Should You Buy an Intel Mac or Wait?

So Macs with Intel inside!
So Macs with Intel inside!
Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo

Apple launched what very well may be the last Intel iMac this week, and while we haven’t had nearly enough time with it for a full review yet, early benchmark results reveal an absolute beast of a machine (even if our review unit is loaded with enough stuff to bring the price up to a whopping $4,500). If your old iMac has been showing its age or you’re just itching to have something new and nice in that hastily organized home office, you’re probably asking yourself if you should buy that new Intel iMac or if you should wait for an iMac with Apple’s own custom processor rumored to be just around the corner.

While Apple has promised to start shipping Macs loaded with its own silicon later this year, it hasn’t said what those devices actually are, which makes deciding whether to wait or buy even more challenging.

There were early rumors that the iMac would be one of the first devices to get an Apple Silicon makeover. However, recent evidence points to the recently updated MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air, which was last updated in March, as being the first devices with Apple’s ARM-based CPU inside.

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But here’s the thing: For the first time in half a decade, Apple is actually in lockstep with Intel, releasing products that have the latest Intel processors inside. Traditionally, Apple products carried Intel CPUs a year or more out of date—in one truly egregious period, the company was trying to sell laptops with 5-year-old processors at full price.

But that’s not the case right now! If you buy an Apple device it’s going to have a (custom) Intel processor coming from the same generation as its competitors. Despite ARM being just around the river bend, there’s never really been a better time to buy an Apple laptop or desktop.

And no, you probably shouldn’t wait for those first few ARM Apple devices. Will a lot of us probably buy one just to play with them and use an excuse like, “I needed a second laptop anyways”? Undoubtedly. Should you buy the first generation of ARM-powered computers from Apple? Heavens, no!

As with cars, the first major redesign of a laptop tends to have...issues. My original Retina MacBook Pro died a slow death after a spate of display issues. I went through three replacements of a first-generation MacBook Pro with touch bar, and the biggest lemon device I’ve ever owned was a first-generation unibody iMac back in 2009. I keep buying these things because I really like new things, and also one time I touched a hot iron three times in a row before I realized it was hot, so you know I’m not always quick on the uptake.

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These devices often have a lot of kinks to work out, and early adopters are like unofficial beta testers. Even the most diligent in-house testing of laptops isn’t going to catch all the issues that will crop up when they go into wide release. There will be issues. Maybe they’ll be thermal issues. Maybe the new laptops will use some never-before-seen display connector, or a radically redesigned hinge. Who can say what the problem will be! But it will almost certainly exist and that means risking a lot of hours at the Apple Genius Bar.

So why, unless you’re my dumb ass, would you go and buy a brand new, (hopefully) totally redesigned iMac with a never-before-used-for-that-purpose processor, when you can instead get the best iMac Apple has made with Intel inside and wait until all the dust settles? You should never buy the first generation of a device unless you absolutely have to—but if you have thousands to blow, then by all means go off.

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Senior Consumer Tech Editor. Trained her dog to do fist bumps. Once wrote for Lifetime. Tips encouraged via Secure Drop, Proton Mail, or DM for Signal.

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DISCUSSION

1. You should never buy an iMac. The convenience of an all-in-one unit turns into a huge issue if you choose to upgrade the storage in it or have to repair it.

2. Unless you have a very specific need for a Mac Pro — e.g., you make big money off quickly rendering pro video, you have specialized software for MacOS that does sophisticated scientific calculation, etc. — you shouldn’t buy a Mac Pro either.

3. If you need the absolute lightest and thinnest laptop (really?), you should buy a MacBook Air. Intel now, maybe ARM after it proves itself.

4. If you want a quality laptop, you should buy a new MacBook Pro — even if you want to run Windows. It’s that good. And while there are cheaper rivals, by the time you’re buying a quality WinTel laptop the price difference isn’t as much as you think. Intel now. Who the Hell knows if it’s ARM?

5. If you want a compact, well-engineered desktop, you want to buy the latest MacMini with the highest quality processor and the least amount of RAM and storage you can get away with. It’s fully upgradable and third-party sources are much cheaper. It’s not cheap, but the Intel systems are very, very good. Again, ARM is a wild card which may or may not be worth naming later.

So if you need/want a new Mac now, don’t hesitate and choose wisely. And if you can wait for a year or two, you can make an informed choice later. In-between? Don’t hurt yourself riding the bleeding edge of Mac technology.