Apple iMac Pro

Editor's Choice AwardThe Apple iMac Pro comes with pro specs and a pro price. Apple came out swinging with the iMac Pro, offering the most resources in an Apple computer ever, but its price tag is not for the weak-hearted. With an entry price of 5,000 dollars, upgradable to 13,200 dollars, it’s likely that, unless you intend to make money using it, you’ll struggle to dole out that kind of dough. Yet, cost is relative, so although you might get sticker shock, the iMac Pro does offer loads of value — if you are OK with a computer that is difficult to upgrade.

Though the number of cores and processing speeds may vary, every iMac Pro comes with an Intel Xeon chip. The base model offers you a 3.2 gigahertz (Ghz), 8 core Xeon W with turbo boost up to 4.2Ghz, which can be upgraded to the 2.3Ghz 18-core Xeon W. There is a 2,400-buck difference between those two chips, so be sure to know what you need before you commit to your purchase.

Though the specs vary, every iMac Pro comes with an Intel Xeon chip.

The base model has 32 gigabytes (GB) of DDR4 2666Mhz error correcting code (ECC) RAM which can be increased to 64GB or 128GB. Once again, there is 2,400-dollar difference between the top and bottom offering.

When it comes to the graphics processing unit, or GPU, the iMac Pro has only two options: the AMD Radeon Pro Vega 56 with 8GB of HBM2 memory, or the Radeon Pro Vega 64 with 16GB of HBM2 memory. Ordering the Vega 64 will increase the computer’s price by another 600 dollars.

The last major feature is internal storage. The iMac Pro offers three choices of solid state drives (SSD): the default 1TB or the upgraded 2TB and 4TB options, priced at an additional 800 dollars and 2,800 dollars, respectively.
Each machine also includes a built-in 5K Retina monitor, though this component is not upgradable.

This system will fit many creative professionals’ needs, but depending on your setup, the price can be significantly higher than the base price of 5,000 dollars. The key here is to understand what you need. Apple has a long history of value retention, but why pay for a resource you don’t need to do your work?

Typically, computers at this price are easily upgradable. This isn’t the case with the iMac Pro. The hard drives are proprietary drives built to fit this machine. There are four slots for RAM, but there’s no easy way to access them. Upgrading either internal storage or memory would require opening the machine up, which is not a simple process and requires special equipment. With no easy, end-user upgrades, some companies are offering a solution for this silly, self-inflicted problem. OWC will upgrade the RAM to 64GB or 128GB. It costs more to upgrade from 32GB to 64GB than Apple charges, but it’s actually cheaper when upgrading to 128GB.

So what is the best configuration? I’m glad you asked! Here are our recommended specs. We’d spend 800 dollars to upgrade to the 10-Core chip as 10 cores is a sweet spot for the value-to-core ratio. Next, we would spend another 800 dollars for 64GB RAM. You can get by on 32, so this might be a hard decision. If you have the money, though, 64GB is better than 32GB, and since the RAM isn’t easily upgradable, it will help future-proof your iMac Pro. Though it might be nice to have a 2TB internal drive, the machine has four Thunderbolt 3 ports, so the 800 dollars you’d spend upgrading the SSD would be better spent buying an external drive, RAID or NAS. Lastly, we’d upgrade the GPU for 600 dollars as double the HMB2 memory in the Vega 64 is well worth it. Ultimately, that would put the total price at 7,200 dollars. Is it worth the price? We answer that in the marketplace section below.

For this review, the machine is configured with the 3GHz Xeon W 10-Core, 128GB RAM, the Radeon Pro Vega 64 and 2TB of internal storage. Lets not forget that the iMac Pro has the 5K Retina monitor built in. That’s a 9,600-dollar configuration. Apple wasn’t messing around and sent us a super fast machine. At that price and with those specifications, you would expect a wonderful machine, complete with everything you’d need. That’s mostly true, however we do have a few gripes and they come from design, not function — though some do impact usability.

