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Which Mac Will Replace the 27-iMac for You?

Apple’s release of the Mac Studio—the company’s first completely new Mac line since the MacBook Air debuted in 2008—and Studio Display also seems to have triggered the end of what was likely the company’s most popular desktop Mac: the 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display (see “New Mac Studio and Studio Display Change Mac Buying Calculus,” 8 March 2022). At the close of Apple’s Peek Performance presentation, John Ternus summed up with:

We introduced Mac Studio, which was designed to put all this groundbreaking performance right on your desk. Together with the Studio Display, these products will empower users to create the studios of their dreams and to continue to change the world. And they join the rest of our incredible Mac lineup with Apple silicon, making our transition nearly complete, with just one more product to go: Mac Pro. But that is for another day.

If the Mac Pro is all that’s left, there’s no room for the 27-inch iMac. That immediately raised the question: If you have been waiting to purchase an Apple silicon 27-inch iMac, what are your options in a world that doesn’t include it? Some hold out hope that Apple will bring back a high-end all-in-one desktop Mac, perhaps with a 30- or 32-inch screen. However, sources tell 9to5Mac that Apple currently has no plans to release a large-screen iMac.

If you have to decide based on the Macs you can buy today, there are numerous good options. Pricing out comparable systems revealed that while the 27-inch iMac was in a sweet spot where price meets performance, other combinations of Apple gear come close. When the new options’ prices are higher, the associated performance and capabilities are also greater—a classic Apple technique for encouraging users to pay more. Plus, when you expand your thinking beyond a single purchase, the 27-inch iMac isn’t nearly as compelling.

Mac lineup with the Mac Studio and Studio Display

Don’t assume I’m here to speak ill of the 27-inch iMac. Nothing could be further from the truth. But if Apple has no plans to update it with Apple silicon, we have to move on.

A Long History with the 27-inch iMac

I’ve been a huge fan and promoter of the 27-inch iMac since it appeared in late 2014—I still remember visiting an Apple Store in Santa Monica with Michael Cohen and Tonya while en route to the MacTech Conference so I could see that screen in person. I ordered one immediately, spending $3150 for a 4.0 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 with 16 GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD, plus another $900 for a 27-inch Thunderbolt Display. With tax, the package came to $4550, but that combination served me well (with a bump to 40 GB of RAM at some point) until early 2020. Then its internal SSD died, forcing me to boot with an external SSD and deal with increased flakiness (see “Six Lessons Learned from Dealing with an iMac’s Dead SSD,” 27 April 2020), so I was happy to replace it once Apple released what would turn out to be the final update. In August 2020, I bought a 2020 27-inch iMac with a 3.8 GHz eight-core Intel Core i7, 8 GB of RAM (again upgraded to 40 GB via OWC), and 1 TB of storage, for just under $3000.

I wasn’t alone. By mid-2015, Tonya had replaced her 2011 27-inch iMac (also paired with a 27-inch Thunderbolt Display) with an identical 2014 27-inch iMac, and when Josh Centers needed a new Mac, TidBITS bought him a 2014 27-inch iMac as well. Similarly, when my parents wanted to upgrade from an older iMac, they looked at my 27-inch iMac and bought one too. Tonya continues to use her 27-inch iMac to this day (and a 2019 model in her office at Cornell), and Josh used his until it became unbearably flaky in 2019, after which he sent it to me and replaced it with a 2019 model. Unable to stomach those lovely machines being unusable, I performed major surgery on both mine and Josh’s to replace the problematic SSDs—both are now fully functional again. In short, I adore the 27-inch iMac—when Tonya was working from home entirely during the pandemic, we had five of them in the house. (Know anyone who’d like to buy a nice 2014 27-inch iMac or two?)

The only real design problem with the 27-inch iMac has been the unbreakable connection of the actual Mac with that gorgeous screen. The 2014 27-inch iMac can’t upgrade to macOS 12 Monterey, and its ports are dated, but there’s no official way to use the screen with any other Mac. Target Display Mode never supported the 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display, and until a few months ago, no secondary-display technology supported the 27-inch iMac’s Retina resolution, rendering it no better than the old 27-inch Thunderbolt Display or any cheap 27-inch screen.

There is one possibility now. Astropad released an update to its Luna Display solution that supports 4K and 5K Retina screens, and I’m testing it now (see “Luna Display Turns a 27-inch iMac into a 5K Display,” 16 March 2022). In short, it works, but there are tradeoffs.

A Summary of 27-inch iMac Alternatives

Let’s assume for the moment that you have to replace your existing computing setup right away—a fire, flood, or burglary has left you with an insurance check and license to shop. (You do have online or offsite backups, right?) As a fan of the 27-inch iMac, you probably want to replicate its 5K Retina display with the new Studio Display.

