iMac 5K 2020 vs. iMac 5K 2019: What's the difference and should you upgrade?

iMac 2020
iMac 2020 (Image credit: Apple)

When comparing the iMac (2020) and iMac (2019), we're looking at the 27-inch iMac only. To date, there isn't a 21.5-inch update for 2020, which is something to keep in mind. Both iMac models noted here are built to last for many years and come with excellent internals. You will quickly notice the iMac (2020) is extra special for various reasons.

Some will still want to consider the older model, however, especially if you are looking to spend less cash.

Breaking it down

iMac 2020 with photos

iMac 2020 with photos (Image credit: Apple)

In mid-2020, Apple said it would slowly shift from Intel to Apple Silicon processors for its Mac lineup. In making the announcement, the company reported a few new Intel-based Macs would launch over the next two years. The iMac (2020) is one of those models. Featuring better spec options than the model before it, this one includes an all-new True Tone display, more memory capacity, better processor options, next-generation graphics, and much more. And yet, for some, the iMac (2019) is still a great choice, especially if you find a great deal.

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Header Cell - Column 0 iMac (2020)iMac (2019)
CostFrom $1799From $1793
Display Size27-inch27-inch
Weight19.7 pounds20.8 pounds
ProcessorStarts at 3.1GHz 6-Core Processor with Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHzStarts at 3.0GHz 6-Core Processor with Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz
GraphicsStarting at Radeon Pro 5300 with 4GB of GDDR6 memoryStarting at Radeon Pro 570X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory
5K Retina DisplayYesYes
True ToneYesNo
Optional nano-texture glassYesNo
StorageStarts at 256GB SSD, configurable up to 8TB SSD storageStarts at 1TB Fusion Drive with SSD options also available
Memory8GB up to 128GB8GB up to 64GB
Camera1080p FaceTime HD camera720p FaceTime HD camera
Ports3.5 mm headphone jackSDXC card slot (UHS-II)Four USB-A portsTwo Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports3.5 mm headphone jackSDXC card slotFour USB 3 ports (compatible with USB 2)Two Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports
MicrophoneThree-mic array with directional beamformingone microphone

As you can see, there's a lot to unpack here. The differences between the two models mostly come down to the display properties and available internals. On the 2020 model, there's True Tone built into the display. The previous model doesn't include this option. With True Tone (carried over from MacBook and many iPads), the color temperature of the screen automatically adjusts to match a user's ambient lighting.

The newer model also offers an optional nano-texture glass option for the first time. Previously introduced on the Pro Display XDR, nano-texture glass offers even better viewing under various lighting conditions, such as a bright room or indirect sunlight.

On the inside, Apple's offering a 10th-generation 10-core Intel Core i9 processor on the 2020 model. The previous maximum was 8-core Intel Core i9. The newer model is also available with up to 128GB of RAM versus 64GB on the 2019 model. You'll also find a better FaceTime camera on the 2020 version, improved microphone set-up, and better graphic card options.

iMac 2020 with FaceTime camera

iMac 2020 with FaceTime camera (Image credit: Apple)

In 2020, Apple is only offering all-flash SSD storage, versus Fusion and SSD options on the previous model. The minimum spec on the 2019 iMac is a 1TB Fusion Drive compared to 256GB SSD storage on the newer model. SSD is a better storage solution because it offers higher capacity and lightning speed. And yet, there's no denying that GB vs. GB, the older model, does provide more at the entry-level.

The reasons Apple ditched Fusion in the latest 27-inch iMac is multiple-fold. First, with SSDs, there are no movable parts, making it less like you'll damage your machine. Also, the price of SSDs has come down in recent years. Thirdly, there's no denying a dedicated SSD offers much faster read-write speeds.

Who should buy the iMac (2020) model?

If you're a graphics artist or someone who wants the next big thing, go with the iMac (2020) and upgrade it to the spec levels you can afford. No doubt, this will be the best 27-inch Intel-based iMac you'll ever see (and the last for this display size), and it's the one full of new features, standard and optional.

Who should buy the iMac (2019) model?

At the time of this writing, prices have yet to drop on the 2019 iMac 5K model. However, this won't be the case for long. Therefore, if you're a budget shopper who has always wanted a 27-inch iMac and couldn't afford it, wait. Your patience should soon get rewarded. Plus, understand this is still a fantastic iMac to buy and one that will provide you with years of enjoyment and productivity.

What about Apple Silicone?

Apple's move from Intel to native processors across the entire Mac lineup is going to take some time, and much is uncertain right now. For some, the best move may be to wait and get the next best thing. Others, however, may have no choice but to make a purchase now.

Silicone is likely to arrive first on MacBook. If it does come to iMac sooner, not later, it should initially find a place elsewhere in the lineup. In other words, if you need a 27-inch iMac and worry about Silicone, don't. Choose either the 2020 or 2019 Intel model and enjoy it!

Should you upgrade from the iMac 5K (2019) to the iMac 5K (2020)?

If you already own a 2019 27-inch iMac and are thinking about upgrading to the 2020 model, there's much to consider. Typically, differences between two consecutive model years are kept to the minimum. That's not the case here. Before making a decision, see what Apple (or another company) will give you for the older model and go from there. Really, it comes down to which is the best iMac model for you.

Bryan M Wolfe
Staff Writer

Bryan M. Wolfe has written about technology for over a decade on various websites, including TechRadar, AppAdvice, and many more. Before this, he worked in the technology field across different industries, including healthcare and education. He’s currently iMore’s lead on all things Mac and macOS, although he also loves covering iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Bryan enjoys watching his favorite sports teams, traveling, and driving around his teenage daughter to her latest stage show, audition, or school event in his spare time. He also keeps busy walking his black and white cocker spaniel, Izzy, and trying new coffees and liquid grapes.