Apple iMac M3 review

The iMac M3 has lots of power and that 24-inch 4.5K screen is to die for, but the base models do need more RAM and storage

Apple iMac M3
(Image: © Rod Lawton)

Digital Camera World Verdict

The iMac M3 is the latest in a long line of beautifully designed, powerful, and seductive (steady-on) all-in-one Macs. The 4.5K 500-nit Retina screen on its own might sell it to you, but inside is a super-fast M3 processor and 8 or 10-core GPU that makes the iMac M3 a photo and video editing powerhouse. But get ready to dig a little deeper into your cash for more RAM and more storage, and for a bunch of adapters, dongles and hubs to get round its minimal connectivity.

Pros

  • +

    Elegant, simple design

  • +

    Choice of 7 colors

  • +

    Superb 4.5K screen

  • +

    Fast and powerful

Cons

  • -

    Boosting base specs is expensive

  • -

    No SD slot, HDMI or USB Type-A

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The king is dead – long live the king! Apple has swapped out its ‘old’ M1 powered iMac range for a new model with its latest M3 processor. Even amidst all of Apple’s typical processor hyperbole, it’s clear that this new chip marks another step forward in consumer computing.

iMac M3: specifications

Processor: Apple M3 chip with 8-core CPU or 10-core GPU, 16-core Neural Engine

Display: 24-inch 4.5K Retina. 4480x2520 pixels at 218 pixels per inch. P3 color gamut, 500 nits

Memory: 8GB, 16GB or 24GB unified memory

Storage: 256, 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB SSD

Battery: N/A

Ports: Two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports (base model) plus two USB Type-C (upper model)

Wireless: Wi‑Fi 6E (802.11ax), Bluetooth 5.3

Camera: 1080p FaceTime HD camera

Power: 143W Power Adapter, 2m cable

Size (HWD): 46.1 x 54.7 x 14.7 cm (18.1 x 21.5 x 5.8 in)

Weight: 4.48kg (9.87 pounds)

We’ve already seen this M3 processor in action in the MacBook Pro 14 (M3, 2023) and it certainly doesn’t lack power. But is it a good fit for Apple’s all-in-one desktop computer and what kind of value does it offer to home users, creatives, and professionals?

There are actually two iMac variants, both configurable with more RAM, more storage and more accessories as required. The base model comes with the same glorious screen and physical design and a highly compelling $1,299 / £1,399 price tag but only two ports, both Thunderbolt / USB 4. The upper (premium) model adds two USB Type-C ports, is ‘configurable’ with Gigabit Ethernet (there’s no separate port) and has ten GPU cores, not eight. This version starts at $1,499 / £1,599.

That’s pretty keen pricing for machines with this kind of power and a screen this good, but this is with a baseline spec of just 8GB integrated on-chip RAM and a measly 256GB SSD. You’ll almost certainly want to boost one or both, that’s when the prices really climb.

Our test machine was the upper-tier model with the maximum 24GB RAM and a 1TB SSD. It also came with an Apple Magic TrackPad and an extended keyboard with numeric keypad, and came in at $2,458 / £2,558. Ouch. The iMac M3 can still be great value even with boosted specs, but you’ll want to choose your add-ons wisely.

iMac M3: Design and Handling

The iMac M3 is designed to be minimalist, stylish and acceptable anywhere. (Image credit: Rod Lawton)

The iMac is all about design. Most computer setups are too messy to be allowed into the best rooms in the house, but the iMac would fit in anywhere. The base model comes in a choice of four colors while the upper tier version comes in seven, so you can’t complain it won’t fit with your decor. What’s more, the color you choose is carried through to the keyboard, the underside of the mouse and even the power cable.

Apple’s integrated chip design means the iMac case is thinner even than most regular monitors, at just 11.5mm. It’s also under 5kg in weight, though it still feels a bit of a lump to move around. It does have a very small, neat desktop footprint though, and thanks to the wireless keyboard and mouse, the whole setup is virtually cable-free – you’ll still need the power cable.

Even connecting this power cable will bring a smile to your face. There’s no more struggling with stiff push-in power plugs because this is a small, neat co-axial connector that’s also magnetic – you only have to get it close to the socket on the back of the iMac and it’s sucked into place.

Fed up of fiddly power cables? This one is magnetic and practically plugs itself in. (Image credit: Rod Lawton)

Even the unboxing is an experience. Apple’s packaging is a masterpiece of minimalism and elegance, and you might even find yourself neatly packing away the screen and keyboard protection sheets as precious objects in their own right. Which is weird.

There’s no height adjustment on the screen, but I’ve never found that an issue on this or other iMacs. The tilt movement is all I need for a comfortable viewing angle and the action has just the right amount of stiffness with no wobble or ‘slop’. There are no creaky plastics here.

The keyboard is terrific, with a light-medium touch and a short travel. Some people might prefer bigger, clattery Windows-style keyboards, of course, but I write about 50,000 words a month on Mac keyboards and I don’t think I could use anything else. Only one complaint – there are no ‘dimples’ on the home keys for touch typists.

The review Mac came with an extended numeric keypad keyboard, a slightly more expensive option. It takes up a good deal more desk space and unless you spend your working life entering data in spreadsheets, I wouldn’t bother, especially for home use.

The color scheme you choose is carried through to the keyboard and the underside of the mouse... (Image credit: Rod Lawton)

... and even this braided Thunderbolt-Lightning cable. (Image credit: Rod Lawton)

I’m told Apple’s Magic Mouse is not popular with everyone. I love it. It has no clickety scroll wheels or creaky plastic buttons. Instead, the whole top surface is touch/gesture sensitive and also works as one large mouse button – and you can assign a ‘right-click’ action to the front right side too.

