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Review: Apple iMac (M3, 24-inch)

This M3-powered all-in-one desktop delivers the same beauty and ease of use as its predecessor, just now with more oomph.
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2023 24inch iMac computers in different colors
Photograph: Apple

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Attractive design. Easy setup. Great performance with Apple's latest M3 processor. Big, bright display. 1080p webcam. The six-speaker audio system sounds great.
Screen height isn't adjustable. Wireless accessories charge with Lightning ports instead of USB-C. You can only buy it with the entry-level M3 chip inside. Can't support more than one external display. Expensive, especially if you opt for extra ports and memory.

when the 24-inch iMac first debuted in 2020, it felt like the sun finally breaking through the clouds on an overcast day. The candy-colored lineup was a sweet respite from Apple's monotonous aesthetic in a sea of silver and space-gray computers. The desktop was finally exciting again. The moment, however, was fleeting.

Cut to 2023. Apple has spent the past three years upping the ante on power instead of design and as a result, the Mac has gotten boring again. Rather than shining a light on any exterior innovations this year, Apple recycled the chassis for the Mac Mini, Mac Studio, and Mac Pro, focusing solely on pushing the boundaries of its house-made silicon and shattering any hopes that the iMac's most recent redo was the start of a new, vibrant era for Apple's machines.

While the lack of upgrades to the new 24-inch iMac should also classify as boring—Apple used the same hardware as last time and added its latest M3 processor under the hood—it's the most ideal Mac the company currently offers. Among a convoluted list of options that are mostly aimed at creative professionals, the iMac is an easy choice if you're looking for a no-frills desktop computer.

Cute, Cozy, and Bright

I shouldn't criticize Apple too much for reusing the same chassis as the M1-powered iMac, because this desktop is downright adorable. As with the original version, it comes in seven colors: blue, green, pink, yellow, purple, orange, and silver. Apple sent me the green one, which looks more like a seafoam color than a traditional green. The white bezel around the screen, included with all variations, gives it a retro aesthetic and makes the color truly pop.

As with its predecessor, it works just as much as smart interior decor than it does as a productivity machine. Since a monitor and MacBook already take up residency at my desk, I didn't mind placing it smack dab in the middle of my kitchen table. The Mac Mini and Mac Studio aren't eyesores, but I found myself trying to tuck them away on my desk—placing trinkets around them and on top. I was perfectly content that the 24-inch iMac, with its color-matched accessories and power cable, was front and center in my apartment.

Photograph: Apple

Setup is easy. Connect the magnetic power cord to the back of the chassis, plug the machine in, and turn it on. Next, switch on the included keyboard and mouse. Both pair to the computer automatically over Bluetooth when they power up for the first time. To keep these two wireless accessories charged, Apple supplies one Lightning cable in the box. Yes, Apple kept the Lightning ports on all its external accessories again this year, an odd choice seeing as how the company transitioned the iPhone 15 to the USB-C standard only a couple of months ago.

Like the original 24-inch iMac, the base model comes with the standard Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse. At checkout, you can select the option to upgrade to the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID or Magic Trackpad for an additional $50 each. Meanwhile, the more expensive iMac configuration that starts at $1,499 comes with the Touch ID keyboard and a Magic Mouse (you can upgrade to a Magic Trackpad here as well).

I like the Touch ID keyboard and Magic Trackpad combo. The ability to log in, download apps, and make purchases with a tap of your fingerprint is a minor but extremely convenient feature. Also, the Magic Trackpad is far more comfortable than the Magic Mouse, with its poor ergonomics and the confounding fact that you can't use it while it's charging, since the Lightning cable plugs in to the bottom of the mouse. But if you prefer your peripherals to include USB-C ports, I'd suggest saving your money and holding off on upgrading any of the external accessories when you purchase the iMac. Rumors are already swirling that Apple plans to release Magic accessories with those industry-standard ports at some point next year.

Photograph: Apple

As for the display, the iMac packs the same 4.5K Retina screen with a 4,480 x 2,520 resolution. It gets super bright and the colors are vibrant, so it's nice to stare at all day. But as my editor Julian Chokkattu pointed out in his review of the first-generation version, it would've been nice if Apple had offered a nanotexture glass version of the display—even for an additional cost. I used it near a large window and, on sunny days, I'd have to tinker with the blinds to reduce the glare enough to keep the screen readable.

