This article is updated regularly. Bookmark it (Ctrl + D) to get redirected to the latest version.

This is one of 3 articles dedicated to Apple’s iMacs:

1. How you can choose the best Apple iMac 21.5″ (this article)
2. How to choose the best Apple iMac 27″
3. How to choose the best Apple iMac Pro

Who is the Apple iMac ideal for?

1. Do you want one of the most reliable computers available on the market?
2. Do you want the least expensive all in one computer available from Apple?
3. Do you want a computer that’s excellent all around?

That’s the Apple iMac 21.5″ for you.

It’s a computer that’s solid, reliable, powerful, with an outstanding 21.5″ display, surprisingly powerful and accurate speakers and that has a small footprint.

What can the Apple iMac 21.5″ do for you?

– Web browsing
– Office work (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc.)
– Emails
– Listen to and record music
– Watching TV/movies from local files or streaming.
– Audio/photo/video/3D editing: While it is capable of handling such tasks, consider the more powerful iMac Pro if you want more processing power
– Connecting up to two external monitors.

Why choose the iMac 21.5″?

– It’s an all-in-one computer, so there’s no bulky tower.
– The power supply is integrated in the iMac, so there’s no bulky power brick.
– It’s the least expensive Apple iMac
– Good CPU performance: Quad-core Intel Core i5 and i7 CPUs offer snappy performance
Dedicated video card in models with a Retina display, boosting performance in apps with GPU acceleration.
– Displays come with an IPS panel and high maximum brightness, with excellent color accuracy and viewing angles.
– It’s an Apple PC: mac OS, Siri, iCloud, many built-in apps, highly reliable, excellent customer service
– Quiet: The fan is hardly audible, unless you push the CPU to 100% for a long time.
– Speakers can go surprisingly loud and actually offers a decent dynamic range, considering their size.
– Solid and great looking aluminum chassis
– Bluetooth 4.2
– Latest generation 802.11ac WiFi
– 2x Thunderbolt 3/USB Type-C ports: Integrates data transfer, charging, and video output in a single reversible connector, delivering up to 40 Gbps of throughput.
– 90 Days of Free Telephone Support from Apple
– Although Apple makes some odd choices sometimes, their customer service is excellent in the vast majority of cases.
– UHS-II SDXC Card Reader

Why you might not want the Apple iMac 21.5″: Cons

– Upgrading the CPU, RAM and storage is possible, but highly complicated
– It might not be powerful enough if you work with highly demanding photo/video/3D apps and heavy files: Consider the iMac Pro instead.
– No optical drive. You can get an external USB powered optical drive, if you want to.
– 1 year warranty is surprisingly short for such a premium product. You can extend it with AppleCare though.
– Getting used to macOS if you’ve never used it before.

How to Choose your Apple iMac 21.5″

What you need to know:

The 6 differences between all the iMac 21.5″:

1. Choose between two display resolutions:
1920 x 1080 or 4096 x 2304 (Retina)

Why this choice matters:
There’s basically two main models of the Apple iMac:
– The base model with a screen that has a 1920 x 1080 display
– The higher-end model model with a 4096 x 2304 Retina display

The base models come with lower-end dual-core CPUs and integrated graphics.
The higher-end Retina models come with more powerful quad-core CPUs and dedicated graphics.

In other words, the display will influence the rest of your iMac.

2. Choose between four levels of CPU performance:

From the lowest to highest performance:
– Intel Core i5-7360U: Dual-Core / 4 threads 2.3-3.6GHz
– Intel Core i5-7400: Quad-Core / 4 threads 3.0-3.5GHz
– Intel Core i5-7500: Quad-Core / 4 threads 3.4-3.8GHz
– Intel Core i7-7700: Quad-Core / 8 threads 3.6-4.2GHz

More cores and higher Base/Turbo frequencies (GHz) mean higher performance.

So what do I want? Dual or Quad-Core?

It depends on what you intend to do with your iMac.

If you only use your iMac to run basic programs, like email, some Excel, Word, a web browser and iTunes, a dual-core CPU is fine.

Do you want to run heavier applications, have multiple applications open and lots of web browser tabs? Get a quad-core CPU.

If you intend on keeping your iMac for many years, going with the quad-core CPU is a good idea, seeing as CPU usage keeps increasing, with newer versions of programs getting more and more demanding.

