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The Complete History of the iMac: Over 20 Years of Desktop Innovation

The iMac is one of the most iconic computers in history. Loved by designers, developers, engineers, and creatives worldwide, the iMac is famed for its role in shaping modern computing.

In this complete guide to the history of the iMac, we‘ll explore each generation in detail – from the original iMac G3 that kicked off the all-in-one desktop revolution in 1998, to cutting-edge Apple silicon models today packing powerful M1 chips.

You‘ll learn about the story behind the iMac‘s creation, its ever-evolving design and technical specs, pricing history, and most importantly – what makes the iMac so special. Let‘s dive in!

The Origins of Apple and the iMac

To understand the iMac, we first need some background on Apple itself. Apple was founded in 1976 by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, motivated to make powerful yet user-friendly computers for the masses.

In 1984, Apple released their landmark Macintosh computer – an all-in-one with monochrome display and mouse designed for ease of use. The Macintosh pioneered concepts that still define Apple to this day.

After Steve Jobs departed Apple in 1985, the company struggled with identifying its next hit product. It wasn‘t until Jobs returned as CEO in 1997 that Apple found its next breakthrough.

The original iMac in 1998 was the first product unveiled after Jobs’ comeback, completely reimagining the concept of the all-in-one desktop. With its radical transparent design and approachability, the iMac kickstarted Apple’s renewed growth towards becoming the world’s most valuable company.

Now let‘s get into the nitty-gritty details behind every iconic iMac generation so far…

iMac G3 (1998)

Release Date: August 1998
Processor: 233 – 400MHz PowerPC G3
Max OS: Mac OS 9.2.2
Storage: 6 – 13GB HDD
Display: 15" CRT @ 1024×768
Original Price: $1,299

When the original iMac G3 was unveiled in 1998, it sparked a revolution in consumer desktop computing. Encased in translucent Bondi blue plastic, the G3 was a bold departure from the beige boxes of the time.

The internals were equally remarkable. The G3 housed a PowerPC G3 CPU clocked from 233 to 400MHz, letting it blaze past Intel Pentium chips of the era (no surprise with Jobs and Wozniak originally creating Apple to challenge Intel!).

Storage and memory were kept modest at 6 to 13GB hard drives and 32 to 128MB RAM to minimize costs. Graphics were driven by an ATI Rage IIc integrated chip powering the 15” CRT display — average specs but still able to run systems like Mac OS 8.6 snappily.

While the candy-colored shell was a statement, easy internet connectivity was the main pitch. Hence the “i” prefix as Apple’s first computer ready for the dot-com boom. Priced at a modest $1,299, the clickety translucent iMac was a smash hit for classrooms and households wanting to get online. Over 2 million G3 iMacs sold in the first year alone!

iMac G4 (2002)

Release Date: January 2002
Processor: 700-800MHz PowerPC G4
Max OS: Mac OS 10.5
Storage: 40-80GB HDD
Display: 15" – 20" LCD @ 1024×768 – 1680×1050
Original Price: $1,299

Four years after reinventing the all-in-one with the G3, Apple was eager to one-up themselves. Thus came the daring iMac G4 in early 2002, nicknamed the “Sunflower” or “Luxo” iMac.

The G4’s display was mounted to a fully articulating chrome arm connected to a white dome base housing all other components. Tilt the LCD vertically for reading web pages, or swivel horizontally to share your screen — flexibility was the hallmark of this machine.

Under the hood were incremental updates like a 700 to 800MHz PowerPC G4 CPU, CD and DVD burning drives, and OS X compatibility. Storage got a healthy upgrade to 40-80GB hard drives, while the LCD display ranged from a petite 15 inches to a spacious 20 inches.

Priced from $1,299, the playful personality of the swiveling G4 expanded the iMac’s appeal to students and designers needing flexibility. Limited internal expansion saw the G4 refreshed for a shorter 3 year span than other models, but it holds a special place as one of Apple’s most radically designed products ever.

iMac G5 (2004)

Release Date: August 2004
Processor: 1.6 – 2.1GHz PowerPC G5
Max OS: Mac OS 10.5
Storage: 160 – 500GB HDD
Display: 17" – 20" LCD @ 1440 x 900 – 1680 x 1050
Original Price: $1,299

After attempting new iMac designs twice, Apple returned to basics with the 2004 iMac G5 — essentially a G4 enclosed completely behind a display. Looks aside, the G5 iMac was all about the processor…

This machine introduced Apple’s homegrown PowerPC G5 CPU running from 1.6 to 2.1GHz, the most powerful chip Apple had deployed in a consumer computer! Storage was also brought up to speed with 160 to 250GB hard drives and a fresh OS X Tiger.