(The LG UltraFine 5K Display remains for sale, but at $1300, it’s only $300 less than the Studio Display and lacks the Studio Display’s 12-megapixel webcam, mic, and speakers. On the plus side, it’s more adjustable than the Studio Display unless you pay $400 more for Apple’s tilt- and height-adjustable stand. It’s also out of stock at Apple and in limited supply at Amazon, though LG says it’s still in production.)

What makes the decision of how to replace a 27-inch iMac hard is that any current Apple silicon Mac could fit the bill, depending on your needs and budget. That’s because even the least-expensive M1-based Macs outperform all 27-inch iMacs in single-core benchmarks. While M1-based Macs aren’t as fast as the top two 27-inch iMac models in multi-core benchmarks, they still best the low-end model. Move up to a Mac with an M1 Pro or M1 Max (or an M1 Ultra, though we don’t have benchmarks there yet), and the Apple silicon Macs handily dust every Intel-based Mac except a Mac Pro or iMac Pro with 16 or more cores. In other words, if keeping the cost down is more important to you than performance, any M1-based Mac will suffice. When performance matters, the decision depends on how much you want to spend and your portability desires.

To aid your decision, here’s a table comparing current Mac models to the three configurations of the final 27-inch iMac model. Some notes:

  • The price of each current Mac other than the 24-inch iMac includes $1600 for a Studio Display.
  • The table includes both models of the 24-inch iMac because its 7-core GPU option is notably cheaper. It doesn’t include the 7-core GPU model of the MacBook Air because it is only $50 less.
  • All Macs in the table are configured with 512 GB of SSD storage. That requirement eliminates the low-end 3.1 GHz 27-inch iMac, which was available only with 256 GB of internal SSD storage. It would have been $300 less than the 3.3 GHz model.
  • For M1- and M1 Pro-based Macs, the price assumes 16 GB of unified memory. Macs using the M1 Max or M1 Ultra assume their starting levels of 32 GB and 64 GB, respectively
  • Since the M1 family’s unified memory is more efficient than separate RAM for Intel-based Macs, I configured the 27-inch iMac with 32 GB of RAM to estimate a comparable configuration. Previously, I would have recommended buying 8 GB and supplementing with less expensive third-party RAM—probably 24 GB total—but that’s no longer an option for any Mac and thus not a fair comparison.
  • CPU benchmarks are Geekbench 5 single-core, multi-core, and Metal GPU scores. As far as I know, they don’t take Neural Engine cores into account, so the GPU scores may not be entirely comparable. For the Mac Studio, I copied the M1 Max-equipped 16-inch MacBook’s scores and used the leaked M1 Ultra scores. Take those with a grain of salt until more benchmarking happens.
Mac Specs Total Price Benchmark Single/Multi/Metal
24-inch iMac 8-core CPU/7-core GPU M1 $1700 1719 / 7489 / 19138
24-inch iMac 8-core CPU/8-core GPU M1 $1900 1719 / 7489 / 21064
27-inch iMac 3.3 GHz 6-core Intel Core i5  $2600 1180 / 6118 / 37374
Mac mini 8-core CPU/8-core GPU M1 $2700 1712 / 7429 / 21064
27-inch iMac 3.8 GHz 8-core Intel Core i7 $2900 1251 / 8135 / 37374
MacBook Air 8-core CPU/8-core GPU M1 $3050 1705 / 7415 / 21064
13-inch MacBook Pro 8-core CPU/8-core GPU M1 $3300 1706 / 7392 / 21064
27-inch iMac 3.6 GHz 10-core Intel Core i9 $3300 1243 / 9029 / 41845
14-inch MacBook Pro 8 CPU/14 GPU M1 Pro, 16 GB $3600 1732 / 9514 / 39626
Mac Studio 10 CPU/24 GPU M1 Max, 32 GB $3600 1747 / 12232 / 64260
16-inch MacBook Pro 10 CPU/16 GPU M1 Pro, 16 GB $4100 1747 / 12232 / 39626
14-inch MacBook Pro 10 CPU/24 GPU M1 Max, 32 GB $4500 1747 / 12184 / 64269
16-inch MacBook Pro 10 CPU/32 GPU M1 Max, 32 GB $4900 1747 / 12232 / 64269
Mac Studio 20 CPU/48 GPU M1 Ultra, 64 GB $5600 1793 / 24055 / 94107

With the chart in hand, I can now make some recommendations for different people and situations. Apart from the 24-inch iMac, I’m assuming that all of these include a Studio Display.