If you like sirens, neon, and cooling fans, this is not the computer for you. It’s elegant, understated and minimal. Sometimes too minimal.

The upper-tier model gets two Thunderbolt ports, two USB-C, but still no card slot, no HDMI and no USB Type-A. Hmm. (Image credit: Rod Lawton)

Even the upper-tier version has only four connection ports – two USB 4/Thunderbolt and two USB C. There’s no SD card slot, no HDMI for external monitors and no USB Type A ports for older peripherals. If you do use any of these things and, like me, need to plug in external drives too, you’re going to run out of ports pretty much straight away. The iMac itself may be a masterpiece of minimalism, but you’ll need a drawer full of dongles, hubs and adaptors to go with it.

iMac M3: Performance

Fed up of Lightroom taking an age to launch? On our iMac M3 it was ready to go in just a couple of seconds, and Photoshop too. (Image credit: Rod Lawton)

Apple reckons the M3 iMac is twice as fast as the M1 model it replaces. It also has dynamic GPU memory caching which should reduce unnecessary GPU memory use, and has hardware-accelerated raytracing and mesh rendering. Apple suggests that it is an ideal multi-user ‘home’ computer that’s now even better for games. The iMac’s appeal is surely broader than that, though, both for home workers (via its excellent 1080p HD camera), hot-desking office workers and creatives (thanks to its power and its terrific display).

We carried out our regular benchmarking tests and you’ll see that the iMac M3’s results are almost identical to those of the M3 MacBook Pro 14-inch, as you would expect. In use, it rips through Lightroom and Photoshop processes so quickly that you’ll probably wish you’d upgraded sooner. In our tests Lightroom started in just 2-3 seconds for example, and Photoshop in 3-4 seconds. Native MacOS software like Photos or Mail, for example, starts so quickly it’s practically instantaneous. 

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 MacBook Pro 14 (M3)MacBook Air (M2)iMac M3
GeekBench 6 Single-core CPU3,1182,5983,170
GeekBench 6 Multi-core CPU11,7449,93411,991
GeekBench 6 OpenCL30,43024,36930,472
GeekBench 6 Metal47,40139,64647,093
Cinebench R23 Single-core CPU1,9011,5971,921
Cinebench R23 Multi-core CPU10,4438,0989,873

If you need to take a break from work you can just sit back and watch the iMac's new video screensavers – just like those on the Apple TV. (Image credit: Rod Lawton)

Not every process will be instantaneous. Photoshop's Generative AI has to send images on a round trip to Adobe's servers, for example. But processes carried out locally do benefit from the fast M3 chip. (Image credit: Rod Lawton)

The 4.5K Retina display is really the iMac’s stand-out feature. Its resolution means you never the dots and even the tiniest type is razor sharp. The P3 color gamut is roughly equivalent to Adobe RGB (with a slight shift in the extreme green region) and with 500 nits of brightness it’s going to be usable even in the brightest workspaces.

It’s worth mentioning the sound system, too. The iMac M3 has no fewer than six speakers, with two pairs of woofers, each matched with a tweeter, and with Dolby Atmos Spatial Audio thrown in too. The sound is rich, deep and nuanced, and streets ahead of the average computer monitor. 

iMac M3: Verdict

(Image credit: Rod Lawton)

There are cheaper ways to get a desktop computer than this, but while it might look as if all the money has been spent on the iMac M3’s design and styling, it does actually deliver a lot of power for the money too. This is not just a fast, modern and powerful computer with a beautiful screen, it’s smart enough to keep in any room in the house, and ideal for a multitude of uses – and users.

But it has some drawbacks. One is the paucity of ports. That’s probably going to be a nuisance. Another is the speed at which the cost escalates if you upgrade the specs. I would recommend 16GB RAM not 8GB, especially if you want to use heavy-duty photo or video editing tools, and if other users are going to stay logged in. The 256GB baseline storage would be better upgraded to 512GB, but I wouldn’t go further than that, as it’s cheaper to plug in fast external SSDs if you need more storage.

What makes choosing the specs for an iMac harder is that you need to plan not only for the hardware you need now, but for the next five years, because the integrated chip architecture means that once your iMac is built to your specs, not even Apple can upgrade it later.

Lastly, when the computing hardware in your iMac finally becomes obsolete, so will that beautiful 4.5K Retina screen, because it’s an inseparable part of the package. That might not bother you now, but when my previous iMac outlived its usefulness, the redundancy of its 4K display, still excellent even by current standards, seemed a terrible waste.

We have to mention these things. The iMac M3 is a powerful, practical and versatile desktop computer, it’s a joy to own and use and even just to look at. It’s just not quite perfect.

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Rod Lawton
Contributor

Rod is an independent photography journalist and editor, and a long-standing Digital Camera World contributor, having previously worked as DCW's Group Reviews editor. Before that he has been technique editor on N-Photo, Head of Testing for the photography division and Camera Channel editor on TechRadar, as well as contributing to many other publications. He has been writing about photography technique, photo editing and digital cameras since they first appeared, and before that began his career writing about film photography. He has used and reviewed practically every interchangeable lens camera launched in the past 20 years, from entry-level DSLRs to medium format cameras, together with lenses, tripods, gimbals, light meters, camera bags and more. Rod has his own camera gear blog at