WWDC 2017: Apple’s first venture back to the Pro market?

It seems like Apple are finally making their way back into the professional market. It has been around four years since the release of a ‘pro’ system; the MacBook Pro touch bar doesn’t count let’s be honest. For anyone who follows Apple, you were probably already aware that an iMac Pro was on the cards. As much as I’m sure we’re all interested in what new Disney character we can put on our Apple watch is that’s not what we want to see. However, the announcement of an eGPU did take us by surprise. Looking at the current nature of the eGPU market on Mac it’s an open-source platform although stable its still not for the faint-hearted. It’s not as simple as plugging in a mouse and keyboard. Fortunately, that’s all about to change. We have a development kit on route to our offices, and a full rundown will be posted so keep watch!

iMac Pro

Let’s start with the iMac Pro, of course, its gorgeous. Apple has a way of creating machines like Sirens which coax you in and next thing you know you’ve just spent about £4000 on an iMac. So other than its beauty how do they justify such extraordinary price tag. Welcome the first workstation class iMac. On paper this machine is an absolute monster of an all-in-one, with a minimum specification of 8-Cores, 8GB VRAM and 32GB DDR4 RAM, this isn’t just for browsing through your Facebook timeline. For a lot of people, this will be an ideal machine especially if someone else is picking up the bill. Those hardware specification coupled with the beautiful, improved 5K display is ideal for designers and video editors, Although it will certainly not replace the tower workstation. I’m sure a lot of you are aware of the recent 7,1 Mac Pro announcement, and if you are like us, you’ll see this as a step in the right direction.

The Processor

Apple will be offering 8,10 and 18 Core Xeon processor configurations and as they said themselves this will be the most powerful Apple system to-date. Be that as it may, I don’t know if you noticed that they decided not to disclose the clock speed of each model. It’s a rather important piece of information. The only speed provided is a Turbo boost speed of 4.5Ghz on one of the models. The lack of information provided naturally got me to speculate.
First off my colleagues and I took into account the other factors of the system. The new and improved cooling (which is quite impressive) now has a thermal capacity of 500 watts. Being realistic we will probably have about 140w for the CPU, 200W for the GPU and the remainder for the other components. In addition to that, they are using 2666MHz DDR4 ECC RAM, and this is what gave it away. Now stay with me. The Xeon E5s have a RAM bandwidth limit of 68GB/s. There are 4 RAM channels leaving 17GB/s bandwidth per module. Nonetheless, 2666Mhz DDR4 RAM requires 21GB/s per module which rules the E5 range out. The E7 Xeons have a bandwidth limit of 85GB/s which surprisingly enough is 21.25GB/s; I think we have our model range.
With all that you can’t just jump on the Intel website and look at what 8, 10, 18 Core CPUs are up for grabs as the processor used are not released yet. The closest representative we are going to get currently is the Intel Xeon E7 8860 v4 which fits within the 140W TDP has a 45MB cache, a clock speed of 2.2Ghz and a turbo frequency of 3.2Ghz. The next generation of E7 Xeons will be fitted, so the processor inside will probably be a slight improvement of this model.

The Graphics Card

We see a continuation of the Apple and AMD coalition with the debut of AMD’s Radeon Pro Vega platform. Two graphics card options will be available in the machine, the entry model being an 8GB model. The largest stock graphics card ever in a Mac let alone iMac. (The Mac Pro 6,1 although went up to 12GB it consisted of two GPUs.) It is also upgradable to a massive 16GB VRAM using HBM2 memory. As the graphics cards are not yet available to the general public, we haven’t been able to get hands on them. But if we look at similar cards already available on the market the Nvidia 1080Ti runs at 11.3TFLOPs so would expect a similar performance from the top range model, and with the improved cooling design, we should see a very similar performance inside the iMac to how it would perform in a workstation. At least we hope.

Memory & Storage

The iMac Pro has a minimum configuration of 32GB 2666Mhz DDR4 ECC memory. That is quite impressive for Apple. 32GB is the maximum you can fit into a 21.5″ iMac and almost the top specification of the current 27″ Models. The maximum in the iMac Pro is a massive 128GB which has only ever been possible in the Mac Pro systems. It all does sound fantastic but let’s be honest that upgrade from the factory is going to cost an unearthly amount.
We’ve got a similar story on the storage options. The smallest volume they are offering is a 1TB flash based SSD which will probably give you speeds of near 1500Mb/s. The 4TB version that was spoken about will be two modules run in a stripe RAID, however, this will probably be setup using a logical group format, so RAID settings or configurations won’t be able to be changed unless you know what you’re doing.

Final Words

Yes the iMac Pro is not suitable for everyone but there are certainly users out there that this will be ideal for. Until we get closer to the release date we won’t be able to get specifics and benchmarks but its nice to see Apple starting to address the professional market in a better capacity than a novelty touchscreen above a keyboard.
If you have any questions about the new iMac please feel free to get in touch with us.

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