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Technology

Apple iMac M3 2023 vs. iMac M1 2021: A giant leap in specs and silicon


Apple today announced its new M3 processing platform, which will launch in new iMac and MacBook Pro models, available to order now. The iMac is, for now, exclusively a 24-inch model based on the new M3 chip, starting at $1,299.

In the fast-paced world of computing, two years is a long time, and that’s how long we’ve gone without an update to Apple’s popular iMac line of all-in-one desktop computers. New models last launched in spring 2021, based on the then-new M1 silicon, but Apple completely ignored the M2 generation with the iMac. We reviewed this 24-inch iMac back in the day.

Unlike previous generations, Apple here launched the M3, M3 Pro and M3 Max at the same time, while the more powerful Pro and Max chips were launched later before. For now, the M3 Pro and M3 Max will only be available in updated MacBook Pro models, while this 24-inch iMac sticks to the M3.

Still, it seems that even the base chip represents a notable performance increase over the base M2. While the design remains the same, unlike the larger design leap between the 2020 iMac and the 2021 iMac, you’ll find some new features to look at. Let’s put them face to face to see what has changed in two years.


iMac 2023: same design, keep the color

It’s pretty hard to miss, but with the 2021 model, one of the main attractions beyond the new processor was a wide array of color options. iMacs of the more distant past adopted the color, but the de facto look of more modern times was the all-silver design. The 2021 edition came in green, yellow, orange, pink, purple, blue and, if you still wanted it, silver. More companies have expanded their color offerings, and that also reflects the more fun styles of the iPhone.

The 2023 iMac obviously doesn’t shy away from that decision, even if the color bomb will seem a lot less novel this time around. You can once again get the new 24-inch model in blue, purple, green, yellow, orange, red and silver.

Green iMac Apple M3

(Credit: Apple)

However, like last time, not all colors are available with all configurations. The $1,299 base model comes only in green, pink, blue, and silver: yellow, orange, and purple are reserved for the upgraded GPU model (more on components below) , in addition to these basic colors. Apple also introduced new color-coordinated wallpapers to sync up your style, as well as similar accessories, including a keyboard, mouse, and trackpad.

The iMac’s design has long been centered around an ultra-thin all-in-one display, and that’s not changing. Both the previous model and the new version are 0.45 inches thick, so Apple isn’t losing any more weight or adding bulk.

This may seem obvious, but the latter is not obvious, especially when you add more powerful internal components; some manufacturers are willing to go a little thicker than before for increased performance. Apple says its home-made silicon is what allows extra power to work efficiently in such a thin chassis.

So if you were hoping for a even thinner design, maybe next time. In reality, I don’t see the point in becoming even thinner; that can only mean performance concessions once it’s this thin, especially for a machine you don’t need to throw in a bag or carry around with you. All told, this means that this year’s model has more in common with the previous edition than the 2021 model had with the 2020 Apple iMac.


The same 24-inch 4.5K display, plus updated features

The lack of design change isn’t for the worse: it’s a sleek, colorful and slim machine, it’s just that a visual overhaul isn’t a big part of the equation this time around . Last time around, the iMac saw a significant 50% reduction in total volume compared to the previous edition.

The display technology is also unchanged. The 2021 24-inch iMac featured a resolution of 4,480 x 2,520 pixels, slightly higher than 4K, dubbed “4.5K” by Apple. The same panel is used here, so don’t hold your breath for a more advanced and even sharper display. The screen is made up of 11.3 million pixels, supports the P3 wide color gamut and shines with a nominal brightness of 500 nits.

iMac Apple M3 yellow

(Credit: Apple)

These are critically important specs for creative professionals, so I would understand some disappointment that the iMac hasn’t benefited from newer, cutting-edge panel upgrades. Much like thinness, however, it’s actually a completely logical choice for this desktop’s needs. With this screen size, even higher resolution isn’t necessary and media workloads likely won’t exceed 4K for this machine; Specialized 8K machines and monitors may be required to go further.

You’ll find a few new, smaller features despite the familiar framework, mostly under the hood in the form of Wi-Fi 6E for faster internet speeds and Bluetooth 5.3. Up to four USB Type-C ports are also included (two with Thunderbolt 4 support). As with the previous iMac, the base model only has two Thunderbolt 4 ports, while the more expensive configuration has two additional USB3 (Type-C) connections. Of course, the sharp 1080p camera returns.

The latest macOS software, Sonoma, is naturally another upgrade over the launch operating system, Big Sur, of the previous iMac. The new iMac was designed to reduce environmental impact. The stand is constructed from 100% recycled aluminum, other recycled metals inside, and fully recycled gold plating on the circuit board.


Architecture, components and configurations: M3 is the real upgrade

As noted up front, the new M3 chips are the real star of the show for Apple’s revived iMac. Between the new iMac and MacBook Pro models, all three chips in this platform (M3, M3 Pro and M3 Max) promise significantly improved performance. This is particularly true for the iMac having completely ignored the M2 platform.

Perhaps a larger iMac size will run the M3 Pro and M3 Max later, or they will only be saved for Mac Pro or Mac mini updates. It is only recently that the Mac Pro welcomed the high-end M2 chip in its fold, so the M3 additions could be well off. With the iMac ignoring the M2 and only launching in 24-inch, it’s difficult to know exactly where Apple will position the product line.

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Apple M3 chips

(Credit: Apple)

That aside, let’s focus on what this highly anticipated silicon will bring to the new 24-inch iMac. The M3 core chip is built on a new 3-nanometer manufacturing process with eight processing cores in total. Four of them are performance cores, the other four are efficiency cores, and the chip has eight additional GPU cores to start with. This isn’t the only M3 option available: you can upgrade to a more expensive iMac configuration that has a more powerful M3 with 10 GPU cores.

Here’s a look at the new silicon lineup, but remember again that it’s just the M3 for the iMac as it stands:

Even without bringing the M3 Pro and M3 Max into the equation, the M3’s transistor count has jumped to 25 billion transistors, or 5 billion more than the M2 released last year.

However, transistors are not the last word in CPU performance. More cores (and more efficient cores) mean higher multithreaded performance and lower power consumption. This is less crucial for an iMac that doesn’t need to run on battery power, but it should be a boon to the MacBook Pro’s battery life.

The GPU will benefit from particularly impressive improvements. Dynamic caching should better utilize the machine’s local memory as needed, improving GPU performance, while mesh shading and hardware-accelerated ray tracing are also now supported. Compared to the original M1 chip, Apple claims the M3 sees a 65% increase in GPU performance.

You’ll discover many other efficiencies and upgrades at play in the M3 platform, including new engines for video editing and AI workloads. (To learn more about these and other features, head over to our separate deeper dive on the M3 line.)

As for how this impacts the iMac, you have a few options. As mentioned, the base model is priced at $1,299, which gets you the 8-core M3 CPU, 8GB of memory, and a 256GB SSD. This upgraded M3 model with the 10-core GPU gets you will cost $1,499, with the same other basic components.

Additional build-to-order options to upgrade and customize these models will be available on Apple’s website. For the record, the 2021 iMac also started at $1,299, so no inherent extras are present here just for the upgrade to the M3. Our review configuration of the previous desktop came in at $2,028, so it was noticeably upgraded over the base model; check back soon when we get our hands on an M3 iMac review unit to see how it performs.

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Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
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