Apple today announced updated iMacs that include a CPU upgrade to the quad-core Intel Core i5 and i7 processors. It’s nice to go all quad-core, but the big news is the inclusion of Thunderbolt on the new iMac. This was inevitable since the MacBook Pros have already gotten Thunderbolt (and we hope Mac Pro desktops won’t be far behind). The 27-inch model includes two Thunderbolt ports for even more expandability. That gives this iMac powerhouse potential in a small, $2,000 package. Does this mean the end of the Mac Pros?

This idea of Apple doing away with Mac Pros has been floating around since the introduction of Thunderbolt. It’s an alarming thought at first, because a lot of creative pros still need the extra speed, extra space and extra expandability for things like memory, hard drives and PCI cards. But Thunderbolt is intended to replace nearly all of that with daisy-chained devices running at up to 10 Gbps in its current iteration. That is a lot of speed, and forthcoming Thunderbolt peripherals will allow an editor to build a pretty good editing machine with one of these iMacs. Grab a $995 Blackmagic Ultrastudio HD when it becomes available in July, a Thunderbolt RAID (not sure what those prices might be), and the $299 Final Cut Pro X and you might have an nice, sub-$5,000 editing system.

Those of us who have quite a few PCI cards currently installed in our Mac Pros would stand to lose a rather substantial hardware investment by making the big jump to an iMac, but that’s where something like a the Sonnet Echo Express PCIe Expansion Chassis might come into play. That could help bridge the gap between PCI card investments and their Thunderbolt equivalents. But it’s not going to come quickly, easily or cheaply to a lot of post facilities.

Out of curiosity, I thought I’d price out a top-of-the-line iMac. This includes the fastest processor, the most RAM and the biggest hard drive:

That’s quite a bit more than $2,000. But when you consider that a similar quad-core Mac Pro can be spec’d at around $5,000, this iMac is going to sell. Personally, I like to edit with a second computer display — but Thunderbolt will drive another display along with all its other work. Apple will probably introduce a new display with Thunderbolt at some point as they standardize around the connection.

I guess the question still lingers as to the future of the Mac Pro. Rumors have been floating around of a new, smaller rack-mountable design, but that remains to be seen. Even when Thunderbolt products become ubiquitous, there will still be users who want the ability to customize their Macs to their own specifications. Things like a Matrox Compress HD card will continue to be useful long after we’re all using Thunderbolt devices. Add to that many of the post-production applications that are really using NVIDIA CUDA technology and there’s yet another need to have a customizable Mac desktop machine of some sort on hand.

Let’s hope Apple continues to agree.