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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

The iMac Pro has landed

Even the screen protector is darker.

On Boxing Day I took delivery of the new iMac Pro. This is the $4999 base model (8 core Xeon, 32GB RAM, 1TB SSD), and I bought it myself with my own money because after three years with my original 2014 5K iMac (core i7 model), I was ready to upgrade to something faster.

I’m working on a full review for next week or the week after, but I’ve done some initial comparisons between my old 5K iMac and the iMac Pro and you will not be surprised to discover that it’s a lot faster. Yep. Stop the presses.

A sound improvement

Let’s be honest, the writing work I do could be performed on a PowerBook 160 running WriteNow. Putting one letter after another isn’t particularly demanding work in terms of processing power. But these days I am recording and producing numerous podcasts, and sometimes generating large video files, and these are the tasks that drove me to purchasing the iMac Pro.

One of my most common audio workflows involves grabbing audio files from panelists, converting them to WAV format via the ffmpeg command line tool, removing background noise via iZotope RX 6’s Spectral Denoise filter, writing that file back to disk, and using the private-beta tool sidetrack to sync the panelist’s file up with a reference track. There’s a lot of processor-intense stuff in there, as well as some disk access.

It took my 2014 5K iMac 160 seconds to perform all of those tasks; it took the iMac Pro 96 seconds, meaning that the iMac Pro was able to do the job in 60 percent of the time. Isolate just the processor-intensive task of denoising three hours of audio, and the 5K iMac took 94 seconds, versus 49 seconds for the iMac Pro—a little more than half the time.

I frequently take large 1080p videos export from editing apps and slim them down into versions I can upload to YouTube or post for a video podcast via the HandBrake video-encoding app. I performed one of these encodes on both the 2014 5K iMac and the iMac Pro; the 5K iMac encoded the video in 21 minutes and 16 seconds, while the iMac Pro took 11 minutes and 14 seconds. Once again, that’s a little more than half the time. It’s enough for me to declare that for jobs optimized for multiple processor cores, this base model iMac Pro is nearly twice as fast as the top-of-the-line 5K iMac from 2014.

When running HandBrake, the fan on my 5K iMac would always crank up and was quite audible when it did so. So far as I can tell, the iMac Pro’s fan may always be running, but it’s amazingly quiet. In my normal office environment, I can’t hear it—only when I spun the iMac Pro around and listened with all other devices off could I hear it, faintly blowing. When HandBrake was running at full speed, the iMac Pro sounded pretty much the same—but the air coming out of the vents on the back was definitely warmer!

None more black

stickers

Nothing like buying a computer for five grand only to have everyone ask you about the accessories instead. Yes, there’s a space gray trackpad (I’m keeping it) and a space gray keyboard (I’ll sell it to a friend) and a space gray mouse (I didn’t bother ordering it). I hope Apple makes these color variations available to everyone eventually, given how excited people are about them. I like the dark trackpad, which is a better match for my black keyboard and black keyboard tray. The dark keyboard with dark keys looks fantastic, but I’ve got no interest in any keyboard with a number pad attached. It’ll find a good home.

Like the Mac Pro, the iMac Pro’s little packet of Apple goodies includes a pair of black Apple-logo stickers. It’s like Spinal Tap packed this computer.

My 5k iMac was the VESA version—it had no base, but instead had a VESA mounting block on the back, and it’s hung on a mounting arm suspended above my desk for the last three years. The iMac Pro, like iMacs of previous generations (but not the most recent), isn’t offered in separate versions. Instead, the base of the iMac is removable, and Apple sells a VESA adapter. Unfortunately, that adapter isn’t arriving until next week, so for now my iMac Pro sits on my desk on its Space Gray base. Every time I reach for something on my desk, I’m reminded why I prefer to have my iMac on a mounting arm. At least iMac Pro buyers don’t have to choose the fate of their computer at the moment of purchase.

Beyond that? It’s a 5K iMac, albeit in a slightly darker shade. I made my transfer of data using Migration Assistant via Thunderbolt, which meant I needed to dig up a Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter. (Turns out I had one of those!) I look forward to compressing more video and denoising more audio. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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