The iMac has a special place in Apple's history. Launched in August 1998, barely a year into Steve Jobs' second stint as CEO, the colourful all-in-one managed to stand out in a PC market that was - and many would say continues to be - dominated by “un-innovative beige boxes”. With its Bondi Blue colour, transparent finish, and an all-in-one design that was a throwback to the days of the original Macintosh, the iMac was arguably the first mainstream computer you'd actually want to show off in your living room, instead of hiding it away under a desk.
The success of the iMac - incidentally the first Apple product that carried the ‘i’ moniker that’s now synonymous with the company - marked the beginning of what many have dubbed the biggest turnaround in corporate history. The iMac helped Apple return to profit, paving the way for the development of new products like the iPod, which eventually turned out to be a cultural phenomenon that put Apple firmly back on the map. So, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the Bondi Blue iMac was the first step in Apple's journey from underdog to the nearly-trillion-dollar behemoth that we see today.
Over the years, the iMac has evolved quite a bit, even if the general idea has remained the same. The iMac G4 - successor to the original iMac that came to be known as the iMac G3 - was the first to feature a flat panel display, and successive models introduced a front camera, an aluminium body, and a unibody design, before leading us to the slim unibody design of today’s iMac and iMac Pro.
With the Mac Mini relegated to the status of a hobby, and the Mac Pro not having seen a significant update since launch (that will change, but it’s a topic for another day), the iMac represents the future of desktop computing, the way Apple sees it, and the iMac Pro is its first attempt at shipping a workstation-grade machine in this form factor. How does it perform in the real world? We’ve been testing this machine for a couple of weeks, and we are now ready to share our experiences.
iMac Pro design
The iMac Pro sports the same dimensions as the 27-inch iMac, but it comes in a striking new Space Grey finish that helps set it apart from its sibling. The bundled Apple Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse 2 sport the same finish, which seems like a better fit for Indian conditions where the silver keyboard and mouse that are bundled with the regular iMac start showing signs of dust accumulation in no time.
Note that while Apple lets you choose either the Magic Trackpad and the Magic Mouse 2 - or both - while ordering the iMac Pro in other markets, you only get the mouse as part of the retail package in India. At launch, Space Grey accessories weren’t available separately, so that effectively meant you couldn’t get the Space Grey trackpad in India. But all that’s changed now, and you can buy Space Grey Magic Trackpad (Rs. 12,200), Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad (Rs. 12,200), and Magic Mouse 2 (Rs. 8,300). Like in other markets, these prices are a slight premium over their silver counterparts.
Unlike the ‘regular’ iMac, the keyboard that ships with the iMac Pro has a numeric keypad and Home/End/Page Up/Page Down keys in a layout that will be familiar to most old-school PC/ Mac users. You even get full-sized up/ down arrow keys, fixing a gripe many have with the layout of the Apple wireless keyboard. Interestingly, the keyboard still has a physical eject key, even though Apple hasn’t shipped a Mac desktop with a built-in optical drive since 2013, though it does still sell a USB SuperDrive.
If you are used to a more traditional mouse, the Magic Mouse 2, just like its predecessor, takes some getting used to. While we like the fact that it supports multi-touch gestures, we aren’t fans of its ergonomics and wish it was a bit taller. The most glaring fault of the mouse, however, is something that has been a subject of a lot of memes.
Both the Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse 2 have Lightning ports that can be used to recharge them. While the keyboard has the port where you’d expect it, the Lightning port on the mouse is at the bottom, which means it cannot be used while it’s being recharged.
At least both of them can last really long on a single charge - we noticed that they lost only around 5 percent charge each in a week when the computer was used actively for around 40 hours - so you wouldn’t be facing this issue very often, but it’s ridiculous that someone at Apple deemed this to be an acceptable design. On the positive side, Apple bundles a black Lightning cable with the iMac Pro, so you won’t have to stare at a white cable while you look at the mouse lying belly up while it’s being charged.
Like all other iMacs, the iMac Pro has all its ports at the back, which can be a bit inconvenient if you are looking to plug in a pen drive in a hurry. You have the option of fumbling around with the drive at the back while trying to find the port and risk scratching your precious, or have to physically move the iMac towards you to actually see where you are going, which can get annoying if you do this multiple times a day.
iMac Pro specifications and features
While on the subject of ports, the iMac Pro has a couple of improvements over the regular 27-inch iMac - it has two extra Thunderbolt 3 (USB Type-C) ports and support for 10Gb Ethernet instead of Gigabit Ethernet. This means you get a total of four USB 3 ports, four Thunderbolt 3 ports - with support for speeds up to 40Gbps, USB 3.1 Gen. 2 (up to 10Gbps), and DisplayPort 1.2 - in addition to the Ethernet port, a SD card slot, and, yes, a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The iMac Pro is the second Mac to come with Apple-designed custom silicon, after the MacBook Pro. Apple says the T2 chip combines “several controllers found in other Mac systems — like the system management controller, image signal processor, audio controller, and SSD controller”. If all goes well - and in our time spent with the iMac Pro we didn’t see any signs that’d suggest otherwise - this move should be completely transparent to users.
