Having promised that a professional-grade iMac was on the way back at a briefing in April 2017, Apple has given us a first look at the new iMac Pro, a Space Grey beast of a machine, and promised that it will arrive in December 2017.
In this article we gather all the information available about this powerful new machine, from its clever cooling design and impressive tech specs to its UK price and release date. We've got the latest on just how fast the new processors are expected to be, apparent confirmation that the iMac Pro will offer always-on Hey Siri. Plus: Google has suddenly decided the iMac Pro is launching on 18 Dec... but we think it's got its wires crossed. In fact we think the 18 December is too late and that Apple has to launch the iMac Pro by 15 December or everyone will have gone home for Christmas!
Read on to find out more!
iMac Pro release date
The iMac Pro is scheduled to ship in December 2017; Apple hasn't been any more specific than that, but we'll let you know when we hear more.
You may have seen the date 18 December reported on a few rival sites, but we'd take that with a pinch of salt. To be fair this is a plausible guess - it's the last week before Christmas, and could be the last chance the company has to launch this year - but we haven't seen a reputable source or any evidence for this claim.
In fact, we suspect this rumour started because Google's search spiders crawled Apple's site and saw the words "December" and "18 cores" next to each other, and jumped to conclusions. Here's what Google's widget returned on the search query "imac pro release date" on 21 November (by 11 December Google no longer returns that result):
18 December may be a red herring, but we are expecting Apple to make an announcement about the iMac Pro any day now. 18 November, is still feasible, as that would allow Apple exactly a week before Christmas Day, but we think that Apple would be wise to make an announcement about the iMac Pro sooner than that date because otherwise it will hit the quiet holiday period as reporters wind down for the year, and coverage will be limited. For that reason we expect an announcement at some point in the week of 11 December.
Even if the announcement happens before 18 December, the machine may still not ship this side of Christmas. When the current generation Mac Pro was launched availability was so limited that shipping slipped to January and in some cases February and beyond. We're still optimistic, though. Apple has pushed back the launch of the HomePod to 2018, and it seems like then would have been the moment to admit if the same thing was going to happen to the iMac Pro.
How much will the iMac Pro cost?
The iMac Pro starts at $4,999/£4,999. That may sound a lot (and is!), but Apple claims that if you built a PC equivalent it would cost $7,000 - and that's without the display.
Another price comparison that's a little closer to home: if you add all the build-to-order options to the top-of-the-range 27in standard iMac it tops out at £4,949... In this case, you might prefer to wait for the new machine to launch.
But, of course, it's important to remember that the £4,949 figure is just a starting price. ZDNet has estimated that a full-spec build-to-order iMac Pro with an 18-core CPU, 128GB RAM, 4TB SSD and Radeon Pro Vega graphics with 16GB HBM2 memory could cost more than £17,000!
What has Apple revealed about the iMac Pro?
Back in April 2017, talking to a small group of journalists, Apple VPs Phil Schiller, Craig Federighi and John Ternus acknowledged that the Mac Pro in its current form hadn't been meeting the needs of many pro users, and revealed that the company planned to update the iMac to suit them.
"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," Federighi said.
Apple gave us our first peek at this new professional-grade iMac at WWDC in June 2017. At WWDC the iMac Pro appeared alongside updates to the rest of the iMac range. (If you want to find out more about the new 21-inch iMac, our review of that model is here: 21-5inch 2017 iMac review; and if you want to find out more about the 27-inch iMac, our review of that model is here: 27-inch 2017 iMac review.)
At WWDC Apple revealed that the new iMac Pro will offer the following specs:
- 18-core Xeon processor with up to 42MB cache
- Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz
- 128GB RAM (DDR4 ECC)
- 4TBGB SSD
- AMD Radeon Pro Vega GPU
- From £4,949
Apple has also given Final Cut Pro users a look at the new iMac Pro. The company showcased the new Mac at the Final Cut Pro X Creative Summit in October 2017.
The iMac Pro units were used to demonstrate new features coming in Final Cut Pro X 10.4, such as 360-degree VR. Final Cut Pro X 10.4 is likely to launch alongside the iMac Pro in December.
Attendees at the FCP conference shared photos on Twitter of the iMac Pro:
Below we will look in detail at what Apple has revealed about the iMac Pro, as well as some of the expectations for the new machine.
iMac Pro design
The new iMac Pro, when it arrives, will have a new, darker look, shrouded in a Space Grey case.
But it's not just the outward appearance that's changed: on the inside, Apple has had to completely rethink the thermal architecture in order to house the new components. The result is a new fan system that offers a claimed 80 percent increase in cooling capacity. Apple says the new system "allows for upgraded internals without making more noise".
