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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Chad Andreo's picture

Also, most people do not factor in the fact that a similar 5k monitor will cost $9-1100.

A similar priced PC seems to be inferior in all of the tests that I’ve seen where the price of the screen is factored in.

craig john's picture

This is wrong.

https://pcpartpicker.com/list/RZfybj

10-core 7900x CPU
64GB 3200MHz DDR4 RAM
(2) 1TB NVMe SSD flash drives
dual Zotac 1080ti video cards
27" Dell 5K display

$6,390

This build will beat a $6,400 iMac Pro in every way - unless you're using FCP X.

>> Lop off $425 and go with the 8-core 7820x,

8-core 7820x CPU
64GB 3200MHz DDR4 RAM
(2) 1TB NVMe SSD flash drives
(2) Zotac 1080ti video cards
27" Dell 5K display

$5,990

And you still get better performance

>>Lop off another $775

8-core 7820x CPU
64GB 3200MHz DDR4 RAM
(2) 1TB NVMe SSD flash drives
Zotac 1080ti video cards
27" Dell 5K display

$5,215

And you still get as good if not better performance in nearly every task as the $6,400 8-core iMac Pro. But who cares? You saved yourself $1,200.

The funny thing is, if I added a 5K display to my 7820x build, it would only cost $3,500 - and it will still perform as good if not better than the iMac Pro in all of my work.

And the one thing I can do in my PC case people can't do in the iMac Pro... is add three more 2.5" drives, whether they are SSD or a 4TB 5400 RMP storage drives, or some combo of both.

Chad D's picture

well being a mac guy that uses a PC I would say many do not figure it in but a 5K monitor for photo work ? give me a NEC or BenQ before a glossy imac 5k any day

so I am willing to bet the BenQ for $600 will be more color accurate then the iMac screen and while not 5k again I prefer color accuracy over pxiel density that actually is not as efficient

Aran Y's picture

who cares about factoring in a 5k, thats the where Apple gets you. The monitor is prob one the lowest costs items in the IMAC pro build. They pay pennies on the dollar and you pay for the dollar. You can buy a 2k monitor and save $1500 and still get amazing quality screens. Don't just see the phrase 5k and assume everyone needs or wants it. Id much rather build a pc with 3 beautiful 144hz 99%RGB monitors and still be cheaper and better off.

Nick Dors's picture

Glad to see I am making the sensible choice for my photography with a quick Macbook Pro 15" + 27" Thunderbolt Display. I does fine on my 36mp files and flies through 16mp ones.

Emmanuel Moka-Moliki's picture

It's really pretty simple. With a 16GB graphics card rendering, transcoding, exporting etc. anything is going to be a breeze due to the amount of memory access there is. The other factor that comes in which favors the MBP is that M.2 SSDs are much faster when it comes to accessing data (as opposed to HDDs and standard SSDs). Also correct me if I'm wrong but don't the Xeon processors have a bigger cache than the others, plus 8 cores on top of that?

I just don't think when it comes down to it that the iMac Pro is worth that kind of money. My PC build with the new AMD Ryzen 1700x processor and 1070ti 8GB does everything I need it to smoothly and quickly (faster than the intel chips for a much cheaper price). After working with Macs for 8+ years and going back to PC this year I don't see myself going back for any reason. Apple yet again is making people overpay for what hey could have for literally half the price.

craig john's picture

Take the Xeon and the ECC out of the equation, as they're not necessary for video and photo editing. This has already been verified by the numerous people using the regular old 5K iMac with the i5 and i7 CPUs.

My build was less less than half of what the new iMac Pro sells for, and it's an 8-core 32GB workstation.

craig john's picture

No you don't. You only have to compare workstations that can perform the same tasks.

craig john's picture

No you don't. The only people who believe these comparisons are unfair are Apple users who pay a nice premium for their computers, and need to justify the price. I was one of those people for over 20 years. I used to defend Macs left and right.

I don't have to build a Xeon PC to compare it to a Xeon Mac Pro.

I don't have to build a i7 4-core PC to compare it to an i7 iMac.

I don't have to build a PC with a display if I don't need one to compare it to an 5k iMac or iMac Pro.

Mac users have already been comparing the 2009-2012 and 2013 Mac Pros to the 2014, 2015 and 2017 5K iMacs...including comparing the 2013 8-core Mac Pro with an original price tag of $5,000 - and that was without the display - to the $3,000 iMac price tag with the display. In fact, the iMac users were bragging about their $3,000 iMacs out performing the $5,000 2013 8-core Mac Pro in photoshop tasks.

