Update, 4/14/2022: We’ve reviewed our recommendations and have updated our best photo and video editing and best high-performance sections with the new Mac Studio.
Apple’s transition from Intel hardware to its own ARM-based Apple Silicon systems-on-chip is almost complete. Despite being first-generation products, M1 Macs are excellent in our experience. The new M1 chips sip power, remain relatively cool under load, and pack in enough performance for all but the thirstiest of users.
Another important part of this transition is software support. We’re now a few years into the move away from Intel processors, and a great deal of software has already been updated to run natively on Apple Silicon. Rosetta 2, Apple’s translation layer which lets you run Intel-based applications on ARM, has done a great job of filling in the gaps, though not everything is supported.
We no longer recommend buying a Mac that uses an older Intel chip for both performance and software support reasons. Rather than considering an older chipset, you’ll now want to decide on whether you want an all-in-one iMac or one of Apple’s separate towers like the Mac mini or Mac Studio and bring your own peripherals.
In terms of the lineup, there are currently several configurations available, starting with the base M1 as found in the iMac and Mac mini (plus MacBook Air) ranges. For more power, the M1 Max and M1 Ultra offer more CPU, GPU, and Neural Engine cores but are currently limited to the Mac Studio. For a more powerful all-in-one, you’re better off waiting to see what Apple’s plan is.
Alternatively, if you’d rather spend your money on a portable Mac, the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air range offers Apple Silicon power efficiency and performance in a portable package. That performance doesn’t come cheap, however.
But if you’re looking for a desktop Mac, keep reading for our picks for the best.
Best Desktop Mac Overall: iMac M1 (24-inch, Four Ports, 2021)
- ✓ Great value Mac with everything you need to get started
- ✓ Four-port model has more room for expansion and a slightly better M1 chip
- ✓ Surprisingly good downward-firing speakers
- ✓ Available in six colors and silver
- ✗ Might not be the best value choice if you already have a display and peripherals
- ✗ Only four Type-C ports
- ✗ The first iMac with a power brick
- ✗ White bezels and protruding "chin" not to everyone's tastes
The iMac is Apple’s all-in-one desktop Mac, providing everything you need to get started. The 24-inch 2021 iMac is the first of Apple’s all-in-ones to receive the Apple Silicon treatment. A base model M1 delivers similar performance to an entry-level MacBook Air with its 8GB of unified RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive.
In the box, you’ll find an iMac with a beautiful 4.5K display, an Apple Magic Keyboard, a Magic Mouse, and a power brick with a color-matched braided cord. The iMac can be purchased in six vibrant colors (blue, green, pink, yellow, orange, and purple), as well as a more traditional silver version is also available.
We’re recommending the four-port variant here, which ships with a slightly more powerful version of the M1 processor with an 8-core GPU (up from 7 cores on the two-port model) and two fans instead of one. That additional fan should make it possible for this model to operate at higher speeds for longer before thermal throttling sets in. As the name suggests, this version also has two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports and two standard USB 3 Type-C ports.
One of the main reasons to opt for the iMac is its display. It delivers 500 nits of brightness, full P3 wide-gamut color coverage, and a pixel density of 218 PPI. This provides plenty of screen real estate for creative work or multitasking and a high enough pixel density to make text and webpages appear crystal sharp.
Considering a similarly-specced Mac mini costs $699, you’re effectively paying $800 more for a best-in-class 24-inch display, surprisingly good integrated speakers, a Magic Keyboard, and a Magic Mouse. This makes the iMac excellent value and the best Mac on this list considering the performance and quality on offer, and that’s before you’ve fallen in love with the wafer-thin design in a color of your choice.
24-inch iMac M1 (Four ports, 2021)
Apple's redesigned 24-inch iMac looks the part and delivers next-generation performance thanks to the M1 chip and a beautiful 4.5K Retina display.
