Which Mac Will Replace the 27-iMac for You?

Originally published at: Which Mac Will Replace the 27-iMac for You? - TidBITS

When Apple unveiled the new Mac Studio and Studio Display, it also quietly dropped the venerable 27-inch iMac from the product line. Those who have been waiting for an Apple silicon 27-inch iMac are disappointed, but as Adam Engst shows (with lots of charts), there are plenty of other good options in the Mac lineup.

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I have a 2014 27” Retina and face this problem. The Mac Studio with Studio Display is just too expensive ($3,800 with 1TB SSD) and the 24” feels too small.

If there were a 30” iMac I’m guessing would be priced between $2,500 and $3,000 so I’m using that as my budget guide. It would be good to hear your opinion on that.

I am considering either the basic Mac Studio with a 27” Asus display (around $2,700) or a loaded M1 Mac Mini with 27” Studio Display ($2,900). The question is, which is more important for my needs, the better computer or the better display?

I have rarely felt processor bound on my Retina and I believe the M1 Mini is more powerful (can you confirm?) so do I really need the power of the Mac Studio? Further the Studio Display is unquestionably better than alternatives and has a quality camera which the Asus lacks. So I’m leaning to the second option.

First off, I think it’s a bit dangerous to guess at the price of a Mac that doesn’t and will likely never exist and then use that as your budget guide. There’s just no way to gauge the accuracy of your guess.

If you’re happy with the processing power of the 2014 27-inch iMac, you’ll be blown away by any M1-based Mac. I’m guessing you don’t do anything that’s GPU-intensive, which would point toward the M1 Pro or M1 Max, so I think you’d be happy with a Studio Display and either a Mac mini or a MacBook Air—the latter if portability enters into the equation.

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My wife had a 5k iMac and I had a Thunderbolt Display connected to a MacBook Air. We ditched both and went with the 24” iMac, blue for her and red for me. We found the 27” just too big for our needs. It was also too heavy. If you needed to move it for cleaning or such it was cumbersome.

I recognize that some people really need the screen real estate so the 27” or larger is a necessity. If I was in that situation I would probably go with the setup I had when I was working - laptop with external display(s). In my case (10 years ago) I had a Lenovo laptop connected to two 19” displays. Great at work but when I was home and on call the 14” screen was a problem. Depending on processing needs and portability 16” MBP, Mini, or Studio connected to either one or two Studio Displays.

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Many thanks. No real need for portability so the mini is fine.

If choosing a Mini or other non M1 Pro Mac, just be sure that you can live with the 16GB max of memory. Your mileage may vary of course, but for a lot of uses they will be fine. I have a 34" LG UltraWide curved display hooked to my 8/256 M1 Mini (yeah, I was cheap…) and it works fine for what I do (a VMware virtual machine or two, some Arduino development, some iOS development learning), Zoom, Excel and Word. And of course responding here :slight_smile:

In hindsight, I probably would have splurged on the 16/512 model.

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My current iMac has 16Gb and the Activity Monitor shows I never need more than about 12Gb so I expect to be OK. I do very basic stuff. The only mild stress on memory is likely to be an occasional use of Eclipse IDE, MatLab, or iMovie.

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IME if you had enough RAM in your Intel Mac days, you’ll be fine with the same amount on an M1 Mac. Even if it swaps to flash every once in a while, this will likely be so much faster than anything you ever had, you’ll be happy. The counter-argument of course is that you can’t increase RAM on an M1 Mac. If you later want to get more memory, you’ll be forced to buy a new Mac.

I got by well with 32 GB on my 2020 Intel MBP so my 14" Pro also got 32 GB and so far it’s been fine. I do not plan on keeping this machine for more than ~3 years. If I did, I would have considered 64 GB for another $450. Ouch.

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I have not managed to break myself of the habit of upgrading when something twice as powerful comes along. It was a long wait between a 2009 27" i7 iMac and a 2017 10-core iMac Pro, but now, just over four years later, along comes the Mac Studio with the M1 Ultra. Which I’ve ordered, along with the Studio Display. My son, current guardian of the 2009 iMac (and an actual user of Target Display Mode) gets my cast-off.

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I totally get that; but my 2019 27-inch is equipped with 128GB RAM (I pulled all 4 boards the day it arrived and replaced them with a kit from OWC that was less than half as pricey as Apple’s, but still an ouchey).

I’m in my last year or so of regular employment, and plan on a post-regular-employment pursuit that will involve video capture and editing. The 27 will either stay at home or be sold/traded. I don’t think I’ll be happy with a MBPro for video editing because in my experience Apple’s marketing always fibs about the utility of their notebooks for media creation. (I think “yes” for music and audio production, and I think “fans constantly spinning full tilt” for video editing and rendering.) My last MBPro (2017) was purchased and configured specifically with video production in mind, and it’s clear to me how laborious that task is for the machine.

I am intrigued with the potential for equipping my RV-based* workstation with one of the Studio models, a matching mass storage unit, and a display smaller than the new Studio display, but with very high display specs. I don’t think I really want a “smarter” display and all the hub options, but I could be wrong.

