Last updated: 1 week ago

The iMac is the go to choice for consumers and pros across the industry. Add in the iMac Pro and the reach of Apple's most popular desktop computer is a great choice for the casual user all the way up to the most demanding pro. The history of this iconic desktop can be traced all the way back to Apple's late 90's revival.

● All-in-one design
● Aluminum unibody
● 27-inch and 21.5-inch options
● Nano-Texture option
● 5K and 4K Retina Display
● 500 nits and P3 color gamut
● Configurable to 8 cores and 2TB SSD
● Pro option for more performance

The iMac was first announced in 1998 and was a large departure from hardware design for Apple. Today, the design continues to place the computer out of sight and keep the large screen front and center. The all-in-one Mac continues to be Apple's most popular desktop.

The peak of all-in-one design The iMac Pro is the peak of all-in-one design

The Mac desktop has seen a troubling few years with long gaps between updates, a botched Mac Pro launch in 2013, and neglected operating system software. Through all of that, the iMac has remained the standout product for reliability and great design for users.

The most recent iMac Pro helped bridge the gap to the ultimate release of the new Mac Pro.

iMac Design and Features

Its design saw a slow evolution through the first decade of the desktop’s existencestarting as a gumdrop-shaped, colorful plastic blob and evolving into the silver-gray aluminum of today. It has always featured an all-in-one design, housing the motherboard and components in a housing behind the screen.

All-in-one Design

The all-in-one desktop features a 5mm tapered casing with a large hump on the back to house internal components and a large chin under the screen.

The aluminum unibody of Apple’s all-in-one desktop is an iconic design The aluminum unibody of Apple’s all-in-one desktop is an iconic design

The 21.5-inch iMac and 27-inch iMac have silver aluminum chassis, and the iMac Pro has a space black chassis. A small door in the rear allows users to access user-replaceable parts. A giant weighted "foot" juts out from beneath the screen to hold the display upright. 

The iMac 4K has a 21.5-inch screen at 4096 x 2034 pixels. The iMac 5K and iMac Pro have a 27-inch screen at 5120 x 2880 pixels. They all support the P3 gamut at 500 nits brightness.

Keyboard and Mouse

The iMac line ships with a keyboard and mouse in the box. When configuring your purchase, you can select between the Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad, or order an extra. The standard models come with the silver version of the devices, and the pro model ships with the space gray version.

The space gray version of the Magic Keyboard is only available with an attached num-pad with no tenkeyless option.

Ports and Upgradeability

The standard iMacs have the same ports: two Thunderbolt 3 ports that support output to additional 5K displays or an external GPU. Four USB 3 ports, an SD card reader, and a gigabit Ethernet port are also in the back of the monitor.

Four Thunderbolt 3 ports The iMac Pro has a lot of ports considering how few come with other modern macs.

The iMac Pro has four Thunderbolt 3 ports that allow four 4K displays or two 5K displays to be connected, as well as external graphics. It also has four USB 3 ports, a 10 gigabyte Ethernet port, and an SD card reader.

All three desktops have user-upgradeable RAM, but the larger desktops do not have an access hatch in the rear of the display. They require extensive deconstruction and rebuilding to replace the RAM and leave users in the position to damage the computer in the process.


iMac 4KQuad-core 3.6GHz Intel Core i3
6-core 3.2GHz Intel Core i7
Radeon Pro 555X
Radeon Pro Vega 20
iMac 5K6-core 3.0GHz Intel Core i5
8-core 3.6GHz Intel Core i9
Radeon Pro 570x
Radeon Pro Vega 48
1TB Fusion
iMac Pro10-core 3.2GHz Intel Xenon W
18-core 2.3GHz Intel Xenon
Radeon Pro Vega 56
Radeon Pro Vega 64X


21.5-inch iMac and 27-inch iMac

The latest designs have not changed since their introduction in 2014 The latest designs have not changed since their introduction in 2014

The 2014 product keynote was held in October with viewers hoping for some upgrades to the ill-fated 2012 Mac Pro. Instead, we got the iMac 5K, a powerful machine with a new display. Touted as having the highest resolution of any display, at the time, Apple was quick to brag about the new timing controller and display panel they had to build from scratch to make such a display work.

