iMac pros and cons: How Apple’s new desktop compares to a PC




CNN
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I’m constantly testing all kinds of laptops and desktops, but none of them have been able to replace my custom Windows gaming PC as my main machine for work and play. Between my computer’s powerful specs, my versatile dual-monitor setup and my comfort level with Windows 10, it’s been hard to make the switch to anything else — until the 24-inch iMac landed on my desk.

I’ve been using Apple’s new desktop almost exclusively ever since I got it in for review, and barring a few exceptions, I’m not in a huge rush to go back to my PC. Between its superb display, excellent webcam and the everyday benefits of macOS I’d been missing out on as an iPhone user, the latest iMac (starting at $1,233; expercom.com and amazon.com) comes dangerously close to being the only desktop computer I need.

Here’s what it’s like to make the switch to iMac as a longtime PC user — and why I can’t completely abandon Windows just yet.

I’ve covered most of what makes Apple’s latest desktop so great in my 24-inch iMac review, where I praised the all-in-one for its impossibly slim design, gorgeous Retina display, great accessories and powerful multitasking capabilities made possible by the M1 chip inside. But now that I’ve lived with the new iMac for about a month, certain benefits (and drawbacks) are starting to stand out more than others. Let’s start with the good stuff.

The webcam, mic and speakers are perfect for working from home

Mike Andronico/CNN

Even as someone whose home office is flooded with the best webcams and best microphones around, I still find myself taking most calls using the camera and mic built right into the new iMac. They’re just that good.

Thanks to its sharp 1080p lens and some M1-enabled software tricks, the iMac’s camera makes me look brighter and livelier than even my trusty Logitech C920 — especially when I’m under less-than-ideal lighting. I’ve been chatting with colleagues and taking briefings using the built-in iMac microphone for weeks, and haven’t gotten a single complaint about my voice quality.

But it’s the iMac’s six built-in speakers that have really stood out over the past few weeks. When I’m listening in on meetings, colleagues’ voices sound so loud and clear that they may as well be in the same room as me. The iMac’s booming speakers have become my preferred way to jam out to pop-punk tracks when it’s time to get ready for the day, or winding down with some Julien Baker while staring at the ceiling in bed. I can’t wait to turn my iMac into even more of an entertainment center when macOS Monterey arrives this fall, as I’ll be able to beam songs and movies from my phone right to the desktop via AirPlay, all without having to touch a mouse or keyboard.

These great multimedia features have yielded a big, unexpected benefit — my work area is now more minimalist than ever. Whereas the PC side of my desk is cluttered with an external microphone, a set of speakers and a webcam partially obscuring my monitor, the iMac gives me the capabilities of all three. Better yet, it’s housed in an incredibly slim and attractive slab of purple metal. I still wish the iMac had more than four USB-C ports (I’m currently using a Satechi USB-C hub for more connectivity), but I find myself not needing to use them very often when the built-in stuff works so well.

The 24-inch display continues to wow me

Mike Andronico/CNN

As someone who swears by multi-monitor setups, I continue to be surprised and delighted by how much I love working on the iMac’s single 24-inch display, which gives me plenty of real estate for bouncing between important documents and Slack chats.

When I’m hammering away in Google Docs and sifting through press releases, the iMac’s 4.5K Retina makes basic text look bold and inky, as if it were splashed on the screen with a fountain pen. Everything is simply easier and more enjoyable to read on the iMac, and my beloved Dell 24 Gaming Monitor (which has a less sharp 1440p resolution) now looks kind of dull by comparison.

The iMac display is great for plenty of other things, of course — movies, YouTube videos and Twitch streams pop with color and detail, and even the default purple wallpaper is a sight to behold. But it’s that added bit of richness and clarity for everyday work tasks that has really helped the iMac maintain its place as my daily home office computer.

Apple’s macOS reminds me what I’ve been missing

Apple

Despite all of its great features, my favorite thing about the new iMac isn’t exclusive to Apple’s latest computer at all. While I use a MacBook here and there for work, fully immersing myself in a Mac for a month has reminded me just how nice it is to have all of my Apple gadgets work seamlessly with one another.

Many of these features have been around for years, but using Messages to text my iPhone friends on desktop or starting a note on my phone and picking it up on my iMac still feels like magic to me. The Continuity features that Apple have rolled out over the years are really handy — whenever I’m browsing a website on my iPhone, I can click a single icon on my Mac to blow it up on my big screen, for example.

After finishing an interview recently, I was able to beam the Voice Memo recording from my iPhone to my iMac in an instant. As someone who’s constantly using Google Drive or email to share files between my iPhone and PC, I was a bit blown away by how effortless the process was.

That level of seamless interactivity between devices is something I’m just not getting on my Windows desktop. While Microsoft’s Your Phone app allows Android users to access their apps and messages from the big screen, all iPhone users can do with it is send links from their phone to their PC. And while I’ll be able to join FaceTime calls from Windows starting this fall, I still won’t be able to send iOS text messages from my PC, access my iCloud notes or instantly AirDrop files from my phone.

It’s almost making me dread going back to Windows — though I still have a few good reasons to.

