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6,399 reasons why I haven’t yet replaced my iMac

My main machine is a late 2014 27″ iMac with a 4GHz Core i7 CPU, 24GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD (plus a big external RAID for most of my files). While it runs fine, I would like something with Thunderbolt 3 support, with faster graphics for X-Plane, and with more computing power for ripping Blu-Ray discs. It’s also beyond AppleCare age, and if something fails, it will be expensive and time consuming to repair.

When the iMac Pro came out, I was intrigued, but the price point is scary high and there was the “new new” Mac Pro on the horizon—potentially a cheaper alternative, given the display wouldn’t have to be bundled (and upgradeability is a good thing). I was hoping for an update on that machine at WWDC this June. Instead, we got the update much earlier, though it’s not was I was hoping to hear: The new new Mac Pro won’t be released in 2018.

As a result, if I want to replace my iMac this year, I have only two choices: A new iMac non-pro, or a new iMac Pro. (In theory, I could look at a MacBook Pro with an eGPU for graphics, but I despise the Touch Bar, and that’s the only way to get the highest-spec MacBook Pro. But I really want a desktop Mac, not a laptop-as-desktop Mac.)

So just what would I be getting for my money with either machine? And how do those machines compare with the Frankenmac homebuilt I put together last year? And perhaps more intriguingly, how do they compare with the 2013 “new” Mac Pro that Apple still sells today?

To answer those questions, I turned to the Geekbench 4 benchmark app, which includes both CPU and graphics (they call it Compute) benchmark tools.

I ran the tests on my Macs, and then used the CPU results search and Compute results search to find values for the other machines: The 2017 iMac, the 10-core iMac Pro (which is supposed to be the best bang for the buck in the iMac Pro line), and the 2013 Mac Pro.

When I was done, here’s how all five machines stacked up (best results in red):

Geekbench category → Multi Core Single Core GPU
Machine ↓ Score vs ’14 iMac Score vs ’14 iMac Score vs ’14 iMac
2014 iMac – Current Mac 15,477 4,738 86,000
2017 iMac 19,373 +25% 5,683 +20% 110,000 +28%
iMac Pro 10 core 35,207 +127% 5,265 +11% 165,000 +92%
2017 FrankenMac 19,003 +23% 5,510 +16% 180,000 +109%
2013 Mac Pro 6 core 17,611 +14% 3,578 -24% 92,224 +7%

Specs: 2014 iMac: Core i7 @ 4GHz, AMD R9 M295X • 2017 iMac: 7th Gen Core i7 @ 4.2GHz, Radeon Pro 580 • iMac Pro 10 core: Xeon W @ 3GHz, Radeon Pro Vega 64 • 2017 FrankenMac: Core i7 @ 4GHz, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 • 2013 Mac Pro 6 core: Xeon E5-1650 v2 @ 3.5GHz, dual ADM Radeon HD FirePro D700

To summarize, if I want the fastest multi core performance, I should buy the iMac Pro. For the fastest single core performance, I need the iMac. And for the fastest graphics, I should be using my Frankenmac hackintosh. And whatever I do, it won’t involve the 2013 Mac Pro! That machine is just marginally faster than my 2014 iMac at multi core operations, significantly slower at single core, and just a smidge faster at graphics. (Though I expect those cards would crush my iMac if tested using the apps for which they were designed.)

Now let’s add another variable to the analysis: Cost. Here are the costs for each of the above specified machines—excluding the old Mac Pro, because I’m not considering it—each with a keyboard and trackpad. (I’ve added a 5K display—the $1300 LG UltraFine 5K Display—to the Frankenmac, so that it includes a display, as do the iMac and iMac Pro.)

