When Apple announced recently that it was going to shift from producing computers using Intel processors to its own “Apple Silicon” it also said that it would still produce some Macs with Intel inside over the next couple of years.
That’s just what’s happened with the very first Mac Apple’s released since dropping its Apple Silicon news being an Intel-based upgrade to its venerable iMac line. I’ve been testing out a review iMac for the past couple of weeks to see where it still impresses – and ponder on whether it’s worth buying what might be the last of the Intel iMacs at all.
Physically Apple’s done very little that you’ll notice at first with the 2020 iMac line, for better or worse. Apple isn’t alone in the all-in-one desktop space, but its iMac design remains quite eye catching, with a thin profile and simple but durable aluminium stand that looks great. The 2020 iMac ships with either a 27 inch or 21.5 inch display, and it’s the former I’ve been testing out.
While it’s a design that looks nice, there are elements that irk me that have never changed, and probably never will. The iMac isn’t particularly upgradeable, with only the included RAM being user changeable, because everything else is fused to the primary motherboard. This means choosing your storage is vital when buying, because if you want more onboard storage, you’ll have to plug in an external drive. Apple has shifted over purely to using SSDs in this year’s iMacs where it used to offer “Fusion” drives that combined SSDs and traditional mechanical hard drives, which does give them a potential speed boost.
I’m also not a fan of the way that Apple hides all the ports at the back of the iMac. I get that it’s aesthetically nice, but if you do add or remove USB peripherals or plug headphones in or out, it’s a chore to stretch around to the back, or play the guessing game as you try to negotiate them by feel.
Screen size aside, there’s one other upgrade perk with the new iMacs, in the form of an anti-reflective nano texture coating on the primary display. My review model had it, but after several weeks I can’t say I can entirely see the $750 upgrade in it, but I suppose if you were constantly annoyed with reflection on the standard glass of an iMac in a very bright area it might be worth it.
The real changes are of course underneath the display, where the iMac sells with a variety of 10th generation Intel processors, and optionally AMD graphics processors in the higher end models. My review model featured a 3.6GHz Intel Core i9 processor and a hefty 32GB of RAM, which is on the pricier side of the iMac family.
Predictably it means it’s a very fast machine that tends more towards the professional end of the spectrum. Also on the welcome side is a Full HD webcam where Apple’s “FaceTime” cameras on Macs have been only 720p in prior years. In a year where I’ve been doing a lot of remote working and video conferencing, the difference in video quality jumping from 720p to 1080p is quite noticeable.
Still, there’s that prospect of this being perhaps the last Intel iMac looming over the whole enterprise. Apple has said that the next generation of macOS, “Big Sur” will work across both Intel and Apple Silicon Macs, and while it won’t be drawn on precise timelines, it seems likely that there should be at least 3 or so years of actual macOS upgrades that will still work in an Intel world.
The 2020 iMac is, ultimately, a very nicely built Mac, and a good upgrade if you’ve got a much older iMac.
For those looking long term it’s probably wise to hold off at least until the first Apple Silicon Macs emerge. Given the late in the year announcement of this iMac, and Apple’s statement that it will release a Mac running Apple Silicon before the end of 2020, that’s likely to be a MacBook of some stripe, but at least that will give us an idea on pricing and capabilities – and it’s not as though the end of 2020 is all that far away anyway.