Which to Pick: Mac Pro or iMac?

Posted on by Sudd

I’ve written detailed articles that look at the Mac Pro –  the 5K iMac – and the latest iMac.

In this article, I want to summarize the differences between the two systems and provide my recommendations on which to choose for your projects.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

If money is not a big concern, don’t waste any more time – get the Mac Pro. While the 12-core system provides maximum bragging rights, the 8-core system is a better value with great performance.

If your budget is constrained, get an iMac. It is outstanding as an editing system and, while not as fast in video compression or rendering, what you lose in time you’ll save in dollars.

MAC PRO COMPARED TO IMAC

When you compare a Mac Pro to an iMac:

NOTE: Applications need to be modified to take advantage of both GPUs. Simply having them installed on your system does not mean that apps are using them.

WHICH TO BUY?

Both systems:

The Mac Pro is a better choice for:

The iMac is a better choice for:

Both systems are designed for media editing and whichever system you get will do a great job. Its only a question of speed.


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10 Responses to Which to Pick: Mac Pro or iMac?

  1. Larry,

    As usual you’ve captured the essentials and expressed them in an accessible manner. There’s just one thing I’d like to add to the Mac Pro pros: system stability.

    I used the original Intel Mac Pro for years for video editing and running my consultancy. But the lure of the 27″ iMacs was too strong, so I moved on.

    The thing I noticed was that the iMacs ran hotter and seemed more likely to crash under heavy loads – say rendering or transcoding – than the older Mac Pro. I believe this was partly due to the superior cooling of the Pro and – perhaps more importantly – the Pro’s use of error-correcting ECC memory.

    ECC is common in servers and workstations where uptime counts, but the Mac Pro is the only Mac that has it.

    I’d be interested to hear from your readers about their experiences with system stability under load of the latest iMacs and the Mac Pro.

    Cheers,

    Robin

  2. Keith "Llave" Brooks says:

    Larry, thanks for these thoughts. I have been editing multi-cam with as many as 5 camera’s for an internet TV program on a 2011 MacBook Pro for over two years now and have tried so many different methods to get better performance. Still have problems with crashes and slow transcoding times. I just last week started talking about new computing power. I needed to see your list:

    “The Mac Pro is a better choice for:

    Multicam editing with more than four streams of video
    Video compression and transcoding
    Complex effects requiring lots of rendering
    Editing and color grading RAW or uncompressed media”

    Appreciate your website, my other editor and I get a good laugh when we have editing questions because the first answer is, “What does Larry say?”

  3. David says:

    Hey Larry. You are the best in the world at what you do. My brain is bursting with questions, but ultimately, only one that matters:

    Are there any affordable hardware modifications that could make an Apple A1418 capable of editing smoothly and efficiently in 4K?

    I’m 99.9999% sure this can’t be done. But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t make it 100%. I’ve been scouring the net for a week, and I haven’t found a single post that even comes close to answering my question. I just bought this machine new a year ago, in good faith that I had AT LEAST two years before my hardware would be obsolete. I’m beginning to feel like Apple burned me, and burned me bad. That was a lot of money to me, and I believed the claims that Final Cut Pro X could ‘do anything’. Clearly it cannot.

  4. Jonny says:

    Great comparison! Any chance of adding a 2015 21″ 4k iMac vs 2015 27″ 5k iMac review for those of us who are REALLY on a budget?

    • Larry says:

      Jonny:

      The criteria remain the same and not worth a separate article. The 5K iMac is great for editing higher resolution media. And I would always pick a 27″ inch display for editing. The additional real estate is totally worth the extra cost.

      Larry

  5. karen says:

    i have a beauty youtube channel!! I’m undecided if i should go with an iMac or a mac pro?? i heard that editing videos on a mac pro is more likely to burn the mother board… i heard.. I’m new at all this!! help please

    • Larry says:

      Karen:

      Both systems are good choices for video editing. However, for folks just getting started, I strongly recommend a 27″ iMac, as this article outlines. Very powerful and much less expensive.

      Larry

  6. Thanks for all the work you do Larry. I teach in a film and video program our labs, shared with the animation program are updated every four years with new hardware. Unfortunately we are looking at the quandry of new 5K iMacs or Mac Pros. The situation is we’d probably have to get the current 2013 Mac Pros instead of waiting for the new model to come out or go with the current iMac 5k. Either way the powers that be want to go cheap, 2GB graphics card on the iMac and base model Mac Pro quad core with 12GB RAM and 2GB graphics card. Seems like the iMac would win this competition but we’re quickly moving into 4K and even starting to look at RAW video as well as huge amounts of rendering in the animation program. In the end I feel like the iMac in short time will be looking anemic. Thoughts?

  7. pfflahe@carrollk12.org says:

    Larry, I would like to purchase a new mac pro for editing FCPx, we do some multicam editing and this for an educational channel so I would like to buy a pretty robust system because we don’t get a bite of the apple very often. I have a 2013 mac pro already but I need to get another system to replace a 2009 mac pro. What specs would you recommend? Thanks.

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