Apple 27in iMac (3.8GHz, 8-core, 10th-gen, 2020) full review

The 2020 iMac could turn out to be the last Apple computer ever with an Intel chip inside, and some people are dismissing it for that. But with Apple's upcoming ARM-powered Macs an unknown quantity, this last Intel hurrah is actually a very good iMac and a very sensible purchase.

With 10th-gen Intel Core chips based on a thoroughly reliable set up, this is a performant, dependable chunk of desktop excellence. You pay the Apple premium with the base model costing £1,799/$1,799, but what you get is pure reliability from the moment you switch it on.

New levels of CPU performance, SSD storage all round, and the best graphics ever on a regular iMac at every level? Sign me up. I reviewed the best spec of the three models Apple lists without any point-of-purchase upgrades, the £2,299/$2,299 model with an 8-core i7 running at 3.8GHz.

Design

Nothing new in design doesn't ultimately matter when it comes to the iMac. Sure, I'd like to see an iMac with slimmer bezels as much as Twitter and YouTube seems to get hung up on, but if bezels matter anywhere the least for hardware it's on a desktop monitor.

The genius of design of the modern iMac will forever be hiding its innards behind itself. If the trade-off here is some black bezels, then I'm all for it.

The curved silver stand is still elegant and extremely easy to adjust though as ever you might need to set the unit on a stand depending on your desk. There's still a minimalist thrill of unboxing an iMac and there only being the iMac, power cable, Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse 2 in the box. That's it, and it's all you need.

I personally like the Magic Keyboard even though it's a very shallow typing experience. The travel is ever so slightly lower than what you'll find on the latest MacBook Air keyboard, but I still find I can get up to a very fast speed here.

Less fun is the Magic Mouse 2, which is still too low profile for my liking, and not being able to use it while charging is the one part of bad design in the iMac box. But the Magic Mouse gives you touch gestures that replacement mice simply won't, though you also have the option to buy Apple's Magic Trackpad 2 if that's your jam.

If you're really miffed that there's no design change from previous years then you probably won't be buying this iMac, and that's fine. But I personally still really like the look of Apple's largest all-in-one and it shouldn't put you off buying it. This isn't the same as Apple making a 2020 iPhone SE that looks like a 2014 iPhone 6 – a desktop is a stationary display, and this is the best iteration of that yet.

Screen

How is it better? Apple has added True Tone to an iMac for the first time, the ambient light adjustment tech found on iPhones and iPads. If you need colour accuracy for your work then you'll switch it off, but for everyone else it intelligently takes away a lot of harsh blue light from the screen and leaves you with warmer tones.

You can also shell out for a £500/$500 optional add-on of nano-texture glass, an anti-glare process where a nano-texture surface is physically etched into the glass rather than being a jumped-up screen protector. It gives a matt look to the screen and drastically cuts back reflectivity and glare, so Apple says: unfortunately, my review unit did not have the upgrade. Though if you need that 100% colour accuracy, you won't want it.

The 5120 x 2880p 5K Retina resolution comes as standard on any model of the 27in iMac and it looks just as superb as ever with unbeatable light distribution from the 500-nit backlight and pin-sharp rendering of software. Absolutely no complaints.

Camera, speakers, and mics

Nestled in that thick top black bezel is, finally, a decent 1080p webcam. It's a shame that Apple seems to have only upgraded the dreadful 720p cam thanks to the pandemic that has seen millions of us need to take more video calls but let's not complain. HD resolution makes an immediate positive difference. There's definitely room for Face ID in this machine but Apple is no doubt saving it for the new wave of Apple silicon powered Macs.

You also might not notice them as they're so small but there are now dual mics instead of one for improved audio capture all round. Not only did this become evident on Zoom calls, I also recorded some acoustic guitar using just the mics into GarageBand and the results were decent enough to put together a demo-ready song. Add to that speakers with improved balance and warmth and you've got a home studio right out the box.

Tying the camera and mics together is the T2 chip, the first time the chip has been used on a regular iMac (it debuted in the iMac Pro). Apple says it brings improved audio and video controllers with better EQ and low light performance respectively. I can attest to both. The T2 also means you get 'Hey Siri' functionality for the first time on a 27in iMac.

