In the last two years, Apple has released three new Mac desktop computers, all based on Apple Silicon, but these systems are very different. The new Mac Studio sits at the top, while the iMac and Mac Mini fill the lower tiers. Clearly, the most expensive model has the greatest performance. However, several thousand dollars can be wasted if it is to be used for tasks that would not weigh even on the cheapest model, which is also fairly fast.
When you buy a new Mac, it’s a good idea to take a moment to think about how you want the computer to function and what components of your current system can be reused. For example, if a nice monitor is already available, is there an advantage to getting an all-in-one iMac that includes a monitor? It can be useful when a second screen is needed and all three systems can support multiple displays.
Let’s take a look at the top three Mac desktop systems to see which one is best for you.
The tremendous power of Mac Studio
Apple’s Mac Studio is an exciting new computer that packs incredible power into a small package, and there’s no doubt it would make a great machine for anyone. For most buyers, however, there’s a significant stumbling block, as the Mac Studio starts at $1,999 for just the mini-tower and power cord. The addition of an Apple Studio Display, keyboard and mouse brings the price up to $3,896. Choosing the most powerful configuration more than doubles the cost to $7,999, making this a super powerful but very expensive system.
With the option of an M1 Max with 10 CPU cores and 25 or 32 GPU cores, or an M1 Ultra processor with 20 CPU cores and up to 64 GPU cores, the Mac Studio is unmatched in Mac desktop performance and even beats the Mac Pro that sits atop it in a massive 40-pound suitcase. The Mac Studio fits into a remarkably small 7.7 x 7.7 x 3.7 inch body and weighs less than 8 pounds. Apple claims that its M1 Ultra is the most powerful chip in any personal computer, despite its relatively low power requirements and low-temperature design. Once again Apple is pushing the PC industry to go further with its advanced chip technology closely related to the processor used in an iPhone.
While Mac Studio is undoubtedly a powerhouse that can handle almost anything, most people just don’t need that much power and it would make more sense to consider Apple’s other Mac desktop computers.
The Mac Mini offers performance at a low price
The Mac Mini is an inexpensive alternative that still has a lot to offer. It is possible to buy an M1 Mac Mini for as little as $699. This includes nothing but the tiny 1.4 inch computer and its power cord. For a budget computer, however, it’s a fair assumption that reusing existing accessories is fine. Connect your existing monitor, keyboard, and mouse to use Mac Mini to get everyday tasks done quickly and efficiently, while leaving enough cash to buy apps and upgrade accessories.
Its M1 processor was released in 2020, the first generation from Apple Silicon, and that means it lags a bit behind the M2 chip found in the latest MacBook laptops and can’t compete with the M1 Pro, M1 Max, or M1 Ultra-powered computers , which were launched in 2021 and 2022.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s a slow computer. The Mac Mini can run single-core tasks almost as fast as an M1 Ultra, and that’s the most common use of a computer. The difference can be seen when processing videos, cracking a huge spreadsheet, running a demanding game, or dealing with highly complex images or audio files. For browser tasks, photo adjustments, page layout and word processing, an M1 chip easily masters most jobs and only rarely needs to be cooled by the fan.
24-inch iMac contains everything
Apple updated its iMac computer in 2021, giving it an M1 processor and refreshing the design with an ultra-slim 24-inch display. Starting at $1,299, it’s an all-in-one computer that completely eliminates the hassle of building a system. The M1 iMac comes with a Magic Mouse and Keyboard, large screen and 1080p webcam, so all you have to do is unbox and plug in to use it.
Since an iMac has a screen, this is an important factor when looking at this computer. Is the display big enough, sharp enough and bright enough? For most people, the 24-inch iMac display will look amazing. With a resolution of 4.5K and a diagonal of 24 inches, it’s a large and crisp display with a brightness of 500 nits. An expensive monitor like an Apple Studio Display or an expensive third-party monitor would be required to beat the iMac display.
Which desktop Mac is right for you?
The 2021 M1 iMac is a good all-in-one solution with its bright and crisp 24-inch display. Priced at $1,299, it handles most everyday computing needs and looks great on a desk. It keeps everything tidy and compact, with the focus entirely on the screen, keyboard, and mouse. It’s hard to beat as a first computer or when upgrading all components at once.
For more flexibility, the 2020 M1 Mac Mini offers the same processor as the iMac and with its flat 7.7-inch square footprint, it practically disappears on a desk. For $699, it’s a powerful computer that can replace a tower unless there’s a heavy demand for heavy graphics processing. A keyboard, mouse, monitor, webcam and speakers are required to build a complete system. There are two Thunderbolt/USB-C and two USB-A ports, HDMI and Ethernet, as well as Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5 to connect various components and accessories.
Mac Studio excels as a powerful desktop that starts at a higher level than a full-featured Mac Mini or iMac. The base model includes an M1 Max chip that can handle heavy workloads with four times the performance of an M1. If more than 16 gigabytes of memory is required, the Mac Studio starts at 32 gigabytes and goes up to 128 gigabytes. This allows larger data sets to remain in memory, so the processor doesn’t have to wait for information to be retrieved from memory. The starting price of $1,999 is more than double that of the Mac Mini, but is often worth the cost when used for work.