As I'm sure you're aware, I am none of those things. Neither are my colleagues nor any other tech journalist I know. So it probably wouldn't disturb you, then, to learn that although I saw the iMac Pro in action this week, I did not personally use it. I'm well trained in reviewing laptops meant for everyday use, but a workstation-class machine that could be used to edit 8K video or render an automotive design? Not so much. Instead, Apple assembled a motley group of developers to perform hands-off demos of their apps on the iMac Pro. Rather than tell you what you already know -- that this is the fastest Mac ever made -- let's talk about the people for whom it might make sense to spend $4,999 on a desktop.
What you get for the money
But first, let's recap why the starting price is so damn steep. For that staggering entry-level price, you get an 8-core processor from Intel's workstation-class Xeon W series, paired with a Radeon Vega Pro 56 GPU, 32GB of 2666MHz DDR4 ECC RAM and 1TB of solid-state storage. Included is a Space Gray keyboard and matching mouse, though you can order it online with a Magic Trackpad instead of or in addition to the mouse. Regardless of your configuration, the display is a 27-inch 5K (5,120 x 2,880) panel with 500-nit brightness, a billion colors and support for the T3 color range. If those specs sound familiar, it's because that's the same panel used on the regular 27-inch iMac. In fairness, it really is a stunning display.
Instead of traditional VRAM, Apple packs in 8GB of high-bandwidth memory (HBM), wherein the memory is built on to the same package as the graphics chip, allowing for that greater bandwidth. Upgrade and you get a Radeon Pro Vega 64 GPU with double the memory.
Apple didn't discuss this during its initial iMac Pro announcement earlier this year, but under the hood, the machine also makes use of a custom T2 security chip -- not dissimilar from the T1 chip in the MacBook Pro that stores your Touch ID login credentials. In this case, the T2 oversees a number of the machine's components, including audio control, the controller for the FaceTime camera, the SSD controller and system management controller, and the image signal processor. Similar to the T1, it too has a secure enclave for storing things like passwords. It also has a hardware encryption engine, which takes the burden of encrypting data off of the CPU.
If that base model isn't enough, you can upgrade to a 10-core, 14-core or 18-core processor. (The 14-core option wasn't known before today.) If 32GB of RAM isn't enough, you can opt for 64GB or 128GB. Keep in mind that even if you play it safe and get 32GB or 64GB, you can always add more RAM later, though not without the help of a service professional. For storage, you can upgrade to 2TB or -- and this is a first for the Mac -- 4TB.
All of those configurations are available to order today, but the 14- and 18-core models won't ship until January. And if you want to see it up close before buying (reasonable), Apple says the iMac Pro will start showing up in retail stores next week.
Who is this for?
I saw the iMac Pro used in eight demos over the course of roughly three hours. Some, but not all, of the use cases were creative. The app Gravity Sketch, which is already available on PCs through Steam, is making its debut on the Mac. I watched co-founder Oluwaseyi Sosanya don an HTC Vive and proceed to flesh out the wireframe of a Renault-style car. I followed his progress on a nearby TV as he laid out base curves and drew in some firmer lines. At one point, he duplicated elements by clicking a button on the Vive controller. The experience seemed smooth (a refrain you'll hear from me a lot today), with no latency that I could see.