  • You’re on a very limited budget. The 24-inch iMac with the 7-core GPU option is by far the best option if you want to stay entirely within the Apple world. It’s cheaper than a 27-inch iMac would ever have been, with great performance. Its screen—actually 23.5 inches diagonal—isn’t as large, but in terms of resolution, it’s close: 4480-by-2520 compared to the 27-inch iMac’s 5120-by-2880. A consultant I know recently reported that he replaced all the 27-inch iMacs in a medium-sized law firm with 24-inch iMacs, and the pre-swap disappointment disappeared within a week. You might be able to save some money by buying an $1100 Mac mini paired with a larger 4K display, but the Studio Display’s screen quality and resolution will almost certainly be better.
  • You want an inexpensive desktop Mac. The obvious answer here is the Mac mini paired with a Studio Display. The performance won’t be any different from the 24-inch iMac, but the Studio Display is bigger, better, and more flexible. Many people have speculated that a future Mac mini will come with an option for an M1 Pro for more desktop performance that doesn’t edge into the Mac Studio’s price range.
  • You want portability on a budget. If you’re happy with the basic M1 performance, a MacBook Air coupled with a Studio Display for desk work is a compelling choice. The 13-inch MacBook Pro is also an option for $250 more, but that doesn’t feel like a win if you’re trying to keep costs down.
  • You’re willing to pay for more performance. Here’s where things start to get interesting because the 14-inch MacBook Pro and the M1 Max-based Mac Studio come in at the same $3600 price. If portability is important, the 14-inch MacBook Pro is a better choice, whereas if you care more about performance, the Mac Studio is undoubtedly a lot faster and has twice the memory. If you want both portability and performance, the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s benchmarks sit between the other two options, albeit at a $500 premium.
  • You want the ultimate performance. Again, if you want portability with your performance, the M1 Max-based 16-inch MacBook Pro would fit the bill, but the M1 Ultra-based Mac Studio would offer more performance than anything else. Neither comes cheap.

For the most part, a current Mac combined with a Studio Display costs more than a 27-inch iMac. However, keep in mind that the Studio Display has a significantly better webcam, mic, and speakers than a 27-inch iMac, so you are getting more for your money in that regard.

Plus, with all the laptop options, you’re automatically getting a second display with its associated productivity benefits, so it makes sense for the laptop options to be priced somewhat higher than equivalent desktop-only options.

Finally, it’s important to remember that decoupling the display from the Mac gives you much more flexibility to upgrade your Mac in the future. If you use that Studio Display with your next Mac, your overall cost drops, and it keeps dropping every time you buy a new Mac. Let’s dig into that equation.

Total Cost of Ownership across Multiple Macs

How often should you buy a new Mac? There’s no right answer to that, of course, but many businesses assume a 3-year lifecycle for a Mac. It’s not that a Mac ceases to be useful after 3 years. Instead, on average, the costs associated with an increased likelihood of failure, the cost of additional support, and the benefits from a new Mac’s performance improvements start to outweigh the cost of replacement, especially considering the resale value of the used Mac. Lotus TechPros, a Houston-based consulting firm, even has a flat-fee managed services program that includes replacing all equipment every 3 years—they’ve calculated that it’s worthwhile in terms of reduced support needs.

For an individual, the calculus is different, and I generally recommend keeping a Mac as long as it serves your needs and is receiving security updates from Apple. But for purposes of argument, let’s assume that you’d buy a new Mac every 5 years.

Of course, if you were buying 27-inch iMacs on those schedules, you would be replacing the screen each time, even though it’s unlikely to have degraded in any way. Basing your setup around a Studio Display, however, enables you to swap Macs multiple times. How long will the Studio Display remain useful? It’s impossible to know, but since Apple stuck with the same panel as in the 27-inch iMac, which has been around for over 7 years, I would suggest that 10–12 years might be a reasonable lifespan for a high-quality display.

That suggests that a business could buy a Studio Display and use it with three or four Macs in its lifetime. An individual might get two or three Macs before needing to buy a new display. So let’s see how those numbers work out.

Mac Specs 2 Macs 3 Macs 4 Macs
24-inch iMac 8 CPU/7 GPU M1 $3400 $5100 $6800
Mac mini 8 CPU/8 GPU M1 $3800 $4900 $6000
24-inch iMac 8 CPU/8 GPU M1 $3800 $5700 $7600
MacBook Air 8 CPU/8 GPU M1 $4500 $5950 $7400
13-inch MacBook Pro 8 CPU/8 GPU M1 $5000 $6700 $8400
27-inch iMac 3.3 GHz 6-core i5  $5200 $7800 $10400
14-inch MacBook Pro 8 CPU/14 GPU M1 Pro $5600 $7600 $9600
Mac Studio 10 CPU/24 GPU M1 Max, 32 GB $5600 $7600 $9600
27-inch iMac 3.8 GHz 8-core i7 $5800 $8700 $11600
16-inch MacBook Pro 10 CPU/16 GPU M1 Pro $6600 $9100 $11600
27-inch iMac 3.6 GHz 10-core i9 $6600 $9600 $13200
14-inch MacBook Pro 10 CPU/24 GPU M1 Max $7400 $10300 $13200
16-inch MacBook Pro 10 CPU/32 GPU M1 Max, 32 GB $8200 $11500 $14800
Mac Studio 20 CPU/48 GPU M1 Ultra, 64 GB $9600 $13600 $17600

The table is sorted by the price of purchasing two Macs with a Studio Display, but as you can see, the more Macs you end up using with it, the more cost-effective it is. The 24-inch iMac and 27-inch iMac aren’t as much of a bargain as they are in a standalone purchase because you keep paying for the screen. I’m assuming that prices won’t change, but even if they do, they’ll likely change in concert throughout the Mac line. One number that I’m not considering above is how much you’d make from selling your used Mac; there are just too many variables to include in a sensible way.

