Got $1,200 to spend on an M3 iMac? Here are the 6 things I'd buy in the hunt for Apple desktop perfection instead

iMac 2021 with microphone
(Image credit: Luke Filipowicz / iMore)

The M3 iMac is pretty excellent, the ultimate all-in-one computer, perfect for a family or a student limited on space. But it's not what you'd call cheap, and going all-in-one can often have unintended consequences. It's not a flexible or modular desktop computing solution, and there are cheaper ways to achieve Apple desktop computing nirvana, as I'm about to show you. 

I've spent nearly a decade either working at Apple or writing about the company, so I know a thing or two about good value Apple computing. So if you want to build an Apple desktop setup that's compact, future-proof, and cheaper than the cost of an M3 iMac, strap in. 

I wowed colleagues with this concept during Black Friday in 2023, but with Prime Day Apple deals close at hand, one of the best Prime Day Macs on offer is the M3 iMac, down to just $1,199. As such, the budget has shrunk by $100 this year. Still, I relish the task at hand. 

The ultimate M3 iMac alternative

M2 Mac mini — the beating heart

M2 Mac mini on a wooden desk

(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / Future)

Just like last year, our budget-conscious M3 iMac alternative starts with the best value in Mac computing, the M2 Mac mini. It might not be quite as fast as the M3, but if you're in the iMac demographic you'll barely notice the difference. This has all the processing power you need to carry out a range of everyday computing tasks, be it spreadsheets, word processing, surfing the web, or anything else. It'll even stretch to a little light photo and video editing. 

Mac mini M2 |$599$499 at Amazon

Mac mini M2 | $599 $499 at Amazon

Under $500 for one of iMore's favorite Macs, what a deal! This Mac mini M2 deal also extends across the range if you want to upgrade your Mac as well – there are significant savings if you want to add more storage or RAM. 

Price check: B&H Photo $499 | Best Buy $499

 Budget: $1,199 Spent: $499 Remaining $700

The display — Samsung steps in

Samsung M70C monitor

(Image credit: Samsung)

We run into a little bit of a problem with the display. Naturally, the M3 iMac is a 24-inch 4.5K Retina display. It's got great pixel density, and we unfortunately can't match it with an alternative. 5K is way out of our budget, so it's going to have to be 4K.

While we're sacrificing pixels, we are going to get a much bigger display, and I've found a corker! This 32-inch Samsung M70C Series Smart monitor offers 4K resolution, and so much more besides. Notably, it includes a SlimFit camera — so we won't have to buy a webcam — but it also comes with plenty of USB-C, HDMI, and USB-A ports. As the name suggests, the M70C is a smart monitor. That means you can use it just like a smart TV. It has smart TV apps and a remote, so you can quickly pivot to watching anything you want including Netflix, YouTube, Disney Plus, and more. It also supports AirPlay, another huge win for Apple fans. Finally, my favorite feature is the Samsung Gaming Hub, a dedicated spot for streaming games without any extra hardware. 

SAMSUNG 32" M70C UHD HDR Smart Computer Monitor|$599$315 at Amazon

SAMSUNG 32" M70C UHD HDR Smart Computer Monitor| $599 $315 at Amazon

This 4K 32-inch display comes with smart features, a built-in webcam, ports, and even built-in game streaming. 

Price check: B&H Photo $449 | Best Buy $449

Budget: $1,299 Spent: $814 Remaining $385


Keychron K4 Pro

(Image credit: Keychron)

You get a mouse and keyboard in the box with your M3 iMac, so we need some peripherals to complete the set. My remit for finding a good Mac keyboard can broadly be summed up as "which Keychron is on sale." To that end, I've found the marvelous Keychron K4 Pro reduced to just $89 instead of $105. Keychron makes my absolute favorite keyboards, and this one is also smashing. It's got hot-swappable K Pro Brown Switch keys. That means it's a great typing experience out of the box, but also perfect if you want to do some mechanical keyboard tinkering down the line. It works with both macOS and Windows either wirelessly or through USB. 

Keychron K4 Pro Custom Mechanical Keyboard|$104$89 at Amazon

Keychron K4 Pro Custom Mechanical Keyboard| $104 $89 at Amazon

This is a full-size Keychron mechanical keyboard for less than 90 bucks that works with both Mac and Windows. What's not to like? 

Price check: B&H Photo not available | Best Buy not available

Last year I went for the Logitech MX Master 2S as my mouse of choice. This year, we're getting an upgrade. The MX Master 3S is the undisputed king when it comes to great Mac mice. It's wireless, features touch scrolling, and works on any surface including glass. The clicks are quiet and it features support for both macOS and Windows. 

Logitech MX Master 3S |$99$89 at Amazon

Logitech MX Master 3S | $99 $89 at Amazon

Logitech's MX Master 3S is widely regarded as the best Mac mouse that money can buy, even with a paltry $10 off it's a no-brainer in our build. 

Price check: B&H Photo not available | Best Buy not available

Budget: $1,199 Spent: $992 Remaining $207


With more than $200 left in the bank, you're faced with two choices. You now have a fully-fledged desktop Mac, replete with a great display, and a mouse and keyboard. If you want, you could cut your losses there and save yourself $200. Or, you could choose to take your experience that little bit further with a couple of very nice accessories. Here are some I've recommended previously. 

Satechi USB C Hub |$79 at Amazon

Satechi USB C Hub | $79 at Amazon

Boost your Mac's ports in one fell swoop with this snazzy Satechi USB-C hub and Mac mini stand. 

Our M2 Mac mini only comes with 256GB of storage, so you'll probably need some extra hard drive at some point. I've found a Samsung T7 Portable SSD packing 2TB of storage and some snappy speeds for $165, a whopping 39% off. 

SAMSUNG T7 Portable SSD| $269$164 at Amazon

SAMSUNG T7 Portable SSD| $269 $164 at Amazon

Get 39% off and secure 2TB of SSD storage for just $165, far less than anything Apple will charge you to increase the storage on your M2 Mac mini. 

Proof, then, that you can buy a brilliant desktop Mac outfit without splashing out on an M3 iMac. Don't get me wrong, the M3 iMac is a brilliant bit of kit, I've always just preferred the more modular and flexible approach of using Apple's potent Mac mini and your own set of peripherals instead. 

That being said, this year the M3 iMac is actually discounted on Amazon, making the choice a good bit harder. 

M3 iMac |$1299 $1,199 at Amazon 

M3 iMac | $1299 $1,199 at Amazon 

With a hefty discount for the first time, get $100 off the M3 iMac, and perhaps save even more if you can unlock the secret $50 coupon before you check out. 

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design. Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9