Apple's New iMac: The Best Feature Is Completely Invisible

Apple released a new iMac this week, and it looks just like the old iMac. But like always, there’s a number of improvements under the hood, including better displays, faster processors, better speakers, and more.

The best new feature, however, is one that you can’t see or hear.

It’s not the faster processors, although Apple claims “up to 65 percent faster CPU performance.” It’s not the improved memory capacity, with up to 128GB of on-board RAM. It’s also not the new graphics chip — a perennial Mac weak point — which now has 16GB of memory and which is up to 55% faster, Apple says, at doing things you’ll rarely if ever do. And it’s not the new camera, which is now 1080P, up from the 720P in all previous Macs, and which boasts some smart software to track your face and ensure the lighting and exposure levels stay optimal no matter where you move.

It’s something a little deeper inside: the hard drive.

Apple is now providing solid state drives as default on all iMacs.

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That may sound like the most boring new product feature possible. But it’s a much more critical component than most imagine, because it determines the speed of your machine in a lot of critical ways, as you can see in the video below:

One in particular is boot-up time. As I recently wrote about, my wife and I almost upgraded our 2013 iMac with a 2019 model in January, only to discover that the new model simply wasn’t appreciably faster than the old model, despite the six to seven year gap between them.

The lack of speed upgrade is mostly attributable to the lack of a SSD hard drive and a reliance on an old-fashioned traditional spinning hard disk drive.

SSD drives are simply faster — up to 20X faster in some operations — and that makes a huge difference to any job you want to get done on your machine that requires accessing memory storage.

They’re also much more reliable, with lower failure rates.

Apple has now fixed that problem.

“The 27-inch iMac now comes standard with SSDs across the line, delivering blazing-fast performance up to 3.4GB/s for launching applications and opening large files,” Apple’s press release says. “For users who need massive amounts of storage, iMac also features an 8TB SSD option for the first time — four times the SSD capacity of the previous-generation 27-inch iMac.”

Whether you need that much storage is up to you, and you’ll certain pay through the nose for an 8TB SSD.

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But we’re storing a lot of our files in the cloud now, with Google Drive and iCloud and OneDrive, so we don’t need as much local storage as we used to. (Or most of us don’t. If you do a ton of video processing, your needs might differ.) 500 GB is probably sufficient for many, but note that Apple’s started out each iMac at just 256GB.

It took too long, but at least Apple is now here.

Other new features are interesting but niche: a new $500 option for “nano-texture glass” that cuts down screen glare, though at the cost of some sharpness according to one review. And there’s a new “studio-quality microphone array” that arrives just a little late for Covid lockdowns, but which Apple says captures high-quality audio for FaceTime calls and podcast recordings.

One thing that Apple didn’t change?

The look.

iMac still has a fat chin and the exact same look as machines from seven years ago. It’s something my kids complained about when we bought the new iMac a few months ago: the new computer doesn’t feel so new when it looks exactly the same, making them feel cheated, somehow.

But at least Apple has finally updated what matters most in the machine.

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