iMac Pro Review and Comparison to the 5K iMac – Upgrade Guide

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If you are a prosumer and in the market for a new desktop Mac, you might wonder if the new iMac Pro is worth the investment or if you should instead opt for a regular 5K iMac. In this review, I compare the iMac Pro to the 2014 and 2017 5K iMac and tell you why I decided to spend the money on one of Apple’s pro models.

I purchased a top-of-the-line 27-inch 5K iMac with Retina Display in late 2014, and it has been my primary workstation since then. At the end of 2018 I started playing with the idea of getting a new iMac, but, at first, I wasn’t sure what to get: A spec’d out 5K iMac or the more expensive iMac Pro.

After publishing this review, Apple released the 2019 5K iMac. I made updates and amendments to this article where applicable.

iMac Pricing and Model Comparison

Model
Late 2014 27-inch 5K iMac (as reviewed)

N/A

2017 27-inch 5K iMac (as reviewed)

$5,299.00*

2019 8-core 27-inch 5K iMac

$5,299.00

8-core iMac Pro

$4,999.00*

10-core iMac Pro (as reviewed)

$7,999.00

14-core iMac Pro

$6,599.00

18-core iMac Pro

$7,399.00

To help with the decision, I wrote down what features were most important for the work I do:

  • 2TB internal storage space to cover my 700GB+ iCloud Photo Library and everything else.
  • Upgradeability of essential components in the future, including memory, disk space, and the GPU.
  • A graphics card that can handle anything from Virtual Reality (VR) to video editing.
  • Proper thermal management to avoid thermal throttling and loud fan noise.
  • Sufficient performance at any task I would throw at the computer.
I ultimately bought a 10-core iMac Pro with a 2TB SSD, 64 GB RAM, and the Radeon Pro Vega 64 GPU. Continue reading to find out why I decided to spend a small fortune for less single-core performance than what a regular 5K iMac would have delivered. In case you wonder, I would have also chosen the iMac Pro over a spec’d out 2019 iMac for the same reasons.

Is the iMac Pro worth the money?

Space Gray iMac Pro on my Desk

I would argue that for most folks who end up buying an iMac Pro, the answer is yes. I’m talking about photographers and videographers, and other professionals who have workflows that demand strong multi-core performance. Before placing the order for my new iMac Pro, I watched countless reviews on YouTube, and every reviewer had the same message:

Investing in the new iMac Pro was a no-brainer considering how much less time they would spend on tasks, such as rendering and exporting videos. For those guys, time is money, and thus the iMac Pro is worth the investment.

I don’t make videos, at least not to the extent that would warrant more expensive hardware. So why did I spend $8,000 plus tax on an iMac Pro instead of $5,400 for a built-to-order (BTO) 5K iMac? The latter features a 3.6GHz 8-core 9th-generation Core i9 Coffee Lake processor that beats the 10-core iMac Pro in single-core performance.

Unlike video editing applications, such as FinalCut Pro X or Adobe Premiere Pro, most of the apps I use on a regular basis, don’t benefit from multiple CPU cores. As a result, I would benefit from the higher clock speed of the Intel i9 in the regular iMac.

Why I chose an iMac Pro over a regular 5K iMac

Despite all the arguments for the quad-core iMac, the primary reason why I wanted the 48% more expensive iMac Pro is that it’s more future-proof. I have had my Late-2014 iMac for almost four years, and I would have used it even longer if I had the opportunity to upgrade individual components. But my old iMac was maxed out, and all I could have done was add a higher-capacity SSD*, but without gaining meaningful performance improvements.

The mid-tier iMac Pro I bought has room to grow as far as CPU and RAM are concerned, albeit none of these components is user-upgradable. Plus, it comes with a much better GPU that can handle Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) applications that the 5K iMac’s mobile GPU cannot.

Besides the longevity argument for the iMac Pro, Apple’s Xeon-based all-in-one desktop offers improvements in the following areas over its Intel i7 / i9-powered cousins:

  • Solid State Disk (SSD) performance
  • RAM upgradability beyond 64 GB
  • Graphics processor performance
  • Microphone performance
  • Thermal management (quieter operation)
  • Number of Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • T2 security chip
  • Coolness factor (Space Gray)

iMac Pro vs. 5K iMac

iMac Pro vs. 5K iMac
iMac Pro vs. 5K iMac

The table below illustrates the significant differences between the Late-2014 5K iMac, the 2019 5K iMac, and the first-generation iMac Pro. Throughout this iMac Pro review, I have based any specifications of either the 2014 5K iMac or the iMac Pro on the models I own. The specs of the 2017 / 2019 5K iMac are based on the top configuration you order can from Apple, since I don’t own this particular machine.

