Like a proud parent sprucing up their kids for the holiday season, Apple dresses up its family with the newest threads of silicon for the annual march up to Christmas. The family-friendly iMac was ignored in 2022 but Apple is making it right by making it one of the first off the block with the latest M3 chips, built on the 3nm manufacturing process that is so complex that Apple is the only major brand currently using it in its ARM architecture chips. There are inherent benefits to having more processing power on a single, unified chip as opposed to discrete devices and Apple prides itself on the “performance-per-watt” metric, which illustrates how power-efficient its M family of processors is. Now, the iMac is a peculiar machine and regardless of whether you want to FaceTime your friend in Finland with a life-size face or edit a viral video in half the time you would otherwise, it’s always been the go-to desktop machine for everyone.
Apple iMac M3 review
iMac for the family pack
A big part of its allure is the design. While the current generation associates Apple with iPhones and AirPods, the iMac stands as a stark reminder of what turned the fortunes around for the company under Steve Jobs’s second stint. The wow factor of the ultra-slim design, the flawless machining of the components such as the hinge and stand and of course, the choice of seven colours are all reminiscent of the original iMac. In it’s 2023 avatar, the M3-equipped iMac doesn’t look any different to the 2021 M1 model, but the heads won’t stop turning anyway.
Our review sample came in a pastel shade of blue which contrasts well with the white bezel, but around the back and the stand, it’s a much brighter, metallic finish that stands out from the beiges of the world. Apple also throws in a colour-matched sticker, cables and peripherals like Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad. Although to be honest, the “magical” qualities of the mouse and trackpad have been in question for some time now and sorry to report, that nothing has changed here. They still need charging via the rapidly-approaching legacy Lightning cable and the keyboard still doesn’t get backlighting and the mouse still needs to play dead to be charged.
OK, now that we’re done with the painful bits, let’s focus on what’s new. Simply put, the beating heart of the iMac and that’s the new M3 chip. No M3 Pro or M3 Max coming to the iMac, those shall be reserved for the MacBook Pros. But again, understanding the ideal use-case scenario for the iMac and its TG, the M3 is mighty enough to even trump the M2 Pro on our MacBook Pro 16in model from earlier this year on single-core Geekbench scores.
Back on the practicality bench though, the M3 SoC provides big improvements over the M1 when it comes to GPU performance with support for hardware-accelerated ray-tracing for games, Dynamic Cache to make full use of the available RAM and with our machine’s 24GB of unified memory, games like the Lies of P and Resident Evil had no qualms maintaining a steady flow of 60fps even at the highest settings. The official setting in the game allows for 72fps at 4.5K resolution and the effects of M3’s enhanced GPU power can easily be appreciated, and the 4.5K retina display only heightens the immersiveness. The always-dependable colour accuracy and resistance to glare are other big pluses too. Not just on games, but even on music and videos. The built-in six-speaker audio still is mind-boggling, to say the least and makes all but the best desktop speakers redundant.
Elsewhere, if you’ve had an earlier-gen Intel iMac, the speed will be tangible in virtually every task from loading new apps to exporting a video file and even the snappiness of Apple Music and loading WhatsApp chats. Compared to a MacBook16in M2 Pro with 19 cores though, the 10-core GPU of the M3 iMac did take longer for graphic-intensive tasks like Lightroom batch edits of RAW image files, opening large InDesign files for our print edition or exporting 4K video edits. Having said that, these differences were only in comparison to the other M-powered machine I had on hand and in isolation, the M3 iMac wouldn’t come across as sluggish by any standards and in fact, would blaze past any comparable Intel processor. Comparing it to our office M1 iMac, the same 650MB InDesign file opened 40% faster on the M3 iMac! It’s only when the going gets rough, playing Lies of P and syncing more than 9700 files on Adobe Creative Cloud simultaneously, for example, do the internal fans purr away. Never intrusive or loud even.
It boils down to your workflow. The Pro, Max and Ultra M3 variants are indeed meant for professionals and the higher GPU core count reflects that, but for everyday tasks and family things, the vanilla M3 gets the job done without breaking a sweat. FaceTime, browsing, photo edits, social media reel edits, consuming content and now, even playing a AAA game…it makes light work of it all! If you already have an M1 iMac and your daily tasks don’t include repositioning the NavIC satellite, you probably don’t need to upgrade, but for every other generation of iMac users, this is mega.
The 1080p FaceTime camera remains unchanged and it could’ve used a little spec bump. However, the M3’s integrated image signal processor does a better job of noise reduction in low light and dynamic range in brighter environments. It won’t do Centre Stage people tracking like on the MacBooks but the rationale here is that since the iMac is a family computer anyway, it will be typically kept on a desk, allowing people to gather around easily. Or something like that which justifies the no-change policy. Undoubtedly, the biggest miss here is the Lightning-stuck accessories that have been robbed of any updates whatsoever. And they were the weak links in this package, to begin with! Ignore that though and the iMac continues to be a versatile, top-performing all-in-one that impresses with its display and sound quality, blazing performance and undeniably cool form factor.
As with all things Apple, the iMac’s biggest draw is being part of the ecosystem. It makes it so convenient to answer calls that were meant for your iPhone, switch AirPods audio from your iPad to the iMac seamlessly, AirDrop files from any other Mac/iOS device instantly, continue browsing websites that you may have opened on your iPhone, copy/paste text from any other Apple device to the iMac…the list is endless. So if you’re already invested in a couple of Apple devices and are looking for a desktop, this one’s a no-brainer.
A meaningful and long-due spec bump keeps it relevant and still, the best AiO desktop computer you can buy.
|Apple M3 (8-core CPU, 10-core GPU)
|24in 4480x2520 pixels
|2 x Thunderbolt, 2 x USB-3, headphone out, WiFi 6E, BT 5.3
|18.1 x 21.5 x 5.8in