Best Budget Desktop Mac: Mac mini M1 (2020)
- ✓ The cheapest and best-value Mac with an M1 chip
- ✓ M1 chip puts older Intel models to shame
- ✓ A wider selection of ports than most, with USB-A and HDMI out
- ✓ Officially supports up to two 60Hz monitors simultaneously (one 6K, one 4K)
- ✗ Hard to find a display that competes with the 24-inch iMac for the money
- ✗ Dongles or hubs necessary to get more ports
- ✗ Cannot be upgraded like the older Intel-based Mac mini
The 2020 Mac mini was the first desktop Mac to make the transition to Apple Silicon. Its M1 chip has 8 CPU and 8 CPU cores, with adequate cooling to sustain the chip at load in a way that the fanless MacBook Air cannot. A base model Mac mini comes with 8GB of unified RAM and a 256GB SSD, though these can be upgraded to 16GB and up to 2TB, respectively.
For $699 you get a computer and a power cord. You’ll need to supply your own display, with the Mac mini supporting one 6K display (60Hz) and one 4K display (60Hz) simultaneously via HDMI or USB-C. You’ll also need to provide your own peripherals, which is perfect if you already have a keyboard and mouse you’d like to use. If you need the whole package, though, you might want to go with the iMac instead.
Performance-wise the Mac mini M1 is roughly equivalent to the iMac, delivering big gains in apps that have been optimized for Apple Silicon. The Mac mini also has the widest port selection of any M1 Mac, with an HDMI 2.0 out, two USB-A ports, two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, and Gigabit Ethernet It also has an optional 10 Gigabit Ethernet upgrade available when shopping through Apple.
The Mac mini M1 is perfect if you want to dip your toes into Apple’s new architecture without breaking the bank. It’s ideal for Windows users who want to tinker with macOS, or Mac users who prefer to bring their own mechanical keyboard or ultrawide display. For a truly smart buy, get the base model and add your own external solid-state drive to increase total storage.
M1 Mac mini (2020)
The 2020 M1 Mac mini is Apple's best budget computer, but you'll need to bring your own display and peripherals.
Best Desktop Mac for Video and Photo Editing: Mac Studio (2022)
- ✓ MacBook Pro power (and beyond) at a desktop price point
- ✓ M1 Max is more than enough for most users
- ✓ M1 Ultra offers insane performance for a price
- ✓ Lots of ports, a media card reader, and dedicated cooling
- ✗ You'll need to provide your own display and peripherals
- ✗ HDMI port limited to 4K at 60Hz
- ✗ Unified memory means RAM is soldered, so no upgradeable at a later date
- ✗ Storage upgrades are still pricey
The clue’s in the name, but the Mac Studio is one Apple desktop computer that’s aimed squarely at creative professionals. It’s available in two base configurations, one with the M1 Max as seen in Apple’s higher-end MacBook Pro line, and another with the M1 Ultra which is effectively two M1 Max chips slapped together, delivering double the performance.
Which you go for depends largely on what you need from a video editing machine. The $1,999 M1 Max delivers a single video decode engine, two encode engines, and two ProRes decode and encode engines. This is probably enough for most video editors and will chew through multiple streams of high bitrate 4K and 8K video. There’s also a 24-core GPU, configurable to a 32-core version for an extra $200.
The M1 Ultra doubles all of this, with two decode engines, four encode engines, and four ProRes-specific encode and decode engines, plus a 48-core GPU for $3,999. This is Apple’s most powerful machine, and it’s currently your best bet if you’re looking for a dedicated editing station that runs macOS and can handle 18 streams of 8K ProRes 422 at once. You can even up the GPU core count to 64 for an additional $1,000.
You’ve also got Thunderbolt outputs for additional monitors and storage options, an HDMI output (limited to 4K 60Hz), a media card input on the front for quickly ingesting footage, and a cooling system inside that will keep everything ticking over under extreme load.
If you’re only looking to splice together a few 4K videos from your GoPro or iPhone, the Studio is overkill (and you might want to save money by opting for an iMac or Mac mini instead). For most other people, the Mac Studio with M1 Max won’t disappoint. For serious video effects artists, streamers, and those with very deep pockets then look no further than the M1 Ultra.
Don’t forget that the Mac Studio is a standalone desktop machine, like the Mac mini, that doesn’t include a display or any peripherals. Take a look at some of the best displays, and make sure you calibrate that display for color accuracy.
The Mac Studio is Apple’s most powerful Mac, with the entry-level M1 Max chip offering MacBook Pro performance at a cheaper price point (minus the peripherals and display).
