The Complete History of the iMac: Launch, Models, Pricing, and More


The Complete History of the iMac: Launch, Models, Pricing, and More

The Apple iMac is one of the oldest-running desktop computer products in history, going on over two decades of development. Now that the latest model has been released, with a ground-breaking design and cutting-edge features, there is no better time to look at one of the most influential computers in the world. 

The Apple iMac is one of the most iconic computers in history. With innovative design being the cornerstone of iMac development, it is no surprise that they were a smash hit from the start. Loved by designers, developers, engineers, and creatives worldwide, the iMac is famed for its role in shaping computing history.

Quick Facts

Release Date
Original price
Units Sold
100 million+ units

In today’s article, we’re going to take a trip through the history of the iMac, from the earliest models that transformed desktop computing to the latest models that push the envelope of what is possible. With full specifications, features, and pricing information, we’ll dig deep into each of the unique generations of the Apple iMac. 

Apple iMac: Best Deal Today

The Apple iMac may not be the cheapest computer on the market, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a great deal on one. We’ve scoured the web for the best deals, starting with these two.

Latest iMac – direct from Apple

Latest iMac – from Amazon

Apple iMac: History

Apple was initially founded by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in 1976, long before the iMac was even a thought. Throughout the history of Apple, innovation has always been a top priority. With the release of the Macintosh in 1984, the world got its first taste of an all-in-one desktop computer. This would prove to be the earliest ancestor.

The Macintosh was praised for its groundbreaking design. Never before had such a compact yet powerful computer been mass-produced for the consumer market. With such massive success, the Macintosh remained popular long after it was discontinued. When Steve Jobs was forced out of Apple in 1985, the company could not replicate this success again.

While Apple struggled over the next ten years, Steve Jobs took some of his most trusted engineers from Apple to start his own software company called Next. The next decade saw development in new computers stagnating, and Apple was on the verge of bankruptcy by the mid-1990s.

In 1997, Steve Jobs made his famed return to Apple. At this point, the company needed a bold new plan to turn it around, and Steve was just the visionary they needed. With the release of the first iMac marking the start of a new chapter, Apple’s success skyrocketed in the following years. While the iMac was one of Steve’s first major innovations at the company, it was soon followed up by the first iPod in 2001 and the revolutionary iPhone in 2007.

Apple iMac: Different Versions

The Apple iMac has evolved so drastically over the generations that the early models are hardly recognizable compared to the latest models. Let’s explore each generation of the iMac in a little more detail.

Apple iMac G3

Release DateAugust 1998
ProcessorPowerPC G3
Max Operating SystemMac OS 10.2
Storage4GB base to 60GB max
Display15-inch CRT
Original Base Price$1,299

The original Apple iMac was unlike anything we have ever seen. Initially launched in 1998, the computer took the world by storm. Many critics praised the creative design and quirky colors like blue, turquoise, green, orange, and red colors. Besides a fresh new design, the iMac was also a competitive performance computer.

Packed with a 233MHz PowerPC G3 processor, the iMac was one of the most powerful systems on the market. With 32MB of RAM and a 4GB hard drive included by default, the computer could run the most demanding creative and graphic design programs. Coupled with the 15-inch CRT display and ATI Rage Pro graphics, the iMac was immediately hailed by the creative professional community as the ideal computer for artists and designers.

A departure from Apple’s design patterns at the time, the iMac G3 stood out from every other computer on the market. With the “i” prefix, Apple intended to promote the iMac as a revolutionary new system to use with the internet. This model was the first Apple computer to come standard with USB ports and no built-in floppy drive. This new standard provided an alternative to the plethora of confusing connectors like ADB, serial, and parallel used at the time.

Apple iMac G4

Yellow iMac 4 on a desk top
Release DateJanuary 2002
ProcessorPowerPC G4
Max Operating SystemMac OS 10.4
Storage40GB base to 160GB max
Display15, 17, and 20-inch LCD
Original Base Price$1,299

The next release sported an even more quirky and unique design. While still an all-in-one desktop computer, the iMac G4’s design was unlike before. The LCD was mounted on a swivel arm, allowing it to rotate almost any angle. The components were housed in the base of the computer, making the whole system look similar to a lamp. In fact, this model was lovingly referred to as the “lampshade iMac.”

With an even more powerful processor than the previous generation, the G4 included a PowerPC G4 CPU running at 700MHz. The standard configuration included up to 256MB of RAM and a 40GB hard drive. WiFi and ethernet were standard features, and later models of the G4 included early versions of Bluetooth. Additionally, a tray-loading optical drive for playing CDs and DVDs was built into the front of the iMac’s base.

