Apple MacBook Pro (2021) vs iMac: Which one should you buy?

Apple MacBook Pro (2021) vs iMac: Which one should you buy?

With the launch of its new MacBook Pro (2021) notebooks, Apple now has quite the lineup of products featuring its in-house silicon. Between the M1-powered iMac for a powerful Mac experience and the new MacBook Pros as a portable option, it’s safe to say that there’s something for everyone. In this article, we’ll stack up the M1-powered iMac desktop and the new MacBook Pro notebooks against each other to see which one’s better in the MacBook Pro vs iMac face-off?

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Apple MacBook Pro vs iMac: Specifications

SpecificationMacBook Pro 14 (2021)MacBook Pro 16 (2021)M1 iMac 2021
Processor:
  • Apple M1 Pro (8-core CPU + 16-core Neural Engine)
  • M1 Pro (10-core CPU + 16-core Neural Engine)
  • M1 Max (10-core CPU + 16-core Neural Engine)
  • Apple M1 Pro (8-core CPU + 16-core Neural Engine)
  • M1 Pro (10-core CPU + 16-core Neural Engine)
  • M1 Max (10-core CPU + 16-core Neural Engine)
  • Apple M1 (8-core CPU + 16-core Neural Engine)
Graphics:
  • 14-Core GPU
  • 16-Core GPU
  • 24-Core GPU
  • 32-Core GPU
  • 16-Core GPU
  • 24-Core GPU
  • 32-Core GPU
  • 7-Core GPU
  • 8-Core GPU
Unified Memory:
  • 16GB
  • 32GB
  • 64GB (only available with M1 Max chip)
  • 16GB
  • 32GB
  • 64GB (only available with M1 Max chip)
  • 8GB
  • 16GB
Storage (SSD):
  • 512GB
  • 1TB
  • 2TB
  • 4TB
  • 8TB
  • 512GB
  • 1TB
  • 2TB
  • 4TB
  • 8TB
  • 512GB
  • 1TB
  • 2TB
Display:
  • 14.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display, Adaptive refresh rate with ProMotion tech up to 120Hz, 3024 x 1964, 1000 nits, True Tone, DCI-P3
  • 16.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display, Adaptive refresh rate with ProMotion tech up to 120Hz, 3456 x 2234, 1000 nits, True Tone, DCI-P3
  • 24-inch 4.5K Retina display, 4480 x 2520, 500 nits, True Tone, DCI-P3
Webcam:
  • 1080p FaceTime HD camera
  • 1080p FaceTime HD camera
  • FaceTime 1080p camera
Battery:
  • 69.6Whr battery
  • Up to 17 hours of Apple TV app movie playback
  • 96W USB-C Power Adapter (67W USB-C Power Adapter with M1 Pro 8-core CPU SKU)
  • 99.6Whr battery
  • Up to 21 hours of Apple TV app movie playback
  • 140W USB-C Power Adapter
  • Needs power source to run
Ports:
  • Three Thunderbolt 4/USB 4 ports (40Gbps, Power Delivery, DisplayPort)
  • SDXC card slot
  • HDMI port
  • MagSafe 3 port
  • 3.5 mm Headphone jack
  • Three Thunderbolt 4/USB 4 ports (40Gbps, Power Delivery, DisplayPort)
  • SDXC card slot
  • HDMI port
  • MagSafe 3 port
  • 3.5 mm Headphone jack
  • Two Thunderbolt 4/USB 4 ports (40Gbps, DisplayPort)
  • 3.5 mm Headphone jack
  • Two USB 3 ports (configurable)
  • Gigabit Ethernet (configurable)
Connectivity:
  • Wi-Fi 6 (802.11a/b/g/n/ac compatible)
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Wi-Fi 6 (802.11a/b/g/n/ac compatible)
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Wi-Fi 6 (802.11a/b/g/n/ac compatible)
  • Bluetooth 5.0
Size (WxDxH):
  • 12.31 x 8.71 x 0.61 inches
  • 14.01 x 9.77 x 0.66 inches
  • 21.5 x 5.8 x 18.1 inches
Weight:
  • 3.5lbs (1.6kg)
  • 4.8lbs (2.2kg)
  • 9.88lbs (4.48kg)
Colors:
  • Silver, Space Grey
  • Silver, Space Grey
  • Blue, Green, Pink, Silver, Yellow, Orange, Purple
Starting price:
  •  $1999
  • $2499
  •  $1299

MacBook Pro vs iMac: Design and ports

The most obvious difference between the iMac and the MacBook Pro is the design. The MacBook Pro offers more portability, while the iMac is an all-in-one desktop made for stationary working setups. Both devices offer plenty of performance, but the purchase decision largely depends on your use case here. That being said, Apple has made some notable design improvements worth highlighting in each case.

Both iMac 2021 and MacBook Pro (2021) notebooks are relatively new to the market, and they bring fresh new designs to make them stand out from the existing models. The new MacBook Pro notebooks sport a new squared-off design with flat edges. The chassis houses a bigger display and more ports now, and Apple has added small feet at the bottom to give it some height. The new MacBook Pro 2021 notebooks still have a suitably large trackpad and the new Magic Keyboard. The speakers are also located on the keyboard deck and Apple is using a new six-speaker sound system for the new MacBook Pro models with support for Spatial audio. The minimal and industrial-looking aluminum chassis still gives it a somewhat familiar look that we’ve become accustomed to over the past few years.