What has changed from the perspective of users is the introduction of secure boot, which places some restrictions on the kind of media you can boot your iMac Pro from, though an average user is unlikely to run into these scenarios. Apple does claim that T2’s image signal processor delivers some FaceTime-related improvements, though given the number of variables in a typical video call, it’s really hard to tell the difference.
There are 8-, 10-, 14-, and 18-core iMac Pro options for you to choose from in other regions, but only the base configuration of the computer has made its way to India so far. This is because instead of multiple off-the-shelf configurations for you to choose from, there’s only one standard iMac Pro SKU, and any changes are on a made-to-order basis, a facility not available in India. Having said that, certain Apple-authorised resellers can import custom configurations on request.
Graphics are entrusted to the AMD Radeon Pro Vega 56 GPU, which packs 8GB of HBM2 memory. We’ve covered AMD’s Vega lineup in detail elsewhere on this site, so we will stick to talking about its performance inside the iMac Pro later in this review. The iMac Pro has 32GB of 2666MHz DDR4 ECC RAM and a quad-channel memory controller as well as a 1TB SSD for storage as standard. Again, if you want more RAM or internal storage, you are out of luck, as those configurations are not readily available in India.
This is especially disappointing since unlike the 27-inch iMac, RAM on the iMac Pro is not user upgradeable. In other regions, Apple does let you take your iMac Pro to an authorised partner to upgrade the RAM and/ or storage at a later stage, but users in India won’t have that option. So, in other words, there’s just one iMac Pro configuration available for purchase in India, and you are stuck with it for life.
You get an 8-core 3.2GHz Intel Xeon W CPU with Turbo Boost up to 4.2GHz and a 19MB cache. The Xeon family of processors - which is designed for use in professional workstations and servers - has been the staple of the Mac Pro line ever since Apple made the switch to Intel, but this is the first time we’ve seen it insider another Apple machine.
The Xeon family is characterised by its higher core count, support for ECC RAM, and larger caches, but typically the chips have lower clock speeds compared to their consumer-grade counterparts. This makes Xeon-based systems great for tasks that require a degree of parallelism, but for most day-to-day applications that aren’t optimised to use all available cores, they can actually be slower than machines powered by cheaper processors.
iMac Pro performance
Benchmarks and real-world tests confirmed this when we put the entry-level iMac Pro head to head against the top-of-the line* consumer-grade 2017 27-inch iMac with a 4.2GHz quad-core seventh-generation Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz), 64GB of 24000MHz DDR4 RAM, a 2TB SSD, and Radeon Pro 580 graphics with 8GB of video memory.
The iMac Pro (30,992) scored more than 50 percent higher than the iMac (20,279) in Geekbench’s multi-core test, but had a single-core score of just 5,137, compared to 5,805 on the iMac. Similarly, in browser-based tests like WebXPRT 3, the iMac (268) outperformed its Pro sibling (244), albeit the gap was much narrower.
Apps that have been updated to spawn multiple threads to utilise the available CPU cores effectively (predictably) shined on the iMac Pro. In Final Cut Pro, for example, performing “Export to Master” for a 9.5-minute 4K project with some amount of transitions and effects took 7 minutes and 8 seconds on the iMac, but 5 minutes and 45 seconds on the iMac Pro. Converting a 5-minute 3.67GB 4K H.264 video file to a 264MB 1080p H.265 MKV file took 15 minutes and 20 seconds with the iMac; a task the iMac Pro managed in just 9 minutes and 17 seconds.
We then fired up 3D graphics app Blender and loaded up the popular BMW benchmark, with the first test set to use only the CPUs in the respective machines. The iMac Pro took 4:03 minutes to finish rendering, as opposed to 7:12 minutes on the 27-inch iMac. With the GPU-only option, the 27-inch iMac took 8 minutes and 57 seconds, with the iMac Pro being 67 seconds quicker.
We then loaded a much larger project - the Blender Production Benchmark - and that’s when the iMac Pro really came into its own, taking 32:14 minutes to finish rendering, which may sound like a lot, but that's until you find out the 27-inch iMac took 57:30 minutes to complete the job.
But remember that while an app could’ve been updated to utilise multiple cores for some tasks, there could well be other tasks that cannot be parallelised, which means the resultant performance could still be slower on a machine with a lower clock speed. Using Final Cut Pro’s “Export to Apple TV 4K” option for the same project as earlier took 7 minutes and 8 seconds on the iMac Pro, while the iMac managed to complete the task 83 seconds quicker.
Blackmagic Disk Speed Test reports read and write speeds of 2,484Mbps and 2,944Mbps respectively for the iMac Pro’s built-in SSD, compared to scores of 2,540Mbps and 2,064Mbps respectively on the 27-inch iMac. The iMac Pro also comes with enhanced stereo speakers that can get fairly loud without any degradation in sound quality.
Macs aren’t known for their gaming prowess, but given the iMac Pro has Radeon Pro Vega 56 graphics, we were keen to test its capabilities. We launched Tomb Raider, a relatively old game, and, as expected, both the iMac Pro and the 27-inch iMac handled everything pretty easily under default settings (full-HD resolution). The iMac Pro reported an average of 154.6 frames per second (fps), reaching a high of 182.9 in certain scenes, but dropping down to 85.7fps on occasions. The 27-inch iMac hit a peak of 132fps, with a low of 78fps, averaging out at 115.9fps.
