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Apple’s 2023 M3 iMac vs. 2021 M1 iMac: A Giant Leap in Specs and Silicon


Apple today announced its new M3 processing platform, which will launch inside fresh iMac and MacBook Pro models, available for 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-moving world of computing, two years is a long time, and that’s how long we’ve been without an update to Apple’s famous iMac all-in-one desktop line. New models were last released in the spring of 2021, based on the then-new M1 silicon, but Apple skipped the M2 generation with the iMac entirely. We reviewed that 24-inch iMac at the time.

Unlike past generations, Apple launched the M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max here at the same time, whereas the more powerful Pro and Max chips were launched later previously. For the time being, the M3 Pro and M3 Max will only be available in the updated MacBook Pro models, while this 24-inch iMac is sticking to the M3.

Still, it sounds like even the base chip represents a notable performance increase over the base M2. While the design remains the same—unlike the more major design leap from the 2020 to the 2021 iMac—you’ll find some new features to examine. Let’s put them head to head to see what has changed in two years.


iMac 2023: Same Design, Keep the Color

It’s pretty difficult 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 embraced color, but the de facto look in more modern times was the signature all-silver design. The 2021 edition came in green, yellow, orange, pink, purple, blue, and, if you still wanted it, silver. More companies have ramped up their color offerings, and it mirrors the more fun iPhone stylings, too.

The 2023 iMac is evidently not shying away from this decision, though the color bomb will feel far less new this time around. You can get the new 24-inch model again in blue, purple, green, yellow, orange, red, and silver.

Apple M3 Green iMac

(Credit: Apple)

Like the last time around, though, not every color is available with every configuration. The base $1,299 model comes only in green, pink, blue, and silver—yellow, orange, and purple are reserved for the upgraded GPU model (more on the components below), in addition to those base colors. Apple also showed off new color-matching desktop wallpapers to sync up your style, as well as similarly matched accessories including a keyboard, mouse, and trackpad.

iMac design has long centered around a super-slim, all-in-one display, and that’s not changing. Both the previous model and the new build measure 0.45 inches thick, so Apple isn’t slimming down further nor adding any bulk. 

It might sound obvious, but the latter isn’t a given, especially when adding more powerful internal components; some manufacturers are willing to go a touch thicker than before for added performance. Apple states that its homebrewed silicon is what allows additional power to run effectively in such a thin chassis.

So, if you were hoping for an even thinner design, maybe next time. Realistically, I see little point in going even slimmer; it can only mean performance concessions once it’s this thin, especially for a machine you don’t need to throw in a bag or take with you. In all, that means 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

A lack of design change is not for the worse—it’s a slick-looking, colorful, and slim machine, it’s just that a visual redesign is not a big part of the equation this time around. Last time, the iMac saw a major 50% reduction in total volume versus the previous edition.

Also unchanged is the display technology. The 2021 24-inch iMac featured a 4,480-by-2,520-pixel resolution—slightly higher than 4K, dubbed “4.5K” by Apple. The same panel is in use here, so don’t hold your breath for a more advanced, even sharper display. The display is made of 11.3 million pixels, has P3 wide color gamut support, and shines at 500 nits rated brightness.

Apple M3 Yellow iMac

(Credit: Apple)

These are crucially important specs to creative professionals, so I would understand some disappointment that the iMac didn’t get newer, cutting-edge panel upgrades. Much like the thinness, though, this is realistically a totally logical choice for the purpose of this desktop. At this screen size, an even higher resolution isn’t needed, and media workloads aren’t likely to scale beyond 4K for this machine; 8K specialist machines and monitors may be required to take things further.

You’ll find a couple of smaller new features despite the familiar frame, chiefly under the hood in the form of Wi-Fi 6E for faster internet speeds, and Bluetooth 5.3. Also included are up to four USB Type-C ports (two with Thunderbolt 4 support). As with the previous iMac, the base model has just 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 OS, Big Sur, of the previous iMac. The new iMac has been designed to reduce environmental impact. The stand is built using 100% recycled aluminum, other recycled metals on the interior, and fully recycled gold plating on the circuit board.


Architecture, Components, and Configurations: M3 Is the Real Upgrade

As stated upfront, the new M3 chips are the true star of the show for Apple’s revived iMac. Between the new iMac and MacBook Pro models, all three chips on this platform (M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max) promise significantly improved performance. This is particularly true for the iMac having skipped the M2 platform entirely.

Perhaps a larger iMac size down the road will run the M3 Pro and M3 Max, or they will be saved only for updates to the Mac Pro or Mac mini. It was only recently that the Mac Pro welcomed the highest-end M2 chip into its fold, so M3 additions may be well off. With iMac skipping M2 and launching only at 24 inches, 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 hone in on what this much-anticipated silicon will deliver to the fresh 24-inch iMac. The base M3 chip is built on a new 3-nanometer manufacturing process with eight total processing cores. Four of them are performance cores, the other four are efficiency cores, and the chip has an additional eight GPU cores to start. This is not the only M3 option available: You can upgrade to a pricier iMac configuration that has a more powerful M3 with 10 GPU cores.

Here’s a rundown of the new silicon lineup, but again remember, it’s only the M3 for the iMac as things stand:

Even without bringing the M3 Pro and M3 Max into the equation, the M3’s transistor count has skyrocketed to 25 billion transistors, which is up 5 billion from the M2 released just last year. 

Transistors are hardly the final word on processor performance, though. More cores (and more efficient cores) mean superior multi-threaded performance and reduced power consumption. That’s less crucial for an iMac that doesn’t need to run off a battery but should be a boon for the MacBook Pro’s battery life.

The GPU will see some particularly impressive-sounding enhancements. 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 with the original M1 chip, Apple claims the M3 sees a 65% increase in GPU performance.

You’ll find 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 the other features, head over to our separate deeper dive on the M3 lineup.)

As far as how that impacts the iMac, you have a few options. As mentioned, the base model is priced at $1,299, which nets you the 8-core M3 processor, 8GB of memory, and a 256GB SSD. That upgraded M3 model with the 10-core GPU will run you $1,499, with the same other core components.

Additional configure-to-order options to upgrade and customize these models will be available on Apple’s website. For the record, the 2021 iMac started at $1,299, too, so no inherent upcharge is present here just for the leap to M3. Our review configuration of the previous desktop rang up at $2,028, so it was noticeably upgraded from the base model; check back soon when we get our hands on an M3 iMac review unit to see how it fares.

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