Picking the Best iMac to Buy in 2019

Discussion in 'Guides, How Tos and Reviews' started by MacRumors, Mar 30, 2019.

  1. MacRumors macrumors bot


    Apr 12, 2001

    If you're considering buying a new iMac but have yet to pin down which machine in Apple's range is right for you, then keep reading. Our expert guide arms you with all the information you need to ensure the model and configuration you choose is best suited to your specific needs.


    Apple offers essentially three types of iMac, two of which come in several base configurations, and you can customize the internal specifications of your chosen iMac at the point of purchase, so it's a good idea to consider what kind of machine you'll need ahead of time.

    A well-specced iMac should last you a good few years, and apart from RAM on the 27-inch models, you can't upgrade the internal components of Apple's all-in-one desktops at a later date, so it's important to choose wisely. First, let's take a look at Apple's 4K and 5K iMacs, the two models in the company's range that received the most recent bump in configuration and specs options.

    4K and 5K iMacs (2019)

    In March 2019, Apple refreshed its Retina 4K and 5K iMac all-in-one desktop computers, upgrading the 21.5-inch and 27-inch models with new processors and graphics chips, but sticking with the same tried-and-tested design used since 2012, and the same 4K and 5K displays as the previous generation.


    Which of these two iMac sizes you should buy is likely going to be driven by display size for most people, as both models are very capable machines for the average user. The 27-inch model does offer more horsepower, however, so if you're looking for maximum performance you'll want to opt for the larger, more expensive size.

    In terms of connectivity, every iMac comes with two Thunderbolt 3 ports, four USB 3 ports, an SD card slot, a headphone jack, and Gigabit Ethernet.

    Apple says the new 21.5-inch iMac models deliver up to 60 percent faster performance than the previous generation, while the new 27-inch iMac models deliver up to 2.4 times faster performance than the previous generation, narrowing the gap between the high-end standard iMac and the iMac Pro workstation.

    21.5-inch 4K iMac

    Apple sells two base configurations of the new 21.5-inch 4K iMac, both running on eighth-generation Intel processors. The iMac with 3.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i3 processor starts at $1,299, while the iMac with 3.0GHz six-core Intel Core i5 processor (with Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz) starts at $1,499. See below for a breakdown of their key features.


    3.6GHz quad-core 8th-generation Intel Core i3 processor
    [*]8GB 2666MHz DDR4 memory, configurable to 32GB
    [*]1TB hard drive
    [*]Radeon Pro 555X with 2GB of GDDR5 memory
    [*]Retina 4K 4096-by-2304 P3 display
    [*]Two Thunderbolt 3 ports
    [*]Magic Mouse 2
    [*]Magic Keyboard

    3.0GHz 6-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor
    [*]Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz
    [*]8GB 2666MHz DDR4 memory, configurable to 32GB
    [*]1TB Fusion Drive
    [*]Radeon Pro 560X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory
    [*]Retina 4K 4096-by-2304 P3 display
    [*]Two Thunderbolt 3 ports
    [*]Magic Mouse 2
    [*]Magic Keyboard

    27-inch 5K iMac

    Apple sells three base configurations of the new 27-inch 5K iMac: Two mid-range models that feature eighth-generation Intel six-core processors, and a high-end model that boasts a newer ninth-generation Intel six-core processor. The memory in the cheapest base model is configurable up to 32GB, but both the more expensive mid-range machine and the high-end 5K iMac can be configured with up to 64GB of memory.


    The 5K iMac with the 3.0GHz six-core Intel i5 processor (with Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz) starts at $1,799, the iMac with the 3.1GHz six-core Intel Core i5 processor (with Turbo Boost up to 4.3GHz) starts at $1,999, and the iMac with the ninth-generation 3.0GHz six-core Intel Core i5 processor (with Turbo Boost up to 4.6GHz) starts at $2,299. See below for a breakdown of the key features found in the three models.

