iMac, Mini, and Pro: Apple’s Desktop Macs Compared

A Mac Mini next to an iMac.Hadrian / Shutterstock

If you are shopping for a new desktop Mac, you will almost certainly be attracted to the iMac. However, Apple also makes the iMac Pro, the Mac mini, and a freshly redesigned Mac Pro. Let’s see the differences.

iMac: all in one

the iMac is Apple’s flagship all-in-one. Available in sizes 21 or 27 inches, an iMac can be widely customized to suit all kinds of budgets and scenarios.

All but the cheapest 21 inches ($ 1,099) come with a 4K (or 5K) Retina display, which showcases the wide P3 color gamut. These impressive panels are one of the main attractions of the iMac. When you buy an iMac, you get everything you need to get started: a computer, a screen, and the required peripherals.

A 21-inch and 27-inch Apple iMac 2019 screen.Apple

The 27-inch models don’t just have a larger screen; they also have more powerful hardware under the hood and a wider range of upgrade options. This includes eight-core processors (which were previously six-core), up to 64 GB of RAM (previously 32 GB), up to 3 TB of storage (previously 1 TB) and better GPUs to drive the largest screen.

As a result, the iMac is Apple’s most flexible desktop computer. It can be a home office or an economic learning tool, a capable photo editing workstation, at the heart of a home recording studio, or a creative power clever for video editing or 3D rendering.

Although there is an “Apple tax”, you have to pay for it all when you compare it to build your own rig, the cost of an iMac does not seem so unreasonable. This is especially true when you consider the price of a decent 4K or 5K monitor. If space is an issue, you might be happy to pay the premium so that everything is intelligently contained in one unit.

The iMac comes with an Apple Magic Keyboard and a Magic Mouse; for a small fee, you can upgrade the Magic Mouse to a Magic Trackpad instead. This is a useful move, because the extensive use of macOS by gestures justifies more than touch input.

Input / output on an Apple iMac 2019.Apple

Given its desktop format, the iMac offers one of the best price-performance ratios of all Macs. If portability is not a priority and you are split between a MacBook Pro and an iMac with comparable specifications, the iMac is the wiser choice in terms of overall power.

Even if you already have one or two monitors, the iMac could still be your best choice. ((Multi-screen configurations are great!) You can’t configure a Mac mini with an eight-core processor or a Vega 48 GPU, for example.

The iMac also has another thing up its sleeve: a RAM upgrade slot. It is located at the rear of the unit, which facilitates the upgrade available memory. It also means that you can buy an iMac with a paltry amount of RAM, and then immediately upgrade it to a cheaper third-party RAM that won’t affect your warranty. This is something that MacBook owners can only dream of.

iMac Pro: a power plant in black

The most striking thing about the iMac Pro is its darker dark gray color and matching desktop devices. Available only as a 27-inch all-in-one, the iMac Pro bridges the gap between the standard iMac and the more modular Mac Pro. It also starts at $ 4,999, a steep rise from the base 27-inch iMac to $ 1,799.

To understand the price difference, you need to understand who Apple is targeting. The iMac Pro is not a professional workstation for people who need much more powerful hardware.

The iMac Pro ships with Intel Xeon, server-class processors, starting at eight cores and going up to 18 (with an upgrade of $ 2400). The iMac Pro can accommodate up to 256 GB of RAM and 4 TB of solid-state storage (no traditional hard drive options here).

An Apple iMac Pro screen.Apple

The iMac Pro also provides upgrade paths to AMD’s Vega 64X GPUs for serious 3D, VR and video work. Behind the scenes, Apple has equipped the iMac Pro with a redesigned cooling system that is both silent and very efficient. He also threw in a T2 chip, a coprocessor designed to manage the security and encryption that appear in most modern Macs (but not the standard iMac yet).

The iMac Pro uses ECC (Error Correction Code) RAM, which is the memory of choice for servers. As the name suggests, this memory automatically detects and corrects memory errors on the fly, unlike standard RAM, which has a much higher failure rate. You also get four Thunderbolt 3 ports (versus two on the iMac) and 10 Gb Ethernet (versus 1 Gb on the iMac).