Here they are, in increasing order of cost:

  • $3,299 2017 iMac – 4.2GHz Core i7, 32GB RAM, 512GB SSD, AMD Radeon 580 8GB
  • $3,405 Frankenmac – 4.0GHz Core i7, 32GB RAM, 250GB SSD, GeForce GTX 1080, LG 5K display
  • $6,399 iMac Pro 10-core – 3.0GHz 10-core Xeon W, 32GB RAM, 1TB SSD, AMD Radeon Vega 64 16GB

Looked at in isolation, I’d probably choose to “buy” the Frankenmac: It comes quite close to the 2017 iMac’s single and multi core scores, and crushes both the iMac and iMac Pro in the graphics category. It’s also modular, so I can upgrade it with better hardware over time. (Or I could save some money up front, by downgrading to a 4K display, which would lower the total cost to about $2,500, by far the cheapest option.)

Unfortunately, it is a hackintosh, and that means it’s not quite a Mac. Upgrades can be a royal pain—mine’s still running Sierra, because I’ve had issues with the High Sierra upgrade. Sound still doesn’t work after sleep. And I can’t use Messages for anything other than Jabber (no real Messages, in other words).

Even if it were a perfect Mac, would it be worth spending $3,405 to upgrade from my present machine? I’d be gaining 23% in multi core performance, 16% in single core, and a whopping 109% in graphics. Overall, I’d say yes, especially for the graphics’ gains. But it’s not a perfect Mac, which means it’s out of the running as a new work/home full-time use Mac.

That leaves the iMac or the iMac Pro. For the non-pro iMac, an upgrade is a tougher sell—is it worth $3,330 for a roughly 25% gain in overall performance? And consider the iMac Pro; it’s $6,399, but the performance improvement is huge in both multi core and graphics…yet single core performance, where much of my time is spent, actually decreases compared to the 2017 iMac alternative. (It is 11% faster than my current Mac, however.)

If I’m going to spend money on a new computer this year, and I want it to be notably quicker than what I have today, then it looks like the iMac Pro is the only real option. So why I haven’t I moved on it yet? I can think of 6,399 reasons why. And because of those reasons, for now I’m continuing to use my 2014 iMac.

9 Comments

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  1. My iMac is about the same as yours. My big worry is Photoshop CS3 which still runs on mine. It won’t run on a new one, I suspect. Thanks for the update

  2. I’m planning to move to a Linux-based (unRaid) server for everything that needs the power, including virtualization and encoding. Then I can use a Mac for all the front-end tasks that make Mac great. At the moment my 2011 iMac is still a beast and if I don’t corner myself into only Mac I can save a huge bundle of cash.

    1. Given my job is in Mac software, I feel like I need to stay with the Mac – eating our own dog food, as it were :). Also, though I can get around fine in Linux, I just really dislike the UI in most distros. They all feel sort of cobbled together.

      But definitely, if you can go that route, much cheaper (and faster).

      -rob.

      1. Yeah that’s why I’d say just stick with and use the Mac UI! You already use the terminal for encoding, just use SSH to run it on the other box instead. UnRaid has great storage options too. You could run a Mac VM if you wanted to, similar to running the Frankenmac but maybe with a more flexible hardware platform. However, I’d stick with a true Mac platform for the client.

    1. OWC doesn’t really offer anything that can really change performance—no CPU cards, no after-market video cards, etc. There’s just not much you can do to an iMac to speed it up. Or the “new old” Mac Pro, for that matter—it’s a sealed beast.

      Back in the Mac Pro cheese grater days there were more options. Not so much now.

      -rob.

  3. Thanks for the article. My needs are less than yours, but in a similar quandary. I put my iMac out to pasture a year or so ago and got a 27″ 4K LG tied to a late 2013 MBP with an SSD, but it’s too sluggish for Photos, for example. Since I need a laptop from time to time, somewhat prefer to go with another, but a 2015? Waiting to see if Apple gives us a non-TouchBar model in the next upgrade, otherwise it’s probably an iMac and the MBP will do for portable needs for a couple of years. That will save me money and I think the 2TB fusion will be fast enough.

    Your comment on OWC helped too. I had the impression that what you said was the case, but hadn’t bothered to look yet.

    But I don’t really know what is making Photos slow, CPU, GPU or drives—my library is on a USB3 drive.

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