SCIENCE NEWS: 24-inch M1 iMac buying guide: Everything you need to know

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Apple’s new M1 iMac is now available and we totally understand that you want to buy one. It’s easily Apple’s coolest desktops in years, but choosing which one to buy is about more than just picking your favorite color. So follow our guide and spend your money wisely.

Where to get a deal on a 24-inch iMac

With the holiday shopping season underway, there could be sales on the 24-inch iMac. We have a separate article that highlights pre-Black Friday deals. And when the Black Friday sales start, we’ll post an article covering those.

What’s standard on all three iMac models

Before we start getting into the differences, let’s take a look at the features that are the same on all three models of the 24-inch iMac.

4.5K Retina display (support for 1 billion colors, 500 nits brightness, P3 color gamut, True Tone)
M1 processsor
8GB RAM (16GB upgrade available)
1080p FaceTime HD camera
Six speaker system
Three-microphone array
3.5mm audio jack
Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0

That’s a lot of computer no matter which model you buy. But there are key differences between the $1,299, $1,499, and $1,699 iMac models.


24-inch iMac: Design and colors

All of the iMac models have the same all-in-one design, measuring 21.5 x 18.1 x 5.8 inches and weighing about 10 pounds, which is quite impressive for such a powerful desktop PC. But the color options are different, with the higher configurations getting a few extra options.

iMac model
$1,299 24-inch iMac
blue, green, pink, silver
$1,499 24-inch iMac
blue, green, pink, silver, orange, purple, yellow
$1,699 24-inch iMac
blue, green, pink, silver, orange, purple, yellow

Currently, the orange, purple, and yellow iMacs are available only through Apple’s online store. However, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman tweeted that Apple will soon announce that all of the 24-inch iMac colors will be available at the Apple Store.

Our pick: If you absolutely, positively must have an orange iMac, you absolutely, positively must spend the extra cash. (It does look fabulous.) Most people aren’t into fancy colors and will go with the silver one. We have a pink one in the office, and while the front is pink, the back is a deep red that looks great.

24-inch iMac: Graphics (GPU)

All three models have an 8-core M1 CPU, but the graphics processor (GPU) is different in the $1,299 iMac.

iMac model
CPU cores  
GPU cores  
$1,299 24-inch iMac
$1,499 24-inch iMac
$1,699 24-inch iMac

The $1,299 iMac has one fewer GPU core than the other two models. To get an idea of how the 7-core and 8-core GPU compare, let’s take a look at benchmarks from the MacBook Air review by Macworld U.K. They tested both the $999 MacBook Air with a 7-core GPU and the $1,249 MacBook Air 8-core GPU. Here’s how the Geekbench test results compare.

iMac model
Geekbench 5 OpenCL
 Geekbench 5 Metal
7-core GPU MacBook Air
8-core GPU MacBook Air
Geekbench 5 OpenCL and Metal results are scores. High scores are better.

OpenCL and Metal are frameworks that are used to render graphics. These tests show how fast each GPU can perform. The 8-core GPU shows a 10 percent increase over the 7-core GPU in Geekbench’s OpenCL test. With Metal, the improvement is 8 percent. Keep in mind that these are benchmark tests designed to stress out and make heavy demands of the GPU, so while you may notice a slight difference if you’re playing an action-packed video game, when it comes to everyday use—web browsing, email, editing your photos, etc.— you won’t notice the difference at all.

Our pick:  You’re getting a great chip and solid graphics performance no matter which model you buy, so the GPU shouldn’t be the overwhelming factor when deciding which 24-inch iMac to buy.

24-inch iMac: Thunderbolt and USB ports

All three 24-inch iMac models have two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports. However, that’s all you get on the $1,299 model. The $1,499 and $1,699 models also have a pair of USB 3 ports, which will be useful if you have a few peripheral devices to connect. None of the iMac models have any USB-A ports, which is a bummer, but they all have a headphone jack on the left side.