What about Dual Display Options?

Perhaps I’m unusual in this regard, but I have always paired my 27-inch iMac with a 27-inch Thunderbolt Display because the dual-display approach is essential for my productivity. So if I were to replace my 27-inch iMac and Thunderbolt Display with a comparable setup, I’d need to buy a pair of Studio Displays. The choice of Mac remains open, but let’s look at how adding $1600 to the cost of each current Mac changes the table.

Mac Specs Dual-Display Price
24-inch iMac 8 CPU/7 GPU M1 $3300
24-inch iMac 8 CPU/8 GPU M1 $3500
27-inch iMac 3.3 GHz 6-core i5  $4200
Mac mini* 8 CPU/8 GPU M1 $4300
27-inch iMac 3.8 GHz 8-core i7 $4500
27-inch iMac 3.6 GHz 10-core i9 $4900
14-inch MacBook Pro 8 CPU/14 GPU M1 Pro $5200
Mac Studio 10 CPU/24 GPU M1 Max, 32 GB $5200
16-inch MacBook Pro 10 CPU/16 GPU M1 Pro $5700
14-inch MacBook Pro 10 CPU/24 GPU M1 Max $6100
16-inch MacBook Pro 10 CPU/32 GPU M1 Max, 32 GB $6500
Mac Studio 20 CPU/48 GPU M1 Ultra, 64 GB $7200

Although the relative positions stay the same, you’ll notice that the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro disappear from the table. That’s because they support only a single external display. The 24-inch iMac can drive both its built-in screen and a Studio Display—and it can even run them at the same resolution to avoid a stair-stepped Desktop—so it sticks around, even if the pairing might not be that elegant. The Mac mini sticks around as well, but with an asterisk, because it can run only one Studio Display at its full 5K resolution; the second one would have to be connected via HDMI and would be limited to 4K.

This table shows that achieving a dual-display setup with current Apple gear will cost quite a bit more than it would have with a 27-inch iMac. The same caveats about the Studio Display being a better, more flexible monitor still apply, but I think there’s one more scenario to play out. With the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro options, you’re getting both a third screen—more pixels, if you can find room for everything on your desk—and the capability of using that Mac away from your home or office.

What about Your Laptop Needs?

If you’re a working professional, you likely need some level of productive portability. I may focus on a desktop Mac with two monitors, but in normal times, I usually travel four or five times per year in situations where I need to work on the road. To enable that, I’ve always had an Apple laptop to supplement my desktop Mac; I prefer small, light, inexpensive laptops since I don’t use them every day. Having a separate laptop also provides a backup should my desktop Mac have problems, and I can use the laptop as a test machine for new versions of macOS, but it’s undeniably a pain to keep it updated and in sync.

Others take the opposite tack, buying a more powerful, more expensive laptop that’s their only Mac. Whether they’re working on an airplane, in a coffee shop, in a hotel room, they’re in a familiar environment with all their files available. When they return home or to the office, they can plug into a large-screen monitor for more screen real estate and ports.

Let’s look at how the costs work out if we assume that you need portability. The key here is that with the desktop Macs, you’ll need a secondary laptop, whereas, with a laptop as your main Mac, you’re done. For purposes of comparison, I’ll assume a basic $1450 MacBook Air as the secondary laptop.

One last thing. Since I would need both a laptop and a dual-display setup, I’ve built that scenario into the rightmost column. It won’t change any positions in the table, but it gives a sense of the total system cost and clarifies which laptops fall out of the equation due to lack of dual-display support. My main problem would be finding space on my desk for two Studio Displays and a laptop.

Mac Specs Price with Laptop Price with Laptop and Dual Displays
MacBook Air 8 CPU/8 GPU M1 $3050
24-inch iMac 8 CPU/7 GPU M1 $3150 $4750
13-inch MacBook Pro 8 CPU/8 GPU M1 $3300
24-inch iMac 8 CPU/8 GPU M1 $3350 $4950
14-inch MacBook Pro 8 CPU/14 GPU M1 Pro $3600 $5200
27-inch iMac 3.3 GHz 6-core i5  $4050 $5650
16-inch MacBook Pro 10 CPU/16 GPU M1 Pro $4100 $5700
Mac mini 8 CPU/8 GPU M1 $4150 $5750
27-inch iMac 3.8 GHz 8-core i7 $4350 $5950
14-inch MacBook Pro 10 CPU/24 GPU M1 Max $4500 $6100
27-inch iMac 3.6 GHz 10-core i9 $4750 $6350
16-inch MacBook Pro 10 CPU/32 GPU M1 Max, 32 GB $4900 $6500
Mac Studio 10 CPU/24 GPU M1 Max, 32 GB $5050 $6650
Mac Studio 20 CPU/48 GPU M1 Ultra, 64 GB $7050 $8650

Apart from that 24-inch iMac, which continues to be a stunning deal, bringing the need for a laptop into the equation biases the decision toward laptop-only options. The MacBook Air suddenly looks really good, and even the 14-inch M1 Pro-based MacBook Pro is cheaper than the low-end 27-inch iMac plus a MacBook Air, while the 16-inch M1 Pro-based MacBook Pro is just $50 more.