Built into the iMac's body are a 1080p FaceTime camera, a six-speaker sound system, and a triple-mic array—all of which make for an excellent experience if you're on video calls a lot throughout the day. The camera delivers nice, sharp image quality; the speakers don't get insanely loud, but they do sound great; and the mics work well enough that I didn't hear any complaints from colleagues about my audio while on Zoom calls. Sadly, you still can't adjust the height of the monitor (though you can tilt it). If you need a height-adjustable option, buy the version of this iMac with the built-in VESA mount adapter. This one ships without the curvy stand, and you can attach it to a stand or mounting arm of your choosing.

The ports are all hidden on the back, and the number of available ports varies by configuration. The base version, which starts at $1,299, only comes with two Thunderbolt-USB 4 ports. The high-end models come with a total of four USB ports: two Thunderbolt-USB 4 ports and two USB 3 ports (plus an optional Gigabit Ethernet port). Those range between $1,499 and $1,699 depending on the amount of storage you want.

Apple loaned me a four-port model to test. Daily, I used three ports for charging my devices—two Lightning cables for my iPhone and AirPods, and a USB-C cable for my iPad Air. The fourth port is for connecting a second monitor (unfortunately, the M3 only allows you to connect one external monitor). If there's room in your budget, I highly recommend splurging on a configuration that gets you the extra ports. Even if you're not using every single one at all times, it's nice to know that they're there when you need them.

Light Work
Photograph: Apple

Powering this iMac is Apple's latest M3 chip, which can also be found in the new 14-inch MacBook Pro. It's an entry-level chip, but it packs the same features as the M3 Pro and M3 Max including dynamic caching (which allocates memory for each task dynamically as needed, instead of allocating a set amount of memory for each task), along with ray tracing and mesh shading for graphics-intensive apps and games. It's built on a 3-nanometer processor too (unlike its predecessors, which are on a 5-nanometer processor), which helps enhance both speed and power efficiency.

The M3 comes equipped with an 8-core CPU and up to a 10-core GPU (a fairly substantial increase from the 7-core and 8-core GPU on the M1). The 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU model can be configured with up to 24 gigabytes of RAM and up to 1 terabyte of storage. If you opt for the 10-core GPU, you can upgrade the machine with up to 24 gigabytes of RAM and 2 terabytes of storage. The iMac Apple sent me has an M3 chip with an 8-core CPU and 10-core GPU with 16 gigabytes of memory and 512 gigabytes of storage.

The company claims the M3-powered iMac is twice as fast as its predecessor with the M1. Although I haven't used the M1 version since it first came out, I can't say the difference was noticeable. But I had zero issues with performance—the computer was snappy and smooth with all my day-to-day tasks. During a typical workday, I'd have about 15 to 20 tabs open and multiple apps running simultaneously in the background (including Spotify, Slack, Messages, Telegram, and Notes). The desktop never felt sluggish and I never once saw the rainbow wheel or heard the fans kick in. I do attribute this to the increased RAM, though—I'd recommend upgrading from 8 gigabytes if you can spend the extra cash.

I was impressed with gaming on this machine. I'm not a gamer by any means, but I do love the occasional simulation-style game—specifically The Sims 4. I've only ever tested gaming on the high-end processors like the M1 Max and M2 Pro, and I had yet to try it with an entry-level chip. When I fired up the game on the M3, I was pleasantly surprised to find the gameplay was incredibly smooth. I did utilize the new Game Mode feature (it turned on automatically) included with macOS Sonoma, which allows the Mac to give high priority to the CPU and GPU while playing a game while lowering usage for background tasks. This resulted in a fluid experience with consistent frame rates. The fans kicked in almost immediately and stayed on during the entire 45-minute gaming session, but the chassis never felt warm and the fans powered off as soon as I exited the game. (I'll contrast this experience with playing The Sims 4 on my Intel-based MacBook Air, which would stress the machine so much the Origin app would crash only a few minutes into the game.)

Although I enjoyed playing The Sims on the iMac, I don't think that classifies it as the ultimate gaming machine Apple's pushing for it to be—based solely on how hard the fans were working for a game that isn't considered that demanding. But it's fine for those light, cozy games. If Apple also offered the option to configure this machine with the M3 Pro or M3 Max, I'd be singing a different tune.

Worth Every Penny

It's tough to ignore the fact that the iMac is relatively expensive, especially when you can buy a highly capable Mac Mini (with M2) for $600 and pair it with a budget monitor and cheap accessories. But if you're looking for a user-friendly setup, interface, and all-around experience, it's worth the cost.

If you have the iMac with M1, that machine is still far from obsolete. It's only been a few years since its release, and it's still solid. You probably do not need to upgrade yet. It makes more sense to upgrade to the M3 version if you're coming from an older Intel Mac, or if you want to add an all-in-one desktop that acts as a central home hub to your stable of devices. In those cases, this iMac is a no-brainer.