This iMac also featured the newest addition of Mac OS, known as Mac OS “X.” This new operating system eventually made its way to every computer in Apple’s lineup. While the iMac G4 was popular, it wasn’t long before Apple created the next generation to replace it.

Apple iMac G5

Release DateAugust 2004
ProcessorPowerPC G5
Max Operating SystemMac OS 10.5
Storage40GB base to 500GB max
Display17 and 20-inch LCD
Original Base Price$1,299

Apple turned the tables yet again with the release of the next computer. The new iMac G5 featured a 17-inch or a 20-inch LCD panel, with the entire computer housed behind the display. With an aluminum hinge suspending the whole thing, this new design was unlike other computers on the market at the time. 

The processor has improved yet again over the previous generation, now sporting a base clock speed of 1.60GHz and coupled with a “velocity engine” vector processing unit for improved performance. The iMac G5 was unique because it was the last PowerPC processor before Apple switched to Intel.

Polycarbonate Intel Apple iMac

Release DateJanuary 2006
ProcessorIntel Core Duo
Operating SystemMac OS 10.6
Storage80GB base to 750GB max
Display17, 20, and 24-inch LCD
Original Base Price$1,299

Apple didn’t plan for the first Intel iMac to be a major redesign. In fact, they wanted to make the switch to Intel as quietly as possible, making the polycarbonate strikingly similar to the iMac G5. The essential difference was in the processor. The limitations of the PowerPC platform were becoming apparent, and Apple desperately needed more powerful CPUs. This made the switch to Intel a necessity.

Connectivity is similar to the previous generation, with three USB 2.0 ports, two Firewire ports, and Apple Airport Extreme WiFi. New features like the Apple “iSight” webcam were standard on the polycarbonate iMac. Additionally, this model featured a mini-DVI port for connecting an external monitor.

Aluminum Apple iMac

Release DateAugust 2007
ProcessorIntel Core 2 Duo
Operating SystemMac OS 10.11
Storage250GB base to 1TB max
Display20 and 24-inch
Original Base Price$1,199

By 2007, Apple was reimaging its entire product lineup’s style. The new generation of iMacs and MacBooks featured the aluminum style that would be used for the next decade. While this generation did not introduce many new features, the hardware was still significantly improved.

With the latest Core 2 Duo processors from Intel and 1GB of RAM standard, performance was noticeably improved from the previous model. Connectivity is similar to the previous generation, with three USB 2.0 ports, two Firewire ports, and WiFi and Bluetooth.

Unibody Apple iMac

Release DateOctober 2009
ProcessorIntel Core 2 Duo, i3, i5, i7
Max Operating SystemMac OS 10.13
StorageUp to 2TB hard drive or 256GB SSD
Display21.5 and 27-inch LCD
Original Base Price$1,199

Apple redesigned the iMac shortly after, and the next generation featured a “unibody” design. Instead of multiple pieces joined together, the new design is milled out of a single piece of aluminum. The components are then mounted inside, directly behind the display. This generation featured similar hardware yet again but with modestly upgraded performance.

Additionally, while the unibody started with Intel Core 2 Duo processors, Apple quickly pivoted to using the new Core i-series processors such as the i3, i5, and i7. The display is also improved, with a 16:9 aspect ratio and 1920 by 1080 resolution. Overall, this generation is a noticeable improvement over the older models.

Slim Unibody Apple iMac

Release DateNovember 2012
ProcessorIntel Core i3, i5, i7
Max Operating SystemMac OS 11
StorageUp to 3TB hard drive or up to 1TB SSD
Display21.5 and 27-inch LED
Original Base Price$1,299

With computers beginning to get slimmer as the new decade began, Apple followed suit by redesigning the new iMac with a more slender case. By removing the optical drive and reimagining several key factors of the layout, Apple could slim down the new iMac significantly. 

Additionally, the display is glued into the case instead of being held in with magnets like the previous generation. While this meant that it was now more difficult to service or upgrade components, it did decrease the overall thickness of the computer.

Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n, and Bluetooth 4.0 are included, as well as three USB 3.0 ports and two Thunderbolt ports. Besides by thinner, the new generation also features a faster CPU, faster RAM, and better graphics.

Retina Apple iMac

27-inch iMac with retina display on a desk
iMac with retina display has stunning 5K graphics.
Release DateOctober 2014
ProcessorIntel Core i3, i5, i7, or i9
Operating SystemMac OS 12
StorageUp to 3TB hard drive or up to 2TB SSD
Display21.5 and 27-inch LED
Original Base Price$1,099

The retina iMac is a modest improvement over the previous generation, with most upgrades focused on the display. Featuring a 5K resolution LED-backlit display on the 27-inch models, the iMac’s new display was cutting-edge at the time and is still very competitive.

