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Comparing the 2017 iMac 5K to the iMac Pro

Save money on memory for all upgradeable Macs at OWC. Get iMac 5K at B&H Photo.

Last week in Assessing the Dec 2017 Apple iMac Pro I discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the Apple iMac Pro (due to ship in December 2017).

TOP-END iMac 5K is about $3099 plus about $600 for 64GB plus storage and backup drives.

This post speaks to the fact that the 2017 iMac 5K is available now and for the vast majority of users, will provide 80% to 100% of the performance at a far lower price. I speak not of benchmarks (which should be lumped in with lies, damn lies and statistics), but to real-world performance in programs like Photoshop and Lightroom and in many programs where peformance differences are meaningless (1/3 sec vs 1/2 second = meaningless in most cases), bearing no relation to any marketing hype about “faster”. It’s curious how Apple sells form over function, but its marketing hype is heavy on emphasizing function that is meaningless for the vast majority of users (e.g., a “faster” GPU that has no benefit at all for most uses and users).

Does it matter that a Lightroom import takes 5 minutes versus 4 minutes (guesstimate)? Maybe, but that’s quite a stretch of credulity for most users.

Thing is, for most tasks, only a CPU core or two gets used, and the GPU is blipped for a fraction of as second. So there is very much a threshold effect of “fast enough”, beyond which it just doesn’t matter.

There are exceptions such as pro video users where 8/10/18 cores and a hyper-fast GPU rule that area and where 8 hours versus 2 hours for some stream of video processing is a Big Deal and/or where real-time editing is critical and must meet some threshold or it’s unusable.

For most users there is zero reason to wait for an iMac Pro or even to ever buy one. The iMac Pro is hugely costly and it will not perform meaningfully better on most tasks. Rather, the iMac Pro is a purpose-built machine that makes sense for a tiny fraction of true professional users with specific jobs to do—it’s a halo product which will be indispensible for the right uses and users. And an excuse and placeholder for the failure of vision in letting the deeply-flawed 2013 Mac Pro languish for 5 years.

As for me (Lloyd), 8K display support is something I drool over as a photographer, and thus the iMac Pro forces me to pay attention. But what I really want is a new Mac Pro with 8K support, not an all-in-one model that is six months off and will be out of date by the time a revised Mac Pro arrives. It’s a lousy combination of timing and marketing. Better late than never I suppose, but I cannot afford to pour money into such systems, so it’s an ugly timeline.

  2017 iMac 5K 2017 iMac Pro Comments
Cost about $3099 + about $600 for 64GB = $3699 starts at $4999 for 8 core CPU, 1TB SSD, hyper fast GPU, 1TB SSD, 32GB
~$6000 with 64GB, and far more with 10 or 18 cores, larger SSD, fastest GPU. Likely to approach $13K when maxed-out.
Display same same  
Case Finish silver space gray Anyone with $5K to $14K to spend who frets over color = wealthy fool or dilettante
GPU fast hyper fast, but meaningless for most tasks non-upgradeable
Memory Up to 64GB, user-upgradeable ECC memory up to 128GB, but few users need more than 64GB, not user upgradeable without professional installation (or suitable skill) Pro machines should be upgradeble, at least for memory and storage. Neither iMac can upgrade the GPU or CPU or SSD.
SSD up to 2TB up to 4TB (pricey) If one needs 4TB, it's a great option.
Thunderbolt 3 2 ports on single Thunderbolt 3 bus 4 ports on dual Thunderbolt 3 busses iMac Pro has twice the external bandwidth—nice but of no importance to vast majority of users. A single TB3 bus is already like two TB2 busses in bandwidth terms.
8K external display support no 8K support possible 8K support should be possible Why isn’t Apple explicitly stating support for 8K?
Warranty 1 year warranty, extendable to 3 years at additional cost via AppleCare iMac Pro of cost $5K to $14K has a pathetic 1-year warranty? A company that believes in it products backs them with a warranty commensurate with cost and quality. iMac Pro should have *included* 5-year warranty.
Longevity Closed case, major hassle to clean out dust (professional help advised) Closed case, major hassle to clean out dust (professional help advised), likely to be used hard and suck in lots of air, adding to dust problem. No way to clean dust internally
Blazing-fast PCIe storage for Mac Pro Tower
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