With the delay of the HomePod, there is only one more big Apple hardware product slated for release before the end of 2017 — the iMac Pro. Like the regular iMac, the iMac Pro features an all-in-one design that combines a display and computer inside of a single enclosure. Yet, unlike the regular iMac, the iMac Pro is built specifically with creative professionals in mind.
As someone who regularly works with 4K and sometimes even 6K video, the iMac Pro sounds fantastic on paper. Higher-specced configurations of the baseline iMac are no slouch, but the iMac Pro will be a definite leap above the regular version in terms of performance. Here’s what we know about the iMac Pro so far…
What is iMac Pro?
iMac Pro is an all-in-one computer that fuses together a high quality 5K display, powerful internal computing components, and more versatile I/O. Similar to a regular iMac, it features a display that dominates its front side, with a chin emblazoned with an Apple logo resting underneath. Although the two machines look similar, users will be able to easily differentiate the iMac Pro from the regular 5K iMac thanks to a Space Gray anodized aluminum shell.
To further emphasize the differences at first glance, the iMac Pro comes packed with a Space Gray Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad + Magic Mouse. Users will have the option of purchasing a Space Gray Magic Trackpad as well.
Currently-known iMac Pro specs
- 27-inch (diagonal) Retina 5K display
- 5120‑by‑2880 resolution with support for billions of colors
- 500 nits of brightness
- Wide color (P3)
- 8-Core Xeon (base)
- 10-Core Xeon (optional)
- 18-Core Xeon (optional)
- 32GB 2666MHz DDR4 ECC memory (base)
- 64GB (optional)
- 128GB (optional)
- 1TB SSD (base)
- 2TB (optional)
- 4TB (optional)
- Radeon Pro Vega 56 with 8GB of HBM2 memory (base)
- Radeon Pro Vega 64 with 16GB of HBM2 memory (optional)
- Four Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports
- Four USB 3 ports
- SDXC card slot with support for UHS‑II
- 10Gb Ethernet using RJ‑45 connector (supports Nbase-T 1Gb, 2.5Gb, and 5Gb)
- 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking
- Bluetooth 4.2
- Enhanced stereo speakers, with improved frequency response, bass, and volume
- Four microphones
- 3.5 mm headphone jack
- 1080p FaceTime HD camera
- Space Gray Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad
- Space Gray Magic Mouse 2
- Space Gray Magic Trackpad 2 (optional)
Why do we need an iMac Pro?
Many creative professionals do work, such as video encoding and editing, that benefits heavily from a fast computer. Internal components like the GPU and SSD may contribute to the overall speed of a machine, but the amount of CPU cores can play a bigger role in specialized situations, such as video encoding. Certain apps, like Final Cut Pro X, can significantly benefit from having more processing cores, because it’s been designed to use multiple cores in parallel.
The current-gen iMac maxes out with a quad-core i7 CPU, which is fine for everyday tasks, but when you start working with high bitrate 4K, 6K, and even 8K video, the more cores/threads the better.
The iMac Pro, whose base model features eight cores with support for hyper-threading with 16 threads, is thus better equipped to handle the rigors of high quality video editing workflows, potentially allowing for smooth unrendered real-time playback on the Final Cut Pro X timeline.
One such example of this performance benefit was shown at the recent Final Cut Pro X Creative Summit, where according to Alex Gollner, Apple demonstrated Final Cut Pro X 10.4 on the new iMac Pro smoothly driving an 8K timeline.
The iMac Pro features a base 8-core processor, but will also available in 10-core and 18-core configurations. Details found within firmware files suggest that the iMac Pro may utilize the massive server-grade LGA3647 socket, offering server-level Xeon processors. However, benchmarks of test hardware, and the fact that Apple clearly shows the iMac Pro sporting only four memory modules suggest that this may be inaccurate, and that the iMac Pro will utilize the desktop LGA2066 socket instead.
None of the processors that we were able to find on Intel’s website fully meets the specifications that Apple laid out in the limited details provided on its website, but a few chips bring us within the ballpark of what we may expect. It’s highly likely that Intel has developed custom chips with the thermal requirements of the iMac Pro in mind, and this is further supported by what appear to be iMac Pro benchmarks on Geekbench. One such benchmark for a 10-core iMac Pro shows a system running a custom Intel Xeon chip with a base frequency of 3.0 GHz.
