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Revealed during WWDC 2017, the iMac Pro is Apple's attempt to bridge the gap between the prosumer market of the iMac with the professional-centric Mac Pro. The result is a high-specification version of the iMac that offers many of the qualities found in the Mac Pro line, but packaged within an iMac body. 

External Specifications

The iMac Pro shares the general external appearance of the larger iMac, retaining the same 27-inch 5K-resolution Wide Color (P3) display and physical design. Like the upgraded iMac announced at the same time, the 5K display will include support for 1 billion colors, and 500 nits of brightness. 

To denote its status, the iMac Pro uses a Space Grey chassis, which is only available in the Pro version, as well as matching matte wireless keyboard, Magic Mouse 2, and Magic Trackpad 2 accessories. 

Though the chassis is largely unchanged, Apple has incorporated a long vent into the bottom part of the rear casing, to aid the improved cooling system. The collection of ports on the rear have also been upgraded, with the usual SD card reader, audio port, and four USB 3.0 ports, while wired networking is handled by a 10Gb Ethernet port, a first for the Mac. 

Four Thunderbolt 3 ports are also included on the back, allowing the iMac Pro to connect to external storage devices and other displays, with up to 40Gb/s of bandwidth available to use. Using the four ports, the iMac Pro is capable of running two external 5K (5120 by 2880) displays, four 4K UHD (3840 by 2160) screens, or four 4K (4096 by 2304) displays, all at 60Hz. 

Apple claims it will be possible to connect two 5K displays and two high-performance RAID arrays to the iMac Pro at the same time, using the four Thunderbolt 3 ports. 

Internal Upgrades

In order to manage the higher temperatures associated with more powerful components, Apple has designed a new cooling system using twin centrifugal fans. The cooling system allows for an 80-percent increase in system thermal capacity compared to earlier iMac models, in turn allowing the iMac Pro to handle more power, up to 500 Watts. 

The cooling changes allows for a far more powerful processor to be used, with 8-core, 10-core, and 18-core Xeon processors said to be up for selection when it ships, with Turbo Boost clock speeds of up to 4.5GHz. The iMac Pro will include 32GB of 2666MHz DDR4 ECC memory at its lowest configuration, with options to boost it to 64GB or 128GB. 

At a base level, the iMac Pro will use a 1TB SSD, with options to upgrade it to 2TB or 4TB SSDs.

Within the iMac Pro are also two “enhanced” speakers, as well as four microphones, and a 1080p FaceTime HD camera. 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity are also included. 

 

Graphics

Graphics will be supplied by the AMD Radeon Pro Vega GPU, with the Vega 56 with 8GB of HBM2 memory at stock. It will be possible to configure the iMac Pro to use a Vega 64 GPU with 16GB of HBM2 memory, providing up to 11 teraflops of single-precision compute power, 22 teraflops with half-precision computation. 

Apple suggests this massive graphical performance could be used for real-time 3D rendering and high frame rate virtual reality experiences. During WWDC, Apple impressed attending developers with a live demonstration of virtual reality, indicating the Mac is well prepared to assist those working in that field. 

Pricing and Availability

Apple plans to ship the iMac Pro starting in December. The base model will start from $4,999 at launch, with Apple comparing the package as better value than a PC equivalent, which it estimates to be around $7,000 for similar hardware. 

 

PC Price Wars

The pricing announcement for the iMac Pro and its comparison to PC hardware prompted immediate comparisons by numerous parties online. In some cases, PC configurations were able to get close or even undercut the price of the iMac Pro, though with notable issues.

These builds included numerous discounts and rebates in many cases, meaning that they meet the price threshold only temporarily, or requires a potential constructor to perform other actions to receive their rebate. 

In some cases, the configured PC systems do not have like-for-like components, such as offering fewer Thunderbolt 3 ports than the iMac Pro, or using Nvidia graphics cards instead of Radeon. Suggested systems also used Gigabit Ethernet ports instead of 10Gbps, and in the case of one build by PC Gamer, even lacked the Windows 10 license, which usually costs $120. 

Considering the fluctuations in hardware pricing and the generally downward trajectory for part costs, it is entirely plausible that a similar specification PC could be built for the same cost, or cheaper in the future. More importantly, the proposed PC systems illustrate the potential value of the iMac Pro as a complete package. 

It is unlikely such PC hardware price drops and theoretical system builds will dissuade early adopters from acquiring the iMac Pro when it ships. 

Secure Enclave

A report on June 22 suggests the iMac Pro may be the first Apple desktop to feature Secure Enclave integration. According to Pike's Universum, the latest macOS 10.13 High Sierra beta includes code that enables such a feature to operate.

Normally found on iOS devices, Apple has only started adding Secure Enclave to its Macs relatively recently, with the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar released late last year with an ARM-based Secure Enclave Processor onboard to authenticate Touch ID operations. 

According to the report, the Secure Enclave will interact with a number of system-level hardware and software functions, including AppleSecureBootPolicy, ApECID, ApChipID, ApBoardID, ApSecurityDomain, ApProductionStatus, and ApSecurityMode. As with the MacBook Pro, there is the possibility of using Touch ID in some form, but there was no word on this capability during the WWDC preview.  

The Backstory

The first sign of the iMac Pro appeared during an April interview at Apple's headquarters in April, between marketing head Phil Schiller, software engineering SVP Craig Federighi, and members of the media. At the time, it was confirmed work was being carried out to prepare higher-specification iMacs, with configurations intended for prosumer and professional users. 

According to Apple's research, approximately 30 percent of the entire Mac user base use pro-level apps at least once per week, for media creation and software development. In that same research, within this group, it was found that the iMac outpaced the Mac Pro in terms of desktop sales, indicating to the company that there was more of a professional market for the iMac than previously thought. 

During December 2016, Apple CEO Tim Cook teased there were updates to the iMac on the way, countering rumors of the Mac's demise stating “Let me be very clear: we have great desktops in our roadmap. Nobody should worry about that.” 

Aside from the iMac Pro, Apple is also working on a new modular Mac Pro, but it is thought that will ship well into 2018. 

 

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