iMac Pro review: Mac Pro power in the shape of an iMac


Four years since Apple last shipped a desktop Mac with the word “pro” in the name, the iMac Pro has arrived. Holding down the high end of the Mac product line until the day (hopefully in 2018) when a new Mac Pro arrives, the iMac Pro fuses the look of the 27-inch 5K iMac with the priorities of a professional workstation.

This is not a computer designed for the masses—a new iMac Pro starts at $5,000 and you can pay five figures for a high-end model. If you aren’t sure if you need the power of the iMac Pro, you almost certainly don’t. If, on the other hand, you are hungry for multi-core performance and a powerful GPU that will let you crank through intense tasks—in video editing, software development, photo and audio processing, science, graphics, and similar applications—this is the new Mac Pro you’ve been looking for, albeit in the shape of an iMac.

The evolution of the pro Mac

There was a time when most serious Mac users used a professional desktop Mac. The Power Mac line (later renamed the Mac Pro) wasn’t just high end, but mid-range—if you were looking for the cheapest, least powerful Mac you could buy a Performa or iMac, but serious users bought a Power Mac.

Mac Pro & Power MacIDG
Second-generation (left) and first-generation Mac Pro designs.

But over the past decade, Apple has boosted the power available in the iMac line while positioning the Mac Pro as an expensive product limited to the most high-end work. So many of the Power Mac chauvinists of 2000 became the 5K iMac users of 2015. I’m one of them.

As a result, a “pro Mac desktop” doesn’t mean what it did. There are plenty of mainstream professional users with the need for decent computing power who don’t need to buy anything beyond a 5K iMac. Still, there are a bunch of tasks that require pushing the edges of performance beyond what the 5K iMac can provide. And I have to admit, lately I’ve realized that I don’t fit comfortably in that category either: The more video editing and audio work I do, using software that maxes out my iMac’s processor cores and still takes excruciatingly long to finish doing its work, the more I come to desire faster processors, more cores, and faster storage. The iMac Pro delivers all of that.

It’s what’s inside that counts

When I swapped my 2014 5K iMac for an iMac Pro, my workspace didn’t change much. At a glance the iMac Pro is just an iMac (with a 27-inch 5K display with support for the full P3 color gamut) in a slightly darker shade of silver. (And yes, the peripherals supplied by Apple—a wireless keyboard with number pad, mouse, and optional trackpad—are available in the same Space Gray shade, for now only with this computer.) Inside, though, this is not like any iMac ever before made.

I bought and tested the $4,999 base model, which is powered by an 8-core 3.2GHz Xeon W processor. (Apple’s also offering 10-, 14-, and 18- core versions.) The base Xeon W supports Turbo Boost up to 4.2GHz, which is useful when you’re stuck with particular programs that aren’t written to spread the processor load out across multiple processor cores. The base-model iMac Pro also comes with 32GB of RAM (configurable up to 128GB) and 1TB of SSD storage (configurable up to 4TB). And the biggest powerhouse in the system might be the Radeon Pro Vega GPU.

About that RAM: The iMac Pro’s RAM slots are upgradeable, but only by Apple or an authorized repair center. To get in to upgrade the RAM, someone’s going to have to pull the display off. As a result, if you buy an iMac Pro you should buy it with the amount of RAM you expect to need for the next year or two. But the good news is, if you do need more RAM later, the iMac Pro is upgradeable. It’s just not an easy upgrade as it is on the 27-inch 5K iMac.



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