A company spokesperson added: "We reengineered the whole system and designed an entirely new thermal architecture to pack extraordinary performance into the elegant, quiet iMac enclosure our customers love. iMac Pro is a huge step forward and there's never been anything like it."
When Apple showed off some iMac Pro units at the Final Cut Pro X Creative Summit it was possible to get a closer look at the back of the screen, which reveals a lot about the new pro Mac, such as the fact that it won't be easy to user upgrade the RAM as there is no RAM door.
iMac Pro tech specs
Let's take a look under the hood. Here are the anticipated (some of which are confirmed) tech specs of the 2017 iMac Pro.
Display - 5K, but not a touchscreen
The 27in iMac Pro will offer the same 5,120x2,880 resolution 5K Retina display as its non-Pro cousin. That means 500 nits brightness and P3 wide color, as well as 10-bit colour support.
As for whether the iMac display will double up as a touchscreen, the answer is no.
Back at the April briefing, Phil Schiller was asked about whether Apple would consider adding a touchscreen display to the iMac. His response was simple: "No". His colleague Craig Federighi suggested that the iPad Pro offers a far better drawing experience.
Could Apple be planning to increase the pixels of the new iMac Pro display? Or could the new iMac Pro be available in a size larger than 27-inch? We think that there could be a market for either option.
The company has revealed that it is intending to launch a new display to sell alongside it's Mac Pro, this new display could be even better than the Retina displays on the iMac, perhaps even offering 8K. Read more about the new Apple Display here.
Apple has revealed that the new iMac Pro will ship with 8-, 10- or 18-core Xeon processors making it the "most powerful Mac ever made". Apple describes this as "workstation-class performance", noting the 22 teraflops of GPU performance, fast storage and Advanced I/O.
Xeon chips are better suited to applications involving complex data - such as large, multi-layered Photoshop files, 4K video or 3D scenes with huge textures - as they are generally more robust and reliable than Core chips.
During the keynote Apple talked often of machine learning and other high performance uses, in a bid to emphasise the pro nature of this machine.
The big question is which Xeon processors will Apple be using in the new iMac Pro.
Benchmarks for the soon to launch iMac Pro have appeared, according to reports in late October 2017. Those benchmarks relate to the 3.2GHz 8-core Xeon W-2140B and the 3.0GHz 10-core Xeon W-2150B chip.
The Xeon chips that appear to be being used in the new professional 10-core iMac offer a Multi-Core Score of 35917 in Geekbench 4.1. The single-core score is 5345. This score is faster than the current 12-core Mac Pro.
The 8-core iMac Pro's average Multi-Core score was 23536 (assuming those processors benchmarked are indeed those of the new iMacs). The 18-core iMac Pro hadn't been benchmarked.
This compares to our tests of the 3.4GHz 27in iMac which scores 14017 in Multi-Core and 4833 in Single-Core, while the 2.9GHz quad-core i7 15in MacBook Pro scored 15731 in Multi-Core and 4739 in Single-Core.
Apparently these first benchmarks do not match Intel’s existing Xeon lineup. It is thought that this indicates that these chips will be custom built - perhaps to offer a lower thermal design, according to Geekbench founder John Poole speaking to MacRumours.
Apple hasn't actually confirmed the exact processor that it'll be using in the iMac Pro, but it had been thought that it'll boast Intel's Xeon Purley processors based on Skylake architecture, as per this Pike's Universum article from June 2017.
Pikes Universum found the information within the macOS High Sierra developer beta. Firmware files within the beta reference Intel's server-class LGA3647 socket. The 3647 socket is the one used by the Purley chips. However, the iMac Pro appears to offer just four memory modules, suggesting that it won't be this server class processor
However, in November 2017 rumours started appearing that suggested the Xeon chips could be from the newer 'Basin Falls' range. Apparently source code in the MacOS High Sierra developer beta lists both the 'Basin Falls' and 'Purley' code-names.
And Basin Falls uses Socket R (or Socket R4), which is a LGA2066 socket.
Another clue came in July, when Intel revealed details of 50 Xeon chips. However, those chips don't match the specs Apple revealed in the WWDC keynote, nor do they match the processors benchmarked above (the 3.2GHz 8-core Xeon W-2140B and the 3.0GHz 10-core Xeon W-2150B chip).
Apple said that the iMac Pro would offer 18-cores and run to 4.5GHz with Turbo Boost but the most powerful Purley chip revealed by Intel maxes out at 4.2GBz with Turbo Boost, according to Mac Rumours.