Features 2014 5K iMac 2017 5K iMac 2019 5K iMac iMac Pro
CPU 4.0 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 4.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 3.6GHz 8-core 9th-generation Intel Core i9 3.0 GHz 10-core Intel Xeon W
Geekbench 4 (Single-Core) 4,949 5,610 6,157 5,516
Geekbench 4 (Multi-Core) 16,724 18,945 32,293 37,971
GPU Radeon R9 M295X with 4GB VRAM Radeon Pro 580 with 8GB VRAM Radeon Pro Vega 48 with 8GB of HBM2 memory Radeon Pro Vega 64 with 16GB HBM2
Geekbench 4 (Metal) 46,570 64,275 N/A 148,928
Geekbench 4 (OpenCL) 87,296 116,989 N/A 157,647
eGPU Support
Memory 32GB of 1600 MHz DDR3 64GB of 2400MHz DDR4 64GB of 2666MHz DDR4 64GB of 2666MHz DDR4
Error Correcting (ECC)
Hard Disk 500GB SSD 2TB SSD 2TB SSD 2TB SSD
Read/Write Speed (Mbps) 2,049 2,810 2,810 2,589
Write Speed (Mbps) 1,526 2,088 2,088 3,286
PCI Express Lanes 2 4 4 4
Display 27-inch Retina 5K 27-inch Retina 5K 27-inch Retina 5K 27-inch Retina 5K
Resolution 5120-by-2880 5120-by-2880 5120-by-2880 5120-by-2880
Brightness 461 nits 500 nits 500 nits 500 nits
Color Profile sRGB Wide color (P3) Wide color (P3) Wide color (P3)
Ports
Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) Ports 0 2 2 4
Thunderbolt 2 Ports 2 0 0 0
USB 3 Ports 4 4 4 4
SDXC Card Slot Yes, with support for UHS-2 cards
Communication
Ethernet Gbit Gbit Gbit 10 Gbit
Bluetooth 4.0 4.2 4.2 4.2
WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
Security
T2 Security Chip
Audio/Video
FaceTime Camera Resolution 720p 720p 720p 1080p
Microphones 1 1 1 4
Headphone Jack Yes, with S/PDIF

5K Retina Display

iMac Pro Display

The 5K display in the iMac Pro is exactly the same as in the regular 5K iMac. In both machines, it is a 27-inch display, manufactured by LG, with a 5120 × 2880 pixel density, support for one billion colors (P3 color gamut), and 10-bit spatial and temporal dithering.

The former takes advantage of the human eye’s tendency to mix two colors in close proximity to create a blend of the two, while the latter achieves the same effect by having a pixel flash between two colors very rapidly. This essentially tricks the eye into thinking it sees more colors than the display is capable of producing, Mantiuk said. The trick is already widely used by software like Photoshop and to get 8-bit output on 6-bit panels, he said, adding that the vast majority of users likely won’t be able to distinguish the output from that of a true 10-bit display.(Source: lifescience.com)

Compared to the Late 2014 5K iMac that I have, Apple improved the display’s brightness (500 nits instead of 461) and increased the number of colors the screen can put out.

Single Core vs. Multi-Core

Most applications I use on a daily basis, such as Microsoft Office, Safari, Mail, Ulysses, or Photos don’t benefit much from multiple cores and, thus, run faster at higher clock speeds. That doesn’t mean those apps don’t support multi-threading, but, unlike Final Cut Pro, they can’t spread CPU-intensive tasks across multiple cores.

Chip Clock Speed Turbo Boost
Intel Core i7 quad-core 4.0GHz 4.4GHz Turbo
Intel Core i7 quad-core 4.2GHz 4.5GHz Turbo
Intel Core i9 8-core 3.6GHz 5.0GHz Turbo
Intel Xeon W 8-core 3.2GHz 4.2GHz Turbo
Intel Xeon W 10-core 3.0GHz 4.5GHz Turbo
Intel Xeon W 14-core 2.5GHz 4.3GHz Turbo

As a rule of thumb, Intel chips with fewer cores have higher clock speeds. As a result, you can expect better single-core performance from Intel’s quad-core i7* and 6-core i9 chips than from any of the Xeon W chips Apple offers for the iMac Pro.

Comparing the clock speed of the Intel Xeon W CPUs available in the iMac Pro, you can see that the 10-core chip has the highest Turbo Boost clock speed of 4.5GHz. That’s the primary reason many consider it the “performance sweet spot” and why I decided to spend $800 more to get the 10-core processor.

