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.


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...

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