Apple today updated its iMac line with up to 8-core Intel 9th-generation processors for the first time and powerful Vega graphics options, delivering dramatic increases in both compute and graphics performance. From consumers to pros alike, users will notice their iMac is faster for everyday tasks all the way up to the most demanding pro workloads. This boost in performance, combined with its gorgeous Retina display, sleek all-in-one design, quiet operation, fast storage and memory, modern connectivity and macOS Mojave, makes iMac the world’s best desktop.
Let’s talk about specs.
All 27-inch 5K iMacs now start with six cores. The two lower models with 8th generation Intel i5s, while the $2,299 SKU comes with 9th-gen chips. The 5K iMac can be optioned with a 8-core Intel i9 for a few hundred dollars.
Interestingly, the only way to get an i7 iMac is to custom-build a 21.5-inch 4K machine. Here, the base machine comes with a quad-core i3, while the $1,499 4K iMac comes with a six-core i5.
All Retina iMacs come with Radeon Pro GPUs with GDDR5 memory, but custom-built machines can be outfitted with Vega parts. The 4K machine can ship with a Radeon Pro Vega 20 GPU with 4 GB HBM2 memory; the 5K machine gets a Vega 48 and 8 GB HBM2 memory.
While still shy of what’s in the iMac Pro, these GPUs mean the regular iMac has a lot more grunt in terms of video processing.
The iMac is still shy of the iMac Pro’s $4,999 price point, but like before, a fully decked out iMac will cross that line. For $5,249, you can get an iMac with an 8-core i9, 64 GB of RAM, 2 TB of SSD storage and the Vega 48 GPU. My entry-level iMac Pro has less RAM and a smaller SSD, but should still outperform this machine in most tasks — especially those that are multithreaded. The iMac is still going to beat it in singlethreaded tasks, however.
A Complaint About Storage
Every 27-inch iMac comes standard with a Fusion Drive — even at the top end of the range. It’s $100 to go from a 2 TB Fusion Drive to a 512 GB SSD, and over $1,000 to match the Fusion Drive’s capacity. I understand why Apple continues to do this, but I wish it wasn’t so.
Here are the default storage options for the 27-inch machines:
My bigger problem is with the 21.5-inch machines. The non-Retina machine and the entry-level 4K model both come with 1 TB hard drives spinning at a pitiful 5400 RPM, which really take the wind out of the sails when it comes to performance. Just look at these default options:
If we can’t live in an all-SSD world yet, I would like to see these slower systems put out to pasture. A spinning drive really brings these machines to their knees. There’s nothing like seeing the spinning beach ball on a brand-new iMac.
Modernizing the iMac? Check Back Later.
While the new CPU and GPU options are welcome, they are all that is really new about these machines. They use the same case design, which harkens back to the Late 2012 iMacs. This includes the same cooling system, which worries me.
Before I bought my iMac Pro in December 2017, I tried out an i7 iMac with the 5K display. The fan would loudly spin up under any load, making it untenable for recording audio. I can’t imagine that the 8-core i9 will do any better. If you value a quiet desktop, you may be in for a surprise here.
Then there’s the matter of the T2 chip which is noticeably absent from these machines. That means that all the security benefits it brings are not available on Apple’s most popular desktop models. The iMac doesn’t have the secure boot capabilities and fast (and encrypted!) data access1 that something like the MacBook Air boasts.
That’s … not great.
All in all, today’s iMacs are a spec bump. While I’m pumped to see the iMac continue to get more powerful CPU and GPU options, I was wanting Apple to modernize the iMac, bringing it in line with its other machines. There’s always next time, I suppose.
- Moving to the T2 would require an all-SSD lineup, which Apple manages to fit into things like the Mac mini. ↩