iMacs in 2016: Interesting year for GPUs

Discussion in 'iMac' started by saberfi, Jan 20, 2016.

  1. saberfi macrumors member


    Oct 7, 2015

    As I've read this forum in preparation of possibly purchasing my own iMac, I've become aware of the GPU being one definite points of interest for many people including myself. In fact, this has been one of the areas that has made me doubt getting an iMac, as the current offerings have been relatively old technology with some (relative) shortcomings.

    However, AMD has been promoting its new 14/16nm Polaris GPU lineup recently, which at the very least is stated to significantly increase the performance per watt ratio, which I hope to lead up to fairly powerful GPU solutions running in cooler temperatures.

    AMD is said to target Mid-2016 for the release of these next-gen GPUs, which to me sounds favorable in terms of the iMac 2016 (with the doubt lingering in whether they have a proper AIO solutions available).

    nVidia is yet to demo or talk further about their new Pascal GPUs, so whether they would be a consideration for the iMac is another thing.

    In any case, this potential GPU bump along with possible USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 upgrades this year has at the moment convinced me to just buy an SSD (+Windows 10) to my current old PC and hang on until later.

    Exciting times, in my view - even though the year is yet early.

    Any others in the same boat or otherwise interested in these developments? :)
  2. Malus120 macrumors 6502

    Jun 28, 2002
    I think you've hit the nail on the head.
    2016 should be the year of the GPU for a lot of reasons.
    As is relevant to the iMac (and Mac Pro) 14/16nm GPUs which can put the power of todays high end GPU's (and more) into a much more thermally/power limited enclosure, and thunderbolt 3 which will officially sanction external GPUs. I think the only question is "will thunderbolt 3 allow you to connect an eGPU to the iMacs internal screen" and "will this be faster than the 14/16nm GPUs they can put in the iMacs"
  3. T'hain Esh Kelch macrumors 601

    T'hain Esh Kelch

    Aug 5, 2001
    I'd actually prefer Apple to go with intergrated cards all over the line, except maybe the high end MBP, and then sell a good external TB3 chassis that would take any PC graphic card, and let AMD/nVIDIA supply card/OpenGL drivers. Then Apple could play around with Metal all they like, while I can game with proper drivers!

    But yeah, 2016 is looking very interesting!
  4. saberfi thread starter macrumors member


    Oct 7, 2015
    You both make an excellent point!

    This makes me recall the Razer 'Core' from CES, which is a TB3 enclosure in which you can put a GPU of your choosing and then plug it into your computer. They demonstrated this with an ultrabook:


    With TB3, it will be technically possible to do this with an iMac. I could imagine - for example - the argument "iMac is not meant to be a gaming computer.." becoming null and void, as you can freely attach an eGPU to your iMac whenever you want to do GPU intensive work/gaming. In the best possible future scenario, you can upgrade a modern GPU to your TB3 enclosure and actually be able to game in 5k, even with an iMac that is potentially already years old.

    I'm also extremely interested to see how Apple decides to approach the TB3 -> eGPU viewpoint.
  5. Max(IT) Suspended


    Dec 8, 2009
    It will probably costs like a separate computer ....
  6. TheCopywriter macrumors newbie

    Jan 2, 2016
    Kind of related... Do you guys believe that we might get target display mode back for the next imac editions?
  7. Icaras macrumors 603


    Mar 18, 2008
    California, United States
    The Core sounds incredibly intriguing, but even it doesn't somehow play nicely with OS X, it should theoretically work without a hitch in Windows under Bootcamp, don't you think?
  8. cynics macrumors G4

    Jan 8, 2012
    I feel we will keep seeing the same bumps in discrete graphics until the integrated graphics solutions can hold their own.

    Probably won't be long before it disappears from the entire iMac line (maybe not the highest end model...maybe). Just need it to be suitable for most professional work.

    EGpu's are cool but I'd expect Apple to want to push the Mac Pro for pros needing that sort of power. Gaming is out of the question, you might as well build a PC at that point.
  9. saberfi thread starter macrumors member


    Oct 7, 2015
    Oh, absolutely. I was planning to play my occasional game in Bootcamp anyway, so as long as the iMac has a TB3 port, everything should be quite fine, regardless of the OS X side. Good point!

    This has actually cemented my intention to wait for the next iMac with hopefully AMD Polaris + Thunderbolt 3 - probably being happy using the GPU that comes with the iMac, but also having the option to utilize an eGPU in case the provided solution feels insufficient at some stage. Clear benefits.
  10. Sirmausalot macrumors 6502a


    Sep 1, 2007
    If the past in any guide, performance gains in the GPU department will be about 10 percent. A bit more if we're lucky, less if unlucky. Don't count on an eGPU solution being supported or practical. Right now, it only works with an external monitor and that may not change and it certainly doesn't give you full power and it is very expensive. Apple has no incentive to cater to a tiny percentage of people who might be interested in an eGPU and for most people (not me) their graphics power is good enough.

