With the iMac Pro officially going on sale yesterday, we now know more about Apple’s powerful, professional-oriented all-in-one desktop. The most exciting new thing about the iMac Pro, besides the fact that it comes with a cool new Space Gray housing and matching accessories, is that it’s the first iMac model to feature more than a quad-core processor.

Multicore processors are all the rage these days for so-called prosumers, and for good reason — they provide a lot more processing power for apps that can wield that additional power in parallel, and the cost-barrier to entry, led by AMD’s Ryzen CPUs, has been lowered. Video editing workflows with Final Cut Pro X instantly come to mind, but developers are also a big part of the equation, as more cores can provide significantly faster compilation times.

But what if you’re on a budget? — I know, silly question when you consider that the entry-level model starts at $4999. However, there is one particular iMac Pro SKU that stands out to me above all of the rest. The 10-core iMac Pro, at least on paper, seems like the sweet spot.

iMac Pro: The most powerful Mac ever

Upgrading the base iMac Pro to one with a 3.0GHz 10-core Intel Xeon W is an $800 upgrade. That brings the price of the iMac Pro with 10-core processor up to $5799. Still not cheap, but not out of this world like some of the pricier iMac Pro SKUs.

The 10-core Xeon also sports a solid base clock speed of 3.0GHz — notably faster than the 14- or 18-core variants, and the fastest Turbo Boost speeds of all models — up to 4.5GHz. That should all result in a solid processor that provides respectable single core performance, and more than capable multi-core performance. As we’ve seen from some of the hands-on testimony (Apple seeded several of the 10-core models to testers prior to launch) the machine slices through video and development workflows with ease.

If I were picking up a brand new iMac Pro (I’m still debating on the matter), I would opt for the 10-Core iMac Pro and leave all of the other specs at their default values. In such a case you would end up with a machine with the following specs:

  • 3.0GHz 10-core Intel Xeon W, Turbo Boost 4.5Ghz, 23.75MB cache
  • 32GB 2666Mhz DDR4 ECC RAM
  • Radeon Pro Vega 56 GPU with 8GB HBM2
  • 1 TB SSD
  • Four Thunderbolt 3 ports for expandability
  • Built-in 27-inch 5120-by-2880 IPS 5K Retina 5K display

Keep in mind that B&H is also selling the iMac Pro with free shipping, and no up front tax for those purchasing outside of NY. That means that you could score a 10-Core iMac Pro for $5799 out the door, though you’ll still need to declare the purchase when you file taxes later.

Here’s why I’d be comfortable with the basic 10-core SKU with long-term usage in mind:

The unit may be fully enclosed, but we now know that it’s possible to upgrade the RAM inside the iMac Pro should the need ever arise. That should make purchasing the 32GB model an easier thing to do without having to worry about painting yourself into a corner when it comes to future RAM needs. Apple or an authorized service provider will need to perform the RAM upgrades, but the fact that it can be officially done lends peace of mind.

Adding extremely fast external SSD storage is possible thanks to Thunderbolt 3

Then there’s the presence of Thunderbolt 3 — a feature that shouldn’t be ignored while configuring your iMac Pro. As we’ve seen in the past, Thunderbolt 3 presents the ability to “upgrade” your Mac using external components. For example, I recently added a 1TB external SSD to my Mac via Thunderbolt 3, and it will also be possible to opt for an external GPU in the future as well. Apple is still solidifying the external GPU situation within macOS, but recent tests have shown promise.


Test with external GPUs in macOS have shown promise

That means that you could skip the RAM, storage, and GPU upgrades knowing that it will be possible to address those needs internally and/or externally in the future. Instead, save money and opt for more cores. The 10-core Intel Xeon, which is shipping now, seems like the sweet spot from a price vs performance perspective.

Of course, no amount of performance estimates based on specs can replace real benchmarks and performance tests. We also know that these Intel W class Xeon processors are custom chips designed with the iMac Pro’s requirements in mind. Therefore, while they’re close to the Xeon W processors listed on Intel’s website, they aren’t 1:1 products.

What do you think? Is opting for the 10-core iMac pro devoid of any additional upgrades the smart move, or do you have another SKU in mind?

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