iMac 5K Retina vs Mac Pro 5,1 4K

Mac Pro 5,1 & 4K Monitor vs. iMac 5K: Create Pro Face Off

As soon as the iMac Retina was announced we immediately wanted to pit it against one of our custom Mac Pro 5,1 systems. So what did we do? We bought a 5K iMac, as well as a 4K monitor to go with the Mac Pro, and put them head to head. We ran a number of benchmark programs to test the CPU, GPU and storage configurations of the two systems.

Obviously, due to the Mac Pro’s advantage in internal expandability, we could technically create a £10,000 Mac Pro system. This would be unfair. So we limited our Mac Pro configuration (including the monitor) to the same price as the iMac (£2,879/€3,603). So without further ado, let’s get into the meat of this.

The Systems: Apple iMac Retina 5K

As the iMac’s price will dictate how we configure our Mac Pro, this seems the logical place to start. We chose the top spec processor and GPU, as well as maxed out RAM, however, we stuck with the standard fusion drive to keep costs under £3,000. Specifics below:

CPU: 4.0GHz Quad-core Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 4.4GHz
GPU: AMD Radeon R9 M295X 4GB
RAM: 32GB
Storage: 1TB Fusion Drive
Display: Built in 5K Monitor
Connectivity: 4x USB 3.0, 2x Thunderbolt, 1x Ethernet, 1x SD Card, 1x Headphone Jack
Total Cost: £2,879/€3,603

Things to note: The graphics card options in the iMac are all mobile cards, so typically wont perform as well as a full-size GPU. Fusion Drives consist of part HDD and part Flash Storage, in the case of the iMac’s drive there is 120GB Flash Storage.

The Systems: Create Pro Customised Mac Pro 5,1 & 4K Monitor

To go up against the iMac we chose a 12-core CPU to make use of current and future multi-threading support in modern applications. An AMD R9 280X as our graphics card to give Open CL grunt. Installed 32GB of RAM as in the iMac. In terms of storage, we went the same route as the iMac, combining Flash Storage and a traditional HDD.

CPU: 2.66GHz 12-core Intel Xeon X5650 (Our entry-level 12-core processor)
GPU:
AMD Radeon R9 280X 3GB
RAM:
32GB
Storage:
256GB PCI-E Flash Storage, 2TB HDD
Display:
Dell UP2414Q 24″ 4K Display (£399/€499 brand new on eBay)
Connectivity: 2x USB 3.0 (on CalDigit PCI-E card), 2x eSATA 6GB/s (on CalDigit PCI-E card), 5x USB 2.0, 4x Firewire 800, Optical Audio In, Optical Audio Out, 2x Headphone Jack, 1x 1/8″ Audio Line In, 2x Ethernet, 2x Mini Display Port, 1x HDMI, 1x DVI
Total Cost:
£2,826/€3,537

Things to note: RAM clock speed is slightly slower than the iMac’s RAM (1333 vs 1600).

Now that both systems have been introduced, let’s look at part specific performance to see which system is best.

CPU Performance Test: Geekbench

To test CPU performance we kept it classic with Geekbench, no fuss, highest score wins. The Mac Pro has the advantage as it has 3 times more cores than the iMac, but the iMac’s single core clock speed is impressive so this should be interesting. Overall performance will be the main criteria here, but single core scores shouldn’t be completely overlooked.

Geekbench Mac Pro vs iMac 5K

Winner: Custom Mac Pro (60% higher score)

Notes: In this test the Mac Pro was the clear winner with a score of 25566 against the iMac’s score of 15955. The 12 core setup gives a silly amount of power that the iMac just can’t match. As we said, however, the iMac does have stronger single core performance, which is also important within some applications. As we move into the future though, apps are going to keep improving their already good multi threading support, again giving weight to the classic Mac Pro’s argument.

GPU Performance Test: LuxMark Sala

Next up, GPU performance with LuxMark. As both cards tout Open CL support, this was the obvious choice. We chose the Sala test to be the main criteria as this is generally the most popular test within the Mac community. We tested GPU alone without the help of CPU. We already had information on CPU processing power from the previous test. Results come as a single score so the winner is easy to decide.

Luxmark Mac Pro vs iMac 5K

Winner: Custom Mac Pro (45% higher score)

Notes: The Mac Pro’s R9 280X showed that even modern mobile cards aren’t much of a match for their desktop relatives. Not to say the iMac’s score was bad, but the R9 280X came out as a much more competent GPU with a score 45% higher than that of the iMac’s card. Just for information’s sake we also ran the Room and BallHDR tests and the results were similar. The Mac Pro scored 46% higher than the iMac in the BallHDR test and 32% higher in the Room test with scores of 19286 and 1232 respectively.

