Having trouble determining which desktop Mac to get.. Retina iMac or Mac Pro

Discussion in 'iMac' started by RevBus, Feb 16, 2015.

  1. RevBus macrumors newbie

    May 23, 2010
    Hey guys.. so I am in desperate need of a computer. I actually don't even have one right now, I've been lugging my work iMac back and forth from home. I haven't had enough money in a while but I am looking to get one soon.

    I am a motion designer, the apps I use most often are After Effects, Photoshop, Illustrator, Cinema 4D, Maya, Premiere, etc.. Often times many of these at the same time.

    I would love to get a Mac Pro, but money is tight and I would also need a display for it. I've also heard that you shouldn't get the base quad-core Mac Pro model compared to the Retina iMac with the upgraded processor and graphics card. Is that true?

    I am not so knowledgable about the hardware side of things (beyond the basics), but I would love to get a computer that will last me for years to come.

    My instinct is to get a Mac Pro.. I was going to get the base quad-core model (or maybe upgrade it to a 6-core?) and upgrade it over time as I get more money (as far as what can be upgraded... just memory, video cards and possibly the processor?). Would this be a smarter idea than getting a Retina iMac with the upgraded processor and graphics card, and upgrading RAM myself at a later point?

    I'm really at a loss and am getting frustrated trying to compare them, seeing what can be upgraded over time (Seems like only RAM can be upgraded in an iMac.. I would get the non-Retina model if I could actually upgrade the RAM in that.. I don't really need 5k resolution)

    I know this question probably comes up a lot, and I've been reading into these two models but I still can't decide..
    If money wasn't an issue I would obviously get the full decked out Mac Pro.. but alas, I am not rich.

    I am also hesitant to buy one right now as I hear they may be updating both models very soon?

    So anyway, I know this is sort of a rambling post, but I'm just looking for anyone to help me choose one. Honestly I use an older iMac at work and I get by just fine, but render times are slow and I would really love to be able to work without my computer chugging all the time. I would love to get the Retina iMac with upgraded processor + graphics card (especially because of the comparable price + the 5k display), but then I think about the Mac Pro and being able to upgrade more parts over time and wondering if it will last me longer...

    Also - is it worth waiting for one of the new models? Any ideas on how long I would have to wait? I would prefer to get one ASAP but if it's definitely worth it to wait I will..

    Any suggestions guys? This has been really stressing me out due to how much money I am about to spend! The more I think about the money the more tempted I am to just buy an older model refurbished iMac.. Still unsure of what specs I should be aiming for, though.

    Thanks so much, guys, I really appreciate you taking the time to read this!
  2. yjchua95, Feb 16, 2015
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2015

    yjchua95 macrumors 604

    Apr 23, 2011
    GVA, KUL, MEL (current), ZQN
    Each to his own, but the base nMP could prove to be more suitable for your needs if your workload is pretty heavy.

    Besides, keep in mind that RAM, SSD and the CPU is upgradeable in the nMP. The GPU is theoretically upgradeable as well, but the Dx00s are custom made by AMD, so you'd have to find pulled cards off eBay should you want to upgrade them.

    The baseline E5-1620 quad core in the nMP is only outperformed by the 4.0GHz i7-4970K in the retina iMac, and even so, it's only slightly outperformed.

    For OpenCL tasks and serious work, the D300 will prove to be better than the M290X and M295X.

    Since the GPU isn't widely available, I'd upgrade the GPU to the D700 straight away. I'd keep the SSD at 256GB, because video work should mainly be done on an external RAID array scratch space.

    The sweet spot for the CPU is the 6-core, because the performance-price delta compared to the quad core seems to be the most worthy, compared to the 8-core upgrade. 12-core is overkill for your needs. If you can't afford it now, go with the base E5-1620. It's plenty powerful already, and besides, you can always buy another E5 yourself to stick it in.