The Mac just isn’t great for gaming

Mike Andronico/CNN

While the iMac’s big, gorgeous display and powerful M1 processor make it a capable casual gaming machine, Apple’s desktop just can’t replace my powerful Windows rig when it comes to the high-end PC titles I like to play — in terms of both performance and selection.

When I open my Steam library on my iMac, only 13 of the 170 titles I own are playable on Apple’s desktop. That small handful mostly consists of casual titles such as the Jackbox Party Pack, ports of older games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic or less-demanding indie experiences like Gone Home and Her Story. If I want to play recent blockbuster hits like Star Wars: Squadrons or Marvel’s Avengers (or access the hundreds of games in my Xbox Game Pass library), I’ve got to switch over to my PC.

The iMac does support a handful of big-budget computer games, but it’s not exactly equipped to run them optimally. For example, when testing Shadow of the Tomb Raider on Apple’s desktop, I had to turn the resolution down to a grainy 1600 x 900 just to get the game to run at a playable 30 frames per second. If you’re hoping to take full advantage of the iMac’s beautiful 4.5K screen for big, cinematic video games, you’ll probably be let down.

That’s not to say there’s zero fun to be had with the iMac when it comes to gaming. Mega-popular online shooter Fortnite played just fine on Apple’s desktop, and you’ll have no issues running lighter experiences like The Sims 4 and Minecraft. Apple Arcade titles like NBA 2K21 and The Last Campfire look vibrant on Apple’s big-screen computer, and play great with the PlayStation controller I was able to easily pair to my iMac. But those titles are ostensibly mobile games blown up for a big screen.

As someone with a gaming rig packing a beastly Nvidia RTX 3080 graphics card, the iMac can’t come close to replacing my PC when it comes to how many games I can play — or how well they’ll run.

I still prefer multitasking on Windows 10

Apple

I mostly enjoy using macOS, but it occasionally makes me want to pull out my nonexistent hair whenever I need to split the screen between multiple apps. On Windows 10, juggling the myriad of Google Docs, press releases, video call windows and Slack chats I have open at any given time is easy. I just drag one window to either side of the screen to snap it in place, and Windows will let me pick which app I want to fill the other half of my display. A drag and a click later, and I’m all set.

Things aren’t quite as simple on Mac. If I want to use Split View mode on my iMac, I need to hover over the fullscreen icon (or opt for a keyboard shortcut) on a given window and select the “tile window to left/right of screen option.”

The rest of the process works similarly to Windows, but once I’ve entered macOS’ Split View, I’m stuck in a rigid full-screen experience that makes it very annoying to jump back into any other apps I have open. To be fair, both macOS and Windows make it easy to see everything I have open with a quick three-finger swipe upward, but only Windows lets me instantly close any of those apps with a quick click of the “x” icon. And while Windows gives me lots of flexibility for snapping several Windows together on the same screen, Apple’s Split View only lets me bounce between two apps at once.

It’s a relatively minor nitpick, and largely one that comes down to personal preference. But I find Windows’ approach to multitasking to be a rare example of Microsoft nailing Apple’s oft-touted “it just works” ethos better than Apple itself.

Mike Andronico/CNN

As someone who uses a computer primarily for everyday work tasks with some gaming, music production and content creation on the side, the new 24-inch iMac has ticked off almost every box for me after more than a month of heavy use.

I love having a great display, an ample amount of power and a great webcam and speakers all packed into a single machine the size of a monitor, and the way the iMac works in sync with my iPhone makes it easier to keep up with my friends and bounce important files between devices. If you’re considering making the jump from PC to iMac, those are likely the biggest benefits you’ll enjoy right out of the gate.

It’s worth noting that I’ve been using an upgraded version of the $1,699 configuration of the iMac, which has 512GB of storage, a total of four USB-C ports and a Touch ID-enabled Magic Keyboard. The starting $1,299 configuration isn’t a bad option if you’re looking to spend as little as possible, but considering it only gets you two ports and a smaller 256GB solid-state drive, I’d recommend investing in the higher-end version if you can.

  • Apple iMac 24-Inch ($1,233; expercom.com or $1,249; amazon.com): The starting iMac configuration, with 256GB of storage and two ports.
  • Apple iMac 24-Inch ($1,699; amazon.com and bhphotovideo.com): Our recommended configuration, with 512GB of storage and four ports.

That said, if you’re serious about PC gaming, the iMac isn’t for you. While you can play more than 100 lightweight Apple Arcade titles and a few big hits like Fortnite and Tomb Raider, the iMac’s game selection and graphics capabilities can’t hold a candle to a properly configured Windows desktop.

There’s also the issue of upgradability. I can swap out my PC’s processor, storage, RAM and graphics whenever I want in order to keep it up to date, whereas the iMac’s parts are all sealed in — aside from the option of external storage, what you buy on day one is what you’ll be using for good. And if you’ve grown to rely on Windows 10’s multitasking features, macOS may come with a bit of a learning curve.

Still, as a PC diehard, I’ve loved my time with the latest iMac even despite these quirks. If you’re cool with the above caveats and looking for a computer that can do a whole lot within a beautiful and slim design, it might just be the best desktop you can buy right now.



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