3. Choose between three levels of graphic card performance

– Base models come with integrated Intel graphics.
– Higher-end Retina models come with the choice of two dedicated AMD Radeon Pro graphic cards.

In total, there are three options available to you, in order of performance, from slowest to fastest:
1. Intel Iris Plus 640
2. AMD Radeon Pro 555 2GB: 768 SPs, 12 compute units, 2GB of memory
3. AMD Radeon Pro 560 4GB: 1024 SPs, 16 compute units, 4GB of memory

If you only use your iMac to run basic programs, such as Office and Web browsing, the integrated Intel graphics are fine.

For image editing, you’ll want an higher-end Retina model (for the faster CPU) and the Radeon Pro 555 2GB graphic card is fine.

On the other hand, if you do a lot of video editing, render 3D or play video games, the Radeon Pro 560 4GB will give you better performance.

4. Choose between 8, 16GB or 32GB of memory (RAM)

4GB_RAM_macbook_airYou have the choice between 8GB, 16GB and 32GB of memory.

So what do I want? 8GB, 16GB or 32GB?

It depends on what you intend to do with your iMac.

If you only use your iMac to run a few basic programs at once, like email, some Excel, Word, a web browser and iTunes, 8GB is plenty of memory.

Do you want to run heavier applications (Photoshop, Lightroom, etc.), have multiple applications open and lots of web browser tabs? 16GB would be my recommendation then.

Are you a power user, wanting to run multiple heavier programs (audio/photo/video/3D) at once, work with virtual machines, very large data files, like to multitask and have no time to lose? 32 GB would the wiser option then. You’ll probably want to consider a more powerful iMac Pro, in order to get a more powerful CPU.

If you intend on keeping your iMac for many years, going with at least 16GB, or even 32GB is a good idea, seeing as memory usage keeps increasing, with newer versions of programs using more and more memory.

Keep in mind that while it is possible to upgrade the memory in the iMac 21.5″, it is a lengthy and complicated process, so unless you have experience taking apart computers, I would recommend getting the right amount of RAM to begin with.

5. Three types of storage:
Hard Drive (HDD), Fusion Drive (SSD + HDD) or Solid State Drive (SSD)

You have the choice between three type of storage, in order of performance, from slowest to fastest:
1. Hard Drive (HDD)
2. Fusion Drive (SSD + HDD)
3. Solid State Drive (SSD)

Hard drives are these old drives with spinning platters. Their main pro is that offer plenty of storage at a low price. The downsides are that they offer poor performance, resulting in slow boot time, slow application launch time and a computer that’s slower to respond; they are also less reliable than SSD.

Solid State Drive (SSD) are newer drives, with no moving parts. They use flash memory, along with a controller, to store your data. Their main advantages are that they offer far superior performance, resulting in a computer that’s far more responsive, faster boot time and nearly instant (or far faster) application launch. They are also far more reliable. The downside is that they are more expensive than hard drives.

As for the Fusion Drive, this is an Apple marketing term for a combo of a hard drive and a SSD working together. The magic happens in software, so you see a single drive, as your iMac will automatically take care of where to store that data based on your usage patterns. It’s a good trade off if you want higher performance, but without the higher cost of SSD storage.

My recommendation:
AVOID hard drives only
, they are awfully slow and don’t belong in a modern computer in 2019, not if you want proper performance. Unless all you do is browse the Web, stream music and the like, in which case, a hard drive offers sufficient performance, do yourself a favor and get at least a Fusion Drive.
Even if the hard drive performance is good enough for your needs, remember that a SSD offer better reliability.

Fusion drives are a decent, cost effective solution, that will speed up your computer a bit if you need a lot of storage at a low cost.

That said, there’s nothing like a SSD for the best, maximum performance and reliability. It’s a day and night difference in performance and overall responsiveness, between the same computer with a hard drive or a SSD.

6. Three storage capacities:
256GB, 512GB or 1TB

Unsure about how whether you want 256GB, 512GB or 1TB of storage?

Read our article on How to choose the right SSD storage capacity and pay less for your computer to figure it out.

Yes, it says SSD, but it doesn’t matter, you still have to choose between 256GB, 512GB or 1TB of storage.

Need more than 1TB? Look into the iMac 27″ or the iMac Pro.

Leave a comment at the end of this article if you have any questions.

