It’s easy to look at the iMac Pro, with its $4,999 starting price, and think of it as an insanely overpriced bauble designed for fanboys with more money than sense. But the reality is a lot more subtle and nuanced than that.
OK, first off, the iMac Pro isn’t for everyone. It’s not even for high-end Mac users. To even begin to make use of the 8- to 18-cores that the Intel Xeon chip has to offer, the 32- to 128-gigabytes of high-end, error-correcting ECC RAM, the 10-gigabit Ethernet, or the pro-grade Vega GPU, you are going to have very specific workloads and high-end, high-performance software.
This is not the machine for someone who would like to have a lot of tabs open in Safari, or who wants iMovie to go faster.
The iMac Pro is aimed at professionals working with video (a lot of video), those into VR, 3D modeling, simulations, animation, audio engineers and such.
The iMac Pro isn’t just another Mac, it’s a workstation-grade piece of hardware, and that comes with a workstation-grade price tag.
And the starting price for entry into that elite club is $4,999.
Now let’s look at what $4,999 buys you. Here are the highlights from the tech specs (I’ve left out things like the FaceTime camera and speakers and stuff, and just focused on the main parts):
- 27-inch 5K display with 500 nits brightness and P3 color
- 8-Core Intel Xeon CPU
- 32GB of 2666MHz DDR4 ECC RAM
- 1TB PCIe SSD
- AMD Radeon Pro Vega 56 GPU with 8GB of HBM2
- 10GbE Ethernet
- Four Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports
- Four USB 3.0 ports
Now if you were to say that the iMac Pro isn’t for you and you wanted to buy or build a comparable system running Windows, how much would that cost you? Well, as it happens, the folks over at PC Gamer looked at doing just that, and came up with a reasonably comparable build:
- CPU: Intel – Xeon E5-2620 V4 2.1GHz 8-Core Processor ($408.99)
- CPU Cooler: NZXT – Kraken X62 Liquid CPU Cooler ($158.99)
- Motherboard: Asus – X99-E-10G WS SSI CEB LGA2011-3 Motherboard ($649.00)
- Memory: Crucial – 32GB (1 x 32GB) Registered DDR4-2133 Memory ($253.81)
- Storage: Samsung – 960 EVO 1TB M.2-2280 Solid State Drive ($479.99)
- Video Card: Zotac – GeForce GTX 1080 Ti 11GB Founders Edition ($678.99)
- Case: Silverstone – TJ04B-EW ATX Mid Tower Case ($151.90)
- Power Supply: SeaSonic – PRIME Titanium 1000W 80+ Titanium Certified Fully-Modular ATX Power Supply ($242.89)
- Operating System: Microsoft – Windows 7 Professional ($134.99)
- Monitor: LG – UltraFine 5K Display 60Hz Monitor ($1299.95)
- Other: ASUS Model ThunderboltEX 3 Expansion Card ($69.99)
- Keyboard: Apple – MB110LL/B Wired Standard Keyboard ($49.00)
- Mouse: Apple – MB829LL/A Bluetooth Wireless Laser Mouse ($79.99)
- Speakers: Logitech – Z130 5W 2ch Speakers ($18.99)
- Card reader: Kingston – Digital MobileLite G4 USB 3.0 card reader ($9.24)
The total price of that system came to $4,686.71, only $313 cheaper than the base iMac Pro. Now that comparison is far from perfect – Radeon Vega cards aren’t out yet, a standalone 5K display is going to be far more expensive than just the panel that Apple uses, and these prices are end-consumer component prices, not volume prices that Apple would pay, and I’m not sure why Windows 7 was chosen to power the build – but it’s still a reasonably good clone, and it goes to show that what Apple is asking isn’t astronomical by any stretch of the imagination.
Also, factor in that Macs are long-lived and well-supported by Apple. macOS High Sierra will run on MacBook’s and iMac’s going back to late 2009, and MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac mini and Mac Pro computers going back to 2010, so you’re looking at getting seven to eight years from the system – three of which you could cover under AppleCare – so the per-year cost of that system is far cheaper than it seems initially.
So yet, the iMac Pro is an expensive Mac, no doubt. But don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s just an overpriced, high-end iMac. It’s not. It’s a workstation-grade Mac designed and built for heavy-duty, workstation-grade applications.
It’s Mac for the 1 percent of Mac users, not the 99 percent. For the 99 percent, yes, the iMac Pro is overpriced and just throwing away money, but for the 1 percent who need the sort of power that a system like that can generate, it’s very reasonably priced.