Upgrade with Intention

It’s easy to look at the prices in the various tables above and think, “Wow, that’s a lot of money to spend all at once!” But remember, you don’t have to upgrade everything simultaneously. Since I bought both my latest 27-inch iMac and MacBook Air in 2020, they’re likely to meet my needs for quite some time. However, I could upgrade my secondary display from a 2014 Thunderbolt Display to a snazzy new Studio Display. (The Studio Display isn’t compatible with all Macs, but most Macs released in 2016 or later will work as long as they’re running the soon-to-be-released macOS 12.3 Monterey.)

Then, in a year or three, perhaps after Apple has beefed up the Mac mini with an M1 Pro, or when the entire line has been refreshed with M2 versions of the chips, I’ll revisit the decision and see if it makes sense to trade in my 27-inch iMac for a Mac mini or Mac Studio with a second Studio Display. Or maybe I’d swap both my Macs for a 14-inch MacBook Pro and see if I even needed a second Studio Display.

I’m sure you’re in a different situation, but as much as it’s sad to say goodbye to the 27-inch iMac, Apple’s current Mac lineup has something for nearly everyone who’s not waiting for an Apple silicon Mac Pro. The main hole right now is between the current M1-based Mac mini and the M1 Max-based Mac Studio. If rumors are to be believed, Apple may release an upgraded Mac mini to fill the gap later this year.

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Comments About Which Mac Will Replace the 27-iMac for You?

Notable Replies

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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:

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. mHm

    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.

  14. 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).

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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…

  19. mHm

    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/

  20. It is indeed.

    I’ve never tried this myself, but looking at the back of my 27" monitor and the old mini next to it, I wonder if you couldn’t just velcro the mini to the back of the screen (right onto the stand) to tidy up on a small desk. Also, there are wall mounts for the Mac mini.

  21. I agree, fair point about the Mini, although iI find that it doesn’t add that much clutter given the tradeoff of the big monitor that I have. It fits comfortably under the arm that I’ve VESA mounted the monitor to. Bu I do understand that others’ aesthetics may be different than mine.

    @mHm - I have a paperweight on my desk that says “A cluttered desk is a sign of genius.”. If that’s the case then I must be the smartest guy in the world. :grinning: And I’m a firm believer in the archaeological filing system - oldest stuff on the bottom.

  22. Twelve South has a product called Backpack for various iMac models. It’s a shelf that is fastened to the monitor stand. On their latest version (linked below), they’r creating a mailing list for a Studio Display model. Unfortunately, the specs don’t show a weight capacity.

    In terms of desk space, it looks like Studio fits comfortably under one side of the display, So, a mini should even more comfortably sit there

  23. Target Display Mode never supported the 27-inch iMac

    I’m running Target Display Mode on my 2011 27" iMac, using it as an external screen for my 2015 15" MacBook Pro.

  24. I’ve never had a bad experience using one of Dell’s Ultrasharp series displays (although ordering from Dell is another issue altogether - so you may be better off buying through a reseller). Current prices for a few models I think an individual consumer may want (sorted by price) are:

    • U2422H. 24". 1080p. $350
    • U2520D. 25". 1440p. $420
    • U2421E. 24". 1920x1200. Gigabit Ethernet (via USB-C). $450
    • U2722D. 27". 1440p. $455
    • U2720Q. 27". 4K. $560.
  25. I’m in much the same position. I currently have a maxed-out 2012 mini and dimming Apple Cinema display, and am looking to upgrade, but what I need—or think I need—is in the hole between the M1 mini and the new Studio max.

    I’ll definitely be getting a Studio display, but am torn between: 1. Buying a Mini and hoping 16gb of ram is enough to future-proof it some; 2. Shelling out for the Studio Mac with power I don’t really need; or 3. Waiting for a possible M2 or M1 Max Mini with 32gb of RAM to show up.

    I know an upgraded Mini will come at some point; but if it’s a long time, I don’t want to wait, as my machine is really coming to a standstill when I am doing video editing with multi-tasking—and that’s with 16gb of RAM. I know the M1 manages memory better, but how much better I’m not sure, so that’s why I’m hesitant about the current one. Any advice?

    PS, Great article, Adam!

  26. We’ve been happy with Samsung and Dell displays.

  27. I was about to say that you should just go for the M1 mini, since it will be much faster than your 2012 mini and has the same RAM limit. But then you wrote:

    Video editing is one of those power-hungry applications that will use as much horsepower as you can throw at it. If you are doing enough editing that this is a concern, then I would definitely go for one of the Studio models with maxed-out RAM.