Apple's 2021 iMac in blue with matching accessories.

2021 iMac in blue with color-matched Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse.

The 2021 iMac, however, received a top-down redesign with a new display and thin form-factor to go along. The main unit (without the stand) is just 11.5mm thick, which means it’s thinner than the new MacBook Pro notebooks. It’s a remarkably thin and light all-in-one machine but it occupies more space than the MacBook Pro. The new iMac 2021 also comes in a variety of new colors, which means you no longer have to stick with the simple silver iMac. You can pick between Blue, Green, Pink, Silver, Yellow, Orange, and Purple colors. Notably, you also get a matching Magic keyboard and mouse with your purchase.

Apple’s macOS has a lot of touch gestures including two-finger scrolling, swipes from left to right to switch between desktops, etc. and it’s known to work better with a trackpad. The MacBook Pros have a giant Force Touch trackpad for this, but the Magic Trackpad 2 is a $50 upgrade for the iMac since you only get the Magic Mouse 2 as standard. Both the iMac and the MacBook Pro also have a 1080p FaceTime camera above the display. It’s more prominent on the new MacBook Pro models due to the notch. The design is not to everyone’s liking but Apple says it won’t impact fullscreen viewing or using creative applications.

As far as the ports are concerned, the selection is significantly reduced on the iMac 2021 models compared to the previous iterations. The base model iMac only comes with two Thunderbolt 4 ports, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a port for the magnetic power connector. The model with two additional USB 3 ports and a Gigabyte Ethernet costs more. In comparison, the new MacBook Pro models have a better port selection. All the new models come with two Thunderbolt 4 ports, an HDMI port, an SDXC card reader, and a MagSafe 3 port.

Display: Retina vs Liquid Retina XDR display

Front view of green 24-inch iMac

The iMac 2021 features a 24-inch 4.5K Retina display with a resolution of 4480 x 2520. It’s not as good as Apple’s Pro Display XDR, but it boasts 22.3 million pixels, a P3 wide colour gamut and over a billion colors. According to Apple, the iMac 2021’s display also reaches 500 nits of peak brightness. It has slim bezels on three sides, though the chin bar is still prominent as it hides the new six-speaker sound system underneath. In terms of size, the 24-inch iMac 2021 model sits between the older 21.5-inch and the 27-inch iMac models.

A front-facing image of Apple's 2021 MacBook Pro notebook

The MacBook Pro 2021 models have the best display in Apple’s current lineup of notebooks. Depending on the variant, you get either a 14.2-inch (3024 x 1964) or a 16.2-inch (3456 x 2234) mini-LED backlit display. These panels have a sustained brightness of 1000 nits (1600 nits peak) and they also support adaptive refresh rate with ProMotion tech up to 120Hz. Both displays also feature Apple’s True Tone technology to automatically adjust the color temperature to match your surroundings.

The only real drawback, at least for some, is the addition of the notch on the new MacBook Pro models. While comparing it with the iMac 2021, we think all these systems have a great display for creative professionals. The iMac happens to have the advantage of the larger screen size to go along with its bigger form factor.

Performance: iMac needs the M1 Pro/ Max treatment

One of the headline features of the new MacBook Pro 2021 notebooks is its M1 Pro/Max chip. The new chips offer significant performance improvement over the last year’s M1 and the older Intel chips found on other Apple computing devices. You can configure the new MacBook Pros to have up to a 10-core CPU and a 32-core GPU. Apple has also made some worthwhile improvements in the video editing department with the addition of multiple video engines. Not to mention, these new notebooks can also have up to 64GB of unified memory, yet another upgrade over the M1 chip.

Apple's M1 Pro and M1 Max chip logos

The iMac 2021 models are no slouch either. The M1 is still a fantastic chip with a lot of CPU and GPU cores to flex. The new iMac goes head to head with last year’s Intel Core i9-powered 16-inch MacBook Pro. So it’s safe to say that it’s going to be very competitive, if not dominant over the new MacBook Pros. That being said, we recommend the new MacBook Pro 2021 models for those who’re looking to get the best performance, at least until the iMacs get the M1 Pro/Max treatment next year. You can check out our M1 Pro vs M1 Max chip comparison to see which one’s a better pick out of the two.

Apple MacBook Pro vs iMac: Final Thoughts

Form-factor aside, both of these devices offer a very similar user experience overall. The new macOS Monterey is a decent software bump over the macOS Big Sur and will perform very well on both machines. The iMac 2021 is a very capable all-in-one PC for those looking to set up shop for working from home. The MacBook Pro 2021 model, on the other hand, remains a fantastic and more powerful choice for anyone looking for portability from their Mac. The day-to-day experience between both devices will essentially be the same, but the MacBook Pros will be better for creative workloads, thanks to the improved GPU performance.

We also encourage you to check out our collection of the Best Macs to make sure you’re missing out on other Apple computing devices. If you end up picking up a MacBook Pro, then you might want to stop by our best MacBook Pro cases collection too. You can buy your preferred Apple device using the links below.

    Apple MacBook Pro 14 (2021)
    The new MacBook Pro (2021) models are great options for those looking for a powerful portable machine.
    Apple iMac 2021
    Apple iMac 2021 is a fantastic option if you want to invest in a stationary work-from-home setup.

About author

Karthik Iyer
Karthik Iyer

Karthik covers PC hardware for XDA Computing. When not at work, you will find him yelling at his monitors while playing video games.