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  • The Most Expensive Mac — Cheaper Than Expected?

    December 15th, 2017

    So before the iPhone X came out, there were oh-so-many complaints about an expected starting price just shy of $1,000. It was the most expensive mainstream smartphone, although the critics were pushing it. After all, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 wasn’t all that much cheaper, particularly when you paid for one on a monthly basis.

    And if you can see people freaking out big time over a smartphone that can cost over $1,000 in its top-of-the-line configuration, imagine a Macintosh computer that can be optioned to a price north of $13,000!

    Indeed, the media meme has focused heavily on the fact that the iMac Pro is Apple’s “most expensive computer,” and that might be technically true. But the original Macintosh IIfx, a computer workstation that debuted in 1990, retailed for $8,969 in its entry-level configuration, and that’s the equivalent of $16,797.90 in 2017.

    And it didn’t even come with a display, though you could upgrade it to a fare-thee-well. So it may have ended up costing even more in 1990 dollars.

    The starting price of the iMac Pro is a “mere” $4,999, and it’s actually not entry-level by any means, since it includes an 8-core Intel Xeon-W processor, 32GB of ECC RAM, and a 1TB SSD. Not too shabby. Indeed, it is a workable configuration for many people, although I might consider the version with a 2TB SSD if I had the budget for one; that configuration adds $800 to the price.

    If you need the best available, you can order up an 18-core processor, the AMD Radeon Pro Vega 64 with 16GB HBM2 memory, 128GB of ECC RAM and a 4TB SSD. That gets you to the $13,199 figure.

    However, the price is not out of line. A Windows PC equipped with similar parts would be priced in the same range. This has long been true of Apple’s professional workstations.

    From the front, the iMac Pro appears to be nearly identical to a regular iMac, except for the space gray color scheme. The rear has more ports, fitting for a computer that’s meant for 3D rendering, complex mathematical calculations and other high-end use. To go with it, Apple released Final Cut Pro X 10.4, which includes a wealth of new features including support for real-time 8K editing.

    Now if only Apple had an 8K display for such chores. Right now Dell has such a beast, and I suspect the promised Thunderbolt display will also fit into that category when it arrives next year. An iMac Pro can drive two external 5K displays, and probably just one with 8K capability. But that might be more the province of the forthcoming Mac Pro.

    Still, Apple is definitely making moves to reclaim the professional video editing market by piling on features in its $399 app.

    Now when it comes to the iMac Pro, users are going to have to consider whether buying a computer that starts at $4,999 will really suit their needs. With a minimum of 8 cores, it’s clearly meant for apps that take advantage of multiple cores, and the preliminary benchmarks reveal expected performance boosts across the board.

    But if you’re not using such apps — or just can’t afford the price of admission — the regular 27-inch iMac would very likely meet your needs. For up to four cores, it’ll probably benchmark faster in CPU tasks than those expensive Xeons. All right, the Pro’s graphics are more powerful too. But the standard iMac isn’t necessarily cheap when check all the boxes. Indeed, a maxed out iMac with 2TB of solid stage storage is $5,299.

    As to the iMac Pro, I thought it would end up even being more expensive, because I overestimated the premium for the 18-core Xeon-W CPU. I predicted a total price of over $15,000.

    The media, however, is focusing on the wrong thing. As I indicated above, the iMac Pro is not more expensive than comparable Windows boxes. You might mention the Microsoft Surface Studio all-in-one, which more directly competes with a regular iMac, and includes a touchscreen, but you cannot option it to the same level as the iMac. That’s why it never gets much above $4,000.

    Contradicting the emphasis on price, in the past the critics complained that Apple had failed to listen to its power users. The 2013 Mac Pro was a misfire, never upgraded, and, even though it’s still available, it’s mostly a placeholder for the next model.

    As to delivery, you might stand a chance of getting one of the “lesser” iMac Pros before the end of the year, but you’ll have to wait a couple of months of you want 14 cores or 18 cores.

    But there’s also a new modular Mac Pro under construction. Will it just be a version of the iMac Pro sans display with easy upgrades and space for multiple drives and expansion cards? Or will Apple choose Xeons with up to 24 cores and perhaps even RAM slots? Will the price approach $20,000, and will the media rant about that factor rather than its value as a high-end workstation? You betcha!

    Oh and by the way, one valid criticism being made about the iMac Pro is that RAM isn’t as easily upgraded as one the regular 27-inch iMac. You have to bring it to a dealer, which probably means it has to be taken completely apart if you want to use third-party ECC memory instead of just checking off Apple’s overpriced parts.

    I wonder why Apple couldn’t simply follow the regular iMac RAM upgrade scheme, although it’s likely components had to be positioned differently to take advantage of the higher cooling requirements.



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