By Jason Snell
August 4, 2020 8:00 AM PT
Last hurrah? 27-inch iMac get Intel processor upgrade, all-SSD storage, T2 chip
Warning: This story has not been updated in several years and may contain out-of-date information.
At Apple’s developer conference in June, Tim Cook said that the company still had Macs with Intel processors in its pipeline. It must be rapidly filling with Macs with Apple silicon, but on Tuesday that pipeline disgorged a new Intel-based 27-inch iMac with a bunch of technical improvements, while retaining the prices of previous models.
For those expecting a redesign to the exterior of the iMac, which has been largely unchanged for many years now, it’s clear that any major rethinking of Apple’s venerable all-in-one is going to have to wait for the Apple silicon era. Apple’s not doing what it did with the iMac back during the last processor transition and redesigning the exterior just before swapping chips, and future Mac historians will be thankful for that.
The biggest external change to the iMac this time around is an optional one: You can order one with the same glare-killing “nanotexture” glass texture as on Apple’s Pro Display XDR, for an additional $500. If you live in a very bright environment and the glare is making you sad, this upgrade might be worth it. Regardless of which texture, though, the iMac display also now supports TrueTone.
Moving to the inside, the iMac has gotten a lot of big improvements over the versions that it released in March 2019. The new 27-inch iMac is powered by 10th-generation Intel processors, and for the first time, there’s a 10-core i9 option. Graphics are powered by 7nm AMD Radeon Pro 5000 series GPUs, including a configure-to-order version with 16GB of VRAM for the first time on the 27-inch iMac.
(Last year’s iMacs already pushed up against the performance of the iMac Pro, and these will undoubtedly beat it—especially that 10-core model. In an acknowledgement of this, Apple has rejiggered the iMac Pro line, dropping the old base eight-core model and moving the 10-core model to the base price. So now the iMac line ends at 10 cores and the iMac Pro line begins there.)
But this is more than just a processor bump, because Apple made a bunch of upgrades to other aspects of the iMac subsystem. The biggest news is that SSD storage is now standard across the entire iMac line (with options up to 8TB), where previously Apple made Fusion Drive (which is a small SSD coupled with a spinning hard drive) the standard. This is a long-overdue move, but I’m glad that Apple has finally made it. All iMac users deserve the speed of SSD storage.
However, there are a few wrinkles: The base storage level starts at 256GB, which is not a lot of storage. It might be plenty for some use cases, but other users will run into that limitation awfully quickly, especially if they’re storing a bunch of family photos locally in a Photos library. That’s why Apple is still offering a 1TB Fusion Drive as a configurable option on the 21.5-inch model, for no added cost. So while we can’t definitively say that the spinning hard drive has finally been pushed out of all Mac hardware, it’s gone from all the default configurations, at least.
Memory capacity has been doubled on the 27-inch iMac, so it now supports up to 128GB of DRAM. And the iMac has become the last Mac to receive a T2 security chip, which enables all sorts of features previously unavailable on the iMac. That includes automatic disk encryption and security features, yes. But it also means improved image quality from the iMac’s camera, which has been upgraded to 1080p resolution. The T2 also provides improved audio processing, which should improve the sound of the (otherwise unchanged) iMac speakers.
As it did last year with the 16-inch MacBook Pro, Apple has upgraded the microphone system on the 27-inch iMac. There are two microphones on the iMac’s chin, and another on the back, and they work together to cancel out echo and noise and create what Apple calls a “studio quality” experience. My experience with the MacBook Pro’s microphone system was positive, but with caveats depending on how you positioned the laptop. I would imagine that the iMac, as a much more stationary device, will generate a more consistent sound—and the people on the other end of teleconferences will appreciate the added clarity.
The new iMac is available to order as of now and will ship later this week.
As for the future, is this the last Intel Mac we’ll see? There’s no way to tell, though reading between the lines, it wouldn’t be surprising if there were some more Intel-based Mac releases as Apple progresses through its two-year-long processor transition. But I’d wager good money that the next time we see an iMac update, there won’t be an Intel processor at its heart. And perhaps it will look appreciably different, too.
In the meantime, though, here’s a fast new Intel iMac with upgraded internals and no more spinning-disk storage. It’s not the giant step forward that seems inevitable—but it’s a step forward all the same.
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