    A base model with 64GB RAM is $2400. And with 2TB of storage is $3000. That’s a lot, but if you’re doing video work, I think it will be worth it. And I expect it will last a lot longer than a first-generation M1 mini will.

    I wouldn’t worry about maxing out the storage. 2TB isn’t too horribly expensive if you want that much internally, but it gets ugly at the larger sizes. Get what will comfortably hold your apps (even 512G should be plenty for that) and use an external Thunderbolt (or 10G USB3) SSD for your media collection and working storage for your video editing. The performance won’t be at the level of the internal storage, but it should be more than sufficient (especially if you use a TB drive).

  28. In your situation, I’d get the mini now. Even if Apple updates the high-end mini by year’s end, you can always sell the M1 and buy a new mini without losing too much. The 16GB mini after all is only $899-$1099 depending on internal flash. And the few hundred you’d lose (at most), amount then to what? $50/month? If your current Mac is on its last legs, that sounds like a comparably small price to pay to me.

  29. Thanks for the opinions, David and Simon—good points, & gives me some things to consider. Whichever way I go, I’m sure I’ll probably opt for 2TB storage; the 1TB SSD in my 2012 is getting pretty crowded.

  30. My data points are old, but before I moved to the 27-inch iMac and Thunderbolt Display, I used a Mac Pro with a pair of 24-inch Dell monitors, the Dell UltraSharp 2408WFP.

    They were wonderfully adjustable and had a lot of ports, which was welcome, but both screens eventually developed display problems. I can’t quite remember all the details (this was almost 9 years ago) but one of them had a permanent 1-pixel-wide vertical purple line running down the screen about a third of the way in from the right.

    And wow, did they pump out the heat! Made my office quite toasty in the winter and definitely encouraged AC use in the summer. In the end, they were entirely acceptable, but I never loved them.

  31. mHm

    Ahh, that egg-laying woolly milk sheep of a monitor. 110 Watts makes a good heater.

  32. Agreed. When I moved my office to my house a year or so ago I got a M1 MacBook Air along with a Dell U2720QM. The Dell has 2-USB-C and 3 USB-A ports, so along with the 2-TB ports on the Air I don’t need to use a dock.

  33. Yeah, that’s the downside of displays with CCF backlighting. I don’t think any of us would voluntarily go back to that. They draw far less power than comparably-sized CRTs, but a lot more than a modern LED backlight.

  34. A good thought provoking article. I went to 27-inch screen a while back and have found that size ideal for my needs as a full-time professional writer, letting me split the screen between two pages to work on. But I couldn’t justify the cost of an Apple monitor then or of the new 27-inch studio display now. I paid under $400 for the ASUS HDMI screen then, and the price now is under $200. I don’t do video editing or any color-intensive work, and I got badly burned when I bought a 2004 17 inch Apple studio display that only lasted a few years.

    I now use a 2018 MacMini with 16/512 Gig and that works well for everything but change tracking in Microsoft Word, which I suspect says more about what a mess MS Word is than than about what I should need for writing. I’ve started looking for a new laptop to replace my wife’s 2009 MacBook, and appreciate the comments on the advantages of investing in a laptop with 16/512 for that use. I use an 8/128 MacBook Air that’s now five years old for mobile computing, and the memory is just too small to hold her stuff as well as the minimal files I use. I’m not going to make that mistake again

  35. My wait for a M-based 27 inch ( or larger ) iMac appears over for the moment. However, there are a few crumbs suggesting( wishful thinking to a large degree ) Apple hasn’t eliminated it permanently: the new Apple monitor could easily be the basis for a new iMac and some might suggest it’s almost there. Also, Apple’s web site banner ( after clicking on the ‘Mac’ category ) shows iMac 24" and not simply iMac. I will be looking at a Mac Studio combined with a larger monitor ( not XDR due to budget ) in the meantime.

  36. You have hit the nail when you indicated that not all users who want large screens are video and audit developers - the ‘creatives’ to whom Apple directs all its attention. Many of us who are in business find large screens useful for business applications and the like.

    Given the high price of Apple Display, the solution is to buy a more reasonably priced non-Apple display and hope it works ok with Mac Mini or/and Mac Studio and with Apple operating systems and hope that Apple can fix the Apple Display issues with its web cam.

  37. Just a note: the first 27-inch iMac appeared in late 2009. 2014 saw the introduction of the 5K Retina version. I’ve owned 2011, 2014, 2017, and (currently) 2020 versions, and really enjoyed them all, but of course the big difference came with that 5K display, which was introduced just as my aging eyes really began to appreciate the greatly improved contrast in the Retina display.

    I don’t know which models they are, but my dentist’s practice has standardized on 27-inch iMacs, not only for the dentists but the clerical help as well. Yet another “pro” user segment.

