Now About the iMac

May 31st, 2017

So let’s recap: In a meeting with a handful of tech journalists in early April at Apple headquarters, a new version of the Mac Pro was promised. But it won’t arrive this year, and the speculation as to when assumes it’s 2018. All we know is that it will be “modular,” which implies easy upgrades; in other words, perhaps somewhat of a throwback to the original tower format. But I doubt Apple will just resurrect an old design, because they could have done that long ago.

Another Mac mentioned was the iMac. Now the existing models haven’t been updated since 2015, when the 5K Retina display received a wider color gamut refresh and a tad more power. There’s even an entry-level version for $1,799. In other words, no 27-inch iMac comes without that magnificent 5K display.

So Apple is now promising a “great” iMac update later this year that would include configurations focused on pros. That does’t necessarily mean all iMacs, which means refreshed versions of the existing models would probably continue to be produced, only there will be one or more higher-end configurations, and probably more choices if you choose to customize.

And that’s where the speculation really begins: What pro features would the iMac inherit, and there are certainly potential answers now that Intel has introduced a new Core X-Series processor family. So we have a Core i9 that starts at four cores but there are versions of the chip with 8, 10, 12, 14, 16 and a whopping 18 cores!

The 18-core chip, the i9-7980XE, is priced at $1,999, well into Xeon territory. Such a configuration was previously unheard of for a consumer-level desktop chip. A 10-core version lists for $999.

Now I would suggest you ignore the price. Since Apple is buying tens of thousands of the high-end chips each quarter for the iMac, you can bet they are paying a whole lot less. No doubt the iMac’s cooling system would have to be beefed up to handle such beasts, and that may present the biggest obstacle to putting such powerful silicon in an iMac, which has traditionally sported notebook-grade parts.

Some of the speculation also calls for Apple choosing Xeon processors, which can far more expensive at the top-of-the-line. So I noticed an E5-2699V4 22-Core 2.2GHz listing for almost $5,000. So maybe Apple is better off sticking with the i9. After all, the Xeon will require more expensive ECC RAM, but its error-correcting capability is favored for math and science. But you’d end up with iMacs priced comparably to a Mac Pro and then some.

But Apple could have put Xeons into iMacs before now, so maybe the arrival of the i9 chips has presented far more opportunities to boost power at hefty, but not exorbitant prices.

Regardless of which chips find their way into an iMac — and it could be both — no doubt there will be more powerful graphic chips that are capable of rendering and/or gaming. I suspect the emphasis will be on creative users, since Apple has traditionally paid little attention to the gaming community.

Now I don’t presume to really know what choices Apple is making. The timing of the i9 fits with a fall introduction of a 2017 iMac, however.

With all those cores cranking away, I just wonder how many Mac Pro users will make the move with more affordable gear. Sure, the iMac has the built-in display — but what a display! — and pro users might prefer to go the route of separates rather than an all-in-one. But if it were a lot cheaper at the high end than a maxed out multicore Mac Pro, there may be lots of potential there.

Regardless of Apple’s choice about iMac configurations, I continue to marvel at how far this computer has come in 19 years. The original Bondi blue iMac was toy-like, with performance comparable to a PowerBook. It found a home with many consumers over the years, as Apple exploited the flower power of multiple colors. When it first became a flat panel display with an embedded computer, beginning with the iMac G5, it’s focus expanded.

Instead of an entry-level box, the iMac became the mainstream Mac. Indeed, I bought a late 2009 27-inch iMac to replace a Mac Pro. I didn’t look back, because with four cores, it matched the Mac Pro. The latter didn’t come into its own unless you used one of the four applications where more cores made a significant difference, or you didn’t really want to pay for the built-in display.

Indeed a main argument against an all-in-one configuration is having to essentially buy a new display each time you want to upgrade. Or being stuck if the display goes bad, though I suspect other parts might fail first.

Regardless of how it turns out, iMac users have lots to look forward to, especially if you have an older model sadly in need of an upgrade. One thing you won’t see, however, is a touchscreen, even though some of Apple’s critics are asking Apple to take the Microsoft Surface Studio route.

When you consider that as an option, however, remember that the cheapest 27-inch iMac lists for $1,799. The cheapest Surface Studio costs $2,999.99. The price of touch and then some.

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2 Responses to “Now About the iMac”

  1. dfs says:

    The current iMac has one severe problem, and as long as Apple fails to acknowledge and fix it there will still be plenty of room for the Mac Pro. Here’s the problem. The iMac is great with its built-in monitor. Add one external monitor via Thunderbolt and it’s fine. Want it to drive two externals? As long as one is attached via Thunderbolt and the other is a second iMac operated by Target Display, at least in my experience you’ll be fine. But if you try driving two externals from your twoy Thunderbolt ports things start getting very unstable, the Mac’s video starts going haywire with all sorts of unpredictable freezes. I lived with this lashup for several months, sometimes the iMac monitor would freeze or go black and the two side ones would keep working merrily away, sometimes it would be the other way around and one or both of the side ones would freeze. I have no idea whether this is a hardware problem involving the video chip, a software one involving the OS, or some kind of Thunderbolt problem (and, yes, I did try replacing cables and swapping ports, nothing helped at all). All I know is that in this one respect the iMac fails to work as advertised. As long as this problem persists, a lot of people needing multiple monitors are going to find themselves driven to the Mac Pro (the only alternative is to buy a second, used iMac as cheaply as possible and run it under Target Display).

    By the way, in addition to adding the latest and fastest chips to bump up performance stats (which may or may not make much of a difference in practice), if Apple wants to make a genuine improvement in the iMac I still think there’s plenty of good reason for adding a HDMI port.

  2. dfs says:

    B. t. w., if anybody thinks the idea of giving the iMac a HDMI port is silly, let me point out that the Mac Mini already has one.

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