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Fast iMac or Mac Pro?

Chris K writes:

I'm in the market for a new desktop Mac. I'm trying to decide between a fully-loaded Haswell iMac or new Mac Pro. At this point I use Lightroom for 90%+ of my photo work, and only open Photoshop when I need to do critical sharpening or do something that requires layers. I don't do video or play games.

Seems like the iMac might be sufficient for my needs? In either case, I'll need an external JBOD or RAID enclosure for storage. Not sure the faster processor and dual graphics card of the Mac Pro will warrant the (likely) much higher price—especially when RAM is considered.

MPG: It’s a good topic, but lacking solid info on the new Mac Pro (particularly price and CPU speed, etc), cannot really be analyzed properly. The new Mac Pro is really a video-centric machine.

Valid also is the question of new Mac Pro vs existing Mac Pro. From what I’m hearing the new model will offer a marginal improvement in performance while adding extra costs and mess in every other way. And this will take time to evolve, though by mid-2014 things should sort out reasonably well on price and range of products.

Also to note is that the MacMini is a perfectly fine machine for some uses.

Haswell iMac

See New iMac with PCIe Flash Storage.

Get one at B&H Photo and get 32GB memory for it from OWC.

iMac display

My perspective is that of a professional photographer. The iMac screen is a negative for my photographic work:

  • The iMac display cannot be truly calibrated (video card “stretching” in 8 bits doesn’t qualify as real calibration and can’t touch the 12 bits internally of the wide-gamut NEC displays).
  • Nor can the iMac screen be color tracked over time or calibrated to specific targets. So I have zero interest in the screen portion; it’s just an annoying “must buy” extra cost; a headless iMac would be far more attractive.
  • And unless you’re wearing a black shirt in a black room, glare is a perceptual distraction with the iMac screen.

Were I to use an iMac, I’d use its screen as a 2nd display, with the wide-gamut NEC PA302W or PA272W as the primary. That is a quite reasonable approach, since a dual-screen setup is much more efficient with Lightroom.

iMac in general

  • CPU speed is excellent for most jobs, and should be superb for general Lightroom and Photoshop work. But not for jobs that can use 6 or 12 cores well, e.g., marginal for video transcoding or similar.
  • 32GB memory limit is a non-starter for me; 64GB is the absolute minimum that I actually need, with 80GB necessary to avoid VM paging. Most users do not have that requirement of course.
  • The number of ports can be dealt with, but is far from ideal (2 Thunderbolt and 4 USB3 is bare bones).
  • Once you have main drives, SSDs, backup drives, Time Machine drive, the whole cable mess is there. I vastly prefer having four (five) internal bays and PCIe slots in a Mac Pro. But the new Mac Pro forces the same issues. I think both are 'fail' for longer term use as workhorse system, due to the pile of stuff, each of which is likely to have a higher failure rate than having most of that inside a Mac Pro.

There are other issues. Anyone making an investment in a high-end system might consider my consulting services, where we can discuss specific operational needs. Because the right answer varies. So the answer on iMac is yes or no, depending. For many people, that means yes. But it’s also true that the iMac is overkill for most people; I suspect that many are sold simply because it is all-in-one and attractive. It is not really intended as a serious workstation.

What I'd like to see is a super-sized Mac Mini (4X larger in volume), essentially a headless iMac (fast 4-core CPU and 32GB memory), but with twice the USB3 and TB ports and one internal full size drive bay.

So I guess Apple thinks that's a Mac Pro but without any internal storage (unlike the MacMini which has two bays). But the new Mac Pro price will probably be 5X or 8X the MacMini, leaving a huge price gap served only by the iMac with its built-in screen. It’s an odd thing to have only inadequate or overkill or compromise solutions. The missing iLink. The iJustWantToGetItDoneWithoutTheFluffMac.

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