    3.0GHz 6-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor
    [*]Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz
    [*]8GB 2666MHz DDR4 memory, configurable up to 32GB
    [*]1TB Fusion Drive
    [*]Radeon Pro 570X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory
    [*]Retina 5K 5120-by-2880 P3 display
    [*]Two Thunderbolt 3 ports
    [*]Magic Mouse 2
    [*]Magic Keyboard

    3.1GHz 6-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor
    [*]Turbo Boost up to 4.3GHz
    [*]8GB 2666MHz DDR4 memory, configurable up to 64GB
    [*]1TB Fusion Drive
    [*]Radeon Pro 575X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory
    [*]Retina 5K 5120-by-2880 P3 display
    [*]Two Thunderbolt 3 ports
    [*]Magic Mouse 2
    [*]Magic Keyboard
    3.7GHz 6-core 9th-generation Intel Core i5 processor
    [*]Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz
    [*]8GB 2666MHz DDR4 memory, configurable up to 64GB
    [*]2TB Fusion Drive
    [*]Radeon Pro 580X with 8GB of GDDR5 memory
    [*]Retina 5K 5120-by-2880 P3 display
    [*]Two Thunderbolt 3 ports
    [*]Magic Mouse 2
    [*]Magic KeyboardLike with the 4K iMacs, customers can swap out the included Magic Mouse 2 for a Magic Trackpad 2 for an extra $50, or choose to receive both for an additional $129.

    Display and Resolution

    The main thing that sets apart Apple's 4K and 5K iMacs is of course screen size and resolution. The 5K 27-inch iMac has a resolution of 5120 by 2880, while the 4K 21.5-inch iMac has a resolution of 4096 x 2304, and both models feature 500 nits brightness and wide color support for vivid, vibrant colors and impeccable picture quality.


    Screen size shouldn't be the only deciding factor when buying an iMac though, because Apple has packed its entire 5K iMac range with beefed up internals for faster performance.

    Processor Choice

    Apple has decided to stick largely with Intel's eighth-generation processors in 2019 (Intel has already released a full range of Core i9 chips), but Apple says its chosen processors deliver up to 2x the performance of the previous generation iMacs. The biggest gains in CPU performance generally can be gauged by the processor's number of cores, which is why all 5K iMacs come with at least six cores, and why the jump to Intel's eight-core i9 processor costs an additional $500 on the 5K mid-tier configuration.

    If you're considering a 21.5-inch 4K iMac for undemanding tasks like emailing, web browsing, and general productivity, then a quad-core i3 processor should suit your needs well, but if you're looking to do something more CPU-intensive like gaming or video-editing then it's worth paying the extra $300 on the mid-tier configuration for a six-core i5 processor.

    The story is a little different with the 5K iMacs because whichever configuration you choose you're getting a very decent level of processing power, but if you plan to be doing graphic design or any kind of rendering then you'll likely benefit from a higher-clocked six-core CPU or even an eight-core i9 processor, which is where the real power lies.

    Graphics Cards

    Apple continues to offer AMD Radeon Pro graphics across its entire range of new 4K and 5K iMacs, so if you're an NVIDIA fan then you're out of luck. That said, the new models follow in the footsteps of the 2018 MacBook Pro by offering Radeon Pro Vega graphics options in their built-to-order customization options.

    The 21.5-inch iMac now features either a Radeon Pro 555X GPU or a Radeon Pro 560X by default, but if you want more power you can configure a custom model with a Radeon Pro Vega 20 GPU (with 4GB of memory). Graphics on the 27-inch models include the Radeon Pro 570X, 575X, and 580X GPUs for prebuilt models, with the Radeon Pro Vega 48 GPU (with 8GB of memory) available as a custom option for the highest configuration.

    We haven't had a chance to test these Vega GPUs, but Apple advertises up to 80 percent faster graphics performance with them compared to the previous iMac lineup, so they should be plenty enough for pros with video- or graphics-heavy workloads and users looking to play graphically intensive 3D games.

    RAM Options

    All of Apple's new iMacs come with faster 2,666MHz DDR4 memory, but the base models come with just 8GB of RAM installed, which is considered a bare minimum these days, and certainly not sufficient for most professional multi-tasking workloads.


