Apple 27in iMac (3.1GHz, 6-core, 10th-gen, 2020) vs Apple 13in 2.0GHz MacBook Pro (2020) full review

We're comparing all sizes of Apple's iMac and the MacBook Pro here, but there's more to it than a straightforward comparison of desktop versus laptop. For each Apple product there are variants that suit different customers. Some of you reading this may be hoping for advice about whether to choose a new 24in iMac or a 13in MacBook Pro, while others may need the ultimate machine and be weighing up the differences between the 27in iMac and the 16in MacBook Pro.

The fact that Apple uses the same name for some very different Macs does rather complicate a question like 'Should I get a iMac or MacBook Pro'. It's at times like this that we wish the 13in MacBook Pro was known as the MacBook and the 27in iMac as the iMac Pro, because then it would be more obvious that this is a question of comparing the consumer focused with the consumer focused, and the pro focused with the pro focused. But that's not the case, so we can't.

But we will attempt to answer all the possible questions below anyway.

13in MacBook Pro vs 24in iMac

We'll start with the consumer-oriented MacBook Pro and iMac because they were most recently updated. If you are looking for a powerful Mac that doesn't cost a fortune then the 13in MacBook Pro and the 24in iMac are a good place to start.

Some of these new Macs feature Apple's own processors and some feature Intel processors. This is unlikely to be the case for long as Apple intends to transition all of its Macs to Apple silicon by the summer of 2022.

The 24in iMac was introduced in April 2021. It features a completely new design in seven colours and Apple's M1 Chip. There are three 24in iMacs to choose from.

iMac colours

There is also one 21.5in iMac that is still on sale from Apple. This entry-level £1,099/$1,099 model uses a 7th generation Intel dual-core chip and hasn't been updated since 2017. We don't recommend that you buy it as it doesn't represent good value for money.

There are four 13in MacBook Pro to choose from. Two feature M1 Chips and were introduced in November 2020. The other two use Intel's 10th-generation processors and were last updated in March 2020 (we expect these to get an Apple processor in the summer of 2021).

In terms of whether to buy the Intel or M1 MacBook Pro, we're inclined to recommend the M1 model over the Intel option. For more information you might find this a useful read: 13in MacBook Pro (M1) vs MacBook Pro (Intel).

Both the 24in iMac and 13in MacBook Pro have decent specs, for the most part, and both have reasonably priced entry-level models that may mean you don't have to exceed your budget. We'll run through price and specs in more detail below.

MacBook Pro M!

Price

We'll start by outlining how the specs and price of the 13in MacBook Pro and 24in iMac compare.

24in iMac

  • M1, 8-core CPU/7-core GPU, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, Retina 4.5K display, for £1,249/$1,299
  • M1, 8-core CPU/8-core GPU, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, Retina 4.5K display, for £1,449/$1,499
  • M1, 8-core CPU/8-core GPU, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD, Retina 4.5K display, for £1,649/$1,699

21.5in iMac

  • 2.3GHz dual-core, 7th-gen Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, for £1,099/$1,099 (2017 model)

13in MacBook Pro

While the entry-level iMac is the cheaper option here, starting at £1,099/$1,099, it's an old model from 2017 that we don't recommend, so we'll be pretty much ignoring it in this article (it doesn't even have a Retina display).

The image below shows the visual difference between the two generations of iMac, there are various features that only the old iMac offers, such as an SDXD card slot, but there aren't any major reasons to choose it over the new models. However, if you want an Intel iMac then we suggest that you look for a better deal on one of the older models - Apple no longer sells them, but you can often pick up good deals from other resellers. Check out our best iMac deals round up for the latest deals on older machines.

New old iMac

So, having discounted the outdated model, the iMac starts at £1,249/$1,299, which just happens to be very close to the starting price of the 13in MacBook Pro. However, what you get for your money is very different as you will see as we examine the specs below.

What do you get for your money?

If you want to spend less than £1,299/$1,299 you have the following choices:

  • 24in iMac, M1, 8-core CPU/7-core GPU, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, Retina 4.5K display, for £1,249/$1,299
  • 13in MacBook Pro, M1, 8-core CPU/8-core GPU, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD for £1,299/$1,299 

Here in the UK buyers can save £50 by buying the iMac (in the US and elsewhere the price for both machines is the same), but you'll have one fewer graphics core. 

