Extreme price, extreme power
$4,999 From Apple, apple.com Features 5120x2880-pixel Retina display, 3GHz, 10-core Intel Xeon W, 128GB 2,666MHz ECC, 2TB SSD, AMD Vega 64 16GB, 4x Thunderbolt 3, 4x USB 3 (Type-A), 10Gb Ethernet, SDXC card slot, 3.5mm jack, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2
The iMac Pro is a wolf in sheep’s clothing — somehow, Apple has packed a workstation with up to an 18-core Xeon processor in a frame the exact size of the regular 5K iMac. The only thing more amazing than the engineering feat of producing it is the price you might pay for one. But this is a truly pro machine, and that kind of power comes at a cost.
Apple provided us with a very highend unit for our review (see the specs above), but the “basic” $4,999 model offers an eight-core, 3.2GHz Intel Xeon processor, a less-potent 8GB AMD Vega 56 graphics card, 32GB of memory, and a 1TB SSD. It’s all hugely configurable — even beyond our beefy unit, you are able to choose a 14-core processor (a $800 upgrade from the entry-level specification) or an 18core option ($1,600 more). Going from 32GB of memory to 128GB costs $2,400. Customizations add up fast.
If you’re wondering what the benefits are of spending that kind of money on a hulking supercomputer that fits behind a monitor, you can probably already rule out the iMac Pro as being for you, even if you can afford it.
If you’re a video editor, however, you will see big benefits from having multiple cores to render high-res footage and play it back in real time. Programmers compiling code will benefit from big parallel computing output, and extreme Photoshop users will find the giant memory option useful. To make it worthwhile, you probably have to be someone who looks at the price of the iMac Pro, calculates how much time it could save them, and then works out whether the two will balance. Either that or a millionaire who just really wants the (admittedly irresistible) Space Gray finish for their powerful desktop computer.
But the gist is this: the reason this costs so much is that it’s using workstation parts like ECC (errorcorrecting code) memory, which means your huge, vitally important work is less likely to become corrupted and crash apps out, losing you time and money. If you need it, you need it. If not, go cheaper. Power play Okay, enough sensible money and specs talk. You want to know how fast it actually is to use, right? Obviously, it’s fast. Really fast. Everything you do is effectively instant, though that’s partly down to the storage, which is
The only thing more amazing than the feat of producing thei Mac Pro is the price you pay for one
comically speedy, just like all Macs with flash storage these days. This is part of what makes it so good for video work (see opposite for our video pro’s opinion of what it’s like to actually use for 4K video editing). Since this performance isn’t unique to the iMac Pro, its speed only really stands out from other Macs once you start performing processoror graphics-intensive tasks.
So, the next thing we tried was our video export test in HandBrake. In the benchmarks opposite, you’ll see that there was a huge boost over the regular 5K iMac: this Pro model is three times faster! That’s what we mean about the price being worthwhile if having this machine saves you a lot of time.
It’s a similar story when it comes to the computer’s graphics. The Vega 64 chip in our review unit is AMD’s big powerhouse, meant to battle the top-end cards from rival Nvidia, and there’s big performance here. In Unigine Heaven benchmarks, it doubles the score of the 5K iMac, which is a good start. But that’s not real-world usage. The more important fact is that, if you want to play games in 4K or even 5K, you can. Not always super-smoothly, but games a few years old, like the Tomb Raider reboot, can hit 30fps in 5K and 60fps in 4K at higher quality settings. This Mac is also powerful enough for VR content creation, which Apple’s keen to push, though it’s still only just getting started on Macs.
One thing that softens the price of the iMac Pro is that it’s basically a workstation with a free 5K screen included. A standalone 5120x2880pixel, 27-inch display that works over one Thunderbolt 3 cable will set you back around $1,300, so getting it as part of the package here definitely adds to the appeal.
That said, it’s the same panel you get in the regular 27-inch, non-Pro iMac, so if that’s the bit that interests you, you don’t need to stump up five thousand or more to get it.
Still, the important thing is that the screen is totally gorgeous. It’s bright, the colors are fantastically vibrant, and everything looks super-sharp, of course. For photography and 4K video playback, it’s pretty much best in class, although we know some people don’t like the glossy, glasscoated finish.
The iMac Pro does have one downside, though, which is that it’s not rated for HDR at all — having a built-in way to check your HDR grading would’ve been a boon for pro video editing. The 500–nit brightness (comparable to some monitors that say they are HDR-capable) is a start, but is way below the 1,000 nits expected for true HDR LCD TVs. It’s also not a native 10-bit display, which is what HDR requires, instead using spatial and temporal dithering techniques to mimic 10-bit color on an 8-bit display. The difference is small and the complaint niche, but “small” and “niche” are the main words we’d use to describe this Mac’s intended audience, so it’s worth noting. Ports mean peripherals At the rear, it’s nice to see Apple has avoided cutting back on connections,
as it did on the MacBook Pro — you get four USB-A ports, an SDXC card reader, a 3.5mm jack, the humble Ethernet port (but with support for a not-so-humble 10Gbps connection) and four Thunderbolt 3 ports (which double as USB 3.1 because that uses the same USB-C connector). Again, the need for Thunderbolt 3 is niche, but it’s absolute heaven if you have 4K videos to import or if you need up to two more 5K displays.
The ports have the same problem regular iMacs have, though, which is that they’re a real pain to reach easily. It’s hard enough to get a USB-A plug the right way up first time anyway, but especially while searching around the back of this beast. You could think about adding a USB hub or a Thunderbolt 3 dock to help remedy this problem.
the bottom line. Would we recommend the iMac Pro, then? Absolutely, but only if it really works out as being worth it for you — and only if you have the business accounts to calculate that. However, if you only want to know whether the iMac Pro is a stunningly powerful miracle of design, though, then the answer is a definite, resounding yes. Mat Bolton
The Space Gray rear side provides an especially dramatic view of the iMac Pro.
The Thunderbolt 3 ports look identical to plain USB-C, but they support super-fast 40Gbps transfers and 5K displays.
Apple has accommodated the iMac Pro’s more powerful components thanks to a redesigned cooling system.