Externally the polycarbonate shell kept colors limited to white and silver, allowing attention to focus on the generous 17” and 20” LCD displays at modern 1440×900 or 1680×1050 resolutions. Lacking the standout style of the two previous iMac generations, the more powerful and flexible G5 found popularity in graphics and video editing circles.

Little did buyers suspect the G5 would be Apple’s last machine with an IBM PowerPC processor. In just two years Apple would make waves transitioning to Intel…

White Polycarbonate Intel iMac (2006)

Release Date: January 2006
Processor: 1.83 – 2.33GHz Intel Core Duo
Max OS: Mac OS 10.7
Storage: 60 – 500GB HDD
Display: 17” – 24” LCD @ 1280 x 800 – 1920 x 1200
Original Price: $1,299

Apple quietly launched their first Intel-powered desktop in early 2006 dubbed the “White iMac” — although visually it was nearly identical to the previous G5.

Inside featured Intel’s Core Duo processor running from 1.83 to 2.33GHz, significantly quicker than the aging PowerPC. Storage options were brought back up to speed fitting 60 to 500GB drives to store Mac OS X Leopard. Externally the white polycarbonate shell now housed 17 to 24 inch widescreen LCDs.

While not a breakthrough compared to the G3 and G4 redesigns, going Intel was vital to simplify development and boot performance. Apple also kept prices identical to previous generations at $1,299, making this powered-up iMac a popular Drop-In replacement for G5 owners once software compatibility improved.

After 10 years, Apple was back and ready to challenge Windows machines! Little did shoppers know another dramatic rethinking was just one year away…

Aluminum iMac (2007)

Release Date: August 2007
Processor: 2 – 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
Max OS: Mac OS 10.13
Storage: 160GB – 1TB HDD
Display: 20” – 24” LCD @ 1680 x 1050 – 1920 x 1200
Original Price: $1,199

2007 brought the most radically slimmed-down iMac since the original G3 nine years prior. From the front you’d never guess, but this Aluminum iMac measured just 2 inches thin — shedding 50% of the bulk from the 2006 model!

Designed around a woven single sheet of aluminum, this iMac helped kickstart Apple’s unified aluminum + glass aesthetic that still defines their minimalist style today.

Not just a pretty chassis, the Aluminum iMac was one of the first Macs out the gate with Intel’s speedy Core 2 Duo processors running up to 3.06GHz speeds. Paired with smooth OS X Leopard and 160GB to 1TB of storage, this power-sipping model became a favorite for media creation pros.

Priced at a modest $1,199, the thin aluminum styling helped the iMac outsell Windows desktops 2-to-1 in certain markets! After gradually refining the iMac formula for a decade, Apple was perfectly priming its computers for some huge mobile releases just around the corner…

Unibody iMac (Late 2009)

Release Date: October 2009
Processor: 2.66 – 3.6GHz Intel Core i5 / i7
Max OS: macOS 10.15 Catalina
Storage: 500GB – 2TB HDD or 256GB SSD
Display: 21.5” – 27” LCD @ 1920 x 1080 – 2560 x 1440
Original Price: $1,199

Buoyed by surging sales from the iPhone and MacBook lines, Apple looked to bring their styling cues to the iMac in late 2009. Thus marked the dawn of the still-relevant “Unibody” iMac design.

Wrapped in glossy black plastic backed by a single sheet of aluminum, this iMac mirrored the clean aesthetic of the MacBook Pro unveiled just one year earlier. Though with the benefit of fitting much larger 21.5 and 27-inch displays — perfect for creative apps.

This was also the first iMac with quad-core Intel processors, packing a serious punch with up to 3.6GHz Core i5 or i7 CPUs and 16GB RAM. Storage grew accordingly to massive 2TB hard drives or 512GB SSDs for the first time.

Priced from $1,199, the Unibody design gave the 4-year-old Aluminum iMac a fresh face that still feels modern 12 years later! Minor upgrades kept its internals potent for nearly a decade as Apple prepared its next quantum leap…

Slim Unibody iMac (2012)

Release Date: November 2012
Processor: 2.7 – 3.4GHz Intel Core i5 / i7
Max OS: macOS 12 Monterey
Storage: 1TB HDD or 768GB SSD
Display: 21.5” – 27” LCD @ 1920 x 1080 – 2560 x 1440
Original Price: $1,299

In late 2012, Apple launched their sleekest iMac yet measuring just 5mm thick on the edges! This dramatically slimmed “teardrop” silhouette was achieved by laminating the LCD directly to the glass, removing a 2mm air gap.

The tradeoff versus older iMac designs? Decreased repairability and upgradability with components tightly packed behind the glued-down LCD.

Thankfully the inclusion of USB 3.0, speedy third-gen Core i5/i7 CPUs up to 3.4GHz, 1TB fusion drives, and NVIDIA graphics delivered blistering speed for years. So while reducing internal expandability, most buyers welcomed shedding bulk for the iconic slim-bezeled design still selling today.

