Now That Apple’s Announced the iMac Pro, What Does This Mean for Mac Pro Design?

iMac Pro - Apple

At the WWDC 2017 keynote, Apple gave us a sneak peak of the new iMac Pro, but now what does this all mean for the design of the next Mac Pro?

iMac Pro - Apple
iMac Pro. Image credit: Apple.

It’s likely that the drop-dead gorgeous new iMac Pro that Apple revealed in the WWDC keynote was originally intended to replace the 2013 Mac Pro. That fits with Apple’s recent decision to get out of the display business and focus on the iMac Pro as its flagship for professionals.

But the professional community of Apple customers begged to differ. They wanted a clearer commitment in terms of expandability, more RAM, more horsepower than an Intel Core i7, higher end graphics, and the ability to add their own displays. That’s been a heated subject from October 2016, when a new Mac Pro wasn’t announced until this year’s WWDC.

Now that we’ve had a sneak peek at the glorious new iMac Pro, what are the implications for the future Mac Pro that Apple has committed to? What will it cost? Will it go beyond the limits of the iMac Pro? Or will it be an equivalent system, but simply headless? How does Apple see the new Mac Pro fitting into the lineup and into the professionals thinking?

To get a handle on this, I asked several noted corporate professionals to tell me what they thought of the iMac Pro. Implicit in that is the notion of how that iMac Pro will inform the design of the future Mac Pro. Most of the feedback below also addresses that. At the end, I sum it all up.

The Professional Responses

Neal Pann, an architect with Dahlin Group Architects Planners wrote me:

It’s about time that Apple focuses again on the pro market and that includes the market for BIM (Building Information Modeling) modeling and VR. The new iMac Pro begins to address the needs of that user and keeps macOS in the conversation as at least an option. It’s going to force the application developers of CAD/BIM  programs to push their own software to take advantage of the new hardware in ways that they haven’t been able to do before on the Mac platform.

[One] concern I have is the lack of support for Nvidia graphics with the new iMac Pro. There are a number of high end graphics applications for rendering and modeling that require Nvidia’s CUDA architecture and not having the option to support that in the upcoming iMac Pro is a deal killer for some.

Rick Allen with Globeflex Capital, L.P. said:

I am very intrigued and want to try first hand. My first thought was “This was the new Mac Pro.” The Apple Throws a Mac Pro Hail Mary, Promises Redesigned Model Coming was a damage control move.

I have a couple of issues with the machine. First is no user replaceable parts. Even though the RAM is in sockets, ATP podcast confirmed there is no door to get at it and so makes it very hard to get 3rd party ram upgrades…. Another question is the issue of Heat dissipation. 8 to 18 core Xeon processors are big and have greater TDP than [Core] i7 processors. I hope the cooling solution in that very slim case is up to the task. I hope that it’s not another “thermal corner” as was mentioned with the current Mac Pro.

On the GPU front, Radeon Vega architecture is looking very promising. Yet a lot of professionals want CUDA support from nVidia. The now allowed external Thunderbolt 3 enclosures would help with this. nVidia recently released CUDA drivers for Pascal series cards so you could put a GTX 1080TI or Titan Xp in an external enclosure, yet I am puzzled why Apple and nVidia are seeming at odds these days. They used to work together.

Anthony Frausto-Robledo, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Architosh wrote:

I am very impressed with what I see thus far. This shows real commitment to Apple’s pro Mac customers and this machine is a beast for an all-in-one. I’m almost scared of what Apple has plans for in the new modular Mac Pro they said they are committed to bringing to the market sometime in 2018 or later. Clearly, the VR news is also extremely exciting and will make Mac based architects elated!

Next page: More expert feedback. The different kinds of pro users.

6 thoughts on “Now That Apple’s Announced the iMac Pro, What Does This Mean for Mac Pro Design?

  • The only thing about the iMac Pro that makes me shake my head is the obvious lack of a “door” to upgrade the RAM. But even at that, anyone that can afford a $5,000 STARTING price, probably is in a position to not care that Apple charges a high premium for the RAM upgrades and will happily pay for it.

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    Excellent article as always. As a professional in the web development and graphic design fields, I always opted for a Mac tower and loved the G4’s pull-down side latch for access to all of the internals. It was great for replacing a blown hard drive, adding more RAM, and other tinkering. Then I got an early 2008 iMac, fully-loaded with 3.06GHz Intel Core Dup, 4 GB RAM, and a decent-sized hard drive. I am still using it today, albeit with twin 3 TB LaCie external FireWire 800 drives to take the place of my long-since blown internal drive.

    It is without a doubt the best Mac I have ever owned, and after nine years of serious service, the best value by far as well.

    That brings me to the iMac Pro. I agree that many creatives — like myself — are looking for a Mac that gets out of the way, that doesn’t need tinkered with, that just works. In that respect the iMac Pro is my ultimate dream machine. I’d love to see it chew through a Cinema 4D rendering, and can’t help but wonder how many years of useful service such a machine would bring to my work.

    For a smaller minority of pros, yes, only a tower with swappable graphics cards, memory, storage, etc., will do, but I believe that the pool of such users is indeed shrinking over time. That said, as pjs_boston wrote, the new Mac Pro can be a halo product for the entire Mac line. Like the Corvette in the window enticing Chevy Cruise buyers into the dealership, it should be the latest and greatest computer of them all, a niche machine to serve that special niche of users who need the best of the best, including upgradeability and configurability. For most of the rest of us creative professionals, though, the new dream machine is definitely the new iMac Pro. Just plug it in, turn it on, and get to work.

    Time to start saving my pennies….

  • Hey John,

    Great article! I agree with all of your points.

    My take is that the new iMac Pro will satisfy 99% of technical and creative pros who use a Mac. The remaining 1% is split between two camps: One is a small, very vocal group of Apple enthusiasts who want a Mac that they can tinker with and turn into their own personal hot rod. The second even smaller group are those professionals who truly need to crack the case and add buss level expansion cards to for specific applications. The second group is ever shrinking as Thunderbolt 3 enables new external expansion possibilities.

    As such, the new Mac Pro is like a super car. It will be a ‘halo’ product to keep the enthusiasts singing Apple’s praises. It will exist primarily for brand management.

  • Thank you John for including my comments in your excellent article. I only hope that Apple goes back to what I consider a Pro machine. User replaceable and upgrade-able parts are a must. I seriously love the iMac pro from a design perspective. I hope they come through with the new Mac Pro redesign in a big way.

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