If you have £1,499/$1,499 to spend you you have the following choices:

  • 24in iMac, M1, 8-core CPU/8-core GPU, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, Retina 4.5K display, for £1,449/$1,499
  • 13in MacBook Pro, M1, 8-core CPU/8-core GPU, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD for £1,499/$1,499 

Here's the processor is the same, but you get twice as much storage with the MacBook Pro - which costs £50 more than the iMac in the UK, or the same in the US.

If you have a bit more to spend there is a final option on the iMac to buy a model for £1,649. You could get a build to order M1 MacBook Pro with 1TB storage for roughly the same price. If you want as much storage as you can get for your money then the MacBook Pro offers the best option.

  • 24in iMac, M1, 8-core CPU/8-core GPU, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD, Retina 4.5K display, for £1,649/$1,699
  • 13in MacBook Pro, M1, 8-core CPU/8-core GPU, 8GB RAM, 1TB SSD for £1,699/$1,699 

Alternatively there are the two Intel 13in MacBook Pro. These were last updated in March 2020 and while they were impressive machines back then, the advent of the M1 is really giving them a run for their money - and our benchmarks of the M1 chip have shown that it is faster than these 2.0GHz options.

Right now it really wouldn't be advisable to spend the asking price on these MacBooks. We recommend waiting for Apple to update them with the M1X or M2 chip rumoured to be coming later this year - potentially in the form of a 14in MacBook Pro.

  • 13in MacBook Pro, 2.0GHz quad-core 10th-gen Core i5, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD for £1,799/$1,799 
  • 13in MacBook Pro, 2.0GHz quad-core 10th-gen Core i5, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD for £1,999/$1,999

If you want to know a bit more about the different components, including how the different processor and graphics options compare and the other options, jump to the specs comparison section below.

24in iMac

16in MacBook Pro vs 27in iMac

If you require a more powerful Mac, and have the budget, then the more expensive, 27in iMac and 16in MacBook Pro may appeal.

The 27in iMac was updated in August 2020, while the 16in MacBook Pro was last updated in November 2019. One thing you should know before you read on is that both models are likely to be updated before the end of 2021 and when they are they will be equipped with whatever the successor to the M1 is - possibly the M2 Chip. Read: Should I wait for the M1X or M2 Mac?

Price

Here we have options starting at £1,799/$1,799 for the iMac and £2,399/$2,399 for the 16in MacBook Pro.

As you can see, there is already a big difference between the starting prices of the two distinct Macs, here's a run down of the various options:

27in iMac

  • 3.1GHz six-core 10th-gen Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, Retina 5K display, Radeon Pro 5300 for £1,799/$1,799
  • 3.3GHz six-core 10th-gen Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD, Retina 5K display, Radeon Pro 5300 for £1,999/$1,999 
  • 3.8GHz eight-core 10th-gen Intel Core i7, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD, Retina 5K display, Radeon Pro 5500 XT for £2,299/$2,299

27in iMac

16in MacBook Pro

  • 2.6GHz six-core 9th-gen Intel Core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, Radeon Pro 5300M for £2,399/$2,399
  • 2.3GHz eight-core 9th-gen Intel Core i9, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD, Radeon Pro 5500M: £2,799/$2,799

16in MacBook Pro

These are official Apple prices; for the latest deals from other retailers, read Best iMac deals and Best MacBook Pro deals.

The first thing that you will probably notice is that the entry-level 16in MacBook Pro costs more than the top-of-the-range iMac. And yet the specs seem to suggest the opposite should be true, with the 16in MacBook Pro having older 9th-gen components. It's plain that you are paying extra for the compact form factor of the 16in MacBook Pro. If you don't require a laptop then it certainly looks like your best bet seems to be the iMac.

But is that the only reason why the 16in MacBook Pro costs so much more than the iMac? We'll look in more detail at what you get for your money below. How do these models compare?

What do you get for your money?

Here we will outline how the specs and price of the 16in MacBook Pro and the 27in iMac compare to clarify how much you get for your money.

