Apple boosts iMac with 10th-gen Intel Core CPUs, nano-textured glass

While Apple’s portable devices receive the lion’s share of attention these days, its all-in-one iMac desktop computers have remained popular with businesses — as likely to be at the front reception desk as in C-suite offices. Now that long-awaited keyboard and processor upgrades have been completed across the MacBook lineup, the iMac is finally getting an update, though it will use recent Intel processors rather than the “Apple silicon” announced for upcoming Macs at this year’s WWDC.

Contrary to rumors that circulated ahead of today’s announcement, the new iMac hasn’t been fully redesigned — instead, it continues to use the same chassis that iMacs have sported for years, as a completely new iPad Pro-inspired model reportedly waits in the wings for release. Consequently, the latest iMac still comes in a 27-inch screen size, while a successor model is expected to have a 30-inch display. Apple has, however, introduced a matte screen option for the new iMac using nano-textured glass — a feature debuted in the Pro Display XDR last year. It’s available for a $500 premium over any model’s base price, reducing the iMac’s glass reflectance while preserving most of its ability to display bright, vivid colors. While that’s still not cheap, the nano-textured glass option is only half as expensive on the new iMac as it is on the Pro Display XDR.

The new 27-inch iMac also improves upon its predecessor’s performance. Over the nearly year and a half that has passed since the last iMac upgrade, Intel’s 10th-generation Core processors have made their way into both Apple laptops and rival machines, leaving last year’s 8th- and 9th-generation Core-based iMacs conspicuously behind the curve. Apple’s prior 27-inch iMac lineup started at $1,799 with six-core i5 CPUs across the board, with the option of upgrading to an eight-core i9 chip, while its 21.5-inch models started with a dual-core, non-Retina $1,099 model, but offered a higher-end Retina screen and quad-core Intel i3 processor for only $200 more, then a second $200 step with a six-core i5.

Today’s 27-inch machines include new Core i5, i7, and i9 chips from the 10th-generation “Comet Lake-S” family. The highest end Core i9 chip has 10 cores, with a base clock speed of 3.6GHz, turbo boosting to 5.0GHz, and is available as an optional $400 upgrade to the $2,299 8-core i7, which has a higher base clock speed of 3.8GHz and the same turbo peak speed. For $1,999, users can get a 6-core 3.3GHz Intel Core i5 version with a peak single-core speed of 4.8GHz, while a $1,799 model has a 3.1GHz 6-core Intel Core i5 with 4.5GHz turbo speed, upgradeable to the 10-core i9 for $500. Apple says that the 10-core machines deliver 25-65% performance improvements compared with the prior-generation 8-core iMac, though actual numbers will obviously vary between various configurations and tasks.

The low and mid-range machines feature a 4GB Radeon Pro 5300 GPU, while the higher end one has an 8GB Radeon Pro 5500XT, up from the Radeon Pro 555X and 560X options found in prior iMacs. Radeon Pro 5700 (+$300) and 5700XT (+$500) GPU options are available for the top of line model, and Apple claims 30-55% graphics performance improvements over the prior 27-inch iMac with a Radeon Pro Vega 48 GPU. All of the new 27-inch models include the True Tone automatic display color calibration feature originally introduced with the 2016 iPad Pro.

Apple’s decision to release the new iMac with Intel internals raises some interesting questions about its plans for the Apple silicon transition, which is scheduled to kick off later this year. In October 2005, Apple famously released an updated iMac G5 as one of its last models with a PowerPC processor, only to release an improved Intel version three months later. It remains to be seen whether an iMac with Apple’s own CPU and GPU will follow as quickly or take longer due to high-end chip engineering challenges.

Other specs suggest that Apple is holding off on major changes for the post-Intel revision. The new iMac continues to top out at the last-generation Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) standard and Bluetooth 5.0, though there are newer versions of each wireless standard. Apple has upgraded the prior FaceTime HD camera from its anemic 720p resolution to a similarly aging 1080p resolution in the new model and has updated the speaker and microphone systems to deliver superior performance and sonic balance. Formerly optional, SSDs are now the default option for each machine, starting with 256GB in the $1,799 model, which can’t be configured for more storage. The mid-range option instead includes 512GB of SSD space and can have up to 2TB for an additional $600 upcharge. Only the high-end model can go all the way up to 8TB — for $2,400 over the sticker price.

Notably, the iMac Pro hasn’t been upgraded substantially since December 2017, when Apple released it as an alternative to the then-stagnant tube-shaped Mac Pro, though Apple added 256GB RAM and Vega 64X GPU upgrade options in March 2019. In October 2019, Intel announced iMac Pro-ready W-2200 Xeon chips, including support for up to 18 cores and 4.1GHz standard/4.8GHz peak clock speeds. Rather than going for the highest-end parts, Apple says the entry-level $4,999 iMac Pro now comes standard with a 10-core 3.0GHz base/4.5GHz turbo Xeon W processor — up from 8 cores before — while there’s a 14-core, 2.5GHz/4.3GHz option for $800 more, and an 18-core, 2.3GHz/4.3GHz upgrade for $1,600 extra. The 21.5-inch iMac remains available for $1,099 and up, continuing to offer 7th- and 8th-generation Intel Core processors, but 256GB SSDs are now a standard feature, with the option to switch to a 1TB Fusion drive at the same price.

The new 27-inch iMacs are available to order from Apple’s online store today. They should arrive this Friday for early customers, as well as appearing at the locations of Apple’s brick-and-mortar stores that are still open. Slightly tweaked 21.5-inch iMacs and iMac Pros can also be ordered today, but with delivery dates in mid to late August.

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