    EDIT: Consider this one: http://store.apple.com/us/product/FD878LL/A/refurbished-mac-pro-35ghz-6-core-intel-xeon-e5

    It's a refurb nMP with 6 core, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD and 6GB (2x3GB) D500s.

    If you're really tight on a budget, even a 27" non-retina iMac with i7, SSD. and GTX 780M would do you fine, but keep in mind that upgrade options are very limited. On the other hand, the nMP has upgradeable CPU, SSD, RAM and GPU (but for the GPU, you'll have to look on eBay for FirePros pulled off other nMPs).

    Short story, the nMP will last you the absolute longest, because you can upgrade everything (well, almost. The GPU is a bit of a bummer because I can't seem to find D700s on eBay. Guess you'll have to max this out from the start if you want). Even old classic MPs last really long to this day with CPU, RAM, SSD and GPU upgrades.
  3. robgendreau macrumors 68040

    Jul 13, 2008
    There are some things for which the riMac is faster than the four core nMP. But it is incapable of being upgraded, and the four core nMP is certainly no slouch. Here are a few comparisons:


    The riMac is s great value, and probably will have decent resale value over time. But that refurb looks nice. And couldn't you use your existing iMac as a monitor? If not, IPS 2560x1440 and even 4k monitors are dropping in price these days.

    I would just think that the motion work is one area where the nMPs are preferred platform.
  4. RevBus thread starter macrumors newbie

    May 23, 2010

    Thanks so much! Wow, yeah, that refurbished nMP you linked does look really nice for the price.. about $600 less than the non-refurbished equivalent. Maybe down the road it will be easier to find D700's?

    So when you say I can always get another E5 processor down the road, that's easily replaceable? You can't have more than one processor, or can you? That might be a pretty stupid question so I apologize.

    I think I may actually try and go with that refurbished one you linked.. I'm sure I will be happy with it.. especially being able to upgrade parts down the road. My other option is to get the base E5 quad-core model and only upgrade to the D700, then down the road get a 6-core E5 and upgrade memory and SSD if needed.

    So do you think it would be pointless to wait for the new models to come out as far as things I need? I would rather not wait months and months, that's for sure.. I just don't want to regret my purchase if I could have gotten better specs for similar prices. Is the biggest upgrade going to be the ability to use 5k displays on the nMP? If so, I certainly don't need a 5k display, it would absolutely be nice to have, but definitely not a priority right now. I typically only work in 1080p.

    I think you're right, though... the nMP would probably be a better option with all the upgradeable parts. Even if I have to shell out more money initially, it would be cheaper in the long run since I will have it longer and upgrade it as I go instead of buying a whole new iMac again.

    I guess one last question would be about non-Apple displays (is that allowed here?).. I won't have $1k to shell out for a nice display, are there any comparable 27" ones I could get for less money? Again, maybe down the road I can get a nice Apple one, but definitely not in the budget right now.

    Again thank you so much for the help, that really helped me.


    Woops this was posted as I was replying. Regarding my current iMac as a display, not really.. it's me work computer and lugging it back and forth from work and home is such a pain, it would defeat the purpose of my getting a new computer myself (other than better specs) - I think I will have to go with a non-Apple display for now. But yeah, I think since I am dropping the money already, I may as well go with the nMP over the riMac, for longevity and upgradeability.

  5. burnsranch macrumors member

    Jun 19, 2013
    I was in the same boat and bought the base nMP as an impulse buy.

    My main function is a video library/database and editing is a secondary focus. To be honest, at first I was disappointed at the performance but when I started to manage my 13TB of a video database, my view of the nMP changed.

    The TB IO card is really the machine. It is immature and devices are still expensive, but when I compare my video library performance from usb3 to TB1 to TB2, there is a huge performance in the searching and video data base functionality.

    I love the modular approach and the base level machine runs cool.

    I run a samsung UD 590 display and old monitors.

    It has been a nice machine for me and video database functionality was something I was not expecting.