The performance of this 10-core tester sports performance that easily gives any iMac currently on the market the smackdown in multi-core performance. The current top of the line Mid-2017 5K iMac, for instance, features a multi-core score around 25,000. One can only imagine how the 18-core final machine will perform.
Note that none of the chips in the publicly available Xeon W-class processor family fully meet the specifications of Apple’s iMac Pro — for example, neither the 8, 10, or 18 core chips listed feature 42MB of L3 cache, something Apple notes on its iMac Pro website — but these are likely the units that the machine’s Xeon silicone are based on.
Note that the 10-core chip being benchmarked above is running with a base frequency of 3.0 Ghz, suggesting that the Xeon chips in the iMac Pro may also be down-clocked from their original base frequency to meet thermal requirements of the all-in-one chassis.
A10 Fusion Coprocessor
As noted earlier, the iMac Pro will feature an ARM coprocessor in the form of an A10 Fusion chip — the same chip that powers the iPhone 7. This makes the iMac Pro the first Mac with an integrated A-series chip. Well-respected developer Steven Troughton-Smith notes that the A10 Fusion chip would let Apple experiment with tighter control by allowing the A10 Fusion to handle the macOS boot and security process.
The presence of the ARM coprocessor would also allow for always-on Hey Siri, another first for the Mac. Always-on Hey Siri lets users invoke Siri with just their voice, which could explain the presence of three additional on-board microphones.
For the first time, iMac users have the option of pre-configuring a machine with up to 128 GB of 2666MHz DDR4 RAM via four memory modules, which can be handy for running more resource-intensive apps simultaneously. Think rendering massive 3D models, or running multiple virtual machines at the same time.
Four memory banks configurable with up to four 32GB RAM modules each
The iMac Pro also comes with ECC RAM, a first for the iMac line. ECC RAM is helpful when running mission critical applications, because it protects against undetected memory data corruption which can result in crashes and/or data loss. The downside to ECC RAM is that it comes at a higher cost, and with Apple’s already high RAM prices, you can be sure that a RAM upgrade in the iMac Pro will be expensive.
Users should also note that, unlike the 5K iMac, which lets users easily upgrade RAM to save money, iMac Pro RAM is not user-replaceable. That means that the configuration that you purchase initially is the configuration that you’re stuck with for the lifetime of the machine. With this in mind, it’s best to acquire as much RAM as you can afford when purchasing the iMac Pro, because you can’t add more later. For users who don’t perform work that benefits as much from additional cores, you may be better off prioritizing RAM upgrades over CPU upgrades.
There are two GPU configurations available for iMac Pro users. The base model comes equipped with a Radeon Pro Vega 56 with 8GB of HBM2 memory, however, users will have the option of upgrading to a more powerful Vega 64 with a total of 16GB of HBM2.
The GPU power will obviously benefit those who wish to game, but the iMac Pro is geared more towards creative professionals. With this in mind, apps like Final Cut Pro X will particularity benefit from the fast GPU, along with VR applications.
We’ve tested a Radeon Vega 64 on a entry-level 5K iMac, and while it showed promise, the lack of finalized drivers was obvious. The launch of the iMac Pro means that we get official Radeon Vega drivers, which should result in a noticeable performance and stability increase across the board.
We don’t know much about the SSDs featured in the iMac Pro, but we do know that they will be capable of top x-fer speeds of 3GB/s. Additionally, the iMac Pro allows users to configure a large 4TB SSD, a first for any Mac-branded product.
The iMac Pro features a few significant I/O enhancements over the regular iMac. For starters, there are now four Thunderbolt 3 ports, matching the amount of ports on the 15-inch MacBook Pro. The iMac Pro should also feature 48 PCIe lanes thanks to the Xeon CPU, which should better accommodate multiple bandwidth-hungry Thunderbolt 3 peripherals.
The iMac has long featured an SD Card slot, but the Pro version includes an enhanced SDXC slot with support for UHS-II for even faster data transfer rates. This, along with the super fast NVMe SSD media, ensures that videographers can transfer large files to the machine more efficiently than before.
The final big I/O enhancement, one that will be especially appealing to enterprise customers, is the inclusion of 10Gb Ethernet that supports Nbase-T 1Gb, 2.5Gb, and 5Gb. This affords fast and flexible hardwired connections, a must for those who plan to transfer big data over the local network.