You can upgrade the 2019 iMac to Intel's 6-Core i9, which means even better single core and multi-core performance.  

Based on artificial benchmarks, the single-core performance of my new iMac Pro is approximately 11% better than that of my 2014 5K iMac but 2% slower than that of the Late 2017 5K iMac. Regarding multi-core performance, my 10-core iMac Pro is over 2.2x as fast as my old iMac and 200% faster than the 2017 5K iMac.

The BTO 2019 iMac closes that increases the gap in single core- and closes the gap in multi-core performance.

Geekbench 4 - CPU - 5K iMac vs. iMac Pro

In conclusion, I’m not loosing much on single-core performance, but I gain a lot of multi-core performance for when I need it.

iMac Pro - Final Cut Pro X Performance

To get an idea of how much better my iMac Pro with its ten cores performs, check out the examples below:

  • Adobe Photoshop CC: 1.8x faster than baseline
  • Final Cut Pro X: 2.3x faster than baseline

To give you some practical examples, I exported a 30 seconds clip I recorded in [email protected] on my iPhone and exported it in various formats using Final Cut Pro X 10.4.4. Overall, the iMac Pro was between 16 and 60% faster in such basic export tasks. I haven’t done any rendering tests so far.

Export of 4k 0:30 Clip 2014 quad-core 5K iMac 2017 deca-core iMac Pro
H.264 Master 43 seconds 36 seconds
H.264 4K 89 seconds 65 seconds
H.264 960px 84 seconds 34 seconds

AMD Radeon R9 M295X vs. Radeon Pro 580 vs. Radeon Pro Vega 64

While the difference in single-core CPU performance between the various iMac generations is, in some cases, not dramatic, graphics card performance is a whole different ballgame.

My Late 2014 iMac has an AMD Radeon R9 M295X graphics processing unit (GPU) with only 4GB of VRAM. One of the reasons why Apple has been putting mobile GPUs in its iMac lineup is because they require less energy and thus produce less heat than desktop GPUs. The downside of those low-powered graphics card is performance, especially for applications and tasks that make heavy GPU use.

Geekbench 4 - GPU - 5K iMac vs. iMac Pro

For its 2017 5K iMac, Apple switched to a more powerful Radeon Pro 580 GPU, but it is still a graphics card AMD built for portable computers. As a result, the performance gains between the AMD Radeon R9 M295X vs. Radeon Pro 580 are modest, at best.

For the 2019 iMac, Apple allows you to upgrade to the more powerful Radeon Pro Vega 48 with 8GB HMB2 memory. While that's an excellent upgrade that closes the gap to the entry-level Radeon Pro Vega 56 in the iMac Pro, it's still less performant, compared the Radeon Pro Vega 64 I chose. Once we get official Geekbench scores, I'll add the exact numbers to this article.

With the iMac Pro, Apple decided to put a pro graphics processing unit into its all-in-one workhorse. Apple could do that because the company completely changed and improved the iMac’s thermal management.

iMac Pro - Pixelmator Performance

As a result, the Radeon Pro Vega 64 produces an impressive Geekbench 4 (Metal) score of 148,928, which makes it over twice as fast as the Radeon Pro 580. Real-world performance is even better in apps, such as Pixelmator Pro, which I use a lot.

  • Pixelmator Pro: 4.1x faster than baseline
  • Compressor: 3x faster than baseline

One of the reasons why the Vega GPU architecture performs so much better is because it offers High Bandwidth Memory (HBM2), which enables the GPU to fetch data at a rate of up to 400GB/s. Other performance specifications of the Vega 64 GPU include:

  • 64 compute units
  • 4096 stream processors
  • 11 teraflops single precision
  • 22 teraflops half precision

What’s great about both the 2017/2019 5K iMac and the iMac Pro is that you can improve GPU performance in the future by using an external GPU (eGPU) enclosure, such as the Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box 650W*.

Disk Speed

Based on the work I do, the performance of the internal solid state disk (SSD) is one of the most critical factors. Tasks such as booting up macOS, opening apps, copying files or using Spotlight to find data, buried deep inside the filesystem, heavily depend on the speed of the internal hard disk.

Quickbench Storage Test - 5K iMac vs iMac Pro

That’s why I was excited to find out that Apple decided to leverage the new T2 chip as a raid controller in the iMac Pro. In other words, my 2TB SSD consists of 2 x 1TB solid state disks that operate in a RAID 0 configuration. The result of this setup is storage performance that blows my old iMac out of the water.

As far as I can tell, the SSD in the 2019 iMac is the same as in the 2017 model. As a result, I don't expect much speed improvements there.

