iMac Pro vs iMac 2017: what's the difference?

At this year’s WWDC 2017, Apple made good on its promise that new iMac models would launch this year, but went even further with an iMac Pro, a device shrouded in rumor until now. With not one, but three different iMac models out there now, confusion is inevitable.

While the “Pro” moniker might give away who that slick, space gray iMac is for, Apple tends to use that word liberally in distinguishing its various products.

Case in point being the 12-inch MacBook and the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro. Plenty of regular consumers – including this editor once upon a time – bought MacBook Pro laptops for the stronger performance in a still thin-and-light package for not much more cash.

So, let’s dispel the confusion surrounding whether, if you’re craving a new Apple all-in-one desktop for either work or play (or both), you should pick up a 2017 iMac this summer or wait it out for the iMac Pro this winter. 

Price

How much each version of the iMac will cost may be simple and powerful enough to steer your decision regardless of what each model is capable of. After all, the difference in their pricing is in the thousands.

For starters, the 21.5-inch iMac for 2017 calls for $1,099 (£1,049, AU$1,599) to start, with options beyond that each increasing the price by 200 bucks in all currencies for additional processor clock speed as well as faster storage and discrete graphics down the line.

The 27-inch version of the new iMac starts the conversation at a cool $1,799 (£1,749, AU$2,699), again with two additional options for stronger discrete graphics, more processor clock speed and more storage. However, while the jump between the starting model and the next is 200 bills in all currencies, the jump between that and the third option calls for 300 more.

As for the 27-inch iMac Pro (the only available size), all we know so far is that it will start – yes, start – at $4,999 (about £3,870, AU$6,680). We’ll get into why that price discrepancy is key when discussing what’s included inside each new iMac model. But, before that, let’s discuss how they differ in look and feel.

Design

Frankly, the straight iMac and iMac Pro look awfully similar save for a key color choice: the iMac’s silver aluminum to the iMac Pro’s space gray aluminum. Naturally, the iMac Pro’s Magic Mouse and Magic Keyboard come in the same, sweet space gray color that the all-in-one does, and Apple’s showing no signs of a straight iMac in the new color.

For the sake of making their differences crystal clear, we’ll stack up the 27-inch iMac against the iMac Pro with the same dimensions.

First off, both desktops look deceptively thin from their face, with their girth revealed when viewed from the side, a uniform bulge in each containing their various components. The 27-inch iMac measures 20.3 inches (51.6cm) tall and 25.6 inches (65.0cm) wide while weighing 20.8 pounds (9.44kg).

The iMac Pro offers up identical dimensions, however weighs a smidge more at 21.5 pounds (9.7kg). As of this writing, we’re unsure why the iMac weighs nearly a pound more, but suspect it has something to do with the higher-core-count processors and advanced cooling system at play in that machine.

Naturally, the 21.5-inch iMac is far smaller and lighter than either of these models, though still with a bulge in the back to house the various internals.

As for connectivity, both straight iMac models offer four USB 3 ports, two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3, an SDXC card slot, a 3.5mm audio jack and RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet along with a Kengsinton lock slot. The iMac Pro, however, doubles the amount of Thunderbolt 3 ports and improves the Ethernet port to deliver up to 10Gbps connection.

Hardware

Now, here’s where the huge discrepancy in price begins to make sense. The 21.5-inch iMac starts with an FHD (1,920 x 1,080) display that can be upped to a 4K (4,096 x 2,304) panel rated for 500 nits of brightness and a P3 color gamut. 

Inside, the device starts with a 2.3GHz Intel Core i5 (Kaby Lake) dual-core processor that can be upgraded to a quad-core i5 up to 3.4GHz or even an i7 clocked at 3.6GHz. Storage and memory start with a 1TB, 5,400 rpm spinning drive and 8GB of 2,133MHz RAM, respectively, and can jump to up to 32GB of 2,400MHz RAM and a 1TB Fusion Drive or an SSD as capacious as 1TB worth of space.

Graphics on the 21.5-inch iMac start with Intel’s integrated Iris Plus 640 and can be configured with up to an AMD Radeon Pro 560 graphics chip with 4GB of video memory.

The 27-inch iMac, meanwhile, comes out of the gate rocking a 5K (5,120 x 2,880) display rated for the same brightness and color gamut as the 4K panel found on the 21.5-inch version. This iMac forgoes dual-core CPUs entirely with a 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 to start, with options for Core i5 clocked at as fast as 3.8GHz or an Intel Core i7 at 4.2GHz.

As for storage and memory, the 27-inch iMac starts with a 1TB Fusion Drive and 8GB of 2,400MHz memory, respectively. The ceiling for both of those parts is up to a 3TB Fusion Drive or a 2TB SSD and as much as 64GB of RAM. Graphics start with an AMD Radeon Pro 570 with 4GB of video RAM and max out at a Radeon Pro 580 with twice as much video memory.

Finally, the iMac Pro comes housing the same display as the straight, 27-inch iMac and ditches the Fusion Drives altogether for 1TB to 4TB worth of SSD storage. The system starts with 32GB of 2,666MHz RAM with support for up to 128GB of the stuff.

The silicon inside the machine is where things get interesting, with the iMac Pro housing anywhere from a 10-core to as much as an 18-core Intel Xeon processor coupled with either AMD’s Radeon Pro Vega 56 graphics chip with 8GB of video RAM or the Radeon Pro 64 with double the video memory.

Which should you buy?

Despite Apple’s use of Radeon Pro graphics within the new, silver iMacs, they’re still the Apple all-in-one that you want if it’s purpose is to be your (or your family’s) personal PC. That said, anything beyond the entry-level versions of each model would likely be overkill for the average computer user.

Professionals that simply can’t wait until December would be best suited with one of the upgraded iMac models that offer 4K or 5K visuals and those Radeon Pro graphics.

The iMac Pro, however, is intended for even a different class of professional. If you’re working in, say, 3D animation, then the iMac Pro is your bag (and hopefully your company is footing the bill). If you’re crazy enough to drop five grand on a desktop like this for the house, you better become an amateur animator, and fast – otherwise you’ll have wasted about $5,000.

This time, the Pro version of the iMac is unequivocally for professionals, while the silver iMacs straddle the line between the two use cases. So, home iMac buyers: steer clear of the iMac Pro, and choose your silver iMac wisely based on your needs.