    Customization options for the 4K iMac range and the lowest priced 5K iMac base model include up to 32GB of RAM (an additional $600), while the mid-tier and high-end 5K iMac models offer up to 64GB of memory, which slaps a whopping $1,000 onto the total cost if you max it out.

    Apple has always made customers pay a premium at purchase for more RAM, but fortunately you can upgrade the memory yourself at a later date, but only on the 27-inch models - the new iMacs include a user-accessible memory slot on the rear, and third-party memory upgrade kits are the invariably cheaper option. Upgrading the RAM on the 21.5-inch models can be done yourself, but it's a rather tricky process and not sanctioned by Apple.

    Storage Options

    The high-end 21.5-inch 4K iMac and all of the 27-inch 5K iMac base models come with either 1TB or 2TB Fusion Drives. A Fusion Drive is basically a Serial ATA drive "fused" with a solid-state drive. Frequently accessed data is stored on the faster flash portion of the drive, while less frequently accessed files live on the mechanical hard drive.


    The idea is that combining the two storage technologies allows users to benefit from both fast access and voluminous capacity at a much lower cost than solid-state drives of equivalent capacity. However, Fusion Drives have been known to throw up issues such as "splitting" drives, and they're still vulnerable to the same mechanical failures at traditional Serial ATA drives, so we'd recommend paying the extra to get an iMac with 256GB ($100), 512GB ($300), 1TB ($700) of solid-state storage instead. (On the highest end 5K iMac base model, Apple also offers a 2TB SSD option for $1,100.)

    Surprisingly, Apple still sells the mid-range 21.5-inch 4K iMac base model with a 1TB Serial ATA Drive running at 5400 RPM. A traditional mechanical platter drive should be regarded as a serious bottleneck for any modern Mac, and we highly recommend that you pay the extra for solid-state storage. The base model 21.5-inch 4K iMac in particular has a 1TB SSD upgrade option for the first time.

    21.5-inch Non-Retina iMac

    Apple still sells a low-spec 21.5-inch iMac for $1,099. This model didn't see any 2019 upgrades and has a slower dual-core Intel i5 processor, a non-Retina 1080p display, and less powerful integrated Intel Iris Plus graphics.


    It's a low-cost option if you don't plan to use your iMac for CPU-demanding or graphics-heavy tasks, but most users looking for a desktop solution are probably better off buying Apple's much more powerful Mac mini and supplying their own display and peripherals. The features include the following:

    2.3GHz dual-core 7th-generation Intel Core i5 processor[*]Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz
    [*]8GB 2133MHz memory, configurable to 16GB
    [*]1TB hard drive
    [*]Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640
    [*]Two Thunderbolt 3 ports
    [*]1920-by-1080 sRGB display
    [*]Magic Mouse 2
    [*]Magic Keyboard
    Other Mac Desktop Options

    Mac mini

    Apple's Mac mini presents an excellent option for anyone looking to buy a desktop Mac without breaking the bank. Not only did Apple refresh the Mac mini in October 2018, going down this route means you're free to choose your display and peripherals separately.


    The new Mac mini, which comes in Space Gray, features quad-core and six-core 8th-Generation Intel Core processors that are up to five times faster than the previous Mac mini, four Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports, support for up to 64GB RAM, and all SSD configurations with up to 2TB of storage available. It also includes Apple's T2 chip for added security.

    iMac Pro

    Released in October 2017, the 27-inch iMac Pro was designed by Apple as a workstation for creative professionals who are looking for an all-in-one desktop with cutting edge hardware and blistering performance.


    As a result, the iMac Pro narrows the gap between the highest-end 5K iMac and Apple's redesigned Mac Pro, set to launch in 2019. It features the same design as the standard iMac, but with an all-flash architecture and a thermal design that supports an Intel Xeon processor with up to 18 cores and a top-of-the-line Radeon Pro Vega graphics.