So to suggest you can't compare an 8-core PC without a display that's $1,000 less expensive than the $3,000 5K iMac is loaded hypocrisy. LOL

And until Apple offers more than their limited options, any comparison is entirely fair game - with or without a display. With or without xeon CPUs.

craig john's picture

Sorry, this is going to be long. HAHAHA

I have a similar machine to Chad's, as we did a LOT of talking back and forth as we were deciding on parts during our custom builds. Unfortunately, I think I talked him into buying and building his PC. LOL

My PC is a bit different than Chad's, as I had a different budget.

Intel 8 core 7820x
240GB OWC Mercury Extreme Pro 6G SSD boot drive
4TB WD MyBook Passport USB 3 external drive
32GB of RAM
8GB Sapphire Radeon RX 580 video card
ASRock Extreme4 MOB
EVGA 750 Watt Gold+ power supply
Fractal Design Meshify C PC case

Price netted out at $2,100.

No my build doesn't include a 27" display, as I already have a color calibrated 27" NEC MultiSync.

I've been a Mac user for 25+ years, never touched a PC as a workstation in the past -- never wanted to. Until 2017. Just got sick of Apple's pricing for what you get. A 2017 5K i7 iMac with similar specs to mine (BTO) would be priced at $3,400 - except with a 4-core CPU. And without a 4TB drive. I don't have an NVMe drive (yet) so really, it's push on storage IMO. I already have a 27" display, so I didn't feel it was worth the extra $1,300 to spend on the iMac. I definitely didn't believe it was worth spending an extra $4,000 on an iMac Pro, when I could build an 8-core PC for $2,000.

So far my custom build flies through everything I throw at it. Including running exports through Capture One Pro while running a 1000 image PS batch process resize, and going back into Capture One Pro, opening an new job, and starting to make RAW adjustments.

I don't have nearly the same issue as Chad in terms of the Windows 10 UI. In fact, right now I find it very stable and usable - and no, I had never used Windows before. I came into this OS completely blind.

I'm making the Windows 10 finder work for me, and I get out of it what I want. I'm managing my files in the exact same way I did on the Mac: folder and file hierarchy and naming convention. I learned and adopted my system from an AD Agency I worked at in Madison, WI back in 1995 - I've taken it with me where ever I've worked, and have been using it as I start my own photography business. The system works exactly the same way on PC as it does on the Mac.

Navigating through the files hasn't big of an issue for me - it's like going from Nikon to Sony, and learning the new the menu system. It takes a little getting used to.

I do miss the "columns view", and hope MS will add that feature to the UI, but it's not a deal breaker for me.

The only issue I have is ejecting external drives connected to the numerous USB 3 ports. I have a work around, and I'll get that one figured out. LOL Also not a deal breaking for me.

Apple's BS "Pro philosophy" of having to build every pro machine with Xeon CPUs and ECC memory to justify their absurd pricing is the deal breaker for me. The vast majority of photographers and videographers don't need Xeon CPUs and ECC memory for their work. Hell, most of the Mac users in these two fields have been using the 5k iMac with either an i5 or an i7 CPU and non-ECC memory, or the MacBook Pro.

When Apple took notice of pros vacating or skipping Apple's terrible 2013 black Mac Pro, they said they heard us, and created a Mac for those pro users. The iMac Pro. ...of course it starts at $5,000. Because....they're Apple.

The perfect Mac Apple should have built, but never will, is a double or triple height Mac Mini with the Intel 6-core i7 8700k CPU, with 16GB of user upgradable memory, dual slot NVMe storage, and user upgradable video card. And price it at $1,800. And give it 4 USB 3.1 ports, and 4 TB3 ports. I would have stayed with Apple if they offered this machine. But no. We get the iMac Pro. So hello my custom build. :)

As a side note, the 2013 8-core black Mac Pro with 12GB of Memory and dual D700 GPUs is still a whopping $4,000. AKA, wildly overpriced. HAHAHA.

Even if my 8-core 7820x build was only equal in performance to the 8-core black Mac Pro, it would have still be worth it for half the cost. But considering it's a faster more stable machine (look up the 2013 Mac Pro GPU bugs), it's a far better value.

As for the testing in this video, I'm disappointed Colin didn't do the speed test with a custom built PC, considering it's a far better value (more bang for your buck).

$1,570 8700K PC
https://pcpartpicker.com/list/vyhkvV

The above build will top (or get be equal to) all machines in your PS tests, beat all of your machines in some video test, and get pretty close to the 8-core in a couple of tests. Max Yuryev already tested a $1,350 8700k build vs. the $5,000 iMac Pro. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XE58q8OHvdI

in Premier Pro and DaVinci.

