Considering the (Future) Mac Pro’s Role in the iMac Pro World 

While it isn’t shipping for another couple of weeks we now know a lot more about the iMac Pro than we did after WWDC. The base model, with its 8 cores, 32 GB of RAM and the Radeon Pro Vega 56 is going to smoke any other Mac on the market easily. The high-end models, which aren’t shipping until early next year, will give macOS-using professionals more power than ever.

That power comes at a cost, of course. A 14-core machine with 128 GB RAM the Radeon Pro Vega 64 will run you $13,199. If you want a VESA mount, toss in another $75, while another $149 will get you the mouse and the trackpad, both in Space Gray.

With this much power and this high of a price tag, I can’t help but wonder what ground is left for the next-generation Mac Pro promised back in April of this year.

Apple mentioned this machine in the press release announcing iMac Pro orders being opened:

In addition to the new iMac Pro, Apple is working on a completely redesigned, next-generation Mac Pro architected for pro customers who need the highest performance, high-throughput system in a modular, upgradeable design, as well as a new high-end pro display.

Does the iMac Pro fill the space left by the Mac Pro? What legs will the next Mac Pro have to stand on?

Cost

Before we get to the new Mac Pro, let’s talk about the last one that was good.

In December 2012, a fully loaded Cheese Grater Mac Pro would have run $11,299 with the following specs:

  • Two 3.06 GHz 6-Core Intel Xeon (12 cores)
  • 64 GB of RAM
  • Four 512 GB SSDs
  • ATI Radeon HD 5870 1GB GPU
  • 2 SuperDrives

That was without a display. At the time, Apple’s 27-inch LED Cinema Display cost $999.

This puts the iMac Pro in the old Mac Pro’s price bracket at the higher end of things. However, the Late 2012 Mac Pro started at just $2,499.

A fully-loaded iMac would run you $4,249 in December 2012. The Mac Pro’s low cost of entry made the choice between an all-in-one and a tower much harder than it may be in the future, and made the best Mac made accessible to many more users than the new iMac Pro.

More importantly, the 2012 Mac Pro started at exactly half of what the entry-level iMac Pro costs today. Of course, the iMac Pro includes a killer display and packs a lot more horsepower than the low-end Mid 2012 Mac Pro did, but the point stands: the iMac Pro is expensive, and the only thing upgradable in it is the RAM, and that means taking apart a very expensive computer. For most people, the iMac Pro is a sealed box.

Upgradability

Apple has already said the next Mac Pro will be both “modular” and “upgradeable,” so I am choosing to be optimistic that the machine will allow users to upgrade things like RAM, SSDs and GPUs over time. This will set the machine apart from the all-in-one iMac Pro, and may prove attractive for users who want to buy a machine and upgrade it over time, keeping it as relevant as they can for as long as possible.

That’s a big deal to a small number of users, but is upgradability enough to justify its existence?

Performance

The next Mac Pro will be in some form factor other than an all-in-one. Apple is promising a new external display, but it’s anyone’s guess as to how big the new Mac Pro will be, or what shape it may take. Whatever the chassis may be like, I trust that it will give Apple enough space and flexibility to provide a robust cooling system. The Cheese Grater looked the way it did because the PowerMac G5 needed massive amounts of airflow to keep things cool:

In comparison, it’s shocking the Xeon W chips in the iMac Pro have enough room to breathe. However, there’s a catch. It’s widely believed that the internals of the iMac Pro are underclocked to meet the 500 W of heat the computer’s thin design can take. The moment Apple decided to use the 27-inch iMac design for this computer, it was compromised.

A true Mac Pro should not have to compromise on clock speed to meet a design-imposed thermal envelope. The form factor should be able to take the heat of even faster CPUs and GPUs than the iMac Pro, making it faster and even more capable than our new Space Gray friend.

Looking Forward

I think the Mac Pro will sit where it always has in relation to the rest of the Mac line: at the very top, offering more power and more performance than any other computer Apple makes. The iMac Pro has greatly raised the bar, but I still think Apple can clear it with a new machine, built from the ground up for today’s high-end components.

We should be prepared to accept the truth that when the Mac Pro is revealed, it will be faster, more flexible and more expensive than the iMac Pros that many developers, designers and content producers are ordering now.

However, I would love to be surprised by Apple with a lower-cost entry model, like the company used to have for people who needed a tower without having $5,000 to spend. I think there’s room for an entry-level Mac Pro with the comparable specs to the iMac Pro. Without a built-in screen, the cost could come down noticeably, and since it’d be upgradable, it could be a way to sell the Mac Pro to more users.

That’d be good for everybody. The Mac Pro wasn’t selling in big numbers before all of this, and the iMac Pro is going to eat most of that market, by the sheer fact that it made it to market first. The high-end Mac Pro should be crazy expensive, but a more approachable entry model would be more than welcome in my estimation. The iMac straddles an incredible range of performance and cost; why can’t the Mac Pro?