  38. Thanks Al. Yes, it substantiates my wishful thinking assertion. Apple’s statement doesn’t rule out a future 32 inch( or other non-27 inch ) iMac but certainly not for a few years ( at best ). My choices will be based on current availability regardless of my preferences.

  39. I think there is still a chance (or at least it make sense as an option) to have also a new 27-32" iMac at a relatively low price as the new Studio mac + Studio display mostly works as a replacement for the iMac Pro in terms of price and performance. A Mac mini with a Studio display might be an option though.

  40. Wow, I didn’t even consider speakers as an issue. I’ve had an iMac of some sort since at least 2008, replacing a Powermac G5 before that. Amazingly, my primary display from that Powermac, a 23" Apple Cinema HD Display that I bought in 2005, is currently my 2nd display to my current desktop, a late 2014 iMac Retina 27"; it’s worked flawlessly for 17 years!

    I also have a lot of devices attached to this iMac (laser MFP, multiple external hard drives, photo scanner, Blu-ray reader/writer, two USB hubs, a ScanSnap, and other devices I’m forgetting), plugged into UPS and two power strip–which doesn’t even count desk lamps. My house dates from preWW2 and wall outlets are at a premium.

    If I have to get a monitor-less Mac, that means one power plug will be replaced with three: the Mac, a monitor, and (unless bus-powered) speakers–I’m not terribly interested in the Studio Display as I wouldn’t use the built in camera (I have my iMac’s covered with electrical tape).

    I do video conversion but not production so I’m debating if my next Mac will be a Mini or a Studio–ports are more of an issue than processing power, I think.

  41. What non-Apple displays have you found that don’t work? HDMI and DisplayPort are both industry standards and both are directly supported by Apple computers.

    As long as your display’s resolution is within the Mac’s GPU’s capabilities, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work. Especially if you use a standard resolution like 1080p (1920x1080) or 4K (3840x2160).

    Apple may not auto-detect your display as HiDPI (to enable Retina-style scaling), but there are software packages to fix this, if it is important to you.

    There are some third-party displays that include speakers.

    My work laptop is connected to a Dell UZ315H. This is a 1080p display with built-in camera, mic and speakers. It is marketed for use with Microsoft Lync (which got rebranded as Skype For Business and was then merged into Teams), but these conferencing hardware components can be used with any software.

    The speaker audio can come from USB or HDMI. The camera and mics are connected via USB (there’s also an internal USB3 hub with two downstream ports). The sound quality is not as nice as my Klipsch ProMedia speakers, but they sound a lot better than a Mac mini’s internal speaker and should be fine for most applications, unless you want to watch movies with theater-quality sound.

    It’s also worth noting that the Mac Studio has an internal speaker. It might be worth waiting for a review to find out if its sound quality is any good. Hopefully, it sounds better than the Mac mini’s speaker.

  42. Adam will TidBITS discuss this product that would enable 2 or even FOUR external 4K displays for any M1 based Mac? To me this is a game changer and potentially also changes the evaluation of which Mac to buy. Also comes in DisplayPort version.

    SCROLL DOWN to table called “DISPLAYS CONFIGURATOR”

  43. There have been many reviews of various DisplayLink adapters used to run displays over USB, in order to work around the M1’s GPU limitations. Here are many YouTube videos that talk about it.

    Although the Sonnet device may be new, DisplayLink adapters are not new and they seem to work very well. They have limitations, compared to GPU-based video, but depending on your requirements, those limits may not be an issue for you.

  44. Good article, @ace. I’d add that for someone on a budget, a 2014 27-inch iMac easily rocks Monterey if you’re willing to roll with OpenCore.

  45. I don’t have any plans to review it, but as @Shamino says, it sounds like it would work at least for everyday usage. Although I’d forgotten about these devices, we actually wrote about older DisplayLink-based products some 13 years ago.

  46. Thank you for the advice. The Dell has been recommended by others.

  47. Always charming to see the TidBITS wayback machine. :laughing:
    Thanx a bunch for responding.

    Started viewing those videos shared by the excellent @Shamino . I’m intrigued by DisplayLink tech and may buy. I’m not graphics intensive except for brokerage software called thinkorswim

    Used to be Java-based long ago. Having many windows of stock charts and tables on multiple monitors is empowering.

    P.S.
    Bought this $300 32” 4K Samsung UJ59 Display. Seems fine quality, even compared to Dell UltraSharp 3216Q 4K display costing $1200. I don’t know what I’m missing out on with saving $900 from a high end 32” display. I’d love to be informed/ corrected.

