Reasons to buy a refurbished iMac 27” in 2021

Tony Boyce

Stuck on the M1?

To the sound of virtual trumpets, Apple released their new flagship iMac 24” for pre-order on April 30th 2021. It comes with the new (much vaunted) M1 chip. It looks to have many welcome improvements all around – aside from the all new chip, new design and fruity colours. I won’t go into the details here - you can find all that elsewhere should you wish (and it isn’t the point of this blog!). It is undoubtedly a gorgeous, superfast machine, and the 27” (and rumoured 32” models) will undoubtedly follow soon. Happy days.

I’m not knocking this machine (why would I?), simply pointing out that if you choose carefully, a pre M1 iMac is also…. a gorgeous, superfast machine! We all tend to get caught up in the hype (I am no exception), and it’s easy amid the breathlessness of watching a super slick campaign unfold to not ask the right questions of ourselves.

I’m a ‘power’ user. My day job is making music. I ask a lot of my computers and work to tight deadlines, so I’m not best pleased when they fall over running out of digital gas. I’m also, like all power users, wary of upgrading (either computer or OS) only to find that many of my essential pieces of software upon which I rely may not work properly yet (or at all) on the newest offerings.

So…deep breath…do you really need the newest iMac?


Size matters!

Like many people, I spend most of my working life gazing at a screen, with multiple windows open. Working on a big screen (or two!) is an absolute no brainer, and once you have, anything smaller looks a bit dinky. My Macbook Pro and iPad are both essential for remote work, but frankly, I’d really rather not given the choice – and multiple windows are a pain. So that, for the time being leaves you with a 27” iMac if you’re after an all-in-one solution. You could of course wait for the new M1 versions, but it’s worth asking yourself if a refurbished iMac could fit your needs perfectly well.

Price and depreciation

Computers have fast become utilitarian items, not luxuries, so you have to figure that your gleaming new (or refurbished) workhorse will need replacing at some point. It’s not if but when.

Apple machines are not cheap, but for good reason - they’re better made and supported than their Windows equivalents, so we can (and should) expect a longer working life from them. Even so, as a power user, I have to figure that I’ll get 3-5 years out of my studio machine before I feel the need to upgrade. For the last ten years, I’ve only ever bought refurbished. I did the maths.

We all know that pretty much anything that we buy drops in value as soon as we break the security seals. iMacs tend to hold their value pretty well, but still and all, you will always drop cash quicker on a brand new machine. If you go to the Apple shop, don’t be fooled by the ‘starting’ price – this will be your basic standard version. This may just be fine for you, but once you start upping the spec, the cost spirals. Is a 256GB SSD really adequate in 2021? Add on a few hundred. Would you be better off upping the RAM? Add some more hundreds. Might as well have the Nano-texture glass too. £300 more. You get the picture (pun intended).

From watching prices on the refurb and new markets, I’d estimate that you’ll lose up to 30% of your money in the first 18 months. It just doesn’t make sense - unless, of course, you really need that M1 chip for your work. Or the Nano-texture glass….


Another thing to bear in mind is Mac OS compatibility. The M1 chip can’t run anything earlier than Big Sur. If you spend your working life running MS Office, Zoom, YouTube, surfing, or anything Apple you’ll be just fine. However, if like me, you run a lot of third party software you could well run into problems. In the world of audio, high end graphics and video, you’ll inevitably use scores of third party (i.e., non Apple) software apps which may not have caught up with Big Sur yet. Apple don’t warn third party software developers of OS upgrades, and I get why, but they’re often caught on the hop. They most often will update their software in due course, but you may find yourself unable to fully open up old projects now. Or that project that is due tomorrow. Big problem. For that reason, power users usually steer away from a new OS for 6 months or so before upgrading – and even then, a tedious number of hours are spent checking compatibility with all of your third party software. Be warned.


When will your computer not be able to run the latest OS….and is that a problem?

When will your iMac be redundant? An open question. ‘Redundant for what?’ would be the better question.

Apple are excellent with ‘legacy support’, as support is part of their selling point. As I said earlier, power users are accustomed to running on an older OS. Couple this with the sheer number of third party developers that need to support professional users that exist outside of the ‘buy the latest model’ market, and your support on older machines is assured.

The dictum tends to be, ‘If it ain’t broke….”.  Remember that the term ‘legacy’ can mean ‘very recent’ - the 2020 iMac 27” will by default become legacy as soon as the M1 version is released. Salutory. Many commercial studios that I work at are still running High Sierra on maxed up cheesegrater Mac Pros with no problems at all. I run my studio on a 2015 trash can Mac with no problems at all. Don’t believe the hype.

At the time of writing, any 5k iMac 27” will run the latest OS. In the real world, a 5k iMac should give you at least another 5 years of excellent service in my opinion. Aside from that, a pre 5K would also give you years of service on an old OS (depending on your demands).

What to buy?

If you’re in the market for a 27” iMac, I would hands down urge you to buy refurbished. Go for a post late 2014 5K (retina) model, the best spec you can afford and for what you need. Consider CPU, RAM and the SSD/fusion drive size. Done.

Always but from a reputable seller that offers the same one year warranty as Apple does from new.

What’s not to like?