Best Desktop Mac for Students: iMac M1 (24-inch, Two Ports, 2021)
- ✓ Everything you need to get started
- ✓ Hard to find a display that can compete at this price point
- ✓ Apple Silicon M1 chip delivers big gains over Intel models
- ✗ Not portable, so not ideal for all students
- ✗ Mac mini may be better for students who are comfortable sourcing their own display and peripherals
- ✗ Performance very similar to M1 MacBook models
Many students opt for laptops like the MacBook Air or 13-inch MacBook Pro (a few of our favorite MacBook models) so they can carry their workstations around campus. With the arrival of the M1, the performance gap between desktop and laptop Macs has closed considerably. For example, the two-port 24-inch M1 iMac has the same 8-core CPU and 7-core GPU as an M1 MacBook Air.
However, the iMac has better thermals and can run under load for longer than the Air. This will be noticeable in tasks that stress the computer, like rendering video, running 3D applications, or compiling software. It’s tough to find a complete system that performs this well, with a display that looks this good.
The iMac has a much larger screen than Apple’s laptops, which gives you far more screen real estate to multitask. You can have multiple web pages or documents open at a time, but on a laptop, you’ll be flicking between desktop spaces.
But if you’re buying an iMac in the mistaken belief that it will perform considerably better than a MacBook (especially a MacBook Pro, which is also actively cooled), then you should reconsider. Buy the M1 iMac for your dorm room because you want a colorful all-in-one solution that can chew through school work, web browsing, and creative tasks like video editing. Just don’t get an iMac if portability is important to you, especially now that Apple Silicon has evened the playing field.
24-inch iMac M1 (Two ports, 2021)
The 24-inch M1 iMac has everything you need to study hard, with an Apple Silicon system-on-chip, a stunning display, and colorful Apple-branded peripherals.
Best Mac for High-End Performance: Mac Studio (2022)
- ✓ Apple's most powerful Mac to date
- ✓ Cheaper than a MacBook Pro in its base configuration
- ✓ More than enough power for most applications
- ✓ Tons of ports, a card reader, built-in Ethernet, in a charming form factor
- ✗ Not the Mac Pro you've been waiting for
- ✗ High-end M1 Ultra configuration is expensive
- ✗ No peripherals in the box
The Mac Pro would traditionally be considered Apple’s “high-end” machine for customers who need the most powerful Mac money can buy, but at the time of writing this machine has yet to transition to Apple Silicon. So instead we’re recommending a newcomer in the form of the Mac Studio, available with the M1 Max and M1 Ultra system-on-chip configurations.
The Mac Studio is a desktop machine that lacks a built-in display. Think of it as a more powerful version of the Mac mini, with a much taller enclosure and a more capable cooling system under the hood.
Both Studio models ship with four Thunderbolt 4 ports on the back, built-in 10Gb Ethernet, two USB-A ports for older devices, an HDMI out, and a 3.5mm stereo jack on the back. On the front, you’ll find an SDXC slot for memory cards and two 10Gb/sec USB-C ports (M1 Max) or two Thunderbolt 4 ports (M1 Ultra).
The $1,999 M1 Max configuration is about as powerful as a 16-inch MacBook Pro, with a 10-core CPU, 24-core GPU, and 16-core Neural Engine. If you opt for the $3,999 M1 Ultra you’re looking at a 20-core CPU, 48-core GPU, and 32-core Neural Engine. You can configure up to a 64-core GPU and 32-core Neural Engine for an extra $1,000. Just remember that you’ll still need to pair it with a display, keyboard, and mouse.
The Mac Studio is a compact and powerful Mac for users who want performance but don’t need the slender form factor of a MacBook, or who are happy to provide their display and peripherals. If you need more power than a MacBook then the M1 Ultra delivers in spades, provided you’ve got deep pockets.
The Studio is aimed at professionals who aim to put that CPU power to work on data analysis, edit multiple streams of 4K video in real-time, or 3D artists. It’s also great for anyone who wants a svelte desktop Mac that can handle almost anything you can throw at it.
As for the Mac Pro? Apple has already confirmed an ARM-based Mac Pro is in the works, with the launch expected sometime later in 2022. If you need an upgrade to the Pro, you’ll want to hold off and see what Apple has to offer for this model.
Mac Studio (2022)
Available with the powerful M1 Max or M1 Ultra systems-on-chip, the Mac Studio is the perfect stop gap for anyone waiting for a next-generation Mac Pro.
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