Unlike the regular 5K iMac, which includes a single built-in microphone, the iMac Pro features four microphones. These additional microphones are likely there to help facilitate always-on Hey Siri functionality, which was leaked a few weeks back.
Enhanced stereo speakers
The iMac Pro’s enhanced stereo speakers not only feature more low-end bass and overall volume, but they also feature improved frequency response.
Upgraded FaceTime HD Camera
The 5K iMac’s FaceTime HD camera is technically HD, in that it supports a maximum resolution of 720p, but the iMac Pro’s FaceTime HD camera is Full HD 1080p — another first for the Mac. This means higher resolution photos and videos, and higher quality video calls.
Additional important details
The display found in the iMac Pro appears to be the same 5K display that you’ll find on the 5K iMac. This means the size (27-inches diagonal), resolution (5120‑by‑2880) brightness (500 nits), and color (P3 wide color), are all the same across both hardware platforms.
The iMac Pro will also support more high resolution external displays than any Mac product before it. The iMac Pro supports up to two external 5K displays running at 5120-by-2180, or a whopping four 4K displays at either UHD or DCI 4K resolution. All external displays run at 60Hz.
Outside of the new Space Gray color, everything else on the front and sides of the iMac Pro appears to mirror the 5K iMac. We’ve yet to get a glance at the bottom of the iMac Pro, beneath the chin, which may be changed to accommodate the enhanced speaker output. On the rear of the machine, there are some obvious differences, including the aforementioned I/O enhancements.
No RAM door makes room for larger exhaust ports
The iMac Pro lacks user-replaceable RAM, which means that there’s no “RAM door” like you’ll find on the 5K iMac. From the images and video we’ve seen, this seems to have afforded larger rear exhaust vents that extend further down towards the unit’s power plug.
Below the I/O is a pair of vertically aligned air intake ports that extend horizontally across the unit. This pair of ports is unique to the iMac Pro.
Release Date / Availability / Price
Initial hints of existence
The existence of a pro-focused iMac was first confirmed back in April 2017 during, what was at the time, an unprecedented early disclosure of the hardware by Apple executives. Pressured by its seemingly apathetic stance towards professional customers, Apple executives Phil Schiller and Craig Federighi disclosed the existence of “configurations of iMac specifically with the pro customer in mind” during a discussion with Daring Fireball’s John Gruber and others. Apple noted that the iMac geared towards professionals would launch sometime in 2017.
iMac Pro revealed
Fast-forward a couple of months to June 5th’s WWDC 2017 keynote event, where Apple took the wraps off of the professional-oriented iMac hardware. Officially dubbed iMac Pro, Apple announced that it would become available in December 2017 with a starting price of $4999, and carry the distinction as being the fastest Mac ever. Apple subsequently launched its official iMac Pro website, featuring a high-level spec overview, but devoid of important details like build to order prices.
First look at new iMac Pro
After the event, we were able to see the iMac Pro in person in all of its Space Gray glory. Later in the year, during the month of October, a few fortunate individuals at the Final Cut Pro X Creative Summit in Cupertino received a first hands-on look at the iMac Pro. Users were able to test out performance of the upcoming release of Final Cut Pro X 10.4, which includes support for power-hungry features like 360-degree VR.
And that’s where we are today. If Apple intends to keep its December 2017 release timetable, then it will announce the availability of the iMac Pro sometime with the next three weeks. We’ve seen rumors on the web that the iMac Pro will launch on December 16th, but those claims appear to be totally unsubstantiated.
One thing is for sure: Apple will certainly make some sort of announcement about the iMac Pro within the next few weeks. It will either announce the machine’s availability, or announce a delay, but it won’t let the year-end without something mentioned about the iMac Pro.
Once Apple makes a launch announcement, we will learn about overall availability and most importantly, the available configurations and build to order options and associated costs. Once these details are disclosed, we will provide an update with all of the different options available, along with iMac Pro build-to-order recommendations.
Keep in mind that the absolute top of the line 5K iMac that you can buy today costs over $5000, so the entry-level iMac Pro, while expensive, isn’t off axis when it comes to price comparisons with existing hardware. Stay tuned for more details in the coming days and weeks. And let us know if you’re at all interested in this incredibly fast all-in-one beast.