The iMac Pro tops out at almost 2,600 Megabytes per second read, and 3,286 Mbps write speed. While no other Mac comes even close to such a write speed, the read speed of the iMac Pro is slightly slower than that of the 2017 iMac. For a full storage performance comparison, check out the table below.

Quad-core 5K iMac (2014) Quad-core 5K iMac (2017) 8-core 5K iMac (2019) 10-core iMac Pro (2017)
Read Speed 2,049 Mb/sec 2,810 Mb/sec 2,810 Mb/sec 2,589 Mb/sec
Write Speed 1,526 Mb/sec 2,088 Mb/sec 2,088 Mb/sec 3,286 Mb/sec

What’s interesting is that while the 2014 5K iMac performed relatively well in the Quickbench test, it sucked in my test using the Blackmagic Speed Test as you can see in the comparison below.

Blackmagic Speed Test - 5K iMac vs iMac Pro

While the iMac Pro’s RAID 0 configuration improves storage performance, it increases the risk of data loss if only one of the two SSDs fails. As a result, it is crucial to regularly back up your data using a combination of Time Machine and an external cloud storage solution, such as Backblaze.

Thermals and Cooling

Apple has an obsession with making its products thinner by sacrificing functionality, ports and proper thermal management. Most Macs and especially MacBooks run incredibly hot and suffer from what’s called thermal throttling.

That means, the CPU and GPU throttle the clock speed to prevent overheating. Other manufacturers prevent that issue from occurring by providing proper ventilation and a high-quality thermal paste. Unfortunately, Apple often doesn’t offer either, resulting in performance degradation when the Mac is under heavy load.

All 5K iMacs feature a single fan that provides just enough ventilation to prevent overheating. But despite the low-power components, such as a mobile GPU, my 2014 iMac can get quite hot. And when that happens, the fan noise becomes quite noticeable.

It looks like as if Apple hasn't changed the thermal management in the 2019 iMac much, with the exception of maybe a better heat spreader. Considering its more powerful CPU and GPU in the BTO configuration, I expect the new iMac to have the same (if not more) issues getting rid of the heat, and, thus, be as loud or louder than the previous model.
iMac Pro - Thermal Design
iMac Pro – Thermal Design

For the iMac Pro, Apple had to completely rethink its thermal management to accommodate the Intel Xeon CPUs and the workstation-class graphics card. As a result, we now have two fans in the iMac Pro that provide sufficient airflow that virtually prevents thermal throttling.

So far, I have only heard from AppleInsider who managed to get the 8-core iMac Pro to throttle under extreme conditions. In all other test cases I have seen, the CPU of the iMac Pro got as hot as 90 – 95 degrees Celsius without thermally throttling.

Additionally, the iMac Pro runs incredibly quiet, and I have never heard the fans spin up while performing regular work or exporting video footage from Final Cut Pro X. But even under heavy load, the fans are barely louder than 50 decibel, which is just as loud as the sound of a normal conversation at home.

Overall, it’s nice knowing that I could export a video in Final Cut Pro X and have a Skype or FaceTime call using the built-in microphones without being bothered by fan noise.

Fan exhaust and air intake

iMac Pro Thermal Management

Similar to previous iMac models, Apple has placed the hot air exhaust grille right below of where the stand attaches to the iMac Pro’s chassis. The air intake slots, on the other hand, are at the bottom of the screen. So some folks have proposed that the iMac Pro could suck in the hot air that gets reflected from the angled stand and thus make cooling less effective. But from what I have seen so far, the iMac’s fans don’t propel the hot air out with sufficient force to cause the stand to redirect it downward.

Gigabit vs. 10 Gigabit Ethernet

The iMac Pro is one of the first Macs featuring 10 GB Ethernet. Considering that my Internet uplink is limited to 1,000 Mbits, you might wonder why I need a faster network connection.

iMac Pro Ports

The answer is related to my external storage solution. I have a LaCie 5big RAID connected via Thunderbolt 2 that I use to back up essential data. Thunderbolt cables (copper) have a maximum length of approximately 10 feet or 3 meters. That is less than the distance between my desk and the shelf I put the LaCie enclosure on. As a result, I have to use a special, fiber-optics Thunderbolt 2 cable from Corning that has died on me twice already. So I’m looking forward to replacing my current storage solution with a higher-performance Synology* RAID that I would connect via 10Gbit Ethernet to my network.

That’s the only reason why I prefer the faster Ethernet port in the iMac Pro. Alternatively, I could undoubtedly get a Directly Attached Storage (DAS) solution with a Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C port, but that would mean using another fiber-optic Thunderbolt 3 cable.

