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Sorry, Apple Isn’t Going to Update the 27-inch iMac with Apple Silicon

Written by  Adam Engst Monday, 03 June 2024 09:03 - (1045)

Are you a 27-inch iMac owner wondering when Apple will release a new model with speedy Apple silicon? We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the answer seems to be an unequivocal “Never.” Late last year, Apple confirmed to The Verge that it would not be making an Apple silicon version of the 27-inch iMac. Technically, that leaves open the possibility of a 32-inch iMac, for instance, but that feels like wishful thinking given the $5000 cost of Apple’s 32-inch Pro Display XDR. How did we get here, and where should 27-inch iMac owners look next?

Apple introduced the 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display in 2014 and updated it several times before discontinuing it in 2022. It was hugely popular due to its large, gorgeous screen and a price that made the guts of the Mac seem cheap when paired with such a nice screen. An 8-year run isn’t bad, but once Apple introduced the powerful Mac Studio and the 27-inch Studio Display (also a 5K Retina display), the company felt there was no room for the 27-inch iMac in the lineup.

Apple isn’t necessarily wrong. One of the reasons 27-inch iMac owners are so attached to their Macs is that they can’t upgrade the computer and keep using that lovely screen, which remains one of the best available. Target Display Mode (which lets you use some much older iMacs as an external display for another Mac) never supported that model of iMac, and although the $80 Luna Display dongle does let you use a 27-inch iMac as a screen for another Mac, its tradeoffs may be hard to accept.

In the new world order, an Apple silicon Mac paired with a Studio Display provides a fast, capable Mac you can swap for a newer one when necessary and an extremely nice display you can use across multiple Macs. It’s not uncommon for an external display to last a decade or more, whereas many businesses upgrade their Macs every 3 to 5 years. A Studio Display could easily outlast two or three Macs.

“But, but, but,” we can hear you spluttering, “what about the 24-inch iMac with Apple silicon?” It may seem odd for Apple to drop the 27-inch model but keep a smaller iMac around. The reason is that the 24-inch iMac is meant to be a low-cost Mac that doesn’t skimp on display quality. It has a 4.5K Retina display that’s just a little smaller than the 27-inch iMac’s 5K Retina display while matching its quality. (Those numbers refer to the number of horizontal pixels on the screen—4,480 or 5,120—although the actual resolutions nearly everyone uses are half that to get crisp text at a readable size.) A Mac mini paired with an inexpensive external display would be cheaper than a 24-inch iMac, but you would have trouble getting a comparably good display for so little. The 24-inch iMac is perfect for a receptionist’s desk or a family’s kitchen computer, and its M3 chip will seriously outperform the Intel chips in the now-discontinued 27-inch iMac.

So, let’s assume you’ve been holding onto your 27-inch iMac, but it’s finally time to move on. The calculus of what to buy has changed due to the excellent performance of the Apple silicon Macs, even on the low end, and the existence of the Studio Display. Here’s what we recommend for different needs:

  • You’re on a very limited budget: Buy a 24-inch iMac. The screen isn’t quite as large, but the price/performance ratio is hard to beat for such a nice screen. The lowest-end model has fewer USB ports, which might be annoying.
  • You want a basic desktop Mac with a Retina screen: Choose between a Mac mini paired with a Studio Display or a 24-inch iMac, which is comparable to the low-end Mac mini. For higher performance needs, go for the Mac mini with an M2 Pro.
  • You want portability, too: The Studio Display works well with a MacBook Air (13-inch or 15-inch) for a budget solution or a MacBook Pro (14-inch or 16-inch) for a high-performance option. Using two screens also increases productivity.
  • You’re willing to pay more for performance: Things get interesting here because you can use a Studio Display with a Mac mini with M2 Pro, a Mac Studio with M2 Max, or a MacBook Pro with either M3 Pro or M3 Max. The MacBook Pro options are the most expensive but offer portability and a second screen.
  • You want the ultimate performance: Pair a Studio Display with a Mac Studio or a Mac Pro, both of which come with the M2 Ultra. The choice comes down to expandability: the Mac Pro offers PCIe slots and more ports.

Right now, the M-series chips are a little confusing. The original M1 is available only in an inexpensive 13-inch MacBook Air model sold exclusively through Walmart. The previous MacBook Air (13-inch only), Mac mini, Mac Studio, and Mac Pro all use variants of the M2, whereas the newer MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models sport M3 variants. Until recently, we expected Apple to standardize the rest of the line on the M3, but then the iPad Pro came out with an M4 because of yield issues with the M3 fabrication process.

It now seems probable that some models will skip the M3 entirely in favor of the M4, but don’t get too caught up in the latest and greatest. There’s more performance to be gained in the Pro, Max, and Ultra versions of the chips than in the next generation, so for now, the M2 Ultra remains the fastest chip for most processor-intensive tasks.

Regardless of what Mac and display combination best meets your needs, you’ll enjoy vastly better performance than was available with the 27-inch iMac, and the Studio Display is every inch as good a monitor. And maybe you can sell your 27-inch iMac on eBay.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)

Social Media: Sorry, 27-inch iMac lovers, but Apple isn’t going to release a 27-inch iMac with Apple silicon chips. We explain why and run down the upgrade options for those who need to move on.