    As you'd expect, the iMac Pro comes with a premium price tag, starting at $4,999 and going up to over $15,000, but then it is the most powerful desktop machine Apple has ever built. That said, the recent update to the standard iMac means the gap is no longer as big as it once was, and most users should find them more than powerful enough for their needs.

    Mac Pro

    Apple's "trash can" Mac Pro aimed at professionals hasn't really been updated in over five years and Apple says a completely re-engineered Mac Pro is coming later this year, so at this point it's nearly impossible to recommend the current model.

    The Mac Pro largely appeals to a different market than the iMac anyway, so if you're a mainstream consumer, the Mac Pro shouldn't really be on your radar.

    So... Which iMac Should You Buy?

    As we noted above, display size is likely the main factor for most buyers, so you'll have to decide for yourself whether you want the smaller 21.5-inch 4K model or the larger 27-inch 5K model. Both have great displays and will offer plenty of performance for the average consumer.

    Once you've decided on a display size, you'll need to choose your base model and any upgrade options. We recommend going with all-SSD storage if your budget allows, or at the very least upgrading the 21.5-inch model to a Fusion Drive.

    Everybody's needs are different, but we think for most users just looking for a desktop machine to be used primarily for email and web browsing, the default specs are likely enough. If you're planning on doing gaming, video production, or other demanding tasks, then it's time to look toward upgrades for the processor, RAM, graphics, and storage capacities. Fast Thunderbolt 3 ports give you some flexibility to add accessories like external storage drives later, so definitely think most carefully about components like the processor and graphics card that can't be upgraded later.

    We don't recommend purchasing the $1,099 entry-level 21.5-inch model, as it hasn't been updated in several years and was already a barebones machine when it first launched. It's only for those on a very tight budget or for educational bulk purchases, as its lower-resolution display and internals lag significantly behind modern specs.

    Article Link: Picking the Best iMac to Buy in 2019
  2. BehemothManiac macrumors newbie

    Oct 10, 2018
  3. snebes macrumors 6502a

    Apr 20, 2008
    These systems really need a pure SSD, at least for the OS and apps, base model. It’s a shame to have spinning primary drives in 2019.

    The fusion drives were a decent stop gap but it is time to move on.

    I’d love to see an m.2 NVME slot or 2 next to the ram in the 27” model, but that is a big ask.
  4. now i see it macrumors 68040

    Jan 2, 2002
    Very exhaustive coverage of all the options. That was a lot of work.

    I'll add my 2 cents:
    If a person's only need for computing is email and browsing and videos, a 5 year old computer is more than capable.

    Right now, it would be foolish to buy an iMac Pro of any configuration before the upcoming Mac Pro debuts. It's best to wait if possible to see what that machine brings to the apple pie. It'll definitely have jaw dropping prices for higher performance configurations though.
  5. Mad Mac Maniac macrumors 601

    Mad Mac Maniac

    Oct 4, 2007
    A little bit of here and a little bit of there.
    Hmmm... I’ve always been on the lookout for a good time to possibly switch my parents to a Mac. I just don’t know if/when it makes sense. Probably 90% of what they do is internet, with the remainder being light iTunes use, maybe some light Microsoft Word use, maybe some photo-management...

    If I were to ever have them make the switch I’m guessing the best bet would be a 2018 Mac Mini. This seems like the best bang for the buck. Longevity would probably be the most important factor, because they’d probably want the computer to last a decade (or maybe even be their last computer as they are in their 70’s).
  6. Hastings101 macrumors 68020


    Jun 22, 2010
    That 1TB hard drive in a machine of that price is just disgusting. SSD should be standard.
  7. bruinsrme macrumors 603


    Oct 26, 2008
    I was shocked that SSD wasn’t standard with the refresh.
    I was expecting a 256 to be standard with a 512 upgrade costing $100
  8. TheRealAir macrumors member


    Nov 1, 2014
    Woooow, I could go back to 2003 and live in the past with that 5400rpm.
    How can Apple even offer that?
    Kick Tim to the curb, PLEASE!
  9. mam8dg macrumors newbie