If you want to spend less than £2,000/$2,000 your only options are two 27in iMacs:

  • 3.1GHz six-core 10th-gen Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, Retina 5K display, Radeon Pro 5300 for £1,799/$1,799
  • 3.3GHz six-core 10th-gen Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD, Retina 5K display, Radeon Pro 5300 for £1,999/$1,999 

If you want a 16in MacBook Pro then you will need to spend another £400/$400 to get the entry-level model with the following specs:

  • 2.6GHz six-core 9th-gen Intel Core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, Radeon Pro 5300M for £2,399/$2,399

For your extra £400 you get a laptop - which for some will be reason enough, but there are other differences. The MacBook Pro offers twice as much RAM at 16GB rather than 8GB, it also features an i7 chip rather than an i5. The i7 is generally better suited to demanding tasks, multitasking, multimedia, high-end gaming, and scientific work. For more information read What Mac processor?

There really is no escaping the fact that the two machines do not compare very favourably. The 16in MacBook Pro has an astronomically sky-high price compared to the other Macs, and the fact that it hasn't been updated since November 2019 and even then was reusing old components from the predecessor, really does make recommending it particularly difficult just now.

Perhaps this will change when Apple finally updates the range.

iMac vs MacBook Pro: Specs comparison

As promised above, we will look in a bit more detail now at the various components in the different machines.

Processor

There are the following processor options:

  • 8-core M1 processor available in the 24in iMac and two 13in MacBook Pro.
  • 2.0GHz quad-core 10th-gen Core i5 in the other 13in MacBook Pro 
  • 3.1GHz six-core 10th-gen Intel Core i5 and 3.3GHz six-core 10th-gen Intel Core i5 in the 27in iMacs
  • 2.6GHz six-core 9th-gen Intel Core i7 in the 16in MacBook Pro
  • 2.3in eight-core 9th-gen Intel Core i9 in the other 16in MacBook Pro 

Apple doesn't reveal the clock-speed of the M1 but we do know that in our benchmarks it has proven to be faster than the 2.0GHz quad-core used in the other 13in MacBook Pro.

In fact the M1 processor in the M1 MacBook Pro actuallly beat the processor in the 16in MacBook Pro when we ran tests. So it's really hard to recommend the 16in MacBook Pro. 

We haven't got the geekbench scores for the iMacs to compare with unfortunately, but it's likely to be a similar story.

RAM

The Intel MacBook Pro models (both 13in and 16in) are the only options here offering 16GB RAM as standard. However, all the Macs on offer here have the option of 16GB on offer - and you'll be able to get that for a lot less than the price of the 16in MacBook Pro. We always recommend that when you purchase a Mac you max it out with as much RAM as you can afford.

The important questions are how much RAM do you need, and how much RAM can you get.

The question of how much RAM you can get is a little easier to answer.

  • Both the M1 MacBook Pro and 24in iMac offer 8GB RAM as standard and 16GB RAM as a build-to-order option. It is not possible to get more RAM than that.
  • The Intel 13in MacBook Pro ships with 16GB RAM as standard and has a 32GB build-to-order option.
  • The Intel 16in MacBook Pro ships with 16GB RAM as standard and has a 32GB and 64GB build-to-order option.
  • The 27in iMac ships with 8GB RAM as standard and has 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB build-to-order option.

It follows therefore that if you want the maximum amount of RAM the best option is the 27in iMac. But how much RAM do you really need?

Apple's RAM that comes as part of the M1 Chip is very different to the RAM that is used in the Intel Macs. The RAM in the M1 Macs uses a unified memory architecture, or UMA, and is accessible to both the CPU and the GPU, which brings performance benefits. It essentially means that both the CPU and GPU can access the same photo in memory during a task and process it faster. In contrast the integrated Intel graphics in the 2.0GHz MacBook Pro shares memory with the CPU, but when it is being used by the GPU it is no longer available to the rest of the system (we'll discuss graphics in more detail below).

All this should mean that 8GB is sufficient for the M1 Macs where maybe an Intel-powered Mac required more RAM.

The problem with the RAM in the M1 Macs is that, because it is part of the M1 chip, it will not be possible to update it later. So if you think you might need more RAM in the future get it when you buy the Mac.

