M1 iMac Review

Bringing color, and power, back to the iMac line

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4.4

Apple iMac 24-inch (2021)

Apple iMac M1 (2021)

Lifewire/Jeremy Laukkonen

What We Like
  • Powerful M1 processor

  • Looks great with fun color options

  • Beautiful Retina display

  • Magic Keyboard now includes TouchID

What We Don't Like
  • Doesn't have enough ports

  • Base model lacks an Ethernet port

  • No TouchID on base model

  • Big chin

  • Expensive

The M1 iMac (2021) brings both a visual refresh and brand new hardware to Apple’s consumer-friendly all-in-one, with some fun colors and a display you need to see to believe.

4.4

Apple iMac 24-inch (2021)

Apple iMac M1 (2021)

Lifewire/Jeremy Laukkonen

We purchased the Apple M1 iMac so our reviewer could put it to the test. Keep reading for our full product review.

The Apple M1 iMac (2021) represents the first major update to the line since 2016. It’s forward-looking as the first iMac to sport Apple silicon under the hood, but it also hearkens back to days gone by with a fanciful selection of color options.

This iteration of hardware has a bigger display, an upgraded microphone, speakers, and camera, and an optional TouchID-enabled Magic Keyboard, in addition to a number of other upgrades and design tweaks compared to the last Intel iMac.

Having already spent a lot of time with the M1 MacBook Air and Mac mini Apple released in 2020, I was quite curious to see how similar hardware might be implemented in the iMac line. I chose the entry-level model for testing, decked out in a soothing two-tone metallic blue, cleared some desk space, and replaced my regular work rig for about a month.

Over the course of my month with the M1 iMac, I specifically tested things like network performance and gaming benchmarks, but I also used it for work, media, voice and video calls, and gaming. There were a few instances where I had to fall back to my Windows rig, specifically for unsupported games, but the M1 iMac handled just about every other task without issue. 

Design: Colors are back, and they look better than ever

Apple could have taken the easy route and just swapped the M1 hardware into the existing iMac line, but the M1 iMac represents a total redesign from the ground up. The basic look is fairly similar, but the new design has cleaner lines, a uniformly thin body, thinner screen borders, and comes in a variety of attractive colors.

iMac M1 (2021)

Lifewire/Jeremy Laukkonen

The latter represents a bit of a return to form, as the iMac line was once known for its bright, friendly color options, but the last few iterations have been available only in shades of white, silver, and grey.

While the front of the new iMac looks fairly similar to the last version, with a thick bezel and big chin, the similarity fades when you view the machine side-on. Instead of a big bulge on the back to house the internals, the M1 iMac is flat like a tablet. The guts are all located in the chin, which is why it’s still so big.

Expect to invest in a USB-C hub if you don’t already have one.

The stand has also been re-envisioned, as it no longer flares out at the base. It actually looks a lot like the $999 Pro Stand, although it has only a simple hinge to tilt the screen forward and back instead of allowing you to raise and lower it a bit as well. Even without the flare, it provides a rock-solid base.

The USB ports are located on the back of the M1 iMac on the left side. The base model is limited to two USB-C/Thunderbolt ports, while the upgraded version adds two additional USB-C ports. There’s also a microphone jack located on the left side of the chassis, and some models include an Ethernet port built into the power supply. The base model I tested had only the two Thunderbolt ports and no Ethernet port.

Apple iMac M1 (2021)

Lifewire/Jeremy Laukkonen

Regardless of which model you’re looking at, the bottom line is the 2021 iMac doesn’t have enough ports. The four Thunderbolt and USB-C ports found on the higher-end model aren’t enough, and the paltry two ports you get with the lower-end model definitely fall short. Expect to invest in a USB-C hub if you don’t already have one.

While the jump to Apple silicon is the biggest story here, Apple really hit the design out of the park as well. This is an all-in-one that looks great from every angle. It’s a shame it’s held back by a few small issues, like a baffling lack of ports, but that doesn’t stop it from looking great on your desk.

Display: Beautiful 24-inch retina display

Apple bumped the screen size from 21.5 inches to 24 inches for the M1 iMac refresh, and the difference is remarkable. Apple refers to the panel as a 4.5K Retina display, which translates to a resolution of 4480 x 2520 and a pixel density of 218ppi in terms of hard numbers.

Colors also look fantastic, as the display covers the entire DCI-P3 gamut, and it’s quite bright as well. I found myself running it at about 60 percent most of the time, despite the big, south-facing windows in my office.

Performance: The M1 chip continues to impress

The 2021 iMac packs in the same M1 chip first seen in the 2020 Mac mini and MacBooks, and it’s just as impressive here. The version of the hardware I tested came with an 8-core CPU and 7-core GPU, but you can also get the 2021 iMac with an 8-core GPU if you need the extra performance.

Like other M1 Macs, the CPU here is split into four high-performance cores and four energy-efficient cores. This means it’s more energy efficient than a lot of the competition, and single-core performance is remarkably strong, but multi-core performance is only middling.