So my response to the question is, it’s not all that simple, but I think Apple has given me some good options going forward.


*It won’t be our “first rodeo” with RVs, and we’re not engaging in pandemic pipe dreams. :wink:

My wife and I were full time in our RV for a couple of years. I made a secure mount for her 27” iMac. I put two threaded inserts in the countertop then used a piece of aluminum stock to go across the base with thumbscrews to hold it down. Thousands of miles with no problems.

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The rule of thumb is as much as you can afford. From what I’ve heard, Final Cut Pro was upgraded when M chip Macs first debuted. I don’t know about other applications.

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If I were buying today, I’d reluctantly get an M1 Max Mac Studio with the Studio Display to replace my 2020 27" 5K iMac. I say “reluctantly” because I don’t need that much CPU/GPU power, but I do need support for 3 displays (my 27" iMac is connected to 2 external displays) and 32GB memory.

Hoping there will be an M2 Pro Mac Mini eventually, which I could pair with the Studio Display.

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For my partner we need to replace an ageing 21.5" iMac. She works from home in medical/pharmaceutical research, i.e. it’s all about text, text, text. Strangely enough this is not a Pro person by Apple’s definition. This work is MS Office + intensive Safari surfing with many browser windows constantly being open. Plus PDF docs for reference. We were hoping for a 27" M1 iMac mainly for much needed screen real estate, but the new Mac Studio is not the Mac we were waiting for.

The Studio Display is too expensive, its built-in speaker and camera nice, but not worth this kind of money. The Mac Studio offers performance well above this use case, in other words you spend a lot but can’t actually use what you get for the money.

Our current thinking is: 24" M1 iMac (with 16 GB, 512 GB) and add a second monitor for more screen real estate. Such monitor in good quality can be found for about a third of what an Apple Studio Display costs and we then have even more screen real estate than a 27" iMac. The second monitor will likely survive the usable lifespan of the iMac, a good longterm investment.

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Sounds reasonable to me since you want two displays.

If you need two displays, the 24" iMac appears the way to go. If OTOH you prefer a single larger display, the Mac mini is likely the better deal since those saved $800 can buy a lot of screen (or be put towards a more expensive Studio).

I am looking at the new Studio computers and monitor with interest. At this level of performance, I think the relevant comparison is with the (now unavailable) iMac Pro. Three years ago I purchased a refurbished base model iMac Pro and it has been great - the best Mac I have ever owned. I bought a MBP16 M1 Max last fall - so I have experienced that level of performance. (For the image processing I do, the MBP16 and the iMac Pro perform about the same - processing 8 images in parallel in DxO.). The iMac Pro base model most recently was priced at $4500 - I can get a base Mac Studio Max, with 32 GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD for $2400 - adding $1600 for the display puts the cost around $4000 - still better than what the iMac Pro was selling for - and with better performance. I just wonder if going to the Studio Ultra would really make sense for my work - I don’t think current software can take advantage of that system’s capabilities - but in a couple of years, the software should grow into the hardware performance. I am going to wait a while in any event - I still really like my iMac Pro.

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Yes, and I did that for the MBPro, and it is a relatively disappointing machine. The iMac chews through rendering at a much more satisfying clip, but it should considering the onboard RAM and the Radeon Pro Vega 48 GPU with its own 8 GB of RAM.

That sounds like a really good solution. If I end up not replacing the 27, that would definitely be on the table.

Even with a Studio setup, I picture having to do something like that, because the alternative is breaking everything down after a work session and store it in shockproof cases close to the floor. If I were doing that I’d be better off with a high-spec M1 MBPro and an external monitor.

I get that. But I also think it’s worth pointing out that during the Intel era we IMHO took a much more substantial performance hit with mobile CPUs. An M1 Max MBP today performs a whole lot more like high-end desktops than what we were used to getting with 15/17" MBPs.

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How about a 16/512 M1 Mini with something like a 34" ultra wide screen? That’s a lot of screen real estate even more than a 27" monitor. It works out for me with a similar workload - “text text text”, browsing, PDF. and Office. Pick a nice USB HD webcam and you have a pretty sweet setup.

I’m a little biased because I’ve really gotten to like the bigger screen over 2x 24" monitors…

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I like the ideas of @Simon and @Technogeezer. The text text text user however is very keen on minimal clutter on the desk. A MINI, being a separate unit, is already too much. The all-in-one concept is after all one of the key aspects that made the Mac big many years ago. A fair point.

Some others may now also be looking for a good monitor, if you don’t want to spend on a Apple Studio Display. The best review site I’ve ever seen for many years is prad.de. Assuming that German for many of you might be a little rusty, to be used in conjunction with Google Translate. But the incredible depth and precision of their reviews is second to none. You may want to start with their Top-10 lists, separated into Gaming/Allround/Graphics. See here: https://www.prad.de/test-kaufberatung/top-10-bestenlisten/monitore/