Usability

As a video editor, I’ve always stayed away from all-in-ones. Often, they just weren’t fast enough in the past. With the iMac Pro, speed isn’t the concern — it’s very capable. However, provided you have the speed you need, what else affects how you use the machine?

The big value proposition of iMacs as a whole is that you get a really nice monitor included in the deal. We agree, it’s nice, but a 16:9 monitor is just adequate; it will get the job done. However, we would have liked a screen with a wider aspect ratio. The wider the aspect ratio, the easier it is to lay out all the tools you need. 16:9 doesn’t do it like a 21:9 one does. Because the machine is expensive, a wider aspect ratio would have closed the deal. Instead, this reviewer is left wanting more.

We also think the port locations are awkward — you are going to need to leave the rear of your workspace accessible if you want to use them. We’re glad it includes some USB Type A ports, but everything is so difficult to get to. Loading an SD card is a pain. If they want it to be clean, make a Thunderbolt 3 breakout so you can place most of the ports away from the machine. Instead, we need to shell out more money for one or have to suffer with the worst port location ever.

A variety of ports for different connection types
A variety of ports for different connection types

Additionally, because we found ourselves trying to plug in cables via braille, we were blessed with the wretched sound of a cable end against the finish of the computer — worse than nails on a chalkboard.

Tests

Unlike the MacBook Pro before it, the iMac Pro was designed with feedback from creative professionals that they need ports other than just Thunderbolt 3. We connected both a G-Technology Shuttle T3 and a Shuttle XL T2 using an adapter. The speed was as fast as the Shuttle would offer, and the speeds were still respectable from the Shuttle XL using a T3 to T2 adapter.

Faster yet was the speed of the internal drives. We did a speed test on the OS drive using AJA Speed Test, moving a 64GB 5K ProRes 4444 file, and we saw 3035 MB/s write and 2561 MB/s read speeds.

Next, we used both Geekbench and Cinebench R15 to benchmark the review system. On Geekbench it has a multi-core score of 36,078. To put that in to perspective, a Xeon W-2170B at 2.5 GHz and 14 cores scored 40,456. That’s the only published result of a chip that out-scored this one. We tested both OpenGL and CPU on Cinebench R15.

The OpenGL score was 135.64 while, for comparison, a Quadro K4000M scored a 67.71. Next, the CPU test gave us a score of 2,054. Compare that to the 12-core 2.66GHz Xeon chip which scored 1,279.

To get some more real-world, video-editing numbers, we put it up against the machine the iMac Pro replaced: the Mac Pro complete with a 3.0GHz 8-core Xeon E5 CPU, 64GB of RAM and a Dual AMD FirePro D700 6GB. For fun, we also put this machine up against the previous iMac Pro with a 4.2GHz i7, 32GB of RAM and a Radeon Pro 580 8GB.

We rendered two projects, one using Adobe Premiere CC and the other After Effects. The project in Premiere is a one minute video using UHD 4K MP4s at 150 Mbps with simple cuts, grading and four tracks of audio. The After Effects project is a full motion graphic video with lots of layers, comps and effects. There are no project assets; everything was made from color mattes.

When using Premiere, the iMac Pro had the fastest render of one minute and 59 seconds. Second, was the Mac Pro at two minutes and 26 seconds and last was the older iMac Pro at two minutes and 46 seconds. That means the new iMac Pro is 29 percent faster than the Mac Pro and 19 percent faster than the older iMac Pro when doing this type of work.

In After Effects, the new iMac Pro finished in 30 seconds, the older iMac Pro in one minute and eight seconds and the Mac Pro in one minute 48 seconds. Again, the iMac Pro came out on top while this time, the older iMac Pro came in second and the Mac Pro third. That makes the iMac Pro 56 percent faster than the older iMac Pro and 73 percent faster than the Mac Pro.

