The Best Computer for Creatives: A Real World Test of the iMac Pro Versus the MacBook Pro, Mac Pro, and a Windows PC

The iMac Pro is undoubtedly a slick piece of hardware with some very impressive specs, but it also comes with an equally impressive price tag. And while we can drool over specs day in and out, what really matters for most working professionals are real world results. This great video pits the new iMac Pro against a Mac Pro, MacBook Pro, and a Windows PC.

Coming to you from Colin Smith over at Photoshop Cafe, this great video examines the performance of the new iMac Pro in real world tests with apps like Premiere Pro and Photoshop. At the end of the day, particularly for professional creatives who do all their work themselves, performance is really about time, as time is money. If an investment in a computer results in significantly reduced wait times when working with large files or projects, that extra cost could very well be worth it. In the case of the iMac Pro, there are definitely times where it leaps ahead of the competition, but also times when it's neck and neck or it even falls behind. Whether that is worth the increased price tag over the other options is up to you.

[via Photoshop Cafe]

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57 Comments

Stephen Kampff's picture

I'm surprised at the MacBook!

First of all: atm it is known that Photoshop is poorly optimized for multicore processors, and you really don't need a workstation of that caliber for photo editing.

Second, talking about the video editing part, where a machine like that could be useful: Alienware? Why! They are overpriced as hell, you are paying for colored lights and brand instead of the components, a while ago I've made a price comparison with a custom built machine and you can easily build a computer with a Threadripper 1950x that MURDERS that Xeon for the price of the iMac Pro (and before somebody asks, yes, counting a professional monitor and peripherals).

The iMac on the other end offers a good value compared to other "branded" workstations, however it's only true for the basic model while the upgraded versions are simply ridiculously overpriced (sometimes the price for the upgraded part is double the MSRP of that component).

craig john's picture

Not entirely true, as not all photographers exclusively use Photoshop for photo editing. LR will use multiple cores during export. Capture One Pro will use all cores and the GPU for nearly every task, especially when exporting.

Another thing that's changed, is Intel has optimized their 6, 8 and 10-core CPUs to work at higher frequencies with 1 or 2 core tasks using Turbo Boost 3.0 mode. The 7820x has the same 4.5GHz Turbo Boost as the 4-core 7700K. The 6-core 8700K now has a turbo boost of 4.7GHz.

At the time of my build, 7820x was less expensive than the 6-core 8700K (which is the new Photoshop King in most tasks), so I went with the 7820x. This 8-core CPU performs nearly the same as the old 7700K in most tasks, and much better in a few tasks. Mostly tasks I'll never use. LOL

Plus, if you want to add in additional PCIe cards, you'll want more than 16 PCIe lanes that come with the 7700K and the 8700K CPUs.

Threadripper seems to be a good Benchmark CPU, but it lags behind in real world performance from what I've seen. Just like Ryzen lags behind as well. I believe their second Gen CPUs will perform much better in 2018. ...should keep Intel on their toes. :)

IMO, the Intel 7820x is the best bang for the buck as an overall CPU -- unless you need more than 28 PCIe lanes. Then I'd go with the 10-core 7900x with 44 PCIe lanes.

I don't know where you live but here in Italy the 7820X is around 550€, plus extra fee for x299 motherboards.
Now that the prices finally settled after the rushed release the 8700k is about 350€, while the Ryzen 7 1700 (that's about 25% slower than the 7820X but it costs just 270€.
Prices in the USA are similar, so 7820X definitely is not the best price to performance CPU.

craig john's picture

My thought on this is, in terms of OVERALL CPU:

the single core performance of the 7820x is quite a bit better than the Ryzen 1700, especially when it comes to Photoshop work. Ryzen notably lags behind the 7820x - by like 19% in some cases when using photoshop. The 7820x doesn't lag behind the 7700K at all.

Perhaps Ryzen addressed this issue with an update, but I kept reading about people not happy with using brushes in Photoshop or Lightroom. Even in Lightroom, Ryzen lags a good 20% behind in terms of importing, rendering previews, and catalog scrolling.

With Ryzen you're also sacrificing PCIe lanes, and NVMe support. This may not be the norm in most MOBs, but I've seen too many MOBs where this happens: PCI_E6 slot will be unavailable when installing M.2 PCIe SSD in M2_2 slot.

You can't just take multicore performance into account determine "best bang for the buck" - you have to take everything: Single core, multicore, storage, peripheral and expansion versatility, and pricing.

That's how I came to my comment...

That was my point.
The 1700 is 20% slower than the 7820x (both in single and multicore) but it's HALF the price, not 20% less.

Also, the 7820x only offers four extra PCI-E lanes more than the Ryzen 7

Can someone explain how the iMac Pro is able to render these videos faster than a PC with presumably a faster graphics card?

