac 5K (2019) entry

Look at that display!

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

Best for Creatives: 27-inch iMac 5K (2019)

27 inch iMac

This 27-inch iMac model looks exactly like the one above. Inside, however, you'll find significant upgrades, starting with a 3.7GHz 6-core 9th-generation Intel Core i5 processor with Turbo Boost up to 4.6GHz. You also find 8GB 2666MHz DDR4 memory, configurable up to 64GB, 2TB Fusion Drive, and Radeon Pro 580X with 8GB of GDDR5 memory.

Short of the iMac Pro (which starts at $4,999), this is the best 27-inch iMac you can buy and is the one ideally suited for the creatives among us. If you can, max out your memory; you'll be happy you did.


  • Plenty to love
  • Memory up to 64GB


  • Pricey
  • Don't buy unless you need the extra power

Best for Creatives

27-inch iMac 5K (2019)

Awesome internals

Your friends will be jealous of this impressive beast. Just make sure you really need to extras before spending the money.

Bottom line

It's 2019 and Apple has updated its iMac lineup for the year. Our favorite model for students, the 21.5-inch iMac 4K (2019), includes lots of great features for high-schoolers and college students alike.

The model includes a 3.0GHz 6-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz, 8GB 2666MHz DDR4 memory, Radeon Pro 560X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory, and 1TB Fusion Drive for storage. If you can, upgrade the memory to the maximum of 32GB and enjoy!

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

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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