One year later, the 4K model was introduced with various upgrades that were passed to the 5K model as well; like new chipsets, SSD options, and the P3 color gamut. Not a huge update, but the wider colors made any who already owned the 2014 model instantly envious.

Also of note is the launch of Apple's new peripherals, all new rechargeable Magic Mouse, keyboard, and trackpad, which were included in the box.

The all-in-one desktops saw a new performance update in March 2019, and while in the iMac Pro shadow, still held strong as the budget-minded pro desktop. With the option to go all out and add an i9 processor and new Vega graphics, these computers can still fill most consumers' needs.

On August 4, 2020, Apple changed the naming configuration of the two all-in-ones, and are now referred to as the 21.5-inch iMac and 27-inch iMac. They retained the same resolutions, but shifted to an all-SSD lineup.

The 27-inch iMac can be configured with nano-texture glass, just like what is used in the Pro Display XDR for an additional $500. This update also included the T2 chip for added security on the 27-inch model.

These updates should be the last ever to the aging design paradigm used for Intel iMacs. The new 24-inch iMac should bring an all-screen monitor with better internal designs running on Apple Silicon.

iMac Pro

The iMac Pro is the newest deviation of the all-in-one desktop line and introduced an all-new internal structuring and cooling system to support its upgraded chipsets. This desktop was released to fill the empty position of a powerful desktop Mac left by the lack of a new Mac Pro.

Space gray has been used to designate Apple’s “pro” desktopsThe iMac Pro and its space gray finish make it stand out from the crowd

To earn back the trust of some of Apple's most needy professional crowed, Apple teased the new pro variant at WWDC in June 2017, a full six months before its release. The base model starts at $4,999 and was clearly meant to keep prosumer buyers at bay.

The iMac Pro has not been updated since, and as a result has the older Thunderbolt 3 spec, Alpine Ridge, and cannot connect to the Pro Display XDR at full 6K resolution.

On August 4, 2020, the iMac Pro was updated with a very small change to its available processor. It would now be configured with a 10-core Xenon processor instead of an 8-core Xenon processor.

The new update did not include nano-texture glass.

iMac History

Design over the years. Image from WikipediaThe iMac design over the years. Image from Wikipedia

From the first iMacs in 1998 all the way to the powerful iMac Pro of today, this desktop computer line has seen a rollercoaster of changes to itself and the company that produces it. Upon its release, it was the saving grace that allowed Apple to pull itself away from near bankruptcy and become the company it is today.

Plastic to Aluminum

2007 aluminum vs 2006 plastic casing 2007 aluminum vs 2006 plastic casing

The transition to the sleek aluminum unibody we know today happened from 2006 to 2009. The first Intel iMac shipped with a plastic body that was basically identical to the iMac G5 it was replacing. It featured a white plastic body and a 17-inch screen.

Just like with the MacBook Pro's own transition to aluminum, the very next release in 2007 updated the body to an aluminum design, but maintained the same aspect ratio at 20-inches. The 2009 update slimmed the design down a bit, changed the aspect ratio, increased the screen to 21.5" and made it an aluminum unibody.

PowerPC era

The iMac G3 and its friendly presentation became a blockbuster hit The iMac G3 and its friendly presentation became a blockbuster hit

The original iMac G3 ran on PowerPC and each release did so for eight years until the 2006 shift to Intel. Steve Jobs introduced the massively popular iMac G3, with its gumdrop design and bright colors, and had four years of updates before Jony Ive moved the line to the white plastic floating monitor design.

The iMac G4 design was also unique to itself with a desk lamp like design, placing the computing components in the "foot" and connecting the screen via a pivoting arm. The shift to plain white plastic was jarring, but was the first step in Apple moving into the more business-like silver and space gray colors used now.

The iMac G5 realized the modern design in full, and is still used today, although much refined and slimmed down overall.


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