    Mar 20, 2019
    I've been debating between a new maxed out 8-core i9 iMac w/ 128gb OWC ram and a refurb 10-core iMac Pro w/ 64 gb ram. I am leaning pretty heavily toward the iMac Pro right now. The new iMac definitely gives you more bang for your buck, but I have a feeling the iMac Pro will be a more robust machine in the long run (and I need the machine to last at least 5 years, hopefully more).
  10. Brianjasonsmith macrumors newbie


    Sep 21, 2018
    Talk about a dated design. The Bezels are so large!!
  11. code-m macrumors 65816


    Apr 13, 2006
    Even an iPad will suffice for email, browsing and videos ;)
  12. truthertech macrumors 68000

    Jun 24, 2016

    Thanks for the well written summary. Have you, or would you, do a comparison between going with the Mini versus the iMac? It's time for a lot of us to upgrade my iMac, and the latest iMac leaves out some great things like the T2, default SSD, etc., so it's intriguing to think about going with the Mini. especially with Apple promising new monitors when the Pro comes out this year.

    Other than the obvious of having to get a monitor, it would be great to see a well written pros and cons of the Mini vs iMac. Thanks for considering it.
  13. MauiPa macrumors 6502

    Apr 18, 2018
    I thought thunderbolt3 was plenty fast enough for the fastest SSD? Am I misinformed?
  14. rmoliv macrumors 6502a

    Dec 20, 2017
    Lisbon, Portugal
    Can’t believe they still sell non-Retina and HDD Macs as entry-level models. And for no less than 1K. Shameful.
  15. DblHelix macrumors 6502

    Mar 19, 2009
    All I will say is upgrade to the i9. It is the i9-9900k which is an amazing processor. The price is not bad. The iMac with that processor is only about a $500 premium over me building my own similarly speced machine.
  16. PSCConMP macrumors newbie

    Apr 26, 2015
    "Apple says a completely re-engineered Mac Pro is coming . . ." Is this the same Apple that promised us AirPower?
  17. glindon macrumors regular


    Jun 9, 2014
    Major con of the mini is the weak graphics so add an egpu to the price if you plan on running more than a 1080p monitor.
    Other con is no 8 core option.

    For iMac major con is it only has 2 thunderbolt ports.
    No 10gbE option.
    No T2
    Fusion drive instead of SSD
  18. rog macrumors 6502

    Apr 9, 2003
    Kalapana, HI
    My late 2014 iMac had a 3TB fusion drive, and it's too small. Nearly 5 years later that's the biggest option? LOL! Why not a 4-8TB fusion drive or at least a 4TB SSD for a couple hundred more (which would still increase their profit)? This is why I haven't bought another iMac. The 4 core 4Ghz i7 still isn't all that much slower than these new models. Given their awful options, they should allow a No ram, No SSD (of free 128GB SSD) option. I guess I'll be waiting until an external 4TB SSD (with comparable speeds to Apple internal SSD) is affordable, and that will be a long time, before I configure a buy a new one. The iMac "Pro" is ridiculous at this time and should be removed from the lineup until it can start with 10+ core i9s and 4TB SSD at a minimum. It's a massive machine, so why do there continue to be so few ports? Apple isn't interested in their computer business and should probably sell it and the OS off at this point.
  19. Jacobi macrumors member

    Aug 8, 2012
    Is this really true? Can't the Macbooks with integrated graphics power a 4k display? And can't the mac mini power a 5k display?
  20. djlythium macrumors 6502a


    Jun 11, 2014
    The one with the super-thin bezels all the way arou... Oh, that’s right! SMH.
  21. jayducharme macrumors 68040


    Jun 22, 2006
    The thick of it
    I had drawn up a proposal to outfit our college media labs with iMac Pros -- until the new iMacs appeared. I was able to configure a 27" iMac with specs pretty close to an iMac Pro, but for half the price. So that's what I went with and saved about $60,000. I wonder if Apple will quietly retire the iMac Pro when the new Mac Pro finally appears.
  22. entropys macrumors 6502