Thunderbolt 2 vs. Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C

When I purchased the iMac Pro, I wanted to use my old 5K iMac as a secondary monitor in what Apple calls Target Display Mode.

Only later did I find out that Apple has removed support for Target Display Mode, starting with the Late 2014 5K iMac because Thunderbolt 2 doesn’t provide sufficient bandwidth to drive a 5K display.

Despite the available Thunderbolt 3 ports in the latest iMacs, Apple has yet to reenable Target Display Mode. I hope that will change in the future, so one day, I can use my iMac Pro as a secondary 5K display, if I wanted to.

Microphone Performance

To be honest, I expected a better performance out of the iMac Pro’s four microphones. Don’t get me wrong – they work much better than the single microphone in the regular iMacs for Skype, or FaceTime calls, but they are still no match for a dedicated office headset, like the Plantronics Savi 745W or the Jabra Evolve 75e.

Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad & Magic Trackpad

I am a huge fan of the Magic Keyboard and Magic Trackpad option that Apple offers with its iMacs. For the iMac Pro, Apple decided to return to a full-size wireless keyboard with a numeric keypad. I’m convinced many pros appreciate the inclusion of those extra keys as much as I do.

Besides the new keyboard size, the updated input devices match the awe-inspiring Space Gray color of the iMac Pro, and you can charge them with a black USB to Lightning cable.

As much as I love typing on the Magic Keyboard, it took me a few days to get used to the slightly changed key layout. For example, instead of Delete, I kept hitting the FN key on occasion. But that’s just a matter of getting used to the new keyboard.

When I ordered my iMac Pro, I selected the Magic Trackpad instead of the Magic Mouse 2. In my opinion, Apple’s mouse is neither ergonomic nor can you use it while it’s charging because the Lightning port is on the underside of the mouse. I have not used a mouse in years, and I don’t see myself ever switching back from a trackpad with force touch.

Bluetooth Issues & Random Disconnects

With my previous iMac and especially with earlier releases of macOS I have had a lot of issues with my wireless keyboard and trackpad disconnecting due to problems with the Bluetooth chip or drivers. Based on reports from other users, those issues persist in macOS Mojave and also affect the iMac Pro.

I wish Apple had used a BT 5 chip in its latest workstation, which would be less prone to interference. But for some reason, the company use Bluetooth 4.1 for both the iMac Pro and the 2017/2019 iMac.

T2 Security Chip

iMac Pro - T2 Security Chip - iFixit

The T2 is the successor of the T1 chip that Apple introduced with the first-generation 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. At the time of this writing, only the following Mac computers have an Apple T2 Security chip:

  • iMac Pro
  • Mac mini (2018 and later)
  • MacBook Air (2018 and later)
  • MacBook Pro (2018 and later)

Despite its name, the T2 handles much more than security. Apple has managed to consolidate and integrate several other controllers into the T2, including the System Management Controller (SMC), the image signal processor, audio controller, and the SSD controller. The latter enabled Apple to use the two separate Solid State Disks in the iMac Pro in a RAID 0 configuration.

You might also have noticed that the image of the FaceTime camera looks so much better than on other iMacs. That is partly because of the better 1080p sensor, but also because of the new image signaling processor, which is responsible for enhanced tone mapping, improved exposure control, and face-detection-based autoexposure and auto white balance.

Additionally, the T2 includes a Secure Enclave, similar to the one found in the iPhone, that enables encrypted storage and secure boot capabilities. What that means is that the T2 chip practically enforces full-disk-encryption, albeit without a dedicated password.

Much like the 2017 model, the 2019 iMac doesn't have a T2 chip. That is likely because the base model iMac ships with a Fusion Drive and the T2 doesn't support that.

T2 Chip and FileVault

Apple FileVault

Apple says that Macs equipped with a T2 security chip automatically and transparently encrypt all data that the OS writes to the internal SSD. But how is that different from using FileVault, Apple’s legacy full disk encryption (FDE) solution?

The answer is that both can work together. On Macs without a T2, FileVault handles all disk encryption and key management in software. With a T2, the Mac stores the encryption keys inside this chip, which contains an AES-256 engine to perform data encryption and decryption in hardware. The latter is much faster and more secure.

Out of the box, Macs with a T2 encrypt all data written to disk using keys stored in the T2. If you enable FileVault on top of that, the encryption keys get encrypted with your user password, which adds another layer of security.

The only downside of storing the encryption keys in the T2 chip is that if said chip becomes damaged, you lose access to your data if you don’t have a proper backup.

