Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to decide whether to keep the iMac Pro or go back to the 5K iMac. On the surface, both machines look almost identical outside of the Pro’s space gray exterior. And depending on the type of tasks you regularly engage in, performance differences can vary widely.
But the more that I use the iMac Pro, the more that I come to appreciate how good it really is for my workflow. In this post and hands-on video, I consider five reasons why I’ve decided to stick with Apple’s professional-grade all-in-one.
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Space Gray exterior
The space gray exterior of the iMac Pro is arguably a minor change, since the overall body of the machine, including its large bezels, looks almost exactly the same as the standard 5K iMac. Yet, admittedly, there’s something about the darker aluminum exterior that evokes an emotional response. The iMac Pro is basically the same as the 5K iMac from a design perspective, but the space gray exterior of the machine and accessories looks like it means business.
The space gray Magic Keyboard is especially nice, because unlike the 5K iMac, the full-sized Numeric Keypad edition is included by default. On the 5K iMac, the numeric version of the Magic Keyboard demands an additional $30 fee.
The Magic Mouse is the exact same Magic Mouse 2 as before, except it dons a new space gray color. The Magic Mouse continues to be a love it or hate it accessory, but thankfully I’ve always rather enjoyed its ergonomics (or lack thereof) and touch response.
Lastly, there’s also a black Lightning cable for charging the Magic Mouse and Magic Keyboard, along with a black power cable for the iMac Pro itself.
Since I did an in-store purchase of the base model iMac Pro, I didn’t get a Magic Trackpad 2. Unfortunately, you cannot just go into a store or go online and buy a space gray Magic Trackpad 2 from Apple. You’ll need to add the space gray Magic Trackpad 2 at the time you purchase your iMac Pro.
Four Thunderbolt 3 ports
The iMac Pro isn’t the first iMac to feature Thunderbolt 3, that designation goes to the 2017 5K iMac. Yet, having two additional ports makes a big difference, especially as Thunderbolt 3/USB-C-enabled devices become more ubiquitous.
Although Thunderbolt 3 allows for daisy-chaining, most Thunderbolt 3 accessories that you’ll encounter lack the needed second port, requiring you to connect other accessories directly to your Mac. Having an additional two ports, therefore, can be a big help.
The biggest iMac Pro feature is, of course, its inclusion of new Xeon W multi-core chips in 8-, 10-, 14-, and 18-core varieties. The base model 8-core iMac Pro is already faster than any Mac before it in a variety of disciplines, but that’s just the beginning of the story.
Multiple cores don’t necessarily guarantee a faster computing experience, as the software has to be written to take advantage of parallel computing. However, for apps that are designed to properly support multi-core CPUs — ones like Final Cut Pro X, ScreenFlow 7, and others — the difference in performance can be big.
There are quite a few variables involved when it comes to performing real-world benchmarks and comparisons. For example, with Final Cut Pro X, export performance will vary depending on the type of export settings you configure, the type of media you’re working with, what effects you’re using, etc. If you’re just cutting and exporting videos shot on your iPhone X, you won’t necessarily see huge performance gains, partly thanks to the lack of Intel Quick Sync Video encoding on Xeon chips.
Certain apps, like ScreenFlow 7, make good use of the extra cores
Sometimes the advantages can stick out like a sore thumb, and other times they can be more nuanced. One of the things that I love about the iMac Pro is how buttery smooth the Final Cut Pro X timeline is even with lots of effects applied. It’s also able to better handle editing more data-dense, higher resolution media — such as Canon’s Cinema RAW Light used on the C200. But not just that, the machine remains virtually inaudible throughout the editing and export process.
Radeon Pro RX Vega graphics
If you’ve been following my posts over the years, then you know I’m excited about the future prospects of Thunderbolt 3-equipped eGPU setups. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to go with the base Radeon Vega 56 instead of the more expensive Vega 64 with 16GB of memory. But you shouldn’t discount the power of the Vega 56 GPU, as it’s much more powerful than anything we’ve seen in an iMac thus far.
Lots of stacked titles on the timeline play back smoothly
First and foremost, the Vega 56 provides excellent GPU-accelerated performance in Final Cut Pro X. I can easily playback 4K footage at full resolution best quality, and load the timeline with tons of effects and titles resulting in smooth playback prior to rendering. That’s mighty impressive, and a good indicator as to how well the Vega 56 works together with the Intel Xeon W.
Heaven: macOS vs Windows Boot Camp 1080p Ultra w/ Moderate Tessellation, 2xAA
Not only does the Vega 56 provide excellent GPU-accelerated Final Cut Pro X performance, but it also helps turn the iMac Pro into a more-than-adequate gaming machine. I ran a few synthetic benchmarks using Unigine Heaven, and was happy to see a computer that can easily accommodate 1080p (or higher) 60 fps gaming at ultra settings.
Heaven: macOS vs Windows Boot Camp 1440p Ultra w/ Moderate Tessellation, 2xAA
Although the iMac Pro performs well in macOS, the best performance is obtained while in a Windows Boot Camp environment. Be sure to install the unofficial, yet optimized Vega 56 or 64 Boot Camp drivers in order to further improve performance on iMac Pro in Windows.
As you can see from the benchmarks above, iMac Pro + Windows makes for a bonafide 1440p gaming machine. With some titles, you may even be able to pull off 4K gaming at playable frame rates.
The last bullet point on my list is what impresses me most about the iMac Pro. As someone who was used to using a quad-core i7-based 5K iMac that tended to sound like a jet engine when doing virtually anything with Final Cut Pro X, the iMac Pro is downright amazing. Seriously, this machine is almost pin drop silent. The fact that I can easily record voiceovers without picking up fan noise from the CPU cooler is a big deal for me.
I’m not saying that the iMac Pro will be always silent, because clearly those extra-large vents are capable of quickly dispersing heat, but I’ve not yet heard the fans fire up when doing normal day-to-day editing tasks. When it comes to running benchmarks using Engine Heaven, the fans do fire up, but still don’t get nearly as loud as the fans that accompany the Intel Core i7 in the 5K iMac. This is a fact that cannot be overstated. If you’re sick and tired of ridiculously loud fans that fire up at the slightest blip, then the iMac Pro is a wonderful machine.
This has been just a high level look at some of the features that set the base model iMac Pro apart from the regular version in my eyes. There are obviously other notable enhancements, but these are the five primary features that convinced me to keep the iMac Pro. As someone who works on video day-in-and-out, the iMac Pro provides an experience that’s second-to-none when compared to any other Mac that’s currently available.
The space gray exterior is admittedly a superficial thing, and will boil down to personal preference. But the performance of this machine — look beyond just your typical Final Cut Pro X exports — is very impressive. The fact that I get this type of performance with more I/O options and dead silent operation makes using it feel virtually effortless.
The iMac Pro has already received a few discounts at some retailers, most notably the $250 discount at Best Buy, and the ridiculous $1000 discount at Micro Center. Although I was rejected when trying to price match Best Buy at my local Apple Store, I was able to successfully price match the $250 discount by simply calling Apple customer service on the phone.
If you can find the iMac Pro at those prices, then picking one up over a cheaper 5K iMac a no-brainer. Remember that B&H also sells the iMac Pro — up front tax-free and with free shipping — and has multiple available SKUs.
What has been your experience, if any, with the iMac Pro thus far? Stay tuned for additional coverage of the pro-oriented all-in-one in the coming days and weeks.