Point being, you can do better than 4-cores on the PC for $1,600. Or, you could build an 8-core machine for $2,100-$2,200. Still a far better value than anything Apple offers.

If you're a Final Cut Pro user, then buy Apple and be happy.

I have absolutely zero regret leaving Apple and Apple's OS after 30+ years using their computers. Unless Apple offers exactly what I want in hardware, I have no intention of returning, as I can build exactly what I want with the PC - and the more I use Windows 10, the more I get used to it. Even so, my workflow has only increased in speed moving to Windows 10 and this custom build (I'm far more productive), it has not slowed down. :)

YMMV. :)

c

Leigh Miller's picture

Well stated.

I'm not leaving Apple (yet) but neither will I be buying this new (OLD) tech based iMac Pro. I would rather light a bong full of weed with rolled up g-notes.

Leigh Miller's picture

Have you been paying attention??

Apple uses previous generation tech in their design of the iMac and Mac Pro.

Chad D's picture

reckon I was on that road :) but fun to go down a road with a friend to bad I whine to him daily of my hate for the explorer :) ahhahahahahahaha
mine is stable just the lack of column view and tagging images and the psd previews and the proper space bar and overall use of the explorer is what steams my Twinkies

we both ahve 7820 both have meshify cases though :)

my build also had the 1080 cause I game and I got the 1TB NVMe which is nice but not needed more a luxury I would go with the pro version over the evo knowing what I know now and I might have gone with the 512 and a 1080ti if I was to go back in time but the reality is I can update my card when the next gen cards come out which is one of the things I could not do with the macs

craig john's picture

I F'N hate my keyboard - it's fat, loud and clunky. Even loosey-goosey. It's a piece of crap. I'll be getting a new low profile one soon.

It's sad that the thing I miss the most about my Mac is the low-profile keyboard. HAHAHAHAHA

craig john's picture

$2,100 for a new (2017) 8-core 7820x PC vs. $4,000 for a 2013 8-core Mac Pro. That's a huge difference.

craig john's picture

What if people have an old Mac Pro with a perfectly good display, and they’re considering an iMac? That’s my situation and that makes my build without a display perfectly valid. My price comparison was for my needs, not anyone else’s.

Apple just assumes everyone needs a display when you buy an iMac. When your old iMac slows down, but the display is still working, you still have to buy a new display if you buy a new iMac. That’s one reason I ditched my old 27” white iMac back in the day. I didn’t want to have to continually buy a new display when I needed to upgrade my computer.

He’s the conundrum with Apple:

I don't need a 5K display, and if I bought an iMac I would HAVE to pay for the 5K display. That’d be three thousand some odd US dollars with a third party RAM upgrade.

If I want 8 cores, I'd have to buy a 2013 Mac Pro with Xeon for $4,000 with 16GB of RAM, which is absolutely ridiculous.

…or I'd have to spend $5,000, and again, paying for a feature I don't need. And even then, I don’t need Xeon CPUs nor ECC memory.

Even if I added a 27" 5K display, my system as is, would still only be $3,500.

Also, I didn't have a budget of $3,500 to spend. Yes, I run my own business. But I can think of lot of other things I'd rather do with that wide price difference. $2,100 vs. $4,000 or $5,000? or even $3,000 for an iMac. It’s just stupid, as I don’t use FCPX.

For me, the $1,400 spent on a 5K display would be wasted money. I'd rather put that money into more fast NVMe storage.

So yes. The Apple pricing is a HUGE difference when all you're comparing is one workstation that can perform the exact same tasks as another workstation.

As for 4-core vs. 8-core in terms of Photoshop use in 2018; in real world use, it’s now negligible. The 7820x has the same high turbo boost as the 7700K. And it’s higher than the 6700K (2014 5K i7 iMac). In the past, it was definitely true 4-core machines outperformed 8-core machines in most Photoshop tasks. The 2013 8-core Mac Pro had a base frequency of 3.0GHz, with a turbo boost of 3.9GHz. It’s a dog…

And as was noted, there are tasks in LR and Capture One Pro that leverage multiple cores. Plus, multitasking, or working on 2-3 jobs at once. The 8-core CPU with 32GB RAM doesn’t break a sweat.

But another thing you’re also limited in is PCIe lanes with 4-core i7 CPUs.

Ugh! Another ramble. LOL

Michael Comeau's picture

There's a major 'real world' use being ignored here - Final Cut Pro X.