    It will be interesting to see the direction of the next releases of software and hardware.
  6. colodane macrumors 6502a


    Nov 11, 2012
    I, too, am considering these two alternatives when I replace my existing iMac within the next year. My computing demands are not as significant as yours, but the design tradeoffs in terms of flexibility and upgradeability are similar.

    What I really like about the nMP approach is the ability to use it with a monitor of MY choice - not APPLE'S choice. Why do I want to pay for a 27 inch "retina" display when I would actually prefer a 24 inch by Dell, Asus, etc. What if I want a matte display rather than glossy? Or want to change displays after a year or two?

    In my case, the quad core nMP would be plenty of processing power, and I would only use one display. Would no doubt get the internal 512 GB SSD in either. So the overall cost differential would only be a couple hundred dollars plus perhaps $500 for the display.

    What bugs me most about the nMP is the inability to order it with only one GPU.
  7. librarian, Feb 16, 2015
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2015

    librarian macrumors regular

    Sep 24, 2011
    for the software you use you better get the 2013 i7 iMac with the nvidia GTX 780M. Maya and Premiere have huge advantages because of nvidia CUDA acceleration support. If you animate a lot on Maya you can have vertex animation cache, which means you can playback most animation in realtime without the need to make playblasts. If you use MentalRay as renderer engine you can use the new GPU global illumination system introduced in maya 2015 to speed up final gather based renders by 30-50% with greater quality(it's brute force raytrace based like Arnold! no more flickering and has very nice indirect shadows), you can also render via GPU Ambient Occlusion and Z-buffer passes 10 times faster than classic CPU method (multiple frames per second!).
    After Effects and Premiere can render with Mercury CUDA engine, which is very fast. The 2013 iMac can also run Mountan Lion - pretty much a requirement for batch render reilability and memory performance.
  8. yjchua95 macrumors 604

    Apr 23, 2011
    GVA, KUL, MEL (current), ZQN
    AfterEffects and Premiere are now actually more optimized for OpenCL than CUDA, so the FirePros would perform better.

    Yosemite is stable and secure. Mountain Lion may be stable, but it sure isn't secure. And Yosemite handles RAM way better.
  9. yjchua95 macrumors 604

    Apr 23, 2011
    GVA, KUL, MEL (current), ZQN
    Yes, you can always get another E5 down the road, take out the old E5 and stick the new E5 in.

    The base E5-1620 4-core may be a more viable option, since you can bump to the D700. The GPU is bloody hard to find and may end up being not upgradeable at all, since it cannot be obtained elsewhere even if it's not soldered.

    It's pointless to wait for new models to come out when it's very upgradeable.

    And of course, you can use non-Apple displays. Personally, I use an NEC Spectraview myself.

    I also have a sharp PN-K322B display connected to my nMP (I've two of them, each of them identically-specced with 12-core E5-2697, 64GB RAM, D700s and 1TB SSDs, but I need really powerful ones since I work with ArriRaw data and also uncompressed 4K footage from a EOS C500.)
  10. RevBus thread starter macrumors newbie

    May 23, 2010
    Awesome, thanks for the help! I think I'm pretty much set on the base 4-core with the D700 and upgrading the others at another point in time. Just gotta save up some more money as well as get a display. I will check out those NEC Spectraview displays - thank so much! I feel a lot more confident about my choice now.
  11. Mattstrete macrumors member

    Nov 14, 2011
    I just have one more thing to add: you mentioned carrying your present iMac between home and work? The nMP is extremely portable. I carry it around in a NSP case.
  12. yjchua95 macrumors 604

    Apr 23, 2011
    GVA, KUL, MEL (current), ZQN
    +1. I also carry an nMP in a large Tumi backpack with an Asus MB168B USB monitor. It's bus-powered and does not require an AC supply.

    Useful for on-site 4K editing (I'm a cinematographer).

