Should you buy iMac Pro?

The iMac Pro, which we first saw back in June 2017 at WWDC, is out now and starts at a price of £4,899/US$4,999. In this preview and first look we reveal everything you need to know about the new iMac Pro, and what it might mean for pro customers.

We also ask the questions: should you wait for the iMac Pro or will a 27in iMac suffice (read our review of the 2017 27in iMac and our comparison of the iMac vs the iMac Pro); and should you bypass the iMac Pro and wait for the new Mac Pro? (If you’re wondering what the Mac Pro might offer when Apple introduces that new model, read our Mac Pro 2018 preview.)

Just what does the iMac Pro offer, and who will benefit the most from this super iMac?

What is the iMac Pro specs

In a nutshell, it’s a supercomputer, offering workstation-class processors and graphics encased in an iMac shell – which means you also get a 5K Retina display. This is a computer for people with very specific needs. With a starting price of almost £5k, it’s not something that your typical Apple fan will be rushing out to buy. This is a machine for professional creatives who need the extra cores and the ultimate graphics power it will bring.

But, it seems, the target audience shouldn’t be too power-hungry, because there has to be someone whom the Mac Pro, arriving in 2018 or later, will suit. Speaking of the Mac Pro, should these creative pros be wary of signing up for a machine that might not be upgradable in the future, as was the case with the Mac Pro?

The Mac Pro wasn’t only not user-upgradable, it turned out that Apple couldn’t upgrade it either, hence having to go back to the drawing board and completely redesign the Mac Pro, as we discuss here: new Mac Pro news.
Processor The iMac Pro offers workstation-class Xeon processors with up to 18 cores. If that’s overkill for your needs, the standard model ships with an 8-core processor and there are 10- and 14-core processors on offer too. The base processor is a 3.2GHz 8-core Intel Xeon W model, with Turbo Boost up to 4.2GHz. But for £2,160/$2,400 more you can get a 2.3GHz 18-core Intel Xeon W with 4.3GHz Turbo. Apple is also boasting that the new iMac Pro processor will have a cache of up to 42MB. Processor cache is similar to RAM: it’s memory for the processor and means that common CPU tasks can be accomplished quickly.

Any multi-core CPU will have at least three levels of cache: level one, two and three, or L1, L2 and L3. Macs with Kaby Lake processors have L1 cache of 64KB per core, 256KB of L2 cache, and 8MB of L3 cache, so this looks like something worth bragging about. Some CPUs offer L4 cache at 128MB, however.

Graphics power

Powered by the Radeon Pro Vega, the iMac Pro is a workstation with graphics abilities that outstrip any current Mac. If you’re interested in working in advanced graphics, or VR development, while remaining on the Mac platform, this is the Mac that’s going to be the most capable.

But beyond sheer processing power, the iMac Pro supports twice the number of external displays as the 5K iMac. If you’re someone who needs two eternal 5K displays, or four external 4K HDR displays, you need the iMac Pro.

Apple iMac Pro prices

Priced at $4,999, the base model iMac Pro comes with 1TB of flash storage and 32GB of RAM. The top-of-the-line iMac, outfitted with the fastest processor available on that model and with RAM and storage specs to match the iMac Pro, costs $3,699. That extra $1,300 nets you a much faster processor with twice the cores, a major graphics power boost, and more. (In fact, if you max out the specs on the 5K iMac, you can get one for $5,299, more than the iMac Pro’s starting model. But that model has more RAM and more flash storage than the base model iMac Pro.)

My point is this: If you’re in the market for a high-end iMac anyway, it’s worth considering the iMac Pro. The leap in price isn’t as dramatic once you’re maxing out the specs of the 5K iMac in order to get the most powerful model.
32 million pixels vs. 44 million pixels

With two Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports on all 2017 iMacs, you get up to 40Gb per second data transfer. The latest model iMac also comes with four USB-A ports, an SD card reader, a standard Ethernet port and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The two Thunderbolt 3 ports make it possible for you to add one 5K or two 4K displays for up to 32 million pixels across your workstation.

The iMac Pro is outfitted with four Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports, four USB-A ports, an SD card reader, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a 10GB Ethernet port. The Thunderbolt ports alone make it possible for you to connect two RAID systems and two 5K displays at the same time, which produces up to 44 million pixels across your workstation.

If you aren’t crazy insane for all the pixels, or you don’t plan on adding, at least two 5K external displays to your set up, you’ll do fine with the iMac. If 32 million pixels is somehow not enough for your princess eyes, or you plan on pimping out your computing set up with no less than two 5K monitors, December is just around the corner, and so is your iMac Pro.

Specifications Comparison

iMac ProiMac 27-inch 5K (2017)
Starting price (USD)$4,999$1,799
Display27-inch 5,120×2,880 16:9 aspect ratio27-inch 5,120×2,880 16:9 aspect ratio
Pixel density218dpi218dpi
Color gamut8-bit DCI P3 (with FRC dithering to 10 bits)8-bit DCI P3 (with FRC dithering to 10 bits)
Max brightness500 nits500 nits
Processor optionsIntel Xeon W-2000 series 8-, 10-, 14- or 18-coreIntel Core i5-7500, i5-7600/7600K, i7-7700K all quad-core
GraphicsAMD Radeon Vega 56 or 64, 8GB to 16GB4GB AMD Radeon Pro 570, 575; 8GB Radeon Pro 580
StorageUp to 4TB SSD; SD card slotUp to 3TB Fusion drive or up to 2TB SSD; SD card slot
RAM32GB to 128GB 2,166MHz ECCUp to 64GB 2,400MHz
Networking10Gb Ethernet, 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2
USB 3.0 Type A44
Mini DisplayPort/Thunderbolt00
Additional monitors supported2x 5K, 4x 4K UHD/Retina 4K1x 5K, 2x 4K UHD/Retina 4K
AudioStereo speakers, headphone jack, quad microphone arrayStereo speakers, headphone jack
Camera1080p FaceTime HDFaceTime HD