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Which iMac should you buy in 2020

2020 27-inch iMac
2020 27-inch iMac (Image credit: Apple)

The iMac remains a popular choice for students, home users, and many businesses. Since iMacs last a long time, it's essential to take the time to purchase the model that matches your budget and requirements. After all, you're going to have this computer for a while! Here's a look at the current iMac lineup and the many choices available to you.

The iMac lineup

The Apple iMac lineup was last updated in August 2020 and includes models with a 21.5-inch and 27-inch display. The least expensive iMac begins at $1,099, with the most costly model starting at $2,299. Price is largely affected by differences in display quality and size, processor speed, RAM, and the type of hard drive and graphics card.

The display size

LG UltraFine 5K

LG UltraFine 5K (Image credit: iMore)

The 21.5-inch (diagonal) iMac is available in two display flavors. The least expensive features an LED-backlit display with 1920‑by‑1080 (HD) resolution. All other available 21.5-inch models include a Retina 4K display with 4096-by-2304 resolution, 500 nits brightness, and Wide color (P3).

All 27-inch models come standard with Retina 5K, 5120‑by‑2880 resolution, 500 nits brightness, Wide color (P3), and True Tone.

i5 vs. i7 vs. i9 processor

The current iMacs come with a choice of processors, each better than the next, of course. When looking at processors, keep in mind its number of cores, which are the brain of the CPU. These cores receive instructions and perform calculations: the more cores, the better the performance.

The entry-level 21.5-inch comes with a 2.3GHz dual‑core Intel Core i5 with a Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz. The least expensive 21.5-inch 4K version comes with 3.6GHz quad‑core Intel Core i3 that's configurable up to 3.2GHz 6-core Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 4.6GHz). There's also the most expensive 21.5-inch model that includes a 3.0GHz 6-core Intel Core i5 processor with a Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz that's configurable up to 3.2GHz 6-core Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 4.6GHz).

The 27-inch iMac offers four processor varieties:

  • 3.1GHz 6-core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 processor (Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz)
  • 3.3GHz 6-core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 processor (Turbo Boost up to 4.8GHz)
  • 3.8GHz 8-core 10th-generation Intel Core i7 processor (Turbo Boost up to 5.0GHz)
  • 3.6GHz 10-core 10th-generation Intel Core i9 processor (Turbo Boost up to 5.0GHz)

Upgradable RAM vs. non-upgradable RAM

In recent years, Apple has made it nearly impossible to update its computers after purchase. One of the few exceptions is the 27-inch iMac, which still offers users the ability to replace and upgrade RAM. The 27-inch model comes with at least 8GB of RAM, which you can expand to 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB of RAM.

The 21.5-inch iMac, regardless of model, comes with non-upgradable RAM. It ships with at least 8GB of RAM, which you can increase at the time of purchase to 16GB or 32GB.

SSD takes charge

When it comes to purchasing storage for your iMac, Apple has recently removed all choices except for SSD, at least on the 27-inch model. The 21.5-inch model still offers a Fusion drive.

SSD storage delivers improved performance compared to a traditional hard drive. And because SSD storage uses no moving parts, there's no noise.

By contrast, a Fusion Drive combines the speed of SSD storage with a high-capacity hard drive. By doing so, the Mac intelligently manages what goes where using the SSD storage for files you access frequently and keeping the rest of your digital life on the roomier hard drive.

Radeon vs. Iris

With iMac graphics cards, Apple offers solutions from AMD and Intel. However, you can only make changes in the most expensive models.

On the 21.5-inch model, when possible, you can select from the AMD Radeon Pro 560X graphics processor with 4GB of dedicated GDDR5 memory (default on most models) and the Radeon Pro Vega 20 with 4GB of HBM2 memory. The latter promises faster performance and accelerated video editing, and more.

Over on the 27-inch iMac, you receive the Radeon Pro 5300 with 4GB of GDDR6 memor or Radeon Pro 5500 XT with 8GB of GDDR6 memory by default. The best graphics card available on the 27-inch iMac is the Radeon Pro 5700 XT with 16GB of GDDR6 memory.

Who should buy the 21.5-inch iMac

If you're looking for a secondary computer for your home or on a tight budget, consider the entry-level 21.5-inch iMac. It features an HD display and comes with macOS Catalina, just like other Macs. Keep in mind, however, the 21.5-inch iMac is likely to receive a refresh later in 2020.

Who should buy the 21.5-inch iMac with Retina 4K display

Not everyone wants or needs a 27-inch iMac. For those folks, most will want to select this mode, which features an excellent 4K display. Buy the internals that you need at a price you can afford and enjoy your iMac.

Who should buy the 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display

Here's the best non-iMac Pro you can buy. Featuring a 5K Retina display, this model offers the best internals you can buy on an iMac. When deciding on this model, take the time to determine which internals match your needs and get to have years of productivity and fun, not necessarily in that order.

Still undecided?

If you still have questions or concerns about iMac, let us know in the comments below. In the meantime, happy shopping!

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.

2 Comments
  • In my mind (and my wife's mind) there is no question, get the 27" iMac. Only if you have limited desk space or the price could stop you. When we first saw the 27" several years ago we thought the picture was absolutely stunning, in the Apple Store, sitting next to the 21" iMac, my wife said that she would never accept the 21" after seeing the 27". As far as price, we finally obtain the 27" iMac last November during Costco's Black Friday sale, the baseline model was within $50 of the 21" with the Costco discount, the Black Friday discount and the Costco credit card discount. The Retina 5K screen is superb and with display scaling, the fonts are outstandingly clear. If you were reading a magazine, you could read both pages on the screen at full magazine size with the same clarity as a print edition. Though slightly slower, the 1T fusion drive has not been an issue and was actually an upgrade from my MacBook Pro 256 MB SSD for storage. I do very mild video editing and the speed of the computer is just fine.
  • I registered to iMore because of this article - thanks for the info. My issue is, I have always purchased laptops over desktops, and I have always loved, the current design - 27" iMacs. So now in 2020 and I need a new computer I am really stumped, because I want most the Touch Bar and the newest MacBook Pro 16", but as is the case all of the time for me, with price and specifications to consider, the iMac seems to be the best bet. My most desired feature is the Radeon Pro 5700 XT w/16GB. To help me with my decision, could you rate the GDDR6 GPU option on the MacBook Pro 16" - AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 8GB of GDDR6 memory versus the top option on the iMac 27" - Radeon Pro 5700 XT with 16GB of GDDR6 memory and also both GPUs versus the top option on the MacBook Pro 16" - AMD Radeon Pro 5600M with 8GB of HBM2 memory? - GDDR6 vs. HBM2, while using the most demanding media and entertainment software such as Avid, Adobe CC, Autodesk and Games? My questions don't stop there, and I don't get helpful answers from customer representatives so I'll ask one more from you - I want to spend the least amount of money, and still be future proof - like, how much CPU memory is really really really the minimum required to use ALL media and entertainment software? Lastly and web links to these questions will be helpful. Thanks! I'll keep reading iMore!!! I'm registered as D0123456789.