This level of professional performance is however expensive. Even if you’ve set up a 27-inch iMac with the best processor, RAM, and GPU chip available, you’ll still be around $ 150 less than the starting price of the iMac Pro.

This makes the iMac Pro difficult to recommend for the average consumer.

Mac mini: small Mac, big possibilities

the Mac mini is Apple’s pocket office. It has been overlooked by Apple for so long, it barely got an update from 2014-18. Now he’s back, and Apple seems determined to provide hardware updates in a timely manner, the most recent being March 2020.

To understand the appeal of the Mac mini, you need to understand its intended uses. The first is a small dedicated desktop computer for $ 799. You do not have a monitor, keyboard or mouse, which has been the case since the machine started in 2005.

At the time, the Mac mini offered PC owners an inexpensive and compact way to get on the Apple train. Since then, the Mac mini has gained a reputation for being a solid home server and theater PC (HTPC) solution. It also remains a great option for the curious of Apple, who have a desktop PC, monitor and out-of-the-box peripherals.

The Apple Mac Mini 2020.Apple

One such scenario could be programmers who want to develop iPhone and iPad applications, which require Xcode and an Apple developer account. This is not possible under Windows and a Mac mini is always cheaper than a MacBook Air (another economical option from Apple).

The Mac mini has also found favor in other areas. Generation and rendering farms use distributed computing methods to share heavy loads on multiple machines. This speeds up software creation or video rendering, and the Mac mini often powers these installations.

Other uses include dedicated Xcode servers for mobile developers, controllers for professional lighting and audio processing during live shows, and for powering digital signage and outdoor screens. Many of these are possible thanks to Apple’s excellent input / output (I / O), which includes four dedicated Thunderbolt 3 ports.

The Mac mini does not have a dedicated GPU, so it is not likely to be a powerful video editor. You can upgrade most components at checkout, like the CPU, RAM, and storage, but the iMac is still in the lead.

Like the iMac, you can also upgrade the RAM on a Mac mini yourself to save money.

Mac Pro: when nothing else will do

If you look at the iMac Pro and think, I need more, then the Mac Pro is all that remains. After dropping the ball on the Mac Pro “trash” often decried in 2013, Apple resurrected the Mac Pro in 2019. It was a huge machine beast, worthy of its name.

The new Mac Pro has all the advantages of the famous Power Mac G5, up to its modular case design and all-metal chassis. If the starting price of $ 5,999 seems high, keep in mind that a fully trapped Mac Pro costs more than $ 50,000 (yes, really).

Apple

Like the iMac Pro, the Mac Pro only offers server-class Intel Xeon processors, with up to 28 cores (an option of $ 7,000). The machine supports up to 1.5 TB of ECC DDR4 memory, two 32 GB Radeon Vega II graphics processors and up to 8 TB of semiconductor storage. Apple also offers a $ 2,000 Afterburner card that accelerates the decoding of ProRes and ProRes RAW encoded videos from high-end cameras.

The Mac Pro pairs best with Apple’s equally flamboyant Pro Display XDR, a $ 3,299 Thunderbolt 3 screen with a native resolution of 6K. Sure, you can use any monitor you like, but when you spend that much, the tradeoff seems doomed.

This monster is built with a very specific person in mind, who probably doesn’t pay for himself. For most home uses, the iMac Pro makes a lot more sense if you need a high-end Mac bonkers.

For most consumers, even a rugged standard iMac will absorb most tasks, including 4K video editing, RAW image processing and 3D rendering.

RELATED: Is the Mac Pro too expensive compared to a PC?

More for your money than a MacBook

When it comes to desktop Macs, the iMac is the best choice for most consumers. Even if you’re considering a MacBook Pro, if you don’t need portability, think about how an iMac could improve your workflow.

For some people, a The iPad could be the perfect replacement for the MacBook, Leaving your desktop Mac and its much larger screen free to perform the heavy and specific tasks of macOS.

RELATED: Can you replace your Mac with an iPad in 2020?

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