The $1,299 M1 iMac (left) has two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports. Tthe $1,499 and $1,699 M1 iMac (right) has those same ports, in addition to two USB-3 ports. 


Our take:  Obviously, if you are only connecting one or two items to your Mac, two ports will suffice. But two ports on a desktop machine is extremely limiting, so you’ll likely need to invest in a Thunderbolt hub, a device that is essentially a box that has several different ports on it, acting as an adapter for your devices. For example, we reviewed the Corsair TBT100 Thunderbolt 3 Dock ($250), that you could connect to the iMac’s Thunderbolt port, and it will then provide you with two USB-A ports, two USB-C ports, a gigabit ethernet connector, two HDMI video jacks, and an SD card slot. If you just need more USB-C ports, we love the OWC Thunderbolt Hub, which adds two extra Thunderbolt 4 ports and a USB-A port.

24-inch iMac: Storage

The 24-inch iMac has the usual storage upgrades, going up to 2TB on the higher configurations.

iMac model
Standard configuration
Upgrade options
$1,299 24-inch iMac
512GB ($200), 1TB ($400)
$1,499 24-inch iMac
512GB ($200), 1TB ($400), 2TB ($800)
$1,699 24-inch iMac
1TB ($200), 2TB ($600)

Our pick:  With cloud storage (iCloud, Dropbox, Box, OneDrive) becoming more prevalent, a 256GB SSD will probably be enough for most people. Content creators who deal with large files will want more onboard storage, which means they’ll probably want to upgrade to one of the higher models.

24-inch iMac: Gigabit ethernet

Most people are using Wi-Fi connections to a network and the internet, but power users will prefer a wired connection with an ethernet port to ensure top speeds and low latency. The 24-inch iMac doesn’t have a gigabit ethernet jack on it per se, but you do get one on the power adapter, as you can see below. That ethernet-equipped adapter doesn’t come with the $1,299 24-inch iMac, however. You can opt to get one, but it’ll cost an extra $30.

You get a power adapter with the $1,299 M1 M1, but it’s not this one with gigabit ethernet.


Our pick:  The ethernet power adapter is a cool solution to eliminate desktop cable clutter, but you’ll need to spend $30 on top of the $1,299 iMac. So if you really need wired internet, you’ll probably want at least some of the other features on the $1,499 model too.

24-inch iMac: Touch ID

Touch ID is finally on a desktop Mac! Apple made a super-cool keyboard specifically for the 24-inch iMac in seven colors to match every hue, and it has Apple’s fingerprint sensor in the top right corner. With Touch ID enabled, any time you need to enter a password, a prompt appears and you simply lay your finger on the Touch ID button to authenticate.

However, the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID is only available on the $1,499 and $1,699 models. The $1,299 model does not include Touch ID, which is a bummer. Instead, it has a standard wireless Magic Keyboard that can be upgraded to a Touch ID keyboard for a $50 fee.

The Magic Keyboard with Touch ID is standard with the $1,499 and $1,699 M1 iMac.


Our pick:  We’re big fans of Touch ID on our MacBooks, so we definitely recommend getting it, whether you pay extra or jump to the $1,499 model. A $50 fee isn’t a huge expense, it represents 25 percent of the difference between the low-end iMac and the middle option. So you might as well spring for the higher model.

24-inch iMac: Our buying advice

It’s nice that the 24-inch iMac starts at the same $1,299 as it did before, but with just a $200 difference between it and the next model, we recommend saving up for the higher-priced one. The $1,499 24-inch iMac has the right combinations of features for the price: You get a total of four ports for connecting cables and devices, the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID, gigabit ethernet, more color choices, and a little bit of a boost with graphics processing. If you want Touch ID and ethernet, you’ll need to add $80 to the price of the $1,299 iMac, so you’re only saving $120. We think that money is well spent on the higher model.

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Roman has covered technology since the early 1990s. His career started at MacUser, and he’s worked for MacAddict, Mac|Life, and TechTV.

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