Premium build and speed came at a cost though — the first iMac cracking the $1,000 starting price at $1,299 for the compact 21.5” model. But for design studios seeking a spacious yet compact desktop, the elegant craftsmanship kept sales steadily ticking upwards.

4K & 5K Retina iMacs (2014 – 2019)

Release Date: October 2014
Processor: 3.5GHz Intel Core i5 up to 4.0GHz Core i7
Max OS: macOS Ventura 13
Storage: 1TB HDD – 2TB SSD
Display: 21.5” 4K or 27” 5K LCD @ 4096 × 2304 – 5120 × 2880
Original Price: $1,499

While retaining essentially the same iconic slim unibody shell of the 2012 model for nearly a decade, the next wave of iMacs kept pace on the display front thanks to ultra sharp 4K & 5K Retina panels.

The late 2015 27-inch iMac upgraded to an incredible 5120 x 2880 resolution hitting 218 PPI for what remains Apple’s highest pixel density desktop display. The 21.5” model got its own Retina boost topping out at 4096 × 2304 resolution in 2017.

Pushing all those pixels required steady Intel Core i5/i7 processor bumps to keep performance snappy in Mac OS X El Capitan through Catalina alongside beefy AMD Radeon Pro graphics. Storage also grew supporting massive 2TB SSDs for handling huge media files.

While largely retaining the external design pioneered in 2012, the Retina iMacs kept visual quality sky-high fitting more content simultaneously across 5K real estate. For designers relying on color critical accuracy working in Adobe Creative Suite, the iMac remained a trusted partner. Though after a decade on the same chassis, change was imminent…

M1 iMac (2021 – Present)

Release Date: April 2021
Processor: Apple M1 chip up to 10-core CPU
Max OS: macOS Ventura
Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD
Display: 24” 4.5K LCD @ 4480 x 2520
Original Price: $1,299

After nearly 10 years, 2021 finally brought a radically redesigned iMac sharing essentially no DNA with 2012’s Slim Unibody model that defined the preceding decade.

Headlining is a bright and playful design offered in 7 colors like yellow, orange, green, reminding old timers of the original 1998 Bondi blue iMac G3.

The bigger revolution however lies internally — the jump from Intel CPUs to Apple’s own M1 silicone SOC combines 8 CPU cores and up to an 8-core GPU, delivering instant-on responsiveness and all-day battery life on a single charge… Wait, did I say battery?

That’s right, the incredibly sleek 24” display allowed Apple to miniaturize components into a tiny logic board now powered by an iPhone-esque internal battery! Paired with a matching color-coordinated keyboard, mouse and trackpad, this is the first true “plug-and-play” iMac.

The unified power efficiency combines with slimmed bezels reducing this 2021 iMac’s volume by over 50% versus its equally svelte 2012 ancestor. Yet still delivering a gorgeous 4480 × 2520 4.5K Retina display and 1080p webcam.

With strong base performance from the 8-core M1 chip upgradable to 10-core CPU and 16-core GPU configs, the 2021 iMac keeps power on tap to drive Apple’s refined macOS Big Sur. Thunderbolt connectivity providesPATHS to high-speed external drives and accessories if builtin 256GB to 2TB SSD isn’t sufficient.

Modernized ports like USB-C, Gigabit Ethernet, WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 round out an approachable yet mighty desktop for work, school and creative projects alike — all for just $1,299.

The fun colors and family resemblance to original Bondi blue G3 models makes this newest M1 iMac a fitting tribute bringing the lineage full circle. We can’t wait to see what radical reimagining Apple dreams up next!

Should You Buy an iMac in 2022?

So after learning the origin story and evaluating every generation of the iMac since 1998, you might be wondering — should I buy one in 2022?

In terms of reliability, capability and ease of use, the iMac remains a top choice for households and professionals. macOS continues maturing as an accessible yet powerful computing platform. And Apple‘s M1 silicon unlocks both lightning responsiveness and all-day battery life.

If your workloads demand uncompromising performance, a higher-end Mac Studio may better suit pro video editing and code compiling needs. But for most students, creators and office users, the colorful 24-inch iMac brings plenty of power.

Just keep in mind the all-in-one design limits future upgradeability compared to a desktop tower. But what you trade in flexibility, you gain in tidy and approachable minimalist aesthetics fitting any workspace. The new M1 models also pack surprising graphics punch for light gaming!

So if you need a capable desktop able to grow along with you, buying an iMac in 2022 earns our full recommendation based on accessible pricing starting at $1,299 and Apple’s proven reputation for longevity. Feel free to customize specs like RAM, GPU cores and storage to exactly match your needs and budget!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour through history examining the vision, design and technical ingenuity defining every iconic iMac generation over the past 25+ years! Let me know if you have any other questions in the comments below!