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iMac 2019 vs iMac 2021: is it worth an upgrade?

iMac 2019 vs. iMac 2021
(Image credit: Future)

If you're in the market for an Apple desktop, then our 21.5-inch iMac 2019 vs 24-inch iMac (2021) guide is for you. 

The newest iMac officially arrives in May 2021. It offers a significant design and hardware change over the previous version, which Apple launched in March 2019. However, despite the many changes, is the latest model right for you? 

To help you decide, we've put together this guide that pits one iMac version against the other so that you can make a more informed decision.

Price and specs

Before getting started, it's important to understand what the iMac lineup looks like since the announcement of the 24-inch iMac 2021. In recent years, Apple has offered the iMac in two sizes: 21.5 and 27 inches. The 24-inch iMac replaces the 21.5-inch iMac, although Apple has kept one 21.5-inch model on sale for the education market. This model features dated components, including a 7th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, weak integrated graphics, and a non-Retina display. 

On the other end is the 27-inch iMac that was first introduced in late 2020. This model continues to feature Intel-based processors (unlike the Apple silicon found on the all-new model) and a design launched over a decade ago. 

Neither the educational-based 21.5-inch iMac nor the 27-inch iMac is part of this comparison guide. Instead, we're strictly taking a look at the now-discontinued 21.5-inch iMac 2019 that featured a 4K Retina display, and how it compares to the 24-inch iMac 2021. 

With this in mind, the entry-level iMac 2019 started at $1,299, with another off-the-shelf model starting at $1,499. Both featured an 8th-generation Intel Core processor, with the former packing a 3.6GHz quad-core i3 and the latter offering a 3.0GHz six-core i5. Graphics processors were slightly different on the two models, though both offered up to 32GB of RAM and 1TB SSD.

For the 24-inch iMac (2021), Apple is offering three models. Each includes the Apple M1 chip that features an 8-Core CPU and 8-Core GPU on the two more expensive models and an 8-Core CPU with a 7-Core GPU on the base model. 

Since the Apple M1 is a system-on-chip (SoC), there's less to configure. For example, with the iMac 2019, you could improve the Intel chip and graphics card for extra. On the Apple M1-based 2021 model, you can only improve the SSD (up to 2TB) and unified memory (8GB or 16GB).

iMac 2021 in purple showing Touch ID on keyboard

(Image credit: Apple)

Design

No one will ever confuse the 24-inch iMac (2021) with previous models. The older model, like many others, came in any color you wanted... as long as it was silver. The elegantly-curved back was distinctively iMac, with a look Apple often repeated.

Thanks to the power efficiency of the M1, Apple was able to make the newest iMac thinner and more compact than earlier models, and the compact design has reduced the volume by 50%. Less space means it fits easily in more places.

Besides introducing Apple silicon on an iMac for the first time, the new iMacs also come in seven different colors. These include soft shades of green, yellow, orange, pink, purple, blue, and traditional silver. The all-new iMac also comes with a new color-matched woven 2-meter-long cable for power that attaches magnetically.

The colorful design changes for the 24-inch iMac 2021 aren't limited to the machine, as its accessories have also been updated. The wireless Magic Keyboard includes aluminum enclosures that are color-matched to the computer. The keyboard also comes with Touch ID for unlocking purposes and Apple Pay purchases. There's also the optional Magic Keyboard with Touch ID and Numeric Keyboard. The Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad also include matching shades of color. 

iMac 2021 in orange

(Image credit: Apple )

Display

Size isn't the only difference between the displays found on the 21.5-inch iMac 2019 and 24-inch iMac 2021. The older model offered a Retina 4K display with a 4,096-by-2,304 resolution with support for one billion colors, 500 nits of brightness, and Wide color (P3). By contrast, the current model features a 4.5K Retina display with 4,480-by-2,520 resolution at 218 pixels per inch with support for one billion colors, plus True Tone technology, 500 nits brightness, and Wide color (P3). 

No doubt the newer iMac has a better display that's easier on the eyes after throughout the day. 

Software

Apple silicon hardware means powerful Universal apps are just a few clicks away on the 24-inch iMac 2021. These include some of the most popular apps around, including Adobe Photoshop, Twitter, Microsoft Office, Quicken, Slack, and many more. The M1 SoC also means you can run many of your favorite iOS/iPadOS apps on your Mac. 

The Intel-based 21.5-inch iMac 2019 model doesn't support Universal apps or those created for mobile, so you're getting less choice.

21.5-inch iMac 2019 vs 24-inch iMac 2021: which one should you buy?

So, which iMac should you buy? Usually, this would be a far more difficult question to answer, but this time it's pretty clear cut: if you're after an entry-level iMac, then get the new iMac (2021).

Not only does it have the newest iMac design, but it also features Apple silicone, not Intel, for the first time in an Apple all-in-one, which leads to better performance and more software opportunities. 

The 2019 model is no longer available from Apple but will surely remain on sale through third parties for the time being. The model will almost certainly feature a big price drop until supplies get depleted. Despite this, it's still worth purchasing the newest model, which is more future-proof, and you won't feel the need to upgrade for many years. 

So, when it comes to the question of 21.5-inch iMac 2019 vs 24-inch iMac 2021, the answer is obvious: get the 24-inch iMac 2021.