Apple's Refreshed 27-Inch iMac Looks to Be a Powerhouse and the End of an Era

Why, yes, I am using my dining table as a makeshift desk for the new iMac.
Why, yes, I am using my dining table as a makeshift desk for the new iMac.
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

I haven’t used an iMac in years, but when I unboxed the 2020 refresh of Apple’s 27-inch all-in-one desktop, I admit it: I smiled. It looks just like it always has (or at least the way it has for more than a decade): simple and streamlined, with the same floating aluminum-and-glass design, seriously giant bezels, and the Apple logo etched beneath the screen. It’s almost comforting how little has changed about the iMac in recent years, at least on the outside.

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I’ve been using various models of the 13-inch MacBook Air and Pro for both work and personal projects for ages. Sometimes I use an external display, but portability has been the most important factor for me for a long time. Until now. I don’t travel anymore. I, like many others, am working from home—and have been for months—and I no longer want to hunch over a small screen on my couch. I want a home office with a real desk and a comfortable chair. I want a giant screen to preserve my eyesight. And now I remember how much I loved the iMac.

There’s no getting around it: This design is old. These bezels gotta go. But I still can’t help but like it.
There’s no getting around it: This design is old. These bezels gotta go. But I still can’t help but like it.
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo
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Apple is in many ways pitching the 2020 refresh as the Quarantine Edition iMac: It’s a powerful device for getting work done at home, yes, but it’s also a tool for learning and quickly becoming an expert in photography, music, filmmaking, or any other creative project you’ve taken up during the pandemic to turn a very shitty situation into a somewhat productive one.

But the 2020 27-inch iMac may also be the end of an era for Apple. The company is transitioning to its own custom ARM-based processors for future Macs, with all new Macs expected to ship with Apple Silicon by 2022. And while the company hasn’t said which Mac will be the first with an in-house CPU, or what that Mac would look like, I would bet a large amount of money that the first Apple Silicon iMac will have a completely new design. But the company is still releasing Macs with Intel chips for the time being, including this brand new iMac, and you’d be forgiven for hesitating to splurge on a desktop that might be obsolete in just two years.

All the necessities: headphone jack, SD card slot, four USB-A ports, two Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports, and a gigabit Ethernet connector.
All the necessities: headphone jack, SD card slot, four USB-A ports, two Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports, and a gigabit Ethernet connector.
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

In my early testing of a fully specced-out $4,000 (not including tax or AppleCare) 27-inch iMac with a 10th-gen Intel Core i9 processor (10 cores), AMD Radeon Pro 5700 XT GPU with 16GB of VRAM, 32GB of memory, and 1TB SSD, it’s safe to say that this desktop will be nowhere close to obsolete by 2022—at least not when it comes to performance.

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The couple of benchmarks I’ve run since the iMac arrived on Tuesday indicate that this desktop is a powerhouse. In the Blender test of CPU performance, the iMac rendered an image in 2 minutes and 19 seconds, which is incredibly fast—it’s more than two minutes faster than when we benchmarked Intel’s 10th-gen Core i9-10900K processor on its own. On Geekbench 4, a synthetic test of overall system performance, the iMac’s single-core score of 6382 and multi-core score of 42417 impressed us all. Joanna Nelius, Gizmodo’s resident PC and processor expert, exclaimed: “What the hell did Intel do to this CPU?” We plan to run more benchmarks in addition to real-world tests, but these early numbers are promising.

I love this nano-textured glass so much it makes me angry. So much ambient light! No glare!
I love this nano-textured glass so much it makes me angry. So much ambient light! No glare!
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo
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That performance comes with a high price tag—I mentioned that all those upgrades will cost you $4,000 earlier, right? And that doesn’t include the optional nano-textured glass, which comes at a $500 premium. I absolutely love this glass, though. There’s absolutely no glare, at any angle, regardless of what I’m watching or the ambient light in the room. Bright light streaming in from the giant window to my left while watching Tom Hanks’ dimly lit drama-on-the-high-seas flick Greyhound (on Apple TV+, natch) was no match for the nano-textured glass. Late afternoon sun hitting the display from behind my shoulder wasn’t reflected in the screen one bit. I need this on every device in my life.

Of course, you don’t have to spend $4,000 to get some of the new iMac’s upgrades. The new 1080p front-facing camera seems perfectly timed for a moment when those of us working from home need to look less like warmed-over garbage for work video chats and FaceTime happy hours. Every laptop in the MacBook lineup sports a 720p front-facing camera, and the difference is definitely noticeable. The iMac’s T2 security chip also works some magic here, enabling the camera to detect your face so it adjusts the lighting and shadows.

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The base model 27-inch iMac starts at $1,800, which isn’t terrible, and for that price you get a 10th-gen Intel CPU (a 3.1GHz Core i5 with six cores), 256GB of SSD storage, a Retina 5K display (not new, but a respectable 5120 x 2880 resolution nonetheless), and 8GB of RAM. That might be the way to go if you’re a beginning creator. After you start making that YouTube affiliate money, $4,000 might not seem like such a splurge.

My MacBook’s 720p camera sucks compared to this.
My MacBook’s 720p camera sucks compared to this.
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo
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In a press briefing, Apple highlighted a few creators who taught themselves how to use apps like Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro X during quarantine (while some of us have just been watering flowers daily in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, but it’s fine, I don’t feel like an underachiever at all) and had them demo their workflows on the new iMac. Learning how Nigerian-American photographer Idara Ekpoh used Lightroom and Photoshop to make her Self-Portrait Sunday project come to life and how sustainability vlogger Jhanneu Roberts taught herself Final Cut Pro to make higher-quality YouTube videos was interesting! Do I think they needed the 27-inch iMac to pull that off? Well, no. But I’m sure it was really nice.

The big question is: Do the new iMac’s refreshed guts make it worth buying? Or does the classic (and kind of boring) design make this model a skip?

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I’m still in the process of testing out the new iMac, so stay tuned for our full review. What else do you want to know about Apple’s latest desktop as I put it through its paces? Drop a line in the comments.

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Consumer tech editor, Gizmodo.

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DISCUSSION

“In my early testing of a fully specced-out $4,000 (not including tax or AppleCare) 27-inch iMac with a 10th-gen Intel Core i9 processor (10 cores), AMD Radeon Pro 5700 XT GPU with 16GB of VRAM, 32GB of memory, and 1TB SSD”

That’s not a fully specced-out 27-inch iMac though, is it? You can get it with more RAM, more storage, 10Gigabit Ethernet, and the nano-texture glass.

“That performance comes with a high price tag—I mentioned that all those upgrades will cost you $4,000 earlier, right? And that doesn’t include the optional nano-textured glass, which comes at a $500 premium. I absolutely love this glass, though. There’s absolutely no glare, at any angle, regardless of what I’m watching or the ambient light in the room.”

So...the $4,000 machine you’re testing doesn’t include the nano-texture glass, yet you love the glass because you had it?