Apple has made good on its promises from earlier this year, announcing the availability beginning this Thursday, December 14, of its new iMac Pro, a workstation-class variant of its existing iMac line that aims to deliver pro performance in a very desktop-friendly form factor.
Built around a 27-inch 5K (5120×2880) 500-nit display supporting P3 color space, the iMac Pro is being released to serve the pro market as we wait for Apple to unveil a completely new Mac Pro. (That machine has no promised arrival date, but it’s widely expected to debut late in 2018.) For now, though, the company is billing the new iMac Pro as “the most powerful collection of graphics, processors, storage, memory, and I/O of any Mac ever.” Apple’s announced starting price for the system is $4,999.
Update 12/14/17: The iMac Pro is now on sale, with 8-core and 10-core systems scheduled for promised delivery by Dec. 28 and 14- and 18-core systems shipping ins six to eight weeks. A fully loaded system (with 2.3GHz 18-core CPU, 128 GB RAM, 4 TB SSD, Radeon Pro Vega 64 GPU) is $13,199. Running quick comparisons for similar PC hardware at online retailers indicates that Apple is pricing these machines fairly aggressively — the bang for your buck may decrease over time, as Apple tends to maintain the price of its systems even as their components becomes less expensive. But today, the iMac Pro looks like a pretty good deal as long as the lack of Nvidia graphics options isn’t a dealbreaker for you.
Impressively, as noted in the above video from Youtuber and video pro Marques Brownlee, the form factor of the Pro machine is very similar to existing iMacs. The main differences he notes are larger ventilation holes and a lack of any kind of access for future upgrades. In other words, don’t skimp on the RAM — you will not be able to easily install more later. (By the way, that big box with the four horizontal lines on front in Brownlee’s video? That’s not part of the iMac Pro. That’s the new $149 HiRise Pro from Twelvesouth, designed to pick your iMac a few inches up off your desktop for better viewing angles, with space to tuck cords or other accessories.)
So What’s Under the Hood?
Apple’s baseline for CPU horsepower is an eight-core Intel Xeon processor, but you can bump that up to 10 cores or 18 cores of performance, depending on how much processing power you really need. This is widely thought to be the new Xeon W workstation-class processor introduced by Intel in August, which has a base frequency of 3.7 GHz in its eight-core version, and 3.3 GHz and 2.3 GHz for 10- and 18-core versions, respectively. However, there is some speculation that the chips in the iMac Pro have been downlocked slightly, perhaps to satisfy thermal requirements of the system’s all-in-one design. In the video embedded above, Brownlee specifies a 3.0 GHz clock speed for the 10-core version, rather than the reported 3.3 GHz speed of the off-the-shelf edition, which may support that inference.
Update 12/14/17: The final specs have been released. The base processor is an eight-core Intel Xeon W processor running at 3.2 GHz (turbo boost to 4.2 Ghz) with 19 MB cache; higher-end options are 10-core (3.0 GHz/4.5 GHZ turbo/23.75 MB cache), 14-core (2.5 GHz/4,3 GHz turbo/33.25 MB cache) and 18-core (2.3 GHz/4.3GHz turbo/42.75 MB cache) Intel Xeon W CPUs. The upgrade from the base configuration to the 18-core CPU is $2,400.
The iMac Pro uses AMD’s Radeon Pro Vega 56 GPU, which comes with 8 GB of HDM2 memory, as the baseline. A bump up can be had to the Vega 64 with a full 16 GB of HDM2 memory. Apple touted the graphics performance for real-time 3D rendering and high-frame-rate VR work, claiming 11 TFLOPS of power, or for machine-learning applications where it said the Vega can deliver 22 TFLOPS at half-precision. However, real-world benchmarks for these brand-new chips won’t be widely available until the iMac Pro starts showing up on users’ desktops. Some users may remain disappointed that Nvidia GPUs with their CUDA hardware acceleration aren’t available, but Final Cut Pro users should find that AMD’s OpenCL acceleration works especially well to speed FCP X exports. Look for this system to be screaming fast when running Apple’s native software.
Load it up — Apple’s baseline system comes with 32 GB of 2666 MHz DDR4 ECC memory, which is a generous allocation. Still, power users are likely to opt for an upgrade to 64 GB or 128 GB, just to be on the safe side. When Apple actually reveals the price of its various upgrades on Thursday, it should become more clear whether 64 GB or 128 GB promises the better return on investment.
Update 12/14/17: From the base 32 GB system, Apple is charging $800 for a 32 GB upgrade (for a total of 64 GB) and $2,400 for a 96 GB upgrade (for a total of 128 GB), meaning you don’t get a better per-GB price by buying more RAM. Anyway, this is a pretty fair price for quality RAM. Power users will need the full 128 GB complement, but saving $1,600 by settling for 64 GB will be a winning strategy for many applications. Buying a system this powerful with just 32 GB of RAM seems a little perverse, given that you can double it for just $800.
The system comes packing 1 TB of internal SSD storage. Again, that’s a great starting point, and Brownlee’s tests indicate read and write speeds of 3000 MB/sec. That’s plenty for an OS and a full complement of software. Users who keep a lot of data on internal storage may need the 2 TB or 4 TB upgrades, but those who rely on external storage options may opt to save the money, depending on how pricey the larger drives turn out to be.
Update: 12/14/17: 2 TB is looking like the sweet spot for this machine, given that the upgrade from 1 TB is $800. If you really want 4 TB under the hood, the upgrade from 1 TB will cost $2,800, meaning those last two TB come at a premium.
The iMac Pro boasts a fairly robust set of ports on the back, including one 10Gb Ethernet port, four Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports — Apple has suggested you could use them four two RAID systems and two more 5K displays — four USB 3 ports, and an SDXC card slot supporting UHD-II. It has 802.11ac WiFi built in, along with Bluetooth 4.2. The cherry on top? The iMac Pro still has (yes!) a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Also included in the box are a Space Gray Magic Keyboard, complete with numeric keypad on the right-hand side, a Space Gray Magic Mouse 2, a lightning-to-USB cable (also Space Gray), and a power cord. Magic Trackpad 2 input is supported, but you’ll have to buy that separately.
The Bottom Line
Some workstation devotees like to claim a price advantage on the PC side of the equation, but the iMac Pro looks to be pretty attractively priced given the performance of the components inside. And that will never be more true than at the system’s launch — Apple does not tend to discount its own hardware over time to keep pace with price erosion for the individual components, meaning its systems tend to be the absolute best value when they first hit the market. This is a pretty sweet system for video pros, with three major caveats.
First, the lack of any upgradeability is likely to give some users pause, especially those with experience on PC workstations that strive to offer easy access to the components inside. Once you invest in an iMac Pro, you’re stuck with that configuration until you sell it (fortunately, Macs do tend to retain their value on the secondhand market better than PCs) or retire it.
Second, the other shoe has yet to drop with regard to Apple’s plans for the Mac Pro, an all-new redesign of which is supposedly underway. The iMac Pro is powerful enough that it’s a little surprising Apple is planning to refresh the Mac Pro at all — but if that system turns out to be more flexible in its configuration and upgrade options, it may pay off for some customers to wait and see what Apple has up its sleeve, especially enterprise users looking to make a major workstation commitment.
Third, the iMac Pro obviously makes the most sense for the Apple faithful, especially those who have fully embraced FCP X. For PC users running Adobe software, there are plenty of workstation hardware options that can give Apple a run for its money. But for smaller shops and one-person operations running FCP and working with 4K video, this system likely hits the price/performance sweet spot.