Here's where the limitation of 16GB RAM as maximum amount of RAM available as a build to order option with the M1 Macs is an issue. This contrasts with the option for 32GB RAM for the 13in MacBook Pro and 64GB RAM for the 27in iMac. If you use the kinds of intensive apps that require more RAM than the M1 Macs offer then you probably need to opt for one of these Macs that offer the option for more RAM - or even better, wait for Apple to introduce a new processor that will probably manage more RAM.

Graphics

One of the key benefits of the 27in iMac and the 16in MacBook Pro is the fact that you get a discrete Radeon Pro graphics card, this was also the case with the 21.5in iMac before Apple replaced it with the 24in iMac. Many designers, creatives, gamers, and other people who use highly demanding apps, will tend to be drawn towards an integrated graphics card.

The 27in iMac and the 16in MacBook Pro both feature the latest AMD Radeon Pro graphics cards, built using the new Navi architecture. The iMac offers the Radeon Pro 5300 with 4GB of GDDR6 memory, while the entry-level 16in MacBook Pro offers the mobile version of that chip: the AMD Radeon Pro 5300M.

The options for the 24in iMac and the M1 MacBook Pro models include either a 7-Core GPU or 8-Core GPU. Obvioulsy more core are better, but if you don't need the extra core you can save money. The 2.0GHz MacBook Pro offers Intel's integrated graphics solution.

As we noted with regards to RAM above, there is a wide gap between the capabilities of Apple's M1 graphics and the integrated graphics of the 2.0GHz 13in MacBook Pro. As you can see from the graph below: when we ran graphics tests on the M1 GPU in the MacBook Air it outshone the 2.0GHz MacBook Pro by a long way.

Even the 7-Core GPU option for the MacBook Air beat the 2.0GHz MacBook Pro. Strictly speaking the 8-core GPU option would be preferable to the 7-core GPU option, but you can still expect great results for the 7-core GPU equipped iMac. In fact that model should see even better results than the MacBook Air, because the iMac has fans that will mean that it will be able to work a bit harder than the equivalent MacBook Air.

As you can see from the benchmarks above the Radeon graphics in the 16in MacBook Pro did beat the M1 - but only just. We can only imagine what the next generation of Apple graphics will be capable of.

Storage

Prior to the August 2020 update we'd have said that the iMac is held back by its old-fashioned hard drive, which was standard on this model - but that is no longer the case. Now the iMac, like all Macs, ships with a 256GB SSD as standard.

Here's what you get in terms of storage

As you can see the 27in iMac and 16in MacBook Pro have the most storage available with 8TB SSD as a build-to-order option (which will add £2,200/$2,200 to the MacBook Pro price and £1,200/$1,200 to the price of the iMac).

If you think you need a lot of storage you might be attracted to those options, but check out external storage options as you may get more for your money. See our round up of external flash drives for Mac and best external hard drives.

It's worth flagging up that older 21.5in iMac, and older 27in iMacs for that matter, originally shipped with Fusion Drives, which combined flash and a hard drive. As of August 2020 Apple is now selling the iMac with an SSD as standard and we think that was a good decision on Apple's part, because, although it looks like you get less storage for your money hard drives are slow. If you are considering a Mac without an SSD we would stongly recommend that you don't buy it. 

Design

A final word - or rather illustration of the design options. Here are the four Macs being discussed in this article:

27in iMac

iMac designer

16in MacBook Pro

16in MacBook Pro

24in iMac

24in iMac

13in MacBook Pro

MacBook Pro

Verdict

Right now we would recommend the M1 Macs over the 27in iMac and 16in MacBook Pro. However, this is more because there is likely to be a new larger iMac and a new 16in MacBook Pro in the pipeline at Apple and based on just how good the M1 Macs are the successor to these high-power Macs is likely to be groundbreaking. If you need that kind of power we recommend you wait for the new models to launch.

If you don't need power though then we don't hesitate to recommend the M1 MacBook Pro or the 24in iMac. In which case, the decision should be based on two things: whether you need a portable Mac or if a desktop would suffice, and how much storage you need (because you get more storage for your money if you buy a MacBook Pro). 

If it's a laptop you want then a MacBook Air might do the job just as well for even less money, in which case, read our comparison of the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air.

Best prices right now

3.1GHz 6-core, 10th-gen, 2020 (RRP from £1,799 / $1,799)

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16in MacBook Pro deals (RRP from £2,399 / $2,399)

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