T2 Chip and Secure Boot

The other security feature of the T2 is what the industry calls Secure Boot. In the case of the latest Mac mini, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and iMac Pro that means that, during the boot process, the T2 can validate the boot loader, which in turn validates the firmware, which validates the kernel, which validates the drivers. Practically that ensures that the mentioned components have not been modified, hacked, or infected by a virus.

MacOS Startup Security Utility

Out of the box, Apple ships its T2-enabled Mac with “Full Security” on, but using the Startup Security Utility, you can also choose “Medium Security” or “No Security.”

To launch the Startup Security Utility, you have to boot your Mac into Recovery mode via these steps:

  1. Turn off your Mac
  2. Turn on your Mac and hold Command (⌘)-R until after you see the Apple logo
  3. Once in Recovery mode, choose Utilities > Startup Security Utility from the menu bar
  4. When asked for a password, enter your macOS user password.

Hey Siri

Another cool thing about the T2 Security Chip is that it enables “Hey Siri.” That means I can summon Apple’s digital assistant by saying “Hey Siri” out loud. On a Mac, that’s incredibly useful because I can tell Siri to open a specific folder or launch an application, among many other things.

Usually, if you have more than one Apple device nearby that supports Hey Siri, only the one you are currently using, or the one you used last, responds to your command. Unfortunately, the same “negotiating protocol” that Apple has implemented in HomePod, iPhone and Apple Watch doesn’t work on Macs. In other words, if I have my iPhone nearby, it always responds to my request, even if I’m talking to my iMac Pro.

I contacted Apple Support, and their ridiculous response was to temporarily disable “Hey Siri” when I’m in front of my iMac. Seriously, Apple? The workaround I use, until Apple fixes this undesired behavior, is to put my phone in my pocket when I want to use Siri on my iMac.

Upgradability and Serviceability

I mentioned at the beginning of this article that I wanted an iMac that’s future-proof by being upgradable.

I guess I’ll have to explain because the design of the iMac, in general, severely limits its serviceability and upgradeability. For example, Apple has glued on the screen of every 5K iMac, including the iMac Pro. As a result, you have to glue it back on using adhesive tape if you want to put the screen back on after taking it off to access the internals. That makes newer iMacs very much not user-serviceable.

iMac Pro Teardown - iFixit

With the 2017 5K iMac you can, at least, upgrade the RAM through a hatch on the back of the screen. With the iMac Pro, Apple has removed even that capability because they needed the space for the new fan exhaust system. In other words, you can’t do anything yourself, unless you want to risk voiding the warranty of your expensive, new iMac Pro.

However, that doesn’t mean the iMac Pro is not upgradable. It merely means you’ll have to let Apple or an authorized service provider do it. Specifically, you can theoretically upgrade the following components of the iMac Pro:

  • Memory – up to 128GB of DDR ECC RAM
  • GPU via an eGPU
  • CPU

Apple officially offers RAM upgrades, but you’ll end up paying Apple prices. The Intel Xeon CPU in the iMac Pro is a custom, down-clocked version Intel made for Apple. But the chip is not soldered, and you can theoretically upgrade it. For example, Quinn Nelson from Snazzy Labs has done it if you want to check out the video.

Unfortunately, Apple has soldered the Radeon Vega Pro GPU to the logic board, so you cannot replace it. That’s one of the reasons why I chose the Vega 64 over the Vega 56. However, with macOS High Sierra 10.13.4, Apple has significantly improved support for external GPUs (eGPU) that you can connect via one of the Thunderbolt 3 ports. The latter offers theoretical transfer speeds of up to 40GBs, which is not as fast as PCI Express (PCIe) but good enough for hooking up an external GPU.

If you feel comfortable taking your iMac Pro apart to upgrade it yourself, I’d recommend checking out the teardown and repair guide from iFixit and this video from Linus Tech Tips.

There is one thing that Apple allows you to “upgrade” by yourself: You can replace the iMac Pro stand with a Vesa mount if you’d like to hang the iMac on a wall.

Design & Cool Factor

The iMac Pro looks fantastic, thanks to its Space Gray housing and the matching input devices. Beyond the new color, the slightly different fan exhaust grille on the back, and the additional Thunderbolt 3 ports, the iMac Pro looks exactly like the standard 5K iMac. In other words, Apple hasn’t updated the design since the company introduced the first 5K iMac in 2014.

I wish Apple had offered a screen with smaller bezels and without the massive chin with the Apple logo. I suspect we’ll soon see such a design in the new Pro screen that Apple is working on and that will likely launch with the new, upgradable Mac Pro.