Someone posted links to puget systems. From their tests a high end graphics card doesnt help much for Premier cc. Divinci resolve does take advantage of fast gpus though.
For the cpu they also found that 10 physical cores is sorta the sweet spot. What you want is high clock speed and fast drives. They suggest a fast drive that is just used as a scratch disk. According to them you can almost double the speed by having a scratch drive.

1070 isn't better than the GPU inside the iMac Pro. The CPU is also inferior for productivity.

Because the Vega is designed with a different mindset. Nvidia has two strategies: optimized for gaming (10x0 series) and compute (Titan series). Vega wants to do both and in gaming the Vega 64 is already slightly ahead of the 1070, so it only makes sense that it's faster in non gaming workloads

Leigh Miller's picture

It's not a good comparison...I've seen a few now over the past week or so and this is literally the worst review.

Leigh Miller's picture

Very simple. Classic tactic: It reiterates everything I've said, Apple creates the solution then goes in search of a problem it supposedly addresses...then leave out information that doesn't support the product.

The way the do it is to provide these products to people who typically give glowing reviews with little to no valuable criticism. I'm a MAC user so no hating here but every single "well known" Youtuber who got one of these machines overwhelmingly share positive results. Incidentally they mostly shoot with RED cameras...even though nothing they do on YT requires that..and they typically ARE NOT photographers-first.

Read some of the other posts on here...if you applied an equal amount of money to a PC vs MAC end users would end up with a better PC machine. Why is that?

Leigh Miller's picture

Couple of things that many "reviewers" miss: the iMac Pro/Mac Pro are designed around workstation grade components. These are made to run continuously and most of all be stable.

The PC's they are typically compared against are general purpose machines more suited to running games etc. Forget stability and error correction.

The issue then becomes what applications take advantage of these two disparate hardware systems?

SPOILER: None that are readily available to the average photographer/content creator. Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop run best on fewer cores and higher clock speeds. The rest is gravy...GPU for renders and fast storage subsystem. FCPx will leverage Apple platforms much better.

So what then are you paying for with the Apple tax...seconds, a minute or two here and there??

craig john's picture

The whole argument that Apple is designed around "workstation grade components" comes crashing down when so many pro users have purchased the "gamer grade components" in the 5K iMac, and use those machines as workstations.

Those users leave their machines on around the clock with little no issues. They're a good bit less expensive than the 2013 Mac Pro. They also perform a good bit better than any Mac Pro in most photography tasks.

So now we get to the PC. While many components have gaming in mind, they do amp them up for durability and stability.

Considering I've only been using Windows 10 for 5 weeks, I would say, I can comfortably use both OS's now. The only thing I moderately miss is the "columns" view. Beyond that, there's nothing I can't do quickly and efficiently in Windows 10.

Leigh Miller's picture

Sorry, I don't understand your point and the context to which you present it in reply to my post above?

craig john's picture

Hey Lee, I watched your PC building video, as it inspired me to build mine. Great video. I probably watched it a good 4-5 times, along with other "build your own PC" videos from the rest of Youtuber techies.

A lot has changed since your build video, and it's nuts what you can build these days with the Skylake-X CPUs. 8-core (7820x) and 10-core (7900x) CPUs performing nearly as well as the 7700K CPU (the old PS performance king) in terms of total Photoshop performance? All this while still killing it in multicore performance - even over this new iMac Pro.

It's nuts what Intel achieved here - when finally pressed by AMD's Ryzen success. :)

This iMac Pro is sporting the Vega 64, which is a step up from the GTX 1070.

You can have an ultra fast video card/GPU, but in applications that leverage multicore performance instead of higher frequencies, the CPU becomes the bottleneck, as it can't feed the GPU fast enough.

Check out Max's tests with the 8-core iMac Pro vs. the 6-core 8700k PC. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XE58q8OHvdI

Even the extra two cores, then overclocking to 5GHz brings it up there in most tasks. Tops it in others.

I built a $2,100 8-core 7820x PC in December. Even though I don't do video, and only use it for photography, Capture One Pro can still leverage all 8 cores and GPU acceleration, so it was worth extra bit of $$$ for the 8 core over a 4-core build.

I'm pretty sure my build can perform equally as well as the iMac Pro in all of, if not most of these tasks, and that's with the Radeon RX 580 video card. it can probably outperform the iMac in some tasks -- If not, then my video card would be the bottle neck.

I'm really disappointed in the PC they chose for this test, when you can do better for less $$$, and far better for a bit more $$$.

Because CPU/GPU aren’t the entire story when it comes to rendering. Disk speed (for actually writing the render to disk) is a factor, and the iMac Pro has ridiculously fast internal SSD. Memory throughput plays a role as well.

iMac pro has sort sort of proprietary ssd that is faster than an m.2 drive on a PC?

craig john's picture

iMac Pro Flash Storage speeds from BareFeats:
Read = 2530 MB/s
Write = 3185 MB/s

----------------
Samsung 960 Pro M.2 NVMe
Read = 3500 MB/s
Write = 2100 MB/s

512GB = $300 USD
1TB = $625 USD

----------------
Samsung 960 EVO M.2 NVMe
Read = 3200 MB/s
Write = 1800 MB/s

500GB = $230 USD
1TB = $450 USD

The writes speed of the iMac Pro is impressive, but you can't be disappointed with the either of the Samsung NVMe drives.

