iMac (2019) Preview: Fresh-brewed Coffee Lake updates

iMac 2019 in home office
iMac 2019 in home office (Image credit: Apple)

Apple's just announced new iMacs for 2019. Well, newly updated iMacs. Up front, they're spec bumped versions of the previous models. Beyond that, though, I got to spend some time with Apple in New York looking at the specific updates and hearing all about the modern iMac in general. And, yeah — turns out there's just a little bit more to the story.

Rather watch than read? Hit play on the video above.

Same Design

Old things first. Yes, this is still the same iMac chassis that Apple's been shipping, since, well, 2012. If you've been waiting for iMac to have its X moment — to win its personal war on bezels, to take its screen edge-to-edge, and to skip right over the still non-existent Touch ID for Apple Keyboard and go straight to Face ID for... our faces. Well, you and me both. But for that, for now, we're all going to have to just keep waiting. At least for a while longer, because either it's not ready or Apple's not ready for it yet.

Either way, what we have here is iconic, silver-hued, bead-blasted aluminum, Retina-display packing skinny unibody with that Apple logo unabashedly emblazoned on that chin, all absolutely intact. In other words, no surprises here.

But, if that's perfectly fine for you and all you've been wanting for is some Coffee Lake love. Well, then, good news. Apple has just exactly those new iMacs for you to love.

New guts

New things next. Technically, Apple has two generations of new Intel silicon for you, one of which is piping fresh from the fabs.

iMac 2019 doing video and audio editing

iMac 2019 doing video and audio editing (Image credit: Apple)

Now, I know some people live and die by the spec sheet and others just glaze over and hit fast forward until they see something better approaching real, but since these particular updates ARE spec updates, I'm going to hit them old school style, but real quick.

21.5-inch iMac options include:

27-inch iMac options include:

Which is, yeah, fast. And, maybe, just maybe, dare I hope, better than most Intel updates lately.

No T2 chip, which is the Apple A-Series-based ARM chip that handles security and drivers on the iMac Pro, MacBook Pro, Mac Mini, and new MacBook Air. That the new iMac didn't get the T2 is simply a reflection that this isn't a re-architecture. It really is just a spec bump.

There's new AMD graphics here as well.

21.5-inch iMac options include:

  • Radeon Pro 555X with 2GB of GDDR5 memory
  • Radeon Pro 560X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory
  • Radeon Pro Vega 20 with 4GB of HBM2 memory

27-inch iMac options include:

  • Radeon Pro 570X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory
  • Radeon Pro 575X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory
  • Radeon Pro 580X with 8GB of GDDR5 memory
  • Radeon Pro Vega 48 with 8GB of HBM2 memory

So, yeah, still no Nvidia, but better AMD options than ever, and thanks to Thunderbolt 3 — the I/O is all unchanged — you can hang newer and better eGPU off the back if and when you want to.

For memory, the 21.5-inch includes 8GB of 2666MHz DDR4 memory and you can bump that up to 16GB or 32GB.

the 27-inch is 8GB standard, bump-able to 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB.

For storage, the 21.5-inch iMac options include:

  • 1TB Hard Drive
  • 1TB Fusion Drive
  • 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB SSD

And, the 27-inch iMac options include:

  • 1 TB, 2TB, or 3TB Fusion Drive
  • 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB SSD.

I get the cost at size savings of HD and the aspiration of fusion drives, melding SSD for speed with good old fashioned platters for volume, but my advice on this remains the same as it's always been: Internal hard drives are for suckers. Go pure SSD and then hang any extra storage you need all external like off a Thunderbolt port. You'll thank me when you can just swap out enclosures and never have to worry about taking your whole iMac in just because the platter puttered out.

iMac vs. iMac Pro

On paper, these new iMacs are pretty amazing. So amazing, you may wonder what the deal is with iMac Pro.

Which, fair. The lines are really butting together now in the middle, but here's the thing — they're butting but not really crossing over. At least not yet.

If you want up to 8 cores of blisteringly fast Core 9 performance, the just updated iMac is a beast. If 8 cores are just the starting point for you, then iMac Pro remains your main monster.

Where iMac fits

Computers aren't just bits and atoms. They're important objects in our lives. Some of the most important. And that's especially true when it comes to the iMac.

While MacBooks are by far the most popular Macs, the clean, iconic design of iMac makes it the center piece for a lot of people, especially when they're upgrading not just their desktop but their entire desks.

Whether you have an iPad or a MacBook on the go, iMac lets you stop, and the big screen really lets you take it all in. Photo editing, music editing, video editing, web browsing, gaming, watching movies. There just isn't an iPad or MacBook that can do that at 21.5 inches, let alone 27-inches.

Call it hipster or even silly if you like, but there's a reason you see them on TV shows and in movies, even when there are no deals and the logos are, hilariously, stickered over. And it's because they're so unmistakably iconic. It's the same reason you see them on YouTube channels that really excel at showing off just these kinds of setups, Jonathan Morrison and Daily Tekk come to mind immediately.

In a home office or living room, an iMac is still the gold standard when it comes not just to design, but to a lot of people's redesigns. Speakers, plants, sculptures, books, even the desks themselves are often built off of and around the iMac.

The office office is similar. If you've pumped a ton of money into making your front-of house as beautiful and inspirational as possible, down to the art and installations, the all-in one nature of the iMac, with a back that looks as good as its front, can really complete that look.

And since the iMac runs Office, and I'd argue the Mac App Store is now the best way to get Office, way better than the web, you're not sacrificing anything. Even up to and including Boot Camp and Virtual Machines for full on compatibility. I mean, if you still need it in the age of software as services.

Same for back-of-house, especially for app and game developers and creative professionals.

The iMac panel is just so good once you see your work on that expansive, high density, retina, DCI-P3 display, it's really hard to go back.

Now, I'm not saying these new iMacs are perfect. There's still a ton of stuff I'm wanting and waiting for Apple to bring to the iMac and macOS in general. And I'll have a separate column up on all of that sooner than you might think.

But they're iMacs. Not the iMacs that will be, that a lot of us are waiting for. These are the iMacs that are, just faster and therefore, better.

Alas, I haven't had time to go in depth on either of these updated iMacs yet. I can tell you the displays are as stunning as always and the new speeds seem super speedy, but I've yet to bench any marks, test any thermals, measure read/write, or dive into any of the other geeky details that are really needed to spot potential gotchas, and pleasant surprises both. So, I'll have to report back on when I have spent that time.


If you've been waiting on iMac with all the latest silicon, or to use as the centerpiece for your big desk redesign, these are the iMacs you've been waiting for.

The 21.5-inch iMac starts at $1,299. The 27-inch iMac starts at $1,799. Both are available for order starting today and will be in stores starting next week.

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Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.