Apple iMac 21.5″

9 recommended CPU/RAM/GPU configurations:

From the least powerful to the most powerful model:

1. Base model: 1920 x 1080 display, dual-core CPU

8GB RAM, with the base-level graphic card option

1TB Hard Drive: $1,057.00 at B&H
– 1TB Fusion Drive
$1,179.00 at B&H
– 256GB SSD
$1,279.00 at B&H

Is it safe to buy an iMac from B&H Photo Video instead of the Apple Store? 

B&H Photo Video is an Authorized Apple Reseller. That means B&H has received authorization from Apple to sell Macs, iPhones, iPads, etc. This is great for you because B&H prices are generally much lower than the Apple Store. Items ship promptly and you receive the same warranty as if you had made the purchase at the Apple Store. In fact, you still receive all the benefits of the Apple Store (classes, Genius Bar access, etc.) when you buy from B&H Photo Video. So really, the only difference between buying from B&H and the Apple Store is that with B&H you will probably save a lot of money!

2. 4K Retina, Core i5-7400, 8GB RAM, Radeon Pro 555 2GB

Base-level Quad-Core CPU, 8GB RAM, with the 2nd best graphic card option

1TB Hard Drive: $1,199.00 at B&H
– 1TB Fusion Drive
$1,399.00 at B&H
– 256GB SSD
$1,479.00 at B&H
– 512GB SSD: $1,679.00 at B&H

3. 4K Retina, Core i5-7400, 16GB RAM, Radeon Pro 555 2GB

Base-level Quad-Core CPU, 16GB RAM, with the 2nd best graphic card option

1TB Hard Drive: $1,449.00 at B&H
– 1TB Fusion Drive
$1,579.00 at B&H
– 256GB SSD
$1,679.00 at B&H
– 512GB SSD: $1,879.00 at B&H

4. 4K Retina, Core i5-7500, 8GB RAM, Radeon Pro 560 4GB

Mid-level Quad-Core CPU, 8GB RAM, with the best graphic card option

1TB Fusion Drive: $1,449.00 at B&H
– 256GB SSD: $1,599.00 at B&H
– 512GB SSD: $1,799.00 at B&H
– 1TB SSD: $2,199.00 at B&H

5. 4K Retina, Core i5-7500, 16GB RAM, Radeon Pro 560 4GB

Mid-level Quad-Core CPU, 16GB RAM, with the best graphic card option

1TB Fusion Drive: $1,449.00 at B&H
– 256GB SSD: $1,779.00 at B&H
– 512GB SSD: $1,979.00 at B&H
– 1TB SSD: $2,399.00 at B&H

6. 4K Retina, Core i5-7500, 32GB RAM, Radeon Pro 560 4GB

Mid-level Quad-Core CPU, 32GB RAM, with the best graphic card option

1TB Fusion Drive: $2,099.00 at B&H
– 256GB SSD: $2,199.00 at B&H
– 512GB SSD: $2,399.00 at B&H
– 1TB SSD: $2,799.00 at B&H

7. 4K Retina, Core i7-7700, 8GB RAM, Radeon Pro 560 4GB

High-End Quad-Core CPU, 8GB RAM, with the best graphic card option

1TB Fusion Drive: $2,099.00 at B&H
– 256GB SSD: $2,199.00 at B&H
– 512GB SSD: $2,399.00 at B&H
– 1TB SSD: $2,799.00 at B&H

8. 4K Retina, Core i7-7700, 16GB RAM, Radeon Pro 560 4GB

High-End Quad-Core CPU, 16GB RAM, with the best graphic card option

1TB Fusion Drive: $2,099.00 at B&H
– 256GB SSD: $2,199.00 at B&H
– 512GB SSD: $2,399.00 at B&H
– 1TB SSD: $2,799.00 at B&H

9. 4K Retina, Core i7-7700, 32GB RAM, Radeon Pro 560 4GB

High-End Quad-Core CPU, 32GB RAM, with the best graphic card option

1TB Fusion Drive: $2,099.00 at B&H
– 256GB SSD: $2,199.00 at B&H
– 512GB SSD: $2,399.00 at B&H
– 1TB SSD: $2,799.00 at B&H

Conclusion

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this article on how you can choose the best Apple iMac 21.5″ for your needs.

Do you have any feedback or any questions? Are you unsure which model is the best one for you?

Please leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.