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This is one of 2 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″
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″ 4K 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.)
– 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 multiple 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.
– 4K Retina 4096 x 2304 display, with IPS panel and P3 wider color gamut support, high maximum brightness, with excellent color accuracy and viewing angles.
– It’s the least expensive Apple iMac
– Good CPU performance: Quad-core or Six-Core Intel Core CPUs offer snappy performance
– Dedicated video cards, boosting performance in apps with GPU acceleration.
– 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
– 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 5 differences between all the iMac 21.5″:
1. Choose between three levels of CPU performance:
From the lowest to highest performance:
– Intel Core i3-8100: Quad-Core / 4 threads 3.6GHz
– Intel Core i5-8500: Six-Core / 6 threads 3.0-4.1GHz
– Intel Core i7-8700: Six-Core / 12 threads 3.2-4.6GHz
More cores and higher Base/Turbo frequencies (GHz) mean higher performance.
So what do I want? Quad or Six-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 quad-core CPU is fine.
Do you want to run heavier applications, have multiple applications open and lots of web browser tabs? Get a six-core CPU, even better, the Core i7-, with Hyper-Threading.
If you intend on keeping your iMac for many years, going with the six-core CPU is a good idea, seeing as CPU usage keeps increasing, with newer versions of programs getting more and more demanding.
2. Choose between three levels of graphic card performance
In total, there are three options available to you, in order of performance, from slowest to fastest:
1. AMD Radeon Pro 555X 2GB: 768 SPs, 12 compute units, 2GB of memory
2. AMD Radeon Pro 560X 4GB: 1024 SPs, 16 compute units, 4GB of memory
2. AMD Radeon Pro Vega 20 4GB: 1280 SPs, 20 compute units, 4GB of memory
If you only use your iMac to run basic programs, such as Office and Web browsing, the basic level is fine.
For image or entry-level video editing, you’ll want the Radeon Pro 560 4GB.
On the other hand, if you do a lot of video editing, especially at 4K, render 3D or play video games, the Radeon Pro Vega 20 will give you the best performance.
3. Choose between 8, 16GB or 32GB of memory (RAM)
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.
4. Three types of storage:
Fusion Drive (SSD + HDD) or Solid State Drive (SSD)
On all the base quad-core CPU model and most higher-end models, you have the choice between two type of storage, in order of performance, from slowest to fastest:
1. Fusion Drive (SSD + HDD)
2. Solid State Drive (SSD)
The Fusion Drive 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 decent performance and 1TB of storage, but without the higher cost of 1TB of SSD storage.
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.
My recommendation, for the base model:
Fusion drives are a decent, cost effective solution, that will offer decent performance 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.
Some higher end models are only available with the higher performance SSDs.
5. 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.
Prices for B&H as of March 29th 2021. Note that I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. Prices and availability are subject to change.
Apple iMac 21.5″
18 recommended CPU/RAM/GPU configurations:
From the least powerful to the most powerful model:
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. Quad-Core CPU, 16GB RAM, Radeon Pro 555X 2GB
3. Quad-Core CPU, 32GB RAM, Radeon Pro 555X 2GB
4. Core i5 6 cores/6 threads CPU, 8GB RAM, Radeon Pro 560X 4GB
– 256GB SSD: $1,299.00 at B&H
– 512GB SSD: N/A at B&H
– 1TB SSD: N/A at B&H
5. Core i5 CPU, 16GB RAM, Radeon Pro 560X 4GB
6. Core i5 CPU, 32GB RAM, Radeon Pro 560X 4GB
7. Core i5 CPU, 8GB RAM, Radeon Pro Vega 20 4GB
8. Core i5 CPU, 16GB RAM, Radeon Pro Vega 20 4GB
9. Core i5 CPU, 32GB RAM, Radeon Pro Vega 20 4GB
10. Core i7 6 cores/12 threads CPU, 8GB RAM, Radeon Pro 555X 2GB
11. Core i7 CPU, 16GB RAM, Radeon Pro 555X 2GB
12. Core i7 CPU, 32GB RAM, Radeon Pro 555X 2GB
13. Core i7 CPU, 8GB RAM, Radeon Pro 560X 4GB
14. Core i7 CPU, 16GB RAM, Radeon Pro 560X 4GB
15. Core i7 CPU, 32GB RAM, Radeon Pro 560X 4GB
16. Core i7 CPU, 8GB RAM, Radeon Pro Vega 20 4GB
17. Core i7 CPU, 16GB RAM, Radeon Pro Vega 20 4GB
18. Core i7 CPU, 32GB RAM, Radeon Pro Vega 20 4GB
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.