Recommended iMac Pro Accessories

To get the most out of my investment, I decided to accessorize my iMac Pro with the Twelve South HiRise Pro* stand, Burkley Leather Desk Mat, and a Satechi Aluminum Type-C Clamp Hub Pro*.

Twelve South HiRise Pro

Twelve South HiRise Pro

The HiRise Pro by Twelve South is a height-adjustable stand with storage that works with the iMac but, also, other displays.

Without a third-party stand, the screen of the iMac is too low to be ergonomic. When I sit in front of an iMac my eyes are on the same level as the FaceTime camera. The rest of the screen is below my eye level. As a result, I have to look down a lot while working. That strains my neck, and it increases the risk of hunching. While the situation with the iMac is not quite as bad as with a MacBook Pro, it’s severe enough to warrant a height-adjustable stand.

The reason why I like Twelve South’s HiRise Pro so much is because it doubles as storage for little things that would, otherwise, clutter up my desk. Getting access to the hidden storage compartment is as easy as removing the front inlay that is held in place by magnets. The other cool thing about the HiRise Pro is that the front panel that covers the storage compartment is reversible. So you can choose between a space gray aluminum or a walnut finish. Additionally, Twelve South covered the top of the HiRise Pro with leather, which makes it look incredibly slick and elegant.

If you have an iMac or an external display, I highly recommend checking out the HiRise Pro stand.

Burkley Leather Desk Mat

Burkley Leather Desk Mat
Burkley Leather Desk Mat

Burkley, one of my favorite manufacturers of leather accessories, such as iPhone wallet cases and wireless charging pads, recently announced a beautifully crafted desk mat.

Burkley handcrafted the pad from genuine cow leather, and it looks terrific on my desk.

Some folks use leather pads to protect the surface of their desk from scratches and scuffs, but I use it because of how elegant it looks in combination with my iMac Pro.

The cool thing about genuine leather is that it develops its character over time, thanks so small scratches, scuffs, and slight changes in color. It’s called a patina, and it makes each leather product look unique over time.

The desk mat is available in two colors: burnished tan and distressed antique coffee. I got the burnished tan because it matches the interior of my office.

The Burkley Desk Mat is available for $189.00 on burkleycase.com, which is a reasonable price for a pad of that size (41 x 98cm or 16.14in x 35.58in).

Satechi Hub

Satechi Hub on my iMac Pro

Much like previous iMac models, Apple placed all the ports of the iMac Pro on the back of the screen. That makes them a pain in the butt to access. Plus, when you try to plug in a cable, you often end up scratching the aluminum surface around the port.

That’s why I was looking for a solution that would make those ports easier accessible from the front while matching the space gray color of my iMac Pro.

Satechi offers a slick data hub that the company exclusively designed for the 2017 iMac and iMac Pro with Thunderbolt 3 ports. By using the hub, you effectively lose one of your Thunderbolt 3 ports, but in return, you get one front-facing USB-C port (not Thunderbolt 3), three regular USB ports, and Micro/SD card slots.

Most of the peripherals I use are permanently connected, so I don’t need access to those ports very often. The primary exception is the Lightning cable I use to charge my keyboard, trackpad, and AirPods. Thanks to the HiRise Pro, I can hide the Lightning cable inside the stand and only plug it into the Satechi hub when I need it. That keeps my desk clean and organized.

Conclusion: iMac Pro vs. 5K iMac

When launching the iMac Pro, Apple made a step in the right direction by showing its commitment to the pro community who have felt abandoned after the launch of the trashcan Mac Pro in 2013. Since then, many pros in the Apple ecosystem have started using 5K iMacs due to the lack of alternatives and because those machines offered a reasonable performance.

For those, the new iMac Pro is an excellent choice because it delivers the graphics and CPU performance the standard iMac can’t. However, the iMac Pro is still not very user upgradable, which is why some folks might be better off waiting for the entirely new Mac Pro, which is due to launch in 2019.

 Pros
  • Multi-core CPU performance and computing power
  • Workstation-class graphics processors
  • Excellent thermal management
  • Sufficient expansion ports
  • Enhanced security via T2 chip
  • Best-in-class storage performance
 Cons
  • Not user upgradeable
  • Limited GPU choices
  • Incredibly expensive for many users

So is the iMac Pro worth the money for folks like me, who don’t honestly need the multi-core performance Apple’s pro desktop computer delivers? Probably not. In fact, I would likely be just as productive with a traditional, fully spec’d out 5K iMac. However, I decided to go with the iMac Pro anyway because it offers me more room to grow and thus, potentially, improves its longevity. Plus, the purchase gave me a chance to reduce my taxable income.

iMac Pro Upgrade Options

If you are thinking about buying an iMac Pro and have a limited budget, you might have to consider what upgrades to get. In a nutshell, Apple offers the following upgrade options:

  • 8-core CPU upgrade to 10, 14, or 18 cores
  • 32GB Memory upgrade to 64 or 128GB
  • Radeon Pro Vega 56 upgrade to Vega 64
  • 1TB SSD storage upgrade to 2 or 4TB

I decided to upgrade all components to what I consider to be the sweet spot. If you are a videographer who produces tons of footage, don’t bother about upgrading the internal SSD because even 4TB won’t be enough to store all of your footage. Instead, I’d go with the 10-core CPU and the better GPU.

