Hello There – Let‘s Compare iMac Models to Pick the Right One for You

Choosing the best iMac to suit your needs among Apple’s all-in-one desktop options can feel overwhelming. Should you consider the now discontinued ultra high-end iMac Pro? Or does the latest 27-inch iMac deliver enough performance, features and longevity at a more reasonable price?

This guide will explore all considerations across these endpoint configurations to provide personalized recommendations based on how you actually plan to use an iMac day-to-day.

Decades of iMac Innovation Before the iMac Pro Arrival

To understand whether the iMac Pro warrants its premium pricing, it helps tracing the journey of iMac development over the past 25 years.

Apple always envisioned the iMac as forward-thinking technology beautifully designed for mass appeal, in contrast to the outdated beige boxes dominating the 1990s desktop scene.

The original iMac G3 set Apple on a comeback trajectory by making computers approachable instead of intimidating appliances reserved for technical experts. Its vibrant colors, friendly software UI and integrated CRT display encapsulated radical design thinking that no major manufacturer had attempted before.

While the hardware specifications themselves remained modest by today’s standards, the overall package resonated widely to drive Apple’s renaissance.

This DNA of combining sophistication and simplicity passed down to successive iMac generations. Alongside rapid improvement in processing speeds, storage, graphics and connectivity.

By mid 2017, the 27-inch iMac form factor had firmly matured into a polished, incredibly powerful system more than capable of handling demanding creative workloads.

Yet high-end use cases still gravitated towards the Mac Pro tower as the default Apple powerhouse. The Mac Pro catered specifically to industries requiring endless expandability like film production studios.

So Apple made a calculated gamble to infuse that sort of no-compromise workstation performance into a refined iMac shell.

Hence the iMac Pro’s debut – aiming to extend iMac capabilities further into true professional territory. On paper, the specs certainly impressed, albeit for a staggering starting price of $5,000.

Now six years later since that release however, the standard 27-inch iMac has essentially caught up to the original iMac Pro proposition.

Let‘s see exactly how they compare today.

Side-by-Side Specs – Where Performance Diverges

On the surface, an iMac Pro looks identically styled as a 27-inch iMac with the same slim bezel 5K screen attached.

But reviewing the internal specifications reveals meaningful divergences that do justify the iMac Pro‘s significantly higher pricing to an extent.

Specifications27" iMac (5K, 2020)iMac Pro (2017)
ProcessorUp to 10-core i9Up to 18-core Xeon
Memory128GB max256GB max ECC
Storage8TB max4TB max
GraphicsAMD Radeon Pro 5700 XTAMD Radeon Pro Vega 64X

The switch to Intel Xeon workstation-class chips and inclusion of pricier ECC RAM clearly pushes the iMac Pro into a different performance category over consumer-focused iMac hardware.

However, as we‘ll explore next, sheer processing capabilities prove incredibly similar nowadays between both machines.

CPU Performance – Neck and Neck Benchmarks

The star attraction of any iMac Pro is undoubtedly the Intel Xeon CPU. These server-caliber processors promise substantially higher core counts and memory access compared to mainstream consumer chips from Intel or AMD.

But just how much faster is an 18-core Xeon over the 10-core Core i9 found in modern 27-inch iMacs?

Geekbench provides a standardized benchmark for quantifying single and multi-core performance across machines.

ModelSingle-Core ScoreMulti-Core Score
iMac Pro 2.5GHz 18-core Xeon1,25320,713
2020 iMac 3.6GHz 10-core i91,3489,807

Interestingly, these numbers show the Core i9 equipped iMac actually outpacing the iMac Pro in single core speed. This has big relevance for general desktop usage, web browsing and applications unable to leverage tons of cores.

Certainly for extremely parallelized software like video encoders, the Xeon‘s surplus cores propels substantially faster completion times. But for typical real-world workloads, is such a core count advantage actually utilized?

To find out, we turn to benchmarks in Puget Systems‘ excellent article, Mac Pro 2019 vs iMac Pro vs iMac: Photo Editing. Spoiler – the results probably surprise you!

Cameras keep advancing to insane megapixel counts. That means photo editors regularly handle massive 100+ MB image files. Filter effects also increase in complexity leveraging GPU acceleration. Surely then high core counts make a difference?

Well, Puget‘s Photoshop testing revealed single core speed matters far more. The 18 and 28-core Mac Pro models performed essentially on par with the baseline 8-core configuration.

In fact, an overclocked 10-core iMac narrowly beat them all!

This demonstrates for many practical real-world situations beyond synthetic tests, you simply won‘t gain any meaningful Xeon performance upside relative to iMac specs costing thousands less.

Outside specific video production scenarios, a latest generation 10-core iMac delivers essentially equivalent output quality and latency from a user experience standpoint.

Display and Design – Both Equally Eye Catching

Beauty remains firmly in the eye of the beholder they say. Fortunately, both 27-inch iMac and iMac Pro configurations look similarly stellar whether admired up close on a desk or from afar.

Text will appear perfectly crisp on that 27‐inch 5K Retina screen regardless of model. Digital artists and photographers will enjoy stellar color accuracy benefits from the P3 wide color gamut equally as well.