To get a performance baseline that you can compare to other hardware, I ran a handful of benchmarks. I started off with Cinebench, which has both single and multi-core tests. As expected, the M1 iMac performed exceptionally well in the single-core test and not as great in the multi-core test.

The M1 iMac scored 1492 in the single core Cinebench test, which is only a bit shy of the 1532 scored by an 11th gen Intel Core i7. In the multi-core test, it scored a lower 6893. These numbers are both a bit lower than I saw from the M1 Mac Mini, which put up a single core score of 1521 and a multi-core score of 7662.

After Cinebench, I loaded up GFXBench Metal to run a few gaming benchmarks. The first one I ran was Aztec Ruins (High Tier), which simulates a high end game with real-time lighting and other effects. In that benchmark, the M1 iMac managed to run at about 22 FPS. That’s less than ideal, but on the edge of being playable.

Next up, I ran the Car Case benchmark that simulates a high-speed racing type game. In that benchmark, the M1 iMac managed about 21 FPS. That’s a bit low, but I saw a better result when I ran the less-intense T-Rex benchmark. In that benchmark, the M1 iMac hit 60 FPS.

It’s important to note I tested the entry-level iMac that comes with a 7-core GPU. When I tested the M1 Mac mini with the 8-core GPU last year, it hit about 60 FPS in the Car Chase benchmark, so I expect that an iMac equipped with the 8-core GPU would turn in similar results.

While I had to go back to my Windows machine for most of my gaming due to a lack of compatibility, the iMac performed surprisingly well in the games I did play. I was particularly impressed with how well it ran Final Fantasy 14, which doesn’t have a native M1 client. I was able to squeeze out 30 FPS with relatively high settings and main tank runs of both Tower at Paradigm’s Breach and Delubrum Reginae without incident.

Productivity: Pro users may want to hold off, but the M1 iMac is ready for work

Apple’s powerful M1 chip and a big 4.5K display combine to turn the 2021 iMac into a productivity powerhouse. I used it for my main work machine for about a month without incident, primarily for word processing, image editing, and other productivity tasks. I especially appreciated the size and resolution of the display for image editing. Although I don’t have any specific need for the pro-level wide color gamut, it’s there for those who do require it.

The base level Magic Keyboard swaps in a lock key for the TouchID button, which is less useful.

The M1 iMac comes with the latest version of the Magic Keyboard and the Magic Mouse 2, both appropriately color-matched. The Magic Keyboard offers full-sized keys for fairly comfortable typing, but the key travel is a bit shallower than I like. The biggest feature here is that the keyboard comes with an optional TouchID button.

While the TouchID option isn't available with the base-level model I tested, I know from experience with the M1 MacBook Air that the inclusion of TouchID is a big productivity boost as it allows you to skip entering passwords and easily swap users. The base level Magic Keyboard swaps in a lock key for the TouchID button, which is less useful.

Apple iMac M1 (2021)

Lifewire/Jeremy Laukkonen

The Magic Mouse 2 that comes with the M1 iMac is the same mouse that’s been around since 2015, with one minor tweak. The glass top is still while, but the sides and bottom are color-matched to your iMac. The lightning charger connector is still inexplicably located on the bottom, so you can’t use it while charging, and it feels uncomfortably small in my hand.

Audio: Excellent built-in speakers and decent Bluetooth for wireless headphones

The 2021 iMac packs in a surprisingly competent six-speaker system, with support for spatial audio, into its thin frame. I’m a habitual headphone-and-earbud user, but I found the built-in speakers to be more than adequate in a pinch.

The speakers are loud enough to fill a large room, and I didn’t notice so much as a hint of distortion even at high volumes. There’s even a bit more bass there than I expected, though a decent set of bookshelf speakers or headphones still provide a superior listening experience.

The 2021 iMac packs in a surprisingly competent six speaker system, with support for spatial audio, into its thin frame.

Apple iMac M1 (2021)

Lifewire/Jeremy Laukkonen

If you do want to use headphones, the 2021 iMac features an audio jack on the left side of the frame. It also has built-in Bluetooth connectivity, so you can hook up your favorite pair of headphones.

Network: Great speeds over Ethernet and Wi-Fi 6

The 2021 M1 iMac doesn’t have a built-in Ethernet connection, but some models do come with an Ethernet connection in the power brick. Every version supports Wi-Fi 6 though, with backwards compatibility to Wi-Fi 5 if you haven’t upgraded your router yet. I spent most of my time with the iMac connected to an Eero Wi-Fi 5 network that I use because range is more important to me than speed, but I also tested it on a Wi-Fi 6 network and with an Ethernet adapter.

Network speeds were excellent, across the board, compared to other devices I’ve used and tested.