For prosumers like I am, you might not have to upgrade anything and instead, go with the 8-core base model. If and when the need arises, you can always connect external SSDs, add an eGPU and have the Apple Store upgrade your memory. In other words, even the 8-core base model iMac Pro is a beast, and you won’t be disappointed by the performance it delivers!

Have you considered buying an iMac Pro or do you already own one? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts on my iMac Pro review by leaving a comment below.

11 thoughts on “iMac Pro Review and Comparison to the 5K iMac – Upgrade Guide”

  1. Hi Michael,
    Got my 2019 imac. I9, vega pro 48, 40gb ram, 1TB ssd. Geekbench at 6405 single core, 33925 multi core.
    Ran cinebench r15 for an hour and heat was not throttling anything, performance stayed consistent, Got a 1752 average. Fan kicked in after a while but it wasn’t crazy loud like the 2017s are. Almost didn’t notice it.
    Just thought i’d update. Waiting for ifixit to do a teardown to see if there’s a new heat spreader.
    -Mike

    Reply
  2. Great Article sir,
    Two thoughts, 2019 imacs supposedly have a new heat spreader on the cpu, and i’ve heard it works quite well, mine doesn’t arrive until next week, so i don’t have first hand info. Also, you mention the radeon 48 is no natch for the 64, were you able to find benchmarks on it? Because i have been looking since the announcement and can’t even find it used in another system, let alone any numbers. It may not be as cut diwn as the numbrring suggests. Thanks for writing this up!

    Reply
    • Hi Mike,

      Where did you get the info on the new heat spreader from? I just saw the first benchmarks of the CPU but none of the GPU yet. My statement was just based on a SWAG. I’ll update it once I get my hands on real numbers.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
      • Hi Michael,
        Someone who had recieved theirs already was saying it was running fairly cool with no heavy fan activity during cinebench, and that “the new heat spreader seemed to be working great”. Seems like the throttling is limited, and that it always maintains the rated spec, but bounces between 3.7 and 4.9 when it goes to turbo mode in short bursts.
        Saw numbers for video benchmark putting it a little above a geforce 1060.
        Feel like it’s probably a pretty good compromise as the cpu benchmarks are the same as the 8core imac pro, though the video card isn’t close to the 56 or 64. For getting on 2K less, might be a good option for those on a “budget”.

        Reply
  3. I wish someone would post benchmark scores for the newly announced 2019 iMac with the core i9 processor. I could really use a new machine but want T2 and the new iMac doesn’t offer it. I wonder if the newly updated mac mini would be a great option with an 8th generation CPU? Dang, they make this so confusing and I truly wish Apple would stay with USB-C in most all thier devices to eliminate all these adapters. Come on Apple. USB-C in all mac products and even iPhones.

    Reply
  4. Thank you for writing this fabulous article I have the late 2014 5k and was pondering imac pro. Know that 2019 imac is out i am eagerly waiting to hear if the new imac is a noise maker. Looking for improvements, realize doesn’t have Xeon, however would love to hear about noise level of fans. Not sure if new imac has 2 fans but i doubt it. Hopefully you can post before i have to wait for other tear downs from ifixit etc or others. Once again first time tripping on your site. Gerard

    Reply
    • Hi Gerard,

      Thanks for stopping by! Considering the more powerful CPU and GPU options in the 2019 iMac, I suspect it’s going to be even louder – I doubt Apple has improved the thermal system – if so – they would have mentioned it.

      Cheers
      Michael

      Reply
      • So far the new iMac 2019 has proven to not be noisy, even under full load, both with the new Vega 48 and the 580X, WITHOUT throttling… so it seems that Apple has improved the thermal response of the system (I’m sure Intel had something to do with this too), though still using 1 fan.

        Reply
  5. Great review and article. Still waiting for the new iMac, but it takes too long. So I also have too decide. I work mostly with 1080p footage and some 4K with FCPX. Standard pro or the 2017 iMac. 32GB memory should be enough I think.

    Reply

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