The most likely explanation is that Intel hasn't yet announced the relevant Purley chips yet. Another possibility is that Apple will use the next generation of Xeon chips in the iMac Pro. Cascade Lake is set to follow Purley, but it's not expected until 2018, which might mean Apple would miss it's deadline of 2017.
Reports also suggests that the iMac Pro will have Secure Enclave, which means it could have an ARM coprocessor for additional security like the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar already has. In theory, the security aspects of this would allow the addition of Touch ID capabilities for the iMac Pro, using a (so far unannounced) peripheral accessory, but that's pure speculation at this point.
In addition to a Xeon chip, it is rumoured that the iMac Pro will also feature an A10 Fusion chip - like that found in the iPhone 7.
This looks like the iMac Pro's coprocessor (Bridge2,1) will be an A10 Fusion chip with 512MB RAM ? So first Mac with an A-series chip— Steve Troughton-Smith (@stroughtonsmith) 18 November 2017
It is thought that this A10 chip could be used to handle macOS boot and security processes as well as powering an always-on Hey Siri feature.
Siri is standard on Macs, but rumours suggest the iMac Pro will take this one step further and offer Hey Siri. This means the machine will always be listening out for the trigger phrase, and is not a trivial feature to include. (Hey Siri's demands on battery life, for example, are well known. For some time Apple only allowed Hey Siri to work on iPhones and iPads that were plugged into a power source.)
Confirmed: "Hey, Siri" is coming to the Mac pic.twitter.com/Dw9bRAzbxD— Guilherme Rambo (@_inside) November 18, 2017
The iMac Pro will offer 32GB ECC memory as standard, but will be configurable to 64GB or 128GB, according to Apple.
This is the first time Apple will use EEC memory. EEC memory will protect against memory data corruption, which should minimise crashes and data loss. However, EEC memory is very expensive, and, as we mention above, the back of the iMac Pro display has no RAM access slot so it may be the case that the RAM is not user-replaceable.
The iMac Pro will offer a 1TB SSD as standard, but is configurable to up to 4TB SSD.
The SSD will be capable of transfer speeds of 3GB/s.
The iMac Pro will offer "advanced graphics editing", according to Apple, mentioning such uses as virtual reality content creation and real-time 3D rendering. Apple's Final Cut Pro X is also likely to benefit from the fast GPU.
The iMac Pro will use the Radeon Pro Vega 64 and Radeon Pro Vega 56 graphics cards and will offer up to 16GB on-package high-bandwidth memory. This will be the most advanced graphics ever in a Mac and it will deliver up to an 11 teraflops of single-precision compute power for real-time 3D rendering and immersive, high-framerate VR, says Apple.
In comparison, the top-of-the-range 27in iMac offers 8GB video memory with the Radeon Pro 580.
AMD is already rolling out some of its Radeon Vega graphics cards - so far the two cards have been released for the desktop PC gaming market – the Radeon RX Vega 64, and the Radeon RX Vega 56. The Radeon RX Vega 64 offers a Base speed of 1,247MHz (air) or 1,406MHz (liquid) while the Radeon RX Vega 56 offers 1,156MHz and 1,471MHz. Those cards have 8GB memory, while the Radeon Pro Vega 64 will have 16GB, so you can expect even better stats from the iMac Pro.
During the keynote at WWDC, Apple went to lengths to demonstrate its eagerness to join the VR revolution. Read more: How to use VR on a Mac
Ports & peripherals
The iMac Pro will boast 10Gb Ethernet, available on a Mac for the first time, and offering up to 10 times faster networking. This will support Nbase-T 1Gb, 2.5Gb, and 5Gb. Essential for those transferring big data over a local network.
You'll also find four Thunderbolt 3.0 ports, which support USB-Type C too. The latter will enable the iMac Pro to power two additional 5K displays or connect to up to two high-performance RAID arrays. The Xeon CPU will also allow for 48 PCIe lanes.
There will also be an SDXC slot offering UHS-II (that's Ultra High Speed) for even faster data transfer rates.
Keyboard & Mouse
The new iMac Pro will ship with a Space Grey keyboard and trackpad to match its darker design. There had been suggestions that the new keyboard could include a Touch Bar, but as yet none of the prototypes or early models has shown up with this feature.
According to Apple, the two speakers will deliver "broad frequency response, rich bass, and more volume".
There will also be four microphones (the iMac normally has a single built-in mic). It is thought that these mics may be there to facilitate Siri.
The iMac Pro’s FaceTime HD camera is Full HD 1080p.