PCs

iMac or Mac Pro: Making the best choice for your users' needs

Erik Eckel considers the specs of both the iMac and Mac Pro. He offers his opinion on which is appropriate for users based on their primary tasks they perform.

Mac Pros, boasting sleek silver chasses, are coveted not only for impressive performance but also for unique trademark styling. But do your users really need one? When will an iMac suffice, even though users may be convinced the organization must purchase a Mac Pro if they're to perform their tasks effectively?

iMacs prove potent

Entry level $1,200 iMacs possess a 21.5" integrated display, a 2.5GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and an AMD Radeon HD video card with 512MB of RAM. If necessary, specifications can be increased to include a 27" display with a 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM (with a 16GB option available for another $200) and a 2GB AMD Radeon HD video card for just $2,399.

Just $2,399? That may seem like an expensive desktop, but consider the entry price for a Mac Pro: $2,499.

Mac Pros: Powerhouse machines

An entry level Mac Pro includes a 3.2GHz quad-core Intel Xeon CPU, 6GB RAM, and an ATI Radeon HD video card with 1GB RAM. The CPU and RAM will outperform many standard servers loaded in data centers, yet the system is designed as a workstation (evidenced by the 1GB video card and standard client OS).

Don't be fooled. Even an entry-level Mac Pro possesses capacity to ship, factory direct, with an integrated four 3Gbps (7200RPM) or SSD-powered RAID array, and Fibre Channel connectivity, if needed. And those specifications are just options on the basic build. Even faster performing 12-core and Server builds are available at additional cost.

So who really needs a Mac Pro?

Mac Pros are serious machines. It's unlikely end users require such a potent system.

Consider Apple's recommendations for customers running Final Cut Pro X. Apple lists 4GB of RAM, an Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, and 512MB of VRAM as the recommended components, a configuration basic iMacs meet or exceed.

Adobe Creative Suite 6 Design & Web Premium is an application collection commonly run by corporate staff on Macs. Published system recommendations list 8GB of RAM, a multicore Intel CPU and 256MB of VRAM, a build (2.5GHz quad-core Intel CPU, 8GB RAM and 512MB VRAM) a 21.5" iMac can exceed for $1,299.

When are Mac Pros justified?

As revealed above, organizations will find it difficult to justify purchasing Mac Pros just because an employee must fulfill challenging graphic arts, marketing, and even photography and basic video editing tasks. Mac Pro performance is only going to be required when incredibly fast disk read/write operations and massive amounts of data storage (up to 8TB) and memory (up to 32GB) are necessary. Typically only the most demanding video editing, video rendering, scientific and engineering calculations, and database-crunching tasks demand such performance. So, unless employees are perfecting rocket science algorithms (literally), frequently editing high-end audio, and/or rendering video ceaselessly, an iMac can be configured to reasonably meet or exceed most needs.

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

7 comments
Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

I've been using iMacs since Y2K (two different models) with the latest one now 5 years old. Yes, I will admit it can perform my photo/video/audio needs--up to a point. The problem is that quite honestly [i]even when new[/i] the iMac simply took too long to perform some tasks and now that it's reaching 5 years old it feels like it's taking forever to encode video (Final Cut Express/iMovie), bulk-process photos (Aperture 3/Photoshop CS3) and import/edit/sort audio (Amadeus Pro among others). Yes, it's a Core2Duo and I have 4GB of RAM installed, but it still takes hours to perform some tasks and has since it was new. My wife does little better because she stresses her identical iMac to its limits as a systems administrator for a major bank simply doing research outside of the bank-supplied PC laptop's VPN. As such, for myself and my wife, while the iMac makes an acceptable and less-expensive solution to our needs, it also sticks us with limitations that inhibit its usability for us. I also believe that the Mac Pro, with its built-in hot-swap drive bays and high RAM/storage capacity PLUS certain internal upgrade capability makes the higher up-front cost more efficient as I, at least, can get more than a mere 6 years of use from my tools.

roblightwater
roblightwater

I've been using a Mac Mini to run Logic 9 Pro for years now together with attendant high-end SSL plug-ins for years now....

TJPanda
TJPanda

For example it is very likely that the Mac Pro will remain in service far longer than the iMac. The Pro's hardware is much more durable. RAM and storage are quick and easy to upgrade at modest cost. Processor upgrades are available at reasonable cost from third parties. Compare this to an iMac which is a bear to service or upgrade. So if you consider the cost per year of service the two are actually very close. Add to that the value of the Pro's reliability and maintainability. Then add even a small gain in staff productivity -- I have seen the same job run 10 times faster on a Pro. The balance easily tips in favor of the Pro.

hartiq
hartiq

I bought my latest desktop (Wintel XP box) in about 2000. I have the time and money for a new one. I want a Mac as running Winstuff on Macs is well easier than running MacStuff on Wintel boxes. Problem: I *adore* the simplicity and coolness of the latest iMacs and I could easily afford a 27". But I want a box I can add a couple of bits to without a degree in electronic engineering. That makes it a Mac Pro, yes? Which bothers me as I dislike the Pro a lot. It is far too IBM-clone-ish, far too much like just another PC. What I'd like is an iMac I can easily upgrade. There ain't no such animal. Is there? Www.macupgrades.com suggests I'll need a Pro.[Other advice sites are available]. Just for the access. That might be the main reason everyone else wants one, too. Nothing to do with specifications, just the simple choice between a case you can open and a sealed unit.

TJPanda
TJPanda

RE: "But I want a box I can add a couple of bits to without a degree in electronic engineering." You can, but you need to think different. With a Mac one does not typically add "bits" inside the box. For one thing, most of the "bits" you might add are already in the box. Most of the other "bits" are added through the Mac's ports. These "bits" usually plug in and work without much fuss. So you can do a lot without cracking the case or getting that engineering degree.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

"It depends on how you use it." I really don't see how that statement earned a -1. My needs are my needs, not necessarily yours. I've made two different iMacs last an average of 6 years each and they met my [i]minimum[/i] needs, though even the iMac Extreme was a very fast machine at the time it was new (technology has significantly surpassed it today). It's still as fast as it was, but my needs have grown and for me, the Mac Pro is the better choice--though I may still settle for an iMac instead when I do replace this one. Windows boxes? Never in my experience have I seen one last more than three years without needing service. Even when I built my own and spent nearly as much as I did for my iMac at the time, I needed to replace a power supply, a video card and in one case the CPU itself while that iMac kept churning along. No, I don't believe anybody will ever talk me into replacing my Macs with PCs, but I'm not opposed to putting a PC beside my Macs. What I'm more likely to do is replace my iMacs with Mac Pros because they simply fit my needs better.

hartiq
hartiq

Thank you. I think I need more research, advice and thinking before doing anything.