The sleekest aspect of any iMac definitely remains its ultra trim side profile. By integrating the system‘s brain within the display casing rather than an awkward tower, the iMac occupies very little desk real estate footprint.

Plus both models today come equipped with Apple‘s T2 security chip for on-the-fly data encryption along with "Hey Siri" voice functionality.

All in, from a physical hardware design and experience quality standpoint, buyers win big no matter which 27-inch iMac generation they pick.

Except perhaps one slight catch around future-proofing touched on next.

Software Support – Advantage Newer iMac

As you read this guide today in early 2023, both the 2020 Intel-based 27-inch iMac and 2017 iMac Pro models run the same macOS Ventura operating system release just fine.

However since Apple began transitioning Macs over to its own Apple silicon Arm-based M1/M2 chipsets, some uncertainty exists around long term software compatibility for Intel machines.

Essentially these Apple silicon Macs represent the true future direction for the next 5+ years. Meanwhile Intel Macs gradually fade into legacy support status as existing customers naturally upgrade away in the coming years.

This transition will take quite some time given the Mac‘s traditional 5-6 years of guaranteed macOS updates. But based on that timeline, Apple could drop software update support quicker for niche legacy Intel designs like the discontinued iMac Pro over more popular mainstream models.

Simply given larger active userbases still on mainstream Intel Macs like the final 27-inch iMac generation, Apple has greater incentive ensuring at least 5 full years of compatibility.

Counting from the 2020 Intel iMac‘s launch window, that suggests potential supportability until around 2025 or 2026. Whereas for the iMac Pro, estimates expect end-of-life sometime in 2023 – just 6 years from its late 2017 debut.

If you invest in an iMac Pro now, macOS compatibility could abruptly dry up shortly. Whereas buying a 2020 Intel iMac should confidently power you through this Apple silicon transition era.

Cost Considerations – Used iMac Pro an Expensive Gamble

Let‘s crunch some numbers to quantify the substantial price differential in maintaining and living with an iMac Pro long term:

Today in 2023, acquiring an iMac Pro requires considerable hassle locating increasingly scarce refurbished inventory from third party resellers. Expect to spend around $4,500 for a baseline model.

Meanwhile, Apple continues selling brand new 2020 Intel 27-inch iMacs starting under $1,800 with full warranty protection.

Now comparing both endpoints spec‘d completely maxed out:

  • 2020 27-inch iMac

    • 3.6GHz 10-core i9
    • 128GB RAM
    • 8TB SSD
    • Radeon Pro 5700 XT
    • $5,000 MSRP
  • Used iMac Pro

    • 2.5GHz 18-core Xeon
    • 256GB ECC RAM
    • 4TB SSD
    • Radeon Pro Vega 64X
    • $9,000+ street price

That near $4,000 premium buys you mostly bragging rights of an 18-core Xeon and some extra RAM capacity. Plus the risks of no warranty and abruptly losing full software compatibility in a year for a computer already 6 years old.

All factored together, the standard 27-inch iMac undoubtedly delivers far better bang for buck today for real world use cases.

Conclusion – Who Should Consider Each Model?

If you‘ve made it this far, hopefully the distinctions between Apple‘s 27-inch iMac flavors crystalized to enable picking the right fit.

Here is my specific guidance tailored to common iMac buyer personas:

Creative Professionals – The latest 2020 Intel 27-inch iMac offers the complete package for video production, 3D modeling and development. Save thousands over scarce used iMac Pros while retaining peace of mind from full Apple warranty support.

Power Business Users – Again the 2020 27-inch iMac delivers compelling well-rounded capabilities, just max out the 10-core i9 CPU, RAM and storage. The Xeon in the dated iMac Pro hardly provides any extra real-world speed.

Scientists & Researchers – If you truly require maximum core counts for massively parallel simulation and compute workflows leveraging ECC RAM, an iMac Pro could make sense if found at a reasonable secondhand price. But also evaluate the higher performance and customizability of a refurbished Mac Pro tower.

Casual Home Users – The overkill performance of any 27-inch iMac generation will satisfy all common needs like web access, document editing and media consumption. Focus spending on storage space rather than processing specs here.

In closing, when Apple launched the iMac Pro back in 2017, they succeeded pushing iMac capabilities into the realm of serious workstations. But only for a brief moment in time.

Within a couple years, the continued rapid pace of consumer CPU advancements enabled standard 27-inch iMac configurations to catch up. Now equipped with comparable horsepower, memory capacity, storage and graphics needs of many professional customers. All while costing significantly less and offering longer usability lifetimes.

This reality made the premium niche iMac Pro proposition tough to recommend for wide audiences. Apple likely realized that themselves, reflected by the discontinuation of the iMac Pro line entirely.

Today in 2023, shoppers focused purely on future-proof power in Apple‘s striking 27-inch all-in-one form have a clear choice. Forget about costly outdated iMac Pros from yesteryear. Instead invest in Apple‘s last brilliant Intel-powered 27-inch iMac generation released just a few years ago. Still easily upgradeable to ample processing muscle and storage space for tomorrow‘s workloads. All encased within that iconic elegant glass and aluminum chassis synonymous with the legendary iMac legacy.

I hope this comprehensive guide helps steer your purchasing decision – feel free to reach out with any other questions!

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