Marketplace

The professional all-in-one is a new category, which means we won’t be able to do any apples to Apple comparisons. Instead, we wanted to see if we could build machines with similar specifications to the iMac Pro used in this review. While not all manufacturers offer the same hardware, we set out to get as close as possible. The big caveats with these comparisons are that the iMac Pro comes with a 5K screen and that all of these towers can be easily upgraded.

With an Intel Xeon W-2155 3.30 GHz 10 Core CPU, 128GB of DDR4-2666 ECC RAM, AMD Radeon Vega 16GB GPU and a 2TB SSD, a Boxx APEXX W4 set-up using similar components costs 12,087 dollars. The Boxx machine costs 2,500 dollars more, and that’s for the tower only.

Next up is the Dell Precision 7820 Tower for 10,943 dollars. The CPU closest to the one in the iMac Pro available in the 7820 is the Intel Xeon 6136 3.0GHz 12 Core. The 7820 would also include 128GB of 2666MHz DDR4 ECC RAM, the AMD Radeon Pro 16GB GPU and a 2TB SSD.

Last is the HP Z8 G4 Workstation at 11,614 dollars. This model is configured with the Intel Xeon Gold 6136 3.0GHz, 3.7GHz Turbo, 12 Core CPU. Like the Dell, this is the closest chip to the 10-core in the iMac Pro. To round it out, it would also include 128GB of 2666MHz DDR4 ECC RAM and two 1TB SSD Drives.

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

We like this machine — we like it a lot — but that doesn’t mean the iMac Pro is without problems. Apple gave us the resources we needed but decided to phone it in with the same, tired form factor with the same, tired flaws. If it had a wider aspect ratio monitor, was more easily upgradable and had a better location for ports, we could love it. But until then, we are in “like” with the iMac Pro.

Apple

Apple.com

PRICE: $5k to $13,200
As reviewed: $9,599

STRENGTHS:

  • Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.0 ports
  • Great looking monitor

WEAKNESSES:

  • Upgrading storage or memory requires a professional

SUMMARY:

The Apple iMac Pro is packed full of resources and aims to please. However, we found some big flaws that Apple should address.

RECOMMENDED USERS:

  • Event Videographers
  • Documentarians & Indie filmmakers
  • Commercial & Corporate filmmakers
  • Jacks of all trades

TECH SPECS:

CPU: 3.0GHz 10-core Intel Xeon W processor, Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz
RAM: 128GB 2666MHz DDR4 ECC memory
OS Drive: 2TB SSD
GPU: Radeon Pro Vega 64 with 16GB of HBM2 memory

Display

  • Size: 27-inch (diagonal) Retina 5K display
  • Resolution: 5120×2880
  • Brightness: 500 nits

Chris Monlux is happy to eat that last piece of cake. What do you mean, I can’t have it? He is also Videomaker’s Multimedia Editor. 

2 COMMENTS

  1. I have to agree with Ashley. The iMac Pro is an incredible computer and I strongly disagree that the form factor is tired. I like it a lot. I have to admit, at first, I didn’t but after working on it for a while I very much like it.

    I edit 8k footage and it plays back really well. What I’m getting at is it handles whatever I throw at it so I can focus on creating. Also, I’m really confused by the hate for the port location? As someone who has been editing for almost 20 years, I spend very little time in my day plugging in hard drives or whatever else you want to place in the USB & Thunderbolt ports. Whatever is plugged in typically is always plugged in. But when I do have to plug something in it really doesn’t take much effort to reach behind the computer or stand up and plug-in a hard drive. I would much rather have that then have the cables sticking out towards me.

    The portability of the iMacPro is incredible. If you need to finish an edit somewhere else just unplug it and go. One of the advantages of the all-in-one.

    PS, I prefer to edit with 2 monitors. If they made the iMac Pro screen any wider and you had a matching monitor size and aspect ratio it would be a pain to look from one end of the screen to the other. I think 16×9 works perfectly with a 2nd monitor.

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