When we cranked up the resolution to the native 5120x2880 on both machines, the iMac Pro reported minimum/ maximum/ average of 24.6/ 38.2/ 33.5 frames per second respectively, compared to 15.9/ 24.8/ 20.9 fps on the 27-inch iMac.
Gaming benchmarks like Unigine Heaven 4.0 reported similar results, with the iMac Pro comfortably outperforming the iMac (see screenshots below) with quality set to Ultra and resolution set to the maximum available value.
We then moved on to Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, a relatively new game, to give the iMac Pro a real test. While running at the default full-HD resolution and using the High quality settings present, the iMac Pro clocked minimum/ maximum/ average of 54.2/ 92.2/ 69.6 frames per second, making the game more than playable. The 27-inch iMac recorded 38.1/ 63.7/ 47.4 fps under similar conditions, which is just about an acceptable experience, though nowhere near consistent 60 frames per second that gamers love.
Pumping up the resolution to the native 5120x2880 made the game unplayable on both machines, with the iMac Pro reporting 12.7/ 19.9/ 15.4 fps, while the 27-inch iMac dipped to 7.8fps in certain scenes, with an average of 9.3fps. Lowering down to 4K showed some improvements, but it wasn’t until we dropped down to 1620p that the iMac Pro managed to stay above 30fps - the bar for minimum acceptable performance - at all times. The 27-inch iMac couldn’t stay above 25fps even at 1440p.
Note that Deus Ex: Mankind Divided pushes the latest hardware even in the PC world, so the results are pretty much in line with what we expected.
You’ll be foolish to buy the iMac Pro as a gaming machine - you can get much better value elsewhere with hardware that’s more optimised for the task - but if it’s the occasional gaming session that you desire, the iMac Pro won’t let you down.
One thing that really impressive is throughout our time with the iMac Pro was how silent the machine is at nearly all times. Other than when running Deus Ex, we didn’t hear the fans kick in at any other time, even though we were running the tests in a silent room with practically no background noise.
Even while playing Deus Ex, we noticed the fan noise only after muting the iMac. Contrast this with the 27-inch iMac, where the fans kicked in during practically every test that we ran, and were louder than the ones on the iMac Pro. In a typical Indian office or home where we take the background noise of a fan or air conditioner for granted, you are unlikely to hear the iMac Pro purring.
With all this power under the hood, it’s no surprise that we almost forgot to talk about the gorgeous display on the iMac Pro. It’s the same panel that ships on the 27-inch 5K iMac, and it’s really a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. With support for wide colour (P3) gamut, brightness up to 500 nits, and excellent viewing angles, this panel continues to be the best in its class.
The iMac Pro represents an interpretation of the term ‘Pro Mac’ in line with the modern Apple that’s been all-in on all-in-one design. What you lose in terms of upgradeability is offset by a clutter-free design and the stunning integrated 5K display. It’s clear that for Apple, the ‘Pro’ stands for workstation-grade components, and not some of the other things that people had come to associate with the tower-based Mac Pro.
If the iMac Pro was Apple’s only vision of workstation-level computing, it could’ve been a problem given the trade-offs the all-in-one form factor involves. However, with a “modular” Mac Pro on its way, it’ll be one of at least two options available to consumers, and those who prefer an integrated solution can opt for the iMac Pro. The next Mac Pro hasn’t been unveiled yet so it’s hard to say what it will offer, but one hopes the “modular” design that Apple has promised comes with future-readiness that tower-like PCs offer.
For now, if you are looking to buy a workstation-grade Apple computer, the iMac Pro is your only option. It costs Rs. 4,15,000 in India, which might sound like a lot, but it’s pretty much in line with the specifications on offer, including the 5K display, which can sometimes be forgotten when comparing configurations.
For the price, you get great multi-core performance, a stunning display, and a machine that’s exceptionally quiet at most times, all while rocking the new Space Grey look.
However, the iMac Pro is obviously not for everyone. Unless you perform very specific tasks - like video editing, intensive/ 3D graphics processing, transcoding audio/ video, or anything else that can rev up a majority of the cores on offer - you are better off sticking to the ‘regular’ iMac, which is available at a price that’s a lot more accessible.
With that said, it’s disappointing that we are restricted to just eight cores/ 32GB RAM/ 1TB SSD when buying an iMac Pro in India. The absence of aftermarket upgrades only makes it worse - and don’t even get us started on that mouse.
Price (MRP): Rs. 4,15,000
Brilliant 5K display
Great multi-core performance
Single-core performance worse than regular iMac
RAM not user-upgradeable
Only base configuration available in India
Magic Mouse 2’s ergonomics and charging port placement
Ratings (out of 5)
Value for Money: 4
* Note that the top-of-line 27-inch 'regular' iMac configuration we pitted head-to-head against the iMac Pro is not readily available via Apple retailers in India, though some can arrange to have a unit imported on order at Rs. 3,99,999.