    Jan 5, 2007
    Brisbane, Australia
    I used to always be the Mac guy recommending macs to my relatives and friends, and got quite a few into them. Especially iMacs, MBAs and MBPs. Until 2016 of course.
    While I will probably purchase an iMac with an SSD and unhappily pay the price, I cannot in good conscience recommend macs to my friends anymore, once you upgrade to decent specification. The price is too high, and I value my friendships.
  23. Colonel Blimp, Mar 30, 2019
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2019

    Colonel Blimp macrumors regular

    Colonel Blimp

    Dec 1, 2016
    I agree with you that the 3TB Fusion Drive is too small. I have one in my Late 2015 iMac, and I couldn’t be more pleased with its performance based on how I use it. (Of course, your mileage may vary.)

    I just ordered an Early 2019 iMac, also with a 3TB Fusion Drive. My only regret was that I couldn’t order a larger Fusion Drive.

    (Given that I consider 3TB too small, I was certainly not about to spend US $1,000 more to get only 2TB of storage.)

    “A 4TB SSD for a couple hundred more”? As you would say: LOL!

    Apple’s difference in price between a 4TB SSD and a 3TB Fusion Drive is US $2,800! Some of that is probably markup, but certainly not all. If you think the difference in Apple’s cost between a 128GB SSD + 3TB HD on the one hand and a 4TB SSD on the other is only US $200, then you’re dreaming!

    Update: I just priced SSD upgrades for the 2017 iMacs from Other World Computing. They charge from US $300 to US $450 for a bare 2TB SSD (depending on model), so yes, Apple’s US $1,000 markup for the 2TB SSD is steep. But the cost of even a 2TB SSD would seem to be more than US $200, so the cost of a 4TB SSD (which Other World Computing don’t even offer) would be far more.
    --- Post Merged, Mar 30, 2019 ---
    Right, because folk who can’t afford the extra US $800 to upgrade from the 1TB HD to a 1TB SSD don’t deserve to buy a Mac!


    How much more elitist can you get?

    (Now, if you had written that the base models really need at least a 1TB Fusion Drive, which only costs US $100 more, then I’d have agreed entirely with you. But no, all hail the Solid-State Master Race!)

    Update: Since posting the above, I went to Other World Computing to price their SSD upgrades for 21.5-inch iMacs. They offer bare 1TB SSDs for as little as US $129. (Their better 1TB model is US $259.) I have no idea what the reliability of that US $129 model is, but it would certainly seem that Apple’s US $800 markup is excessive, and that there is indeed a strong case to be made for replacing the 1TB 5400 rpm HD in the base 21.5-inch iMac with a 1TB SSD, even if it required raising its price by, say, US $100.

    My apologies for my outburst, which was based on my ignorance of how much the prices of small SSDs have dropped!

    (I’m still content with my choice of a 3TB Fusion Drive for my new 2019 iMac, because a 2TB SSD would have been too small for my needs, and a 4TB SSD, which isn’t even available from Apple or from Other World Computing, would still have been far too expensive.)

    Update 2: Since writing the above, I’ve done some more research. Those inexpensive SSDs from Other World Computing are SATA 3, which at a theoretical maximum throughput of only 600 MB/s are much slower than the more costly NVMe SSDs in Apple’s newer iMacs.

    See this article at Ars Technica and scroll down to the section, “SSDs: Getting the most from PCI Express.” Note especially the difference in read speeds in this chart between the SATA 3 SSD in the 2012 iMac and the NVMe/PCIe 3.0 SSD in the 2017 iMac. That’s almost a sixfold difference in read speed!

    That is what accounts for at least some portion of Apple’s high SSD prices. A 1TB NVMe/PCIe 3.0 SSD would likely raise the cost of the entry-level iMac by more than the US $100 I suggested above.
  24. MrBat macrumors regular


    May 11, 2017
    Looking at the iMac, can't help myself to see that design dated on ratio and bezels. 2019 the direction is ultrawide. Big real estate 49" monitors
  25. haruhiko macrumors 601


    Sep 29, 2009
    What a shame of still including spinning hard drives as a default configuration.

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