In addition to Wi-Fi and wired connections, the M1 iMac also features Bluetooth 5.0. The Bluetooth connection is primarily used to connect the Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse 2, but I also used it with a pair of AirPods Pro and my Avantree Ario Podio headphones. Sound quality and range were both excellent thanks to the Bluetooth 5.0 support, and I was able to listen to music and podcasts throughout my house.

Camera: 1080P FaceTime camera 

The M1 iMac packs in a 1080P full HD FaceTime camera that’s backed up by Apple’s M1 image signal processor. In practical terms, the camera turns in a uniformly decent image in a variety of light conditions—including low light where a lot of webcams really struggle. It’s a big improvement over the camera included with the MacBook Pro, although the image can look a bit soft or washed out in some lighting conditions.

Paired with the improved camera, the M1 iMac also includes a massively improved built-in microphone array. The three high-quality microphones leverage directional beamforming and a high signal-to-noise ratio to turn in surprisingly good results. 

Software: Big Sur with some beautiful custom backgrounds

Like the first round of M1 Macs, the 2021 iMac ships with macOS 11.4 Big Sur. Apple built this version of macOS with the M1 hardware in mind, and each update has come with M1-only improvements. First and foremost, it has the ability to run iPhone and iPad apps natively, and the ability to run legacy Intel Mac apps via Rosetta 2.

Support for mobile apps is a little spotty, as a lot of apps don’t show up in the Mac App store. For example, smash hit Zelda-clone Genshin Impact isn’t available despite the fact it now supports controllers. Legacy Intel Mac app support is a lot better, and I didn’t run into any trouble running apps through Rosetta 2. Most notably, Photoshop ran without a hitch, and the Final Fantasy 14 client also ran surprisingly well.

Photoshop and other popular apps are slated to eventually get M1 support, but I’ve found Rosetta 2 to deliver more than acceptable performance in the meantime.

What’s New: Apple’s M1 chip and a visual refresh

The iMac (2021) has received a laundry list of changes and updates since the last entry in the line back in 2016. The biggest news is the inclusion of Apple silicon in the form of the M1 chip, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

The overall design of the M1 iMac has been significantly revamped. Colors are back, and it has a 24-inch display, increased from 21.5-inch, despite the overall form factor being very similar. The speakers, microphone, and camera have all received big improvements as well, with the camera having been updated from a mediocre 720p shooter to a full HD 1080p sensor backed up by advanced image processing. 

Price: Expensive, but built to last

With an MSRP of $1,299.00 for the base model, and prices just going up from there, the M1 iMac is undeniably expensive. You can get a 24-inch Windows all-in-one for a lot less than that, but the iMac justifies its price with superior capabilities and styling. The combination of convenience and power makes this well worth the price tag.

Apple iMac M1 (2021)

Lifewire/Jeremy Laukkonen

M1 iMac (2021) vs. M1 Mac mini

This might seem like an odd comparison, but it’s an important one. The 2021 iMac and 2020 Mac mini have very similar hardware, with the major difference being the iMac is an all-in-one with a beautiful display, while the Mac mini doesn’t have a built-in display.

The reason this is an important comparison is the base 2020 Mac mini has an MSRP of $699.00, while an iMac with the same CPU and GPU has an MSRP of $1,499.00. That means you could feasibly pair a Mac mini with a 28-inch 4K display like the Asus VP28UQG and save about $500 compared to just buying an iMac.

While the M1 Mac mini is a powerful little machine with a great price tag, the iMac has a big advantage in its simplicity. It works right out of the box, without needing to shop for or set up any additional hardware, and it looks really nice too. It also has great speakers and a fantastic FaceTime cam, which you won’t get from a budget third party monitor.

Final Verdict

Trade in your Intel iMac for a splash of color.

The new iMac (M1, 2021) is a massive improvement over its predecessor, offering excellent performance, a beautiful Retina display, great sound, and a slick, colorful look. Power users who need more memory or a more powerful graphics chip may want to wait for an update to the iMac Pro line, but just about everyone else should be satisfied by this hardware.

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Specs

  • Product Name iMac 24-inch (2021)
  • Product Brand Apple
  • MPN MGPC3LL/A
  • Release Date April 2021
  • Weight 9.83 lbs.
  • Product Dimensions 21.5 x 18.1 x 5.8 in.
  • Color Blue, green, orange, pink, purple, silver, or yellow
  • Price $1,299.00 - $1,699.00
  • CPU Apple M1 chip (8-core CPU w/7 or 8-core GPU and 16-core Neural Engine)
  • Memory 8-16 GB (8GB as tested)
  • Storage 256GB to 2TB
  • Ports 2x Thunderbolt as configured (2x Thunderbolt, 2x USB-C, and 1x Ethernet optional configuration)
  • Display Resolution 4480 x 2520
  • Pixel Density 218 PPI
  • Display Type Retina
  • Wireless Connectivity Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0
  • Camera 1080p FaceTime HD camera w/M1 image signal processor
  • Software iOS 11 Big Sur
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