Here’s all the Apple iMac Pro news you can chew on to better understand what’s inside Apple’s upcoming all-in-one workstation with a $5,000 starting price.
On June 5, 2017, Apple revealed the iMac Pro, the next installment in its family of iMac workstations. Starting at a meaty $5,000, the all-in-one device will sport an Intel Xeon processor with up to 18 cores, an AMD professional graphics card with up to 22 teraflops of graphics computations, and an attractive new Space Gray enclosure seemingly ripped out of the future. That said, here is all the current Apple iMac Pro news we could dig up.
First, we’re not entirely sure what processors Apple will be using in December. The company lists Intel “Xeon” chips with eight, 10, and 18 cores, but no specific models. For a while, signs have pointed to the possibility that Apple may be using Intel’s just-announced Xeon “Purley” processors based on the Skylake-SP architecture. The belief is that if Apple relied on Intel’s existing crop of Haswell-based Xeon E5 and E7 chips, then the iMac Pro would already be on the market.
But a leaked slide regarding Intel’s three-year Xeon processor roadmap positions the “Basin Falls” one-socket workstation platform for the end of 2017. It will be based on the Skylake Server Socket R, aka Socket R4, or better known as LGA 2066, the same socket used by Intel’s latest X-Series chips for the enthusiast desktop market. This socket only supports four memory modules, which is what we see in product images of the iMac Pro’s internals provided by Apple (shown below).
Meanwhile, the new “Purley” Platinum and Gold Xeon processors rely on the LGA 3647 socket (Socket P). Those chips are meant for scalable, datacenter servers with two processors or more, and the CPU family itself doesn’t even offer a 10-core model at the time of this publication. Adding to that, the LGA 3647 socket supports six memory modules, which would be overkill for Apple’s all-in-one workstation.
The latest rumor, then, is that the three Xeon processors installed in Apple’s upcoming iMac Pro will be based on three Intel X-Series processors. According to Apple’s own website, iMac Pros will have “Turbo Boost speeds up to 4.5GHz,” matching the maximum speeds of two of the three chips listed below. This rumor stems from digging around in the source code of the MacOS High Sierra developer beta, which lists the “Basin Falls” and “Purley” code-names.
But Apple says the iMac Pro’s Xeon processors will have up to 42MB in cache, indicating that the X-Series chip foundation will outfitted for the professional workstation environment. But again, all of this is mere speculation, and we won’t know any solid Xeon details until the iMac Pros hit the market in December.
Still, here are the processors Intel may be refitting and re-branding for use in workstations:
Note that the eight-core ($600) and 10-core ($1,000) models are available on the enthusiast desktop market now. The 18-core model won’t arrive until September 25 for $2,000.
Keeping the processor, graphics chip, and memory inside cool are two blowers mounted in the upper half of the iMac Pro. These two blowers turn in opposite directions to pull air into the workstation through a long slit running across the bottom of the back plate. This air is pulled up across the memory and storage, and then pushed down across the massive heatsink covering the processor . The warm air appears to be pushed out through a discrete vent hidden from view by the iMac Pro’s stand. Heatpipes appear to connect the heatsink to the system memory, Radeon Pro Vega graphics chip, and storage as well.
Performance graphics pulled from the stars
With the introduction of the upcoming iMac Pro came a quiet reveal that they would have options for two unannounced graphics cards by AMD: the Radeon Pro Vega 64, and the Radeon Pro Vega 56. They’re currently not on the market, nor has AMD provided any information about these two cards. But the names indicate they’re closely related to the two add-in cards released for the desktop PC gaming market on August 14 – the Radeon RX Vega 64, and the Radeon RX Vega 56. There are a few similarities to AMD’s upcoming Radeon Pro WX 9100 cards for workstations, too.
Here’s how they fit into AMD’s Vega-based graphics chip lineup (not including the Radeon Pro SSG):
As the chart shows, the “Pro” Vega 64 model will supposedly have twice the on-board memory than the “RX” 64 version, which is already available. We don’t know its base and boost speeds just yet, and both performance numbers appear to be carbon copies of the “RX” numbers for now, until AMD releases official information. How the Pro Vega 64 and the Pro WX 9100 card will differentiate from each other could be in their feature sets.
OK, so what else is in the iMac Pro?
Glad you asked! Here is the current full list of specifications:
The specifications really speak for themselves. There’s enough hardware to optimally run a virtual reality headset, such as the HTC Vive shown on the product page. There are no physical video outputs, so adding external displays must be done through the provided Thunderbolt 3 ports, which support the DisplayPort protocol. One Lightning-to-USB cable is provided, but you’ll need to purchase Type-C cables/adapters supporting Thunderbolt 3 and your external display’s port (VGA, HDMI, DVI, or DisplayPort).
Based on Apple’s live diagram, the iMac Pro’s speakers are mounted towards the top near the two cooling fans. But the company has designed the internals to where the output audio is directed downwards and through the long slit lining along the bottom back of the all-in-one PC. Apple says these two speakers deliver “broad frequency response, rich bass, and more volume” even though they’re packed under the iMac Pro’s rear hood.
“We re engineered the whole system and designed an entirely new thermal architecture to pack extraordinary performance into the elegant, quiet iMac enclosure our customers love — iMac Pro is a huge step forward and there’s never been anything like it,” said John Ternus, Apple’s vice president of Hardware Engineering.
What’s not crystal clear is what type of SSD Apple is using in the iMac Pro. For starters, any SSD will be faster than using a clunky mechanical drive, because they don’t rely on spinning discs for reading information like a compact record player. But the fastest SSDs can access data lanes typically used by add-in-cards (PCI Express), which are around five times faster than lanes typically used by storage devices (SATA 3).
For instance, a 2.5-inch hard drive with platters moving at 7,200RPM typically have a read speed of 80 to 160MB per second. A decent 2.5-inch SSD using the same SATA 3 connection can have a read speed of around 540MB per second. That’s a huge performance increase, but a stick-sized SSD using a PCI Express-based connection could have read speeds of around 2,500MB per second or higher.
Apple’s standard iMacs have been somewhat disappointing in storage performance because they come standard with a “Fusion” hard drive, that matches a small solid state storage cache with a large mechanical hard drive. However, Apple’s MacBook line has some of the quickest storage options around, so the company does know how to use the latest storage tech. Given it’s price and purpose, we think it’s a good bet the iMac Pro will come standard with a solid state drive connected over PCI Express.
Finally, as previously reported, the iMac Pro will ship with a keyboard and mouse in a unique Space Grey color, and they won’t be made available to purchase as standalone peripherals.
Apple gets high with MacOS
Powering the iMac Pro will be Apple’s MacOS High Sierra operating system. Apple provides a glimpse of the platform here, such as a new file system with a not-so-creative name (Apple File System), support for the high-definition HEVC (H.265) video codec, Metal 2 graphics, and support for high-definition VR headsets. Other features include a handful of revamped apps, a better Safari browser, and improvements to Siri.
“Siri has a more natural voice, with more changes in expression, intonation, and emphasis based on what it’s saying. In other words, your personal assistant sounds more like a person — whether it’s telling a joke or helping you find that presentation from last week,” Apple says.
You can actually give MacOS High Sierra a run now by heading here. Just sign up for the Apple Beta Software Program to download and use a pre-release of the platform. Enrollment also provides you with access to the latest preview builds of iOS and tvOS as well.
So how much is the workstation and when can I get it?
Right now, Apple doesn’t provide an exect date, but merely states that the iMac Pro will be available in December. The starting price will be a massive $5,000, so you’ll have to smash your piggy bank to afford it.