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Which pro Mac desktop: iMac and Mac Pro compared

Martyn Casserly | Feb. 10, 2015
Apple's laptops are brilliant, but sometimes you want the luxury and power of a Mac desktop. In this feature we'll explore the options open to you, and compare the various advantages of iMacs and Mac Pros.

The Mac Pro currently comes in two standard configurations, the cheapest of which features a 3.7GHz quad-core, Intel Xeon E5 CPU, Dual AMD FirePro D300 GPUs, 12GB RAM, and 256GB flash-storage, costing £2,499. For a bit more you can move up to the 3.5GHz 6-core, Intel Xeon E5, with 16GB RAM, Dual AMD FirePro D500 GPUs, and 256GB flash-storage, which will set you back £3,299.

As you'd expect from a pro machine there are plenty of upgrades available on the built to order section of the Apple store. These include the CPU (3.0GHz 8-Core at £1600 or 2.7GHz 12-Core for £2400), RAM (16GB - £80, 32GB - £400, or 64GB - £1040), storage (512GB - £240, 1TB £640), and both of the models can upgrade their dual GPUs, with the cheaper version offering the AMD FirePro D500 for £320, and the higher-end model going up to the dual AMD FirePro D700s for a whopping £800.

Of course this is all without a screen, keyboard, mouse, or speakers, which you'll need to provide yourself.

iMac vs Mac Pro: How the Retina iMac compares to the quad-core Mac Pro

If you're in the market for a Mac Pro then it stands to reason that you're probably not interested in the lower end iMacs, as while they are excellent machines they can't get near the workstation Pros in terms of power. At the high-end though the iMac with 5K Retina display is a very capable machine and can certainly handle some heavy loads.

Obviously the standout feature on the iMac is that wonderful display, which has a resolution of 5120x2880 and also incorporates various new technologies that keep the colours vibrant, accurate, and consistent even at off-axis viewing angles. This is no mere trifle either, as we've used 5K displays that are more expensive than this iMac, and they don't have a thoroughbred computer inside them. Pushing all those pixels isn't easy, but in our tests the iMac was able to run graphically demanding games at high frame rates without issue, and 4K video had no refresh issues or visible smearing.

One advantage the Mac Pro has in this area though, which might seem odd as the device doesn't even have a monitor included, is that it can run three 4K displays at the same time, while the iMac can run a single, external 4K display alongside its own 5K one.

The 3.5GHz Core i5 in the iMac doesn't support Hyper Threading Technology, so it lags behind the Mac Pro in that regard, and this will show up in some applications that require deep computational power. In fact our lab tests actually put the iMac behind the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro in terms of speed. That doesn't mean it's a slouch in any way though, and cost conscious photographers or videographers can be sure that there is much to love in the iMac with 5K Retina display.


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