The retina iMac also offers improved processing power with the Intel processors’ new “Haswell” generation. RAM and hard drives can still be upgraded in this iMac, which would be the last model with this feature.

Although the enclosure and display are essentially the same as those introduced in the previous models, this model has a much higher resolution display, a faster processor, an improved graphics processor, and Thunderbolt 2 support out of the box.

Apple iMac Silicon

Release DateApril 2021
ProcessorApple M1
Operating SystemMax OS 12
StorageUp to 2TB SSD
Display24-inch LED
Original Base Price$1,299

The “Silicon” iMac is the newest model yet, and the first model featuring the new M1 processors. With an 8-core CPU and a 7-core integrated GPU, the M1 is the most powerful and efficient chip ever used in an iMac. Besides an improved processor, the M1 iMac also features onboard RAM and SSD. However, it is clear that this decision has its drawbacks—users cannot upgrade or replace components once they buy the system.

When you look at the slim casing of the iMac, the design choices to remove upgradeable components start to make sense. The case is extremely slender and is the thinnest iMac ever made. While you don’t get the workstation level of performance of a Mac Pro tower, the iMac is still more than capable of running demanding applications.

Additionally, the iMac is offered in multiple colors, similar to the style on the first iMac G3. If you want to add a splash of color to your workspace, the iMac does not disappoint. Besides an attractive design, this iMac also offers a superb 4.5K resolution LED display. In addition to that, you also get two Thunderbolt ports, a triple microphone array, and a high-fidelity six-speaker sound system. Overall, the silicon iMac is a massive improvement to the world-famous desktop lineup.

Apple iMac: Review

If you’re in the creative field, you’ve probably heard of the iMac already. You will often see iMacs portrayed in movies and media as well. The love for the iMac isn’t for nothing!

While the iMac is not the cheapest computer, it is still priced attractively for the level of performance and features it comes with. The base model has historically remained in the $1299 price range, even with each generation’s improvements. Apple has always provided a high-quality computing experience with the iMac, with the hardware designed to harmonize perfectly with the Mac operating system.

Ease of use is one of the most significant factors attributing to the iMac’s success. Apple’s motto of “it just works” applies to the iMac more than any other computer. Thanks to the simple yet functional design, the iMac is a very intuitive computer to use. 

Apple iMac: Pros and Cons


  • Cutting-edge features
  • User-friendly OS
  • High-quality display
  • Robust build quality


  • Pricey
  • Difficult to upgrade
  • Limited support for older models

Apple iMac: Is it a buy?

Loved by creative for over 20 years now, the iMac has solidified its place in the artistic community. You can use the iMac for video editing, music production, and graphic design. Coupled with software like Adobe Photoshop, Logic Pro, Garageband, and Pro Tools, the iMac is designed to create content and art.

The iMac has a business side as well. Educational institutions and corporations like the iMac for its sturdy build quality, uniform design elements, and attractive style. Additionally, the all-in-one design makes keeping a clean desk or workspace easier. The only drawback for many businesses is the higher price tag, as iMacs are premium computers in a higher price bracket. For those on a budget, a cheaper Windows-based desktop is usually preferred.

Buy it if…

You are looking for a slim yet powerful desktop computer with a stylish design. The iMac is perfect for running graphic design programs or editing videos. Additionally, if you already own an iPhone or MacBook, the iMac perfectly fits into your Apple ecosystem.

Don’t buy it if…

You want a gaming computer or a workstation computer. Since the iMac does not have a discrete graphics card, it is not ideal. Although some games for Mac are available, it is not designed for heavy gaming. Additionally, with no way to upgrade components, the iMac is not great for a workstation computer.


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Frequently Asked Questions

Is iMac worth buying?

For the price, the iMac is very competitive. The question of whether it is worth it depends on what you are using it for. If you are looking for a graphic design or video-editing computer, the iMac is worth it. If you want a gaming computer or business workstation, your money would be better spent on a PC.

How long do iMacs last on average?

iMacs are very well-made and often last until they are no longer capable of running the latest software. In most cases, this works out to be between 7 and 9 years. Most iMacs will continue working after this time, but without the latest operating system or support from Apple.

Is iMac better than MacBook?

If you are looking for the best performance, the latest MacBook Pros offer more than the iMac. However, if you are looking for a desktop with a large display, the MacBook does not compare.

Can you play games on iMac?

You can play games to an extent, but not on the level of your typical gaming PC. The iMac’s graphics are sufficient for entry-level gaming at best, but the price is not justified if you only use your computer for gaming.

How much is the new iMac?

The base model iMac starts at $1299 but can easily cost upwards of $2000 if you buy one with all of the available options and maxed-out specs.

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