    I've two nMPs; one is a permanent home device and another is a portable powerhouse.
  13. RevBus thread starter macrumors newbie

    May 23, 2010
    Yup this is also a HUUUGE plus for me! The bag I currently have to carry my iMac was like $250 as well.. I imagine I could just put the nMP in a nice padded backpack.. This will make things infinitely easier when I need to bring my computer to work! Can't wait to get it. Only thing stopping me right now is the money.. gotta save a little more. In the meantime I've just been drooling over it online haha.
  14. RevBus thread starter macrumors newbie

    May 23, 2010
    Another question I was thinking of.. will it be possible to ever upgrade my GPU to something other than the choices Apple has? Or if the next nMP comes out and has a better GPU, would I be able to put that in my nMP (assuming I can even find it for sale)? Or are my GPU and Processor limited to those that are in Apples upgradeable options? Just curious more than anything.. I think I will be very happy with the D700, despite seeing some comments here and there about how they aren't good.. I assume when they say that they mean not currently top of the line..
  15. yjchua95 macrumors 604

    Apr 23, 2011
    GVA, KUL, MEL (current), ZQN
    The processor is fully upgradeable, but the GPU isn't really, because it's hard to find the parts online.
  16. RevBus thread starter macrumors newbie

    May 23, 2010
    So there wouldn't be any other brand of GPU that would be compatible with the nMP? Was just curious really, I doubt I would end up getting anything after the D700, I'm sure that will fill my needs very nicely.

    My work computer right now is pretty crappy, especially for the work I do (huge complaint) - 2.5GHz i5, AMD Radeon HD 6750M 512 MB, 16GB RAM... so when I get this nMP I will probably be blown away because of how used to this machine I am! I'm working on some C4D stuff right now and it is chugging pretty hard... Can't wait for this Mac Pro!
  17. yjchua95, Feb 18, 2015
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2015

    yjchua95 macrumors 604

    Apr 23, 2011
    GVA, KUL, MEL (current), ZQN
    Nope, there wouldn't.

    Even the AMD FirePros made for the nMP aren't the same as the FirePros made for PCs. These are custom FirePros for Apple.

    That said, if you have a lot of cash, you can also add in a Sonnet IIID PCIe enclosure and stick an NVIDIA GTX 780 Ti into it and connect it to a TB2 port. That's what I did to my nMP when I needed an NVIDIA GPU for CUDA acceleration.

    EDIT: Regarding CPU upgradeability...

    Different variants (or generations) of the LGA 2011 socket and associated CPUs come with different ILM keying, which makes it possible to install CPUs only into generation-matching sockets. CPUs that are intended to be mounted into LGA 2011-0, LGA 2011-1 or LGA 2011-v3 sockets are all mechanically compatible regarding their dimensions and ball pattern pitches, but the designations of contacts are different between generations of the LGA 2011 socket and CPUs, thus making them electrically and logically incompatible. The original LGA 2011 socket is used for Sandy Bridge-E/EP and Ivy Bridge-E/EP processors, while LGA 2011-1 is used for Ivy Bridge-EX (Xeon E7 v2) CPUs, which were released in February 2014. LGA 2011-v3 socket is used for Haswell-E CPUs, which were released in August 2014.

    The nMPs currently uses Ivy Bridge-EP (original LGA2011).

    So the highest you can go on this nMP is the best original LGA2011 CPU you can get, the E5-2697 v2.
  18. driftless macrumors 65816


    Sep 2, 2011
    The portability of the nMP is something that flies under the radar a little. I don't have anything substantive to add to this thread except for WaterField Design's nMP specific bag: http://www.sfbags.com/products/mac-pro-go-case
  19. RevBus thread starter macrumors newbie

    May 23, 2010
    Thank you so much for all your help, you have truly helped me and made things a little less confusing for me :)

    Oooh, nice! That would be perfect. I have a feeling I will end up bringing my personal nMP to work after getting used to it at home.. at least for when I am doing 3D work or a lot of rendering.

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