  11. iemcj macrumors 6502


    Oct 31, 2015
    Ehh. I don't like to crap on ideas but the Apple egpu thing has a .0001 percent chance of happening. Here's why.

    First, external gpus, at least right now, can only output to a external monitor. So even if you did get a egpu hooked up to your imac, you'd need ANOTHER MONITOR to plug it into. Thunderbolt just can't handle the bandwidth to send that much computing data one direction then 5k at 60htz the other way. You'd need to have some sort of resolution drop just due to band width.

    Second, that is just a flat out messy system and is very much NOT apple. I mean think about what they're doing with cord cutting and removing ports and drives right and left, heck even headphone jacks from the new iphone allegedly. And you think they're going to sell a new imac with a big honking egpu that has to plug into the back? Especially since it would likely need to use 2 thunderbolt ports (one for upload data and one for download)? Just very unlikely.

    Honestly I wouldn't expect a big gpu bump next year guys. While you read it as "hey, we can get double the gpu power in the same space and power usage!" Apple read it as "hey, we can get the same gpu power in half the space and half the power usage!". :(
  12. Malus120 macrumors 6502

    Jun 28, 2002
    I'll agree with you on your point here that an an Apple designed and branded eGPU seems... out of character and unlikely.

    Stranger things have happened though recently (the silicone battery case), and while Apple generally sticks to their guns, they've been known to occasionally do odd things when multiple forces push them in seemingly incompatible directions

    Where I strongly disagree with you however is here, where you suggest that Apple will be giving (i)Mac users the short shrift GPU wise this year just so that they can get "the same GPU power in half the space/power."

    I would argue that on the contrary Apple has shown a consistent cognizance of the importance of GPU power for overall system performance and professional apps. This is why they put the fastest GPUs in the industry in their iPhones and iPads. Its why they've pushed Open CL on OS X (nMP), and built Metal for iOS and OS X. And finally its why since around 2009, they've continuously put high performance mobile GPU (the kind that don't generally actually ever make it into a notebook chassis) parts in the iMac in spite of the extra cost and heat generated .

    People who complain about mobile GPUs in iMacs either lack the engineering background to understand that no, not just any old desktop GPU will fit in an iMac enclosure (even the pre 2012 ones), or have forgotten (or are too young to remember) that the GPUs Apple used to put in its iMacs pre 2009 were just god awful (that was back when Apple REALLY didn't care about graphics outside of the Powermac/Mac Pro). And before anyone complains about Intel iGPUs, the fact of the matter is that Apple uses them in lower end/mobile systems, because Intel has spent the last half a decade upping their game to the point where, especially when accounting for power/space constraints, they are very competitive.

    Thunderbolt 3 may or may not be key to unleashing us from Apple's GPU choices for the iMac (or any Mac for that matter), but I guerantee you that if the GPU manufacturers hold up their end of the bargain this year and deliver the expected gains, we'll see a lot more than a 10% boost in the iMacs graphics performance next year regardless of vendor (think something along the lines of the jump from 2011's 6970m to 2012s 680MX).
  13. Algus macrumors regular


    Jun 8, 2014
    I'd love to see eGPUs supported in an official capacity across the Mac line. I don't really want to mess with the workarounds for doing a home-brew eGPU that are available now. Last thing I want is to update my OS and break my eGPU.

    I can't really see Apple pursuing this kind of technology though. I think they'll remain committed to only supporting the GPUs they include in their most expensive Macs.
  14. cynics macrumors G4

    Jan 8, 2012
    Hear this every time Apple does this. Soon their entire product line will be "lower end".

    What is it now? The highest end MBP, the Mac Pro, and 27" iMac have discrete graphics? All the Mac Minis, all MacBooks (new, reg/old, air) including the majority of MacBook pros, and 4K iMacs are all lower end computers? Couple years from now the 5k iMac will be lower end. And the MP will have its pro graphics cards.
  15. Malus120 macrumors 6502

    Jun 28, 2002
    No. Their entire product line will not soon be "lower end."

    While I feel your frustration with some of Apple's choices (the 4K 21" iMac, and low end 15" rMPB in particular), in almost every instance you listed, the Intel IGPUs really weren't that much slower (if at all) than the"discrete" graphics cards they replaced (for example the Iris Pro compares reasonably well to a Geforce 650/750m).