  48. I haven’t personally used them, by my opinon here is:

    • If you have a spare GPU-based video-out port on your Mac, use it. That will always work best. For an M1 device with a built-in display (laptop or iMac), you have one. For an M1 mini, you have two. For the 14" and 16" laptops (M1 Pro or Max), you have three. For a Studio, you have four (five with HDMI? The spec sheet is unclear)
    • If you are using all available GPU-based video ports and need additional displays, by all means use DisplayLink. Just be aware of the fact that these ports may not be acceptable for gaming or video work. If so, put those applications on a GPU-based display.
  49. I have been waiting for a new iMac to upgrade from my aging 2010 Mac Pro with 27" LED Cinema Display. Now it seems that the new Mac Studio is the only option. Problem is I want to still use my Cinema Display with mini display port. I don’t need a super webcam or great speakers, at 73 I can’t see or hear that well anyway. Is there a way to connect my Cinema Display to the Mac Studio.

  50. I think that you just need to plug a USB-C to mini DisplayPort adapter into the Mac and then a mini Displayport cable into that. There are many choices on the Amazon website. I’ve displayed one below:

  51. The main thing is probably the panel type, the Samsung is VA, the Dell is IPS. I don’t recall the specifics but IPS has consistently been superior. I didn’t see details about what color space coverage the Samsung has but the Dell’s is good. The Dell has some other things like a USB hub and a more adjustable stand.

    A lot of the Samsung spec numbers do look good, sometimes good deals do happen.

  52. Good article, I didn’t want an integrated display as in iMac, so I am happy of this new display and ordered it. I had 3 Mac during the same time…

    I have also a Cinema Display, 18 years old and it is always a good display.
    I adapted speakers on my Cinema Display and will do it again on my future Studio Display.

  53. In addition to a simple mDP to USB-C dongle as @aforkosh mentioned above, IIRC that monitor will need to have its USB-A plug connected to your Mac in order for you to be able to adjust its brightness (and use the USB 2.0 ports on the back). Either of these (or similar) will do.

  54. Belated thanx. Yes, I’d forgotten TN vs IPS. Wider angle of view, better color space, in addition to more USB hub functions. Good points.

    At this stage, I’m wondering if I need the high end monitors. Quality and reliability used to come with high end prices, but now maybe you’re getting that anyway with regular priced monitors…

  55. The discussion in this thread has been tossing out terms like “end of life” to describe currently-supported Apple hardware. I object strongly to that description of my 2019 27-inch iMac.

    Apple does not use that term, at least in its support documents. There are three kinds of Apple hardware: current, vintage, and obsolete.

    Current is implied from other descriptions.

    Vintage describes products that Apple stopped distributing for sale “more than 5 and less than 7 years ago.”

    Obsolete describes products that Apple stopped distributing for sale “more than 7 years ago.”

    My 2019 iMac, and for that matter my 2017 MacBook Pro, are still current products. Just because Apple stopped selling them does not make them “end of life” in any way. Eventually they will start drifting down into the depths of vintage and then settle on the bottom with my obsolete 2012 27-inch iMac (which also has not reached its end of life, and is at this moment engaged in a Zoom conference.

    Here’s the support article that lists every Apple product and its support status. They make a special point of observing that all “Monster-branded Beats products are considered obsolete regardless of when they were purchased.”

  56. You have a Cinema Display that lasted 18 years??!!! I bought one in 2004 to go with a G5 Mac Pro and the Cinema display backlight started flickering and became unusable long ago (but after the warranty expired). The Samsung 220 that replaced it still works, but I had to shelve it because I needed a 27 inch screen.

  57. I am still using my 20" Apple Cinema Display purchased in 2006 along with a G5 PowerMac. The G5 is long gone but the ACD still works. I did have one repair while it was still on AppleCare.

  58. Mine was a 17-inch model, and the problem was well-known. I liked it until the display started developing weird lines that made it increasingly unusable. Worst Apple product I ever bought.

  59. My Cinema Display was a “Best Buy” ; when I develop pictures with it, they have the right colours on any more modern display.
    But I ordered a new Studio Display and my son will use it for home office.
    Perhaps the secret of a long life is that I never switch out.

    And my PowerMac G5 was a “Worst buy” ; I bought it in 2004 and a few years after Apple switched to Intel.
    Then my PowerMac has become very slow and tedious ; I kept it until 2012…

  60. And I have a 23" Cinema Display from circa 2004 that’s still going. Hey, that’s why people want Apple to sell displays!

  61. Sure, but I use that term to describe what Apple is doing, and will likely continue to do so.

  62. That’s because Apple was cited as saying so at the bottom of this article, posted by me earlier: Apple’s 27-inch iMac disappears from its store with no fanfare or replacement | Ars Technica. Such a term does not equate to your iMac being obsolete, simply the last in a series.

  63. I bought a Mac Studio Max and VESA-mount Studio Display to replace my 2015 27" iMac. The Studio is probably way more computer than I really need but I always figure that over-buying now will get me more years of service. And the interest-free year of payments eases the sting a little.

    The VESA-mount monitor floating over my desk does tons to reduce the feeling of desk clutter. Even with the Mac Studio on the desk (with an OWC miniStack on top of it), there’s a new feeling of spaciousness. I used to have the iMac on a wooden stand I built with the miniStack beneath it. The new configuration is a huge improvement.

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