Performance and specs

Most of the change can be found under the hood. From my time with the iMac, Intel's 10th-gen Comet Lake Core i7 is a great pairing with the standard 8GB of 2666MHz DDR4 RAM (split over two 4MB). The RAM is also still user-changeable thanks to continued back panel access, but everything else is pretty much not so make sure you think about which specs you'll need at point of purchase.

All the CPU options in the 2020 27in iMac have Hyper Threading, something that was limited to just the Core i9 before. It means you'll get each processor core running two threads simultaneously, meaning better performance all round at each level.

You can go up to Core i9, 128GB RAM, or 8TB of storage, and for the first time the 27in iMac comes with an SSD as standard, you can't even choose the Fusion Drive any more, which is great. But you probably don't need any of those extra upgrades unless you're rendering video to pro levels. The Radeon 5500 XT with 8GB RAM can be bumped to a 5700 with 8GB or 5700 XT with 16GB too.

The iMac did not stutter under any task. I usually had a disgusting amount of Chrome tabs open, as well as Safari, Spotify, Todoist, Word, WhatsApp, and heavy editing in Photoshop and there wasn't so much as a spinning wheel in sight. The upgrades here are clearly working magic and as long as you don't want to game – you should already know that's the deal if you're buying a Mac – then you'll be absolutely set. There's really no need for most people to buy the iMac Pro, even video and audio professionals.

Taking a look at some CPU benchmarks and the 10th-gen Core i7, it compares favourably to 2019's 8th-gen Core i9. The multi-core Geekbench 5 score is around 800 points higher on the Core i9, but that's not an awful lot when the scores are already that high. 2020's Core i7 scores better in the Cinebench multi-thread test, showing good improvement from Intel.

Basically, don't worry about this iMac's performance unless you're planning to edit complex video projects in Final Cut. For that, you could probably get away with the Core i7, but would need to add on more RAM.

Pleasingly GPU benchmarks follow an even better path in the Unigine Valley test, with the new and upgraded AMD Radeon Pro 5500 XT on the 2020 Core i7 beating out the 2019 Core i9 with its Radeon Pro 48, though note that the 5700 this year is an upgrade from the base model's 5300 Pro, which we haven't tested.

As ever the iMac is also equipped with all the ports you'll reasonably need – a headphone jack, SD card slot, four USB 3 ports, 2 Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports, and gigabit Ethernet port. Sorted.

macOS Catalina runs, for me, like clockwork. This iMac is also going to be fine hardware to put Big Sur through its paces when it drops later this year.

Apple also says it's going to support Intel Macs into the future even as it stopped making hardware with the chips in it, so I'm confident this machine will continue to get the excellent software update support that us Mac users have enjoyed for years.

Price and availability

A computer released during a global pandemic that starts at £1,799/$1,799 might not be at the top of everyone's priority list but if you need a new iMac, it's an investment that I still think will pay off.

You can buy the iMac directly from Apple in three main configurations, with this review being of the third:

  • 3.1GHz 6-Core Core i5 Processor with Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz, 256GB Storage - £1,799/$1,799
  • 3.3GHz 6-Core Core i5 Processor with Turbo Boost up to 4.8GHz, 512GB Storage - £1,999/$1,999
  • 3.8GHz 8-Core Core i7 Processor with Turbo Boost up to 5.0GHz, 512GB Storage - £2,299/$2,299

You can upgrade components at point of purchase. 

To get the best deal on a new iMac check out our round up of discounts and money-off iMac offers.

Verdict

If you're worried about buying one of the last Intel Macs in the first place then this iMac probably isn't for you. If you're willing to risk the first-gen Apple silicon Macs then be my guest, but if it were my money, I'd sooner buy this 2020 iMac. Apple is probably going to debut its own chip Macs at the lower end and build up to high-performance machines a year or two down the line. (Intel vs Apple Silicon is discussed elsewhere on the site if you are interested.)

Intel's 10th-gen chips and the upgraded GPU are incredibly powerful together and Apple and Intel have quietly been very consistent with the latest iMacs, and this newest model is a testament to that.

The design is old, and it might look like the iMac you're wanting to replace, but if it's dependent, consistent top tier performance you want then look no further. With the improved mics, speakers and camera it's also a computer that should last you at least five years and feel modern while doing it.

Related content: Should I buy the 2020 iMac, plus New vs old iMac compared.

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