Apple pulled back the curtain on its latest round of iMac refreshes, and the upgrades are pretty significant — with the exception of a lack of storage improvements. First, the good news: Apple has been pretty serious about its Retina displays, and is moving to replace more of its older “only HD” models with them as time goes on. It also moves the 27-inch iMac lineup to the current generation of Intel Skylake processors, but only jumps to Broadwell on the 21.5-inch versions.
Let’s begin with the 21.5-inch model, which finally gets an update for the first time in almost two years. It gets a new Retina 4K display version with 4,096-by-2,304-pixel resolution. This model starts at $1,499 with a 3.1GHz Broadwell processor, 8GB RAM, an onboard Intel Pro Iris Graphics 6200, and a sluggish 1TB 5400 RPM hard disk. The 21.5-inch iMac without Retina continues to start at $1,099, albeit with a new 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, Intel HD Graphics 6000, 8GB RAM, and a 1TB disk. The $1,299 iMac gets bumped to a 2.8GHz quad-core Core i5 and Iris Pro 6200 graphics.
Moving on to the 27-inch model, it’s Retina 5K displays, Skylake processors, and discrete AMD graphics across the board. The $1,799 base version comes with a 3.2GHz quad-core Core i5 processor, AMD Radeon R9 M380 graphics with 2GB VRAM, and 8GB RAM/1 TB hard disk. An extra $200 swaps in a faster 1TB Fusion Drive and R9 M390 graphics, also with 2GB video memory. Finally, the $2,299 config bumps the processor to 3.3GHz, the GPU to a R9 M395, and the Fusion Drive to 2TB.
All of the iMacs get Thunderbolt 2 ports and faster internal storage controllers, as well as new red-green phosphor LEDs for expanded color spaces and slightly more vibrant performance. The new iMacs also come with new Magic Keyboards and Magic Mouse 2s, which for the first time are all rechargeable out of the box — meaning that the mouse will no longer need thousands of AA batteries per year. (I’m exaggerating here, but only slightly.)
Overall, this is a pretty sweet set of upgrades. The one thing that continues to disappoint is on the storage front. Apple continues to stick with either spinning 5400 RPM hard drives, or at best, Fusion hybrid drives for all of its default configurations, in a world where it’s been long clear that you get stellar improvements in speed from solid state storage.
Apple also continues to charge $200 to upgrade to a 256GB SSD, which feels like highway robbery when you can buy one on Amazon or Newegg for $80 (and that’s not counting the cost of the 1TB drive Apple is keeping when you swap). It would be one thing if you could add the drive yourself, but you can’t anymore thanks to Apple’s move toward sealed-up enclosures. Those are great for their design aesthetic and the lack of visible seams, but bad for tinkerers and replacing bad parts down the road.
Also disappointing: The Mac Mini is left untouched. It continues to lack quad-core processor upgrades of any kind, having lost the ability to do so in 2014. Finally, we won’t complain about the cost of Apple’s own RAM upgrades, because that’s just a given at this point, and is unfortunately part of the price of entry.
All of the new Macs come with OS X 10.11 El Capitan, and are available online and in Apple retail locations beginning today. Our vote: If at all possible given your budget, upgrade to a base 256GB SSD no matter which version you buy. You can always use inexpensive external drives to store large media files, and you’ll get much faster performance across the board.