Apple says that it still cares about pro Mac users, and to prove it in April the company announced plans to introduce a new iMac Pro by the end of 2017 and a completely redesigned Mac Pro in 2018 or 2019.
Since the April announcement the company has also updated the standard iMac and the MacBook Pro with new components that seem to indicate that it means what it says. Read our review of the 2017 27-inch iMac here, and the 15-inch MacBook Pro here.
If you're a pro looking to upgrade your Mac what is the best option for you, and more importantly, should you update now, or should you wait until the promised new Macs arrive? In this article we will aim to answer that question.
First things first, we’ll take a look at the range of Macs that should fulfil the needs of pro users.
MacBook Pro 15-inch
The MacBook Pro has pro in its name, so does that make it a pro machine? While we don’t think that the 13-inch MacBook Pro deserves to be called Pro, the 15-inch MacBook Pro is a great laptop for pro users, and not surprisingly it is a popular choice.
The 15-inch MacBook Pro has quad-core processors, which are actually better than those in the iMac because they are i7 rather than i5 (we’ll look at the iMac next). Build-to-order options include a 3.1GHz processor and a 2TB SSD.
The 2,880x1,800 resolution display on the 15-inch MacBook Pro is great, but in our opinion it lets down the range slightly because there are 4K displays available on other laptops now. A better display on the MacBook Pro is something pros have been calling out for. They are also asking Apple to offer 32GB RAM on the MacBook Pro, but for now it’s limited to 16GB.
If you need a better screen and more RAM then we’d advise you to look at Apple’s other pro machines, but if you are looking for a fast and powerful portable Mac, and the resolution and RAM aren’t important, you can’t really go wrong with the 15-inch MacBook Pro.
27-inch iMac (2017)
The standard 27-inch iMac may not have Pro in its name, but with quad-core processors, discreet graphic cards, and a high-power processor, it is still a pro machine.
Best of all, the 27-inch iMac offers a 5K Retina display that is capable of showing one billion colours thanks to some clever technology that mimics 10-bit colour.
The iMac’s 5,120x2,880 resolution display really is one of the best 5K displays out there - and it costs a lot less than buying a separate 5K display would (which is definitely a point in the iMac’s favour).
The 27-inch iMac range starts at £1,749. For that you get a 3.4GHz quad-core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, a Radeon Pro 570 graphics card with 4GB video memory, two Thunderbolt ports, and a 1TB Fusion Drive.
You can pay more and get a faster processor and graphics card, and you can max out your 27-inch iMac with up to 64GB RAM and a 4.2GHz quad-core i7 processor as build-to-order options. An iMac with those specs would cost £3,689. Or you could go the whole hog and update the storage too a 2TB SSD for a cool £1,260 bringing the final price to £4,949.
By that point you are in iMac Pro territory, and that’s the next professional Mac we will take a look at.
Apple’s only teased us with the iMac Pro so far, we haven’t even seen a prototype, but we do know a fair bit about the promised machine.
Like the iMac, the iMac Pro will have a 5K Retina display. As far as we know the display will be identical to the one on the 27-inch iMac, no extra pixels or special technologies here, as far as we know.
The iMac Pro will get some very pro components to justify it’s pro name. These will include workstation class Xeon processors with up to 18-cores, rather than the paltry four cores offered by the lower iMac. These processors will top out at 4.5GHz, according to Apple.
You’ll also find the as yet not available AMD Radeon Pro Vega GPU inside the iMac Pro. This will apparently be AMD’s best graphics card for five years.
The iMac Pro will offer twice as many Thunderbolt ports as the iMac (four, as opposed to two), and it will offer 10GB Ethernet, rather than 1GB Ethernet.
RAM-wise, the iMac Pro will be able to support 128GB RAM, while the standard iMac maxes out at 64GB. So if you need that kind of RAM (or you can see a time in the future when you will) then you can get it here.
As for storage, you will be able to get a 4TB SSD as a build-to-order option with the iMac Pro, with the iMac offering just 2TB.
All these components will come at a high price though. Apple says that the price of the iMac Pro will start around $5,000. And if you add the extras on to that price you are probably looking at a mortgage level outlay.
The main thing working against the iMac Pro is the fact that it isn’t here yet. Do we know enough about the iMac Pro to hold off buying a new Mac just in case it turns out to offer everything we need? Our advice would be that if a current iMac offers what you need now, and what you think you will need a few years from now, you can safely go ahead with the purchase.
If you need a workstation level processor and the best graphics you can get your hands on though, it may well be worth waiting a few more months… That said, there is another Mac in the works that should top the iMac Pro. We’ll move onto that one next.
Mac Pro (2018)
The Mac Pro is a bit of a difficult one right now. Apple’s admitted that the current Mac Pro has been a bit of a disaster. Well Apple didn’t use those words, but if you consider the fact that the current design of the Mac Pro means that Apple can’t upgrade it with new components, as a result of which it’s been left to stagnate since it launched in 2013, a bit of a disaster, then we will agree with you.
With that in mind we definitely do not recommend the current Mac Pro as a good buy if you are a professional Mac user. The only reason to buy one right now is if you are producing audio, because the one thing in favour of the Mac Pro is the fact that it is completely silent in operation.
As for whether you should wait until the new Mac Pro launches, if your need for a new Mac is urgent this definitely isn’t the solution for you. Apple hasn’t exactly put a time frame on when the new Mac Pro will arrive, other than to say it won’t be in 2017. There are hopes that we could see the new Mac Pro at WWDC in 2018, but the new model may not arrive until 2019. By which point the current Mac Pro will be six years old, shame on you Apple!
We don’t know much about this new Mac Pro, although that hasn’t stopped us speculating here. We expect that like the iMac Pro RAM will max out at 128GB, there will be an impressive Xeon processor inside, and up to 4TB flash memory.
You can be sure that there will be some truly pro features in the Mac Pro that you won’t find in the iMac Pro, but we don’t know what they are yet.
One thing that we are hoping for is that the new Mac Pro will be much more upgradable and this may well be what sets it apart from the iMac Pro, which although more upgradable than it has been in the past, will likely still have limitations. Apple has promised that the new Mac Pro will be modular, so we are hoping for a return of the upgradability of the previous generation Mac Pro.
Being able to add new graphics cards and the latest processor down the line is something that Mac professionals have been crying out for since Apple released its current Mac Pro and discontinued the cheese-grater style Mac Pro. Many of the users turned away from the Mac or created their own Hackintoshes so that they could run macOS on the latest equipment. If Apple has been listening, as it says it has, the new Mac Pro should answer the prayers of this group of users.
So in conclusion, which pro Mac should you buy? Or should you wait a few more months for Apple to introduce the iMac Pro, or even longer for the Mac Pro.
Obviously it depends on your needs. If you need a portable, the MacBook Pro is your only option. We’d recommend that you spec it up beyond what you think you need now because that will future proof it for a few more years. The RAM situation is unfortunate, but unlikely to be rectified this year.
The standard iMac is a good option, especially thanks to its 5K display. There are plenty of build-to-order options that should allow you to build a really powerful Mac that you can have right now, rather than later this year.
If you need your iMac to have workstation power and a graphics card to match, then the iMac Pro, when it arrives later this year, should answer your needs. But expect a high price if you really want to spec it to the max.
If you need a Mac that will be upgradable in the future, as well as having the ultimate specs now it doesn’t exist… yet. But when the Mac Pro launches we are hopeful that it will offer just that. So if that’s what you need, then you need to wait a little while longer.