Leigh Miller's picture

Correct.

craig john's picture

For sure. If you use FCP X, stay with Apple and be happy. That to me, is the ONLY legit reason to stay with Apple right now.

Motti Bembaron's picture

"Is Apple kind of gauging us"? It's not even a question, Apple has a price structure that separates you from a large chunk of your money in a lightning speed :-)

For Photoshop and Lightroom, I think PC's have been doing better for a long time now. Comparing my friends iPro and my PC there is no comparison, my PC kills the iMac (cost about half).

As for video editing, I bet a couple hundred dollars in memory investment would bring the Dell very close to the iMac Pro.

Motti Bembaron's picture

I am comparing my one year old custom built PC to a friend's iMac. His is a bit older but I used components that were already a while in the market to save some money.

We both photographers using Photoshop and Lightroom. My PC is way faster than his iMac.

I am SHOCKED that a 4 core computer with 16 GB of ram and 6 gb video card was beat by a computer with 10 cores, 64 GB ram and 16 GB video card...... But in all seriousness, this review is nonsense. Why not use an An Area 51 PC with the 7820x 8 Core 4.5ghz, a GTX 1080 Ti w 11GB ram and 64GB quad channel Hyper XDDR4, and 512 GB M.2 SSD? That's coming in at $4,469 with 2k left for a 5k Monitor. I'm not all about PC or Mac, but this review is comparing apples to oranges. The mac will still have a Xeon W processor, but at least the specs would be a lot closer if you are really trying to see where the Mac performance stands next to a comparable PC. Heck bump up to the 7940X 14 core and there's still 1k left for a monitor. Again, I have an Imac and macbook pro personally, but even I can see right through this review.

Mirza Hasanefendic's picture

Well... I recently bought a brand new "trashcan" 6-core MacPro with dual D700 graphic cards, 512GB SSD and 32" 4K BenQ SW320 monitor. I used Apple's educational discount and after selling my classic MacPro, I invested "only" $2300 + $860 for refurbished (practically new for half price) monitor. Not a popular choice these days, but honestly, this configuration is WAY better for ME compared to brand new fully loaded 2017 5K iMac i7 quad-core I have at the office. Yes, the iMac is slightly faster while exporting from Lightroom, but overall system responsiveness and precious silence (2017 i7 iMac is super noisy, unlike 2012 i7 model I used to own) is so much better with MacPro. FCPX also flies and plays with Mavic Pro's 4K LOG files with ease, and with Capture One Pro 11, it's even faster while processing Canon's 5D MkIV RAW files :-) I just added Drobo 5C for archive and 1TB external Thunderbolt SSD for editing larger projects, and plan on adding 64GB of RAM next month. Super happy with my choice but I have no doubt that iMac Pro is a serious, super fast upgrade in every way, just a bit too expensive at the moment. And I also prefer larger matte screen with 99% AdobeRGB and 10-bit color. YMMV of course...

I love how every example in the comments is "the same, except". So many people here can build a better computer for less, except some part of the components don't match up.

So it's not the same computer as the iMac Pro, it's a computer with lesser parts, that's why it's cheaper.

The Alienware performed better on single core tasks (4 cores), because it's has a higher single core score than the iMac (8 cores). The iMac will be blown away by anything that requires single core work as the back bone. Just like the other machines were blown away by iMac's 8 core multi-core score, and 64bit Vega GPU. Different tasks, require different parts fo the computer to run well. The iMac Pro is a great computer for video, and will do better than it's predecessors at photography, but it's not spec'd for photography. It's designed for heavy lifting, and computational math, e.g. video compression, and VR design.

craig john's picture

I love how people just assume you need to compare Xeon to Xeon when comparing pricing for two computers than can perform the same tasks.

You don't. If I can build an 8-core non-Xeon workstation for $2,100 that can perform the exact same tasks as an 8-core Xeon workstation for $5,000, it's entirely valid.

There are very few photographers and videographers who need a Xeon component workstations.

You do if you want to make accurate comparisons about performance.

craig john's picture

No. If you can perform the same task on two different computers, regardless of they components, they're entirely comparison worthy. One will be faster, one will be slower, or they will both perform in a similar fashion. Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture One Pro, PhotoMechanic, FCPX, Premiere, After Affects, DaVinci.... they all work on Intel/AMD CPUs. It doesn't matter if it's an Ryzen, Threadripper, i5, i7 or Xeon.

They're all comparable to each other in terms of final performance, and especially to "price to performance" ratio.