The iMac Pro exists because it turns out that there is a lot of air underneath the aging Mac Pro and above the incredibly popular MacBook Pro. A single-digit percentage of Mac customers buy the Mac Pro and, in recent years, Apple had been seeing a major rise in “pro” customers of all shades purchasing iMacs because of their incredible screens, all-in-one form factor and overall ease of deployment.

Given that there was such an appetite for a beefier computer in this pocket of hardware, and given that it was already in motion to re-think the Mac Pro entirely, Apple decided to see exactly how ridiculous it could get with iMac performance inside what is essentially the exact same shell as the current machines — with a nice coat of color treatment and a few additional cosmetic differences.

Mac Pro Reset

You may recall that back in April of this year, Apple was abnormally candid about its failures with the Mac Pro. It had painted itself into a corner with that design, and needed to go back to one to re-think its approach. During that session, Apple executives told a roundtable that they were also rethinking what it meant to be a professional customer of Macs.

“First of all, when we talk about pro customers, it’s important to be clear that there isn’t one prototypical pro customer. Pro is such a broad term, and it covers many many categories of customers. And we care about all of these categories, and there’s a variety of different products those customers want,” says Schiller. 

Apple iMac Pro

Apple iMac Pro

“There’s music creators, there’s video editors, there’s graphic designers — a really great segment with the Mac. There’s scientists, engineers, architects, software programmers — increasingly growing, particularly our App development in the app store. So there are many many things and people called pros, Pro workflows, so we should be careful not to over simplify and say ‘Pros want this’ or ‘don’t want that’ — it’s much more complex than that.“

Schiller said that 15% of Mac customers use professional apps multiple times a week and 30% use them in some manner. And the large majority of those pros use MacBooks. However, the iMac was beginning to be disproportionately used by pros who either found the screens or form factor compelling or found the pace of updates of the Mac Pro stagnant.

“So many of our customers were moving to iMac that we saw a path to address many, many more of those that were finding themselves limited by Mac Pro through a next generation iMac,” said Apple’s Craig Federighi, “And [we] really put a lot of our energy behind that. [But,] while that [upgraded iMac] system is going to be fantastic for a huge number of customers — we want to do more.”

That more will be the upcoming Mac Pro. But the now is the iMac Pro — a machine that will hold an allure for pros looking for a beefy piece of hardware that can handle demanding tasks from rendering to medical imaging to VR — but that also holds some clues for the future of all of Apple’s Macs.

iMac Pro

I was able to see the Mac Pro and its new space grey accessories in New York yesterday, along with a series of demos from pros that Apple seeded with the machines for a few days to allow them to get a feel for what kinds of gains they would see from it.

The machine itself is physical a near match for the current iMac, aside from the dark grey finish.

The rear ports are definitely different, of course. You have 4 Thunderbolt 3 ports, which run on two separate controllers, 2 ports each. So you should get blazing speeds on those whether they’re used for e-GPUs or storage or displays. There are 4 USB 3.0 A ports and SD slot and, for the first time ever, a 10 Gigabit ethernet port right on the back.

The 5k display is the same as the one that ships with current iMacs.

You can order 1, 2 and 4 Terabyte SSD options with the new machine for storage.

Another change is the fact that you can now remove the stand from the iMac entirely and VESA mount it. Previously, you had to either use an after market solution to mount an iMac or order it specially from the factory with the stand deleted, allowing for mounting.

 

Apple iMac Pro back

 

Configurations

Not every configuration of the iMac Pro will be available to order today online and in stores next week. You’ll be able to snag the 8 and 10-core Intel Xeon W versions of the machine with any other memory, graphics or storage options you like, but the 14 and 18-core editions are coming in January. Those new core configurations are previously unannounced options. Each has 1MB of L2 and 1.365MB of L3 cache.

To be clear: you can order any options the iMac offers today, except for the two higher-core processors. This, it turns out, is not that big of a limitation as the 10-core should really be the sweet spot anyway. The 10-core model offers the highest turbo speeds at 4.5GHz for single threaded performance and supports hyper threading, allowing 20 threads at a time to operate on tasks. This is enough to enable real-time playback on an 8k Red Weapon footage file in ProRes 4×4, for instance – or a 140 track Logic file.

The higher-core options are really best suited for applications that take full advantage of so many lower frequency cores. Machine learning or AI applications that use the multiple CPU cores to schedule jobs for the GPUs, for instance, or rendering pipelines for external GPUs now supported by iMac.

Apple iMac Pro camera

Apple iMac Pro camera

If you’re not sure what to order, go 10-core. You’ll be able to jack the memory up to 128GB (non upgradeable by users, but upgradeable at a service center or store) and get the beefier Vega 64 graphics cards offered to end up with an incredibly impressive machine.

The Vega 56 and 64 options are absolutely the most powerful graphics cards that have ever been included in a Mac and I was able to see demanding VR applications, rendering tasks and real-time manipulation of 3D and video that would be completely impossible on any other iMac hardware — and would chug on the relatively beefy PC I use for VR currently.

These new processors support AVX-512 instructions as well, which will give developer users of multi-core iMac Pros a nice “free” performance bump if they’re using Apple libraries (or manually calling the instructions themselves).

The most interesting piece of hardware from an overall perspective, however, isn’t the more exotic graphics or processor options, but a system controller chip called the T2.

T2 and security



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