The latest MacBook Pro and MacBook Air harness the power of Apple's M1 chipset, and now the new iMac has been completely redesigned around it. The M1's power and efficiency has enabled Apple to drastically reduce the size of key components, such as the thermal and cooling system, so that the new iMac is thinner and lighter (and yes, still more powerful) than ever before.
And owing to its complete redesign, the M1 iMac is actually quite a bit different from all iMacs that have come before it. If you're thinking about buying the new M1 iMac — available now, starting at $1,299 — you likely have a number of questions you want answered before moving forward. We answer the biggest ones below.
How does the M1 iMac compare to the previous iMac?
There are two major differences when comparing the new M1 iMac with the previous 27-inch iMac, which Apple released in the summer of 2020 (less than a year ago). The first is computing power. Apple claims that the M1 iMac has improved CPU performance up to 85 percent compared to the previous Intel-based Mac. And having used the M1 iMac myself, I believe it. Whether you're browsing the web, touching up images in Photoshop or streaming shows on Apple TV+ — the new M1 iMac flies.
The other big difference is the design. The M1 iMac has a new thin and lightweight design that's about half the volume of the previous iMacs. On the flips side, the 27-inch iMac looks basically like every other iMac for the last eight years. Also, the M1 iMac comes in color.
Is there any reason to buy the 2020 Intel iMac over the 2021 M1 iMac?
Actually yes! Last year's 27-inch iMac has a few key advantages. It's more customizable because you can purchase it with significantly more storage and RAM configurations. It also has more ports than just USB-C, so there's a change you won't have to use a hub or adapter. And while both desktops have a very nice display, the 27-inch iMac's is slightly nicer with its 5K display while the M1 iMac has a 24-inch display that tops out at 4.5K, though it's unlikely most people would notice the difference.
How does the M1 iMac compare to the M1 MacBook Pro?
The M1 iMac and M1 MacBook Pro are actually very similar machines as far as performance goes because they have the same exact processor. In fact, the M1 iMac is very similar to the M1 MacBook Air as well; the primary difference between the devices is, obviously, their form factor. That, and additional fans help the M1 chip in the MacBook Pro and iMac rev up to fuller potential.
Which M1 iMac configuration is best for most people?
We generally recommend that you go with the configuration next up from the entry-level model — and this is definitely true as it pertains to the M1 iMac. If you go with entry-level model of the new M1 iMac, which costs $1,299, there are some distinct trade-offs. The entry-level M1 iMac doesn't come with a Magic Keyboard that has Touch ID. It only comes with two ports instead of four. And it's not available in all seven colors — it's not available in purple, orange or yellow.
How good is the M1 iMac's webcam?
It's not 4K, but it's a good webcam. The new M1 iMac has a 1080p webcam, which is an improvement on the 720p webcam that's still on all the latest MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs. It's actually a small improvement over the 27-inch iMac's 1080p webcam, too, because of the M1's image signal processor, which helps adjust the color so you look like your best self.
How are the M1 iMac's built-in speakers?
The speakers on the new M1 iMac are actually a big upgrade on previous iMacs. Instead of the stereo speakers that have traditionally been on iMacs, the new M1 iMac has a six speaker system — consisting of two pairs of force-cancelling woofers, each of which are paired with a high-performance tweeter — so there's a good chance you won't need a separate set of computer speakers. Also, it's the first iMac to support Dolby Atmos. (It's not the first Mac to support Dolby Atmos, however, as that title belongs to the 16-inch MacBook Pro that was released last year.)
Can I buy the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID separately?
No, you can't buy the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID separately. And even if you could, Touch ID would only work with other Macs that have the M1 chip. So, if you have an older Intel-based Mac and you were hoping to coup a new wireless keyboard with Touch ID, unfortunately that can't happen. The reason being that the M1 chip enables a secure wireless connection between the Magic Keyboard and the Mac, and that can't be replicated between an Intel-based Mac and the new Magic Keyboard with Touch ID.
Can I use the M1 iMac as an external display?
No. The new M1 iMac doesn't support Target Display Mode, a feature that in the past has allowed you to use an older iMac as an external display.
Can I use an external monitor with the M1 iMac?
Yes, you can technically use one external monitor with the M1 iMac to turn it into a dual monitor setup. The M1 iMac supports one external monitor (up to 6K resolution with up to a 60Hz refresh rate, just like the Apple Pro Display XDR), which is different from previous non-M1 iMacs. For example, the 2020 27-inch iMac allows you to connect to multiple external monitors.
Will I need to get a dongle?
Probably, yes. The M1 iMac only has USB-C ports. The entry-level model has two USB-C Thunderbolt ports, while the higher-end models add an additional two USB-C 4 ports. This means that if you want to connect anything other than USB-C connection to the M1 iMac, you'll need to buy a dongle or an adapter.