    Yes Apple replaces dGPUs with iGPUs in product lines where they feel:
    1. The performance differential for the given chassis/thermal envelope is no longer that large.
    2. Most of the consumers who buy such products wouldn't notice the difference.
    3. The space/power/heat savings of an iGPU allow them to add value in another area (weight/heat reduction/ extended battery life/smaller size/etc)

    Does it suck for people who prefer or need dGPUs and are on a budget? Yes! Do I personally like it? Sometimes yes (rMacbook) sometimes no (Mac Mini/low end 15" MBP). Do I wish Apple still offered a plethora of BTO GPU options? YES.
    But do I understand their rational for doing it, aside from the 4K iMac/low end 5K iMac, yeah I do, and I don't think it means Apple is just going to replace all of their GPU's with Intel going forward.
  16. iemcj macrumors 6502


    Oct 31, 2015
    That is a good point (well, a couple in fact haha). What I'll counter with is while yes apple has pushed graphics in thier iphones, it's because that's a completely different product. If apple doesn't have great gpus in their imacs? They'll still sell since that's not what most of it's users want. But if a user can't play Clash of Clans on an iphone without it being choppy? Oh snap they're going to ditch Apple phones crazy fast. The nature of the way people use iphones and do mobile gaming (and video) basically requires a good graphics foundation, Apples laptop and desktop devices don't face that same "do or die" situation.

    I'd also use the way apple has treated batterys in phones to how it would treat gpus in desktops. We've had pretty big gains in battery power over the past ten years but instead of keeping the phone the same size and dramatically increasing battery life, they opt to shrink it down, have it take up less space, and get similar battery life.

    With most things, apple prefers asymmetrical warfare. While the competition raises megapixel count, apple with do a cool finger print reader. When they improve cameras, apple adds image stabilization. If the market is about to get higher powered graphics cards, do you think apple is likely to A, keep things the same size and increase power or B, make laptops and desktops even thinner? I HOPE I'm not right but I'm just going off of trends here. :(
  17. Malus120 macrumors 6502

    Jun 28, 2002
    Hey, glad you were able to respond :)

    Here's my take on your counter points.

    While it's true that on iOS, gaming is a priority for Apple, whereas on the Mac, its an afterthought if they think about it at all (cough Open GL 4.4 cough), that doesn't mean that having good GPUs on their high end Macs doesn't matter to Apple.

    Apple may not really care about gamers on OS X, but they DO (seem to) (sometimes) care about creative professionals. While it's true that people buying lower end Apple hardware (think the base model in store) probably couldn't tell the difference between an Iris Pro class iGPU and a Titan X or AMD Fury, this most certainly isn't true for the people who buy Mac Pros and high end iMacs/ 15" rMBPs. For a lot of professional work (or you know, games) having a fast GPU is as much of a requirement as having a fast CPU or lots of ram. To turn your Clash of Clans example on its head, the same could be said of people doing high end media editing or content creation. While they may be less fickle than iPhone users (because the costs of switching computer systems is higher), they too will ditch Apple, if they feel their hardware needs are being ignored for too long. So yes, at the high end, Apple systems DO face a do or die situation in regards to GPU performance. Just remember, we’re talking about the performance of dGPUs in professional apps, not gaming.

    Regarding your comparison of dGPUs on Macs being like battery life on phones, I don't buy this either. Apple makes iPhones smaller/lighter/thinner both because they can (while maintaining performance and thermals) AND because its what (the majority) of users (subconsciously) want. Everyone says they want better battery life. And they do. But when it comes down to the fat phone with a big removable battery, and the slim phone with the "good enough" battery life, most people will take the smaller/lighter/thinner phone. Add in the fact that external batteries are now small, cheap, light, and offer more battery life than Apple would ever be willing to put in the iPhone, and you can see why Apple makes the choices they do.

    GPUs however, don't work like that. For one, EVERYONE needs battery life. Not everyone needs high end GPU performance. Furthermore, You can’t just go out and buy yourself some extra GPU power to hook up with USB 3.0 when you don’t have enough. Until the advent of Thunderbolt, eGPU's weren't even possible on any computer that didn't have an expresscard slot (and even those were fairly limited). Even WITH thunderbolt, the lack of official support and relegation to a secondary display has made this an extreme niche even among professional users and gamers. Thunderbolt 3 COULD change this, and this COULD push Apple to design systems featuring thunderbolt 3 without the constraints imposed by including a dGPU in the chassis. As you said however, eGPU’s just feel very cluttered clumsy, and “unApple” and although I’m sure Apple’s industrial design team (along with those at some other talented companies) could do some amazing work to make them much less so, I will be surprised if Apple decides to embrace this route.

    I feel that, especially for the 27” iMac chassis, there just aren’t a lot of ways to “thinnovate” the chassis aside from eliminating the chin and bezels, without seriously compromising performance (for example, by switching to lower voltage mobile CPUs). Furthermore, the benefits of eliminating the dGPU, and relying on thunderbolt 3 (or, god forbid just integrated graphics) just don’t seem like they would be significant enough, and eGPUs dont exactly fit with the “all in one” aesthetic to begin with.

    Getting back to my original point, I believe the 2016 iMac (and 2016 Mac Pro?) GPU’s will be, as always, a compromise between performance, thermals, and which supplier can offer the most attractive price to Apple. As we saw with the 980m in 2014, this doesn’t always mean we get the fastest part. That said, I just think it’s silly not to expect the long overdue move from 28nm to 14/16nm not to pay big dividends, especially in thermally limited systems like the iMac

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