Have to think Samsung has a new NVMe flash drive coming out in 2018, since that's who Apple seems to use quite a bit for their storage.

This tells us almost nothing. Testing an 8 core iMac Pro with 64gb ram against a laptop, an ancient system that seems on par with a laptop and a fairly low spec PC...

Test a $6400 iMac Pro vs a $6400 PC (need to include cost of monitor+keyboard/mouse).

Chad Andreo's picture

I think the point is, is the new iMac pro worth upgrading to if you own one of those other systems.

joel germain's picture

Not really, the title says it. "The best computer for creative". They really need to test equivalent gear to be able to say that.... which no one seems to do when they want to show how "good" a mac is.

Chad D's picture

I also posted this on his yt under the vid

my PC a 7820X 1TB NVMe and boot on a 250 gig ssd (samsung 85) 1080 GPU 8GB ram and 32 gigs mem @3200
so his vid card is 2x the memory and his memory is 2x as much our cores are the same but mine is .4 quicker

taking his start size image and something close in tones
hope you are OK with this Colin :) if not delete it :) ahahahahahah

so again these were not the same file but the same dimensions and close in tonality etc..
in no way head to head but close enough as trying dif tone imagesdid not make much difference as I tried a few :) so close enough to compare I reckon took best out of 3 runs

in studio we have my main PC build for C1 mostly and capture and 3 mac pros

upres took 4.1 sec (iMac Pro was 8.65 alienware fastest at 5.58)
my save was 7.5 (iMac Pro was 10.8 alienware fastest at 9.63)
open was 5.2 (iMac Pro was 6.67 alienware fastest at 5.62)

the 8:30 mark he says seconds but the graphs are minutes and assuming how the ps timer works he was at 140 seconds not 1.4 seocnds as spoken and not 1.40 minutes either cause the PS timer does not show it that way so think that was just a slip up which happens but its a bit confusing at this point :) hahahahah all good though

my blur was 121 sec and I am thinking his were posted in seconds
that would mean (iMac Pro was 140)
if it was converted from the PS timer to actual minutes then he was at 1.40 and mine was 2.01 but I am thinking it has to be off the PS timer and was in total seconds :)

few thoughts IMHO windows is not so nice to work in mainly the explorer is horrid compared to the finder in OS X
no quick taging of images no column view trying to move finished files around etc. horrid
no quick space bar preview (3rd party seer is not even close)
want to see your thumbs of PSD yeah not native on win
wacom support is gain terrible with so much fiddling and even then its not as smooth I find
color managment not as system level but at each program means sometimes your adobe RGB monitor sees images as blazing colors :) stupid stupid stupid
saving in PS not being able to see your other images is a huge mistake on win part
its all the little things that ads up to lost time so while win hardware can beat it I feel one might be ahead in overall time on OS X

IMHO the win machines are ahead in performance but behind in workflow and apple has left us in a really bad spot hardware wise
and win is not up to OS X bad spot for pros IMHO

would I recomend getting a PC to mac folks ! most likely no because of the bad interface design of the OS
why do I say this when I have a win PC :) cause I use C1 which rips on this machine and as you see PS is good also
and I am a tech geek and like all tech
would I tell a win person to get a mac ? nope but I do think they should get on and learn it so they realize how superior the mac finder is to explorer :)

those that argue when you are in the apps they are all the same ? YUP they are but like when you get a severe soar throat and realize how much you use your throat you soon realize its way more than in the appp time its so much other management of files you really do in a day

in the end I am also using this PC so I know both and use both and have options but I do think OS X is superior and hope the new mac pro machines coming out will be awesome but again based on past mac pro towers lack of upgrade parts later on things like GPU and such so not sure what pricing will be

sure we all agree when Steve died Apple died and its not the company it was
I do plan on doing a hackintosh for fun on my build :)

craig john's picture

I'm interested in trying a Hackintosh with my build as well -- but it looks like such a pain in the ass, and I'm entirely happy with my Windows 10 experience right now. ...save for one caveat. But I'll get that figured out. :)

craig john's picture

Apple can shut it down any time they want.

craig john's picture

Apple can shut down the Hackintosh community anytime they want. They would be stupid to do so.

hmmm, not an especially useful comparison. The $6400 Mac won what a surprise. Why didn't you put it up against a $6400 equally specced Alienware? Pointless.

craig john's picture

Technically, you don't need to compare at $6,400 PC to a $6,400 iMac Pro. You can get the same, similar or better results for less money. An 18-core CPU won't benefit photoshop users, it will actually hinder them, so there's no point going that high.

And there's no reason going for Alienware, either.

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