Storage Performance Test: AJA System Test

Storage is becoming an increasingly heated battleground these days with HDD’s no longer being the only option available. SSDs and Flash Storage are now providing serious performance boosts to systems when installed. To test which is best we decided to look at read/write speeds, we feel both are important so the winner will be the system with the highest combined score. Read speeds are important for opening large files as well as working with data that is stored on that specific drive. Write speeds are important for exporting files to specific drives. All scores are in MB/s.

AJA Mac Pro vs iMac 5KWinner: Custom Mac Pro (63% faster read speed & 157% faster write speed)

Notes: Another landslide victory for the Mac Pro here, both read and write speeds are significantly faster than those of the iMac’s Fusion Drive. Obviously the read/write speeds of the HDD storage portions will be significantly lower, but this should be used for data storage rather than active work. Also of note, the Mac Pro actually has a significantly larger Flash Storage capacity, 256GB against the iMac’s 120GB as well as a 2TB HDD against the iMac’s 1TB.

Which Display is Better?

After spending time with both of these displays we can safely say that they are both incredible. They represent a huge step up from current Apple displays in every single way. Colours are the richest we’ve seen and the OS X interface has never looked sharper. If you’re editing 4K video they are both solid solutions. The Dell monitor we chose (UP1414Q) is 24″ in size, clean and simple in design and has a native resolution of 3840x2160px. The monitor also has an ultrawide viewing angle of 178 degrees, Adobe RGB 99% colour rating, a 100% sRGB colour rating and is fully Retina compatible. The iMac display is larger at 27″ and has a higher native resolution of 5120x2880px. Other specs aren’t listed on the Apple site, but it’s safe to say the display is simply awesome.

Winner: iMac 5K

Notes: Although both are great solutions for pixel hungry individuals, the iMac is definitely the better of the pair. The higher native resolution gives OS X an extra crisp over the Dell monitor. The Dell isn’t bad, it’s also an incredible piece of kit, we just had to pick a winner and this time it’s the iMac.

Who has the Best Connections?

Without listing the huge amount of connections on each device (they are listed above in the system overviews), here’s a quick summary. The iMac has limited connections out of the box, but it does have two thunderbolt ports. The Mac Pro has a wider variety of connections and more of each, but lacks thunderbolt. This really comes down to personal preference, is thunderbolt important to you? Or are you more interested in having a huge variety of in the box inputs and outputs?

Winner: Draw (comes down to preference)

Notes: Not much to say here, how much do you need Thunderbolt?

Who Wins? Custom Mac Pro or iMac 5K?

The Mac Pro walked all over the iMac in terms of computing performance. The CPU scored 60% higher than the iMac’s, the GPU scored 45% higher, disk write speeds were 157% higher and read speeds 63% higher. The performance gap observed is more than significant. The Mac Pro showed that towers are still in a completely different category to the all-in-one desktop. The iMac wasn’t completely walked-over, however, the display did top that of the Dell UP2414Q that we bundled with the Mac Pro and connectivity was a tie coming down to personal preference.

Winner: Custom Mac Pro

Notes: If we give each category an equal rating the Mac Pro 5,1 wins with 3.5 points vs 1.5. The tower is certainly the better choice for professionals who value performance over form. We were thoroughly impressed by the iMac, however, especially it’s single core performance and stunning display. We can see the iMac’s place if you’re looking for something to sit at home with enough power to complete most tasks. But if you’re a professional looking for a serious system that will handle anything you throw at it, the Mac Pro is still the best choice.

Bonus: What if we put two R9 280Xs in the Mac Pro?

As the system was on the workbench and we had a few more R9 280Xs in the office, we thought, why not? The 280X is a powerful Open CL GPU and with some in-house modding we have figured out how to internally-power two in one Mac Pro 5,1 system. We put both GPUs in the tower’s PCI-E x16 slots and moved the Flash Storage to the x4 slot (with no performance drop, we tested it). The system not only looked awesome, it was awesome. We ran the same LuxMark test that we performed with the single card and iMac 5K GPU. Dual R9 280Xs scored a huge 4838. This score is significantly higher than the top spec GPU configuration in the Mac Pro 6,1 which scored only 3527 on barefeats.

This huge OpenCL performance upgrade would add £550/€688 to the cost of the Mac Pro system bringing it to a total cost of £3,376/€4,226. screenshot below.

Should you wish to improve performance through storage rather than adding additional GPUs, we can RAID together two 512GB PCI-E Flash Drives to achieve incredible read speeds of 2,200MB/s and write speeds of 1,950MB/s. More details on our flash storage options in a previous blog post here.

Mac Pro 5,1 dual R9 280X LuxMark

Screenshots

Some people like to see evidence, so here are all of our screengrabs from the tests we performed.

Custom Mac Pro 5,1

Mac Pro 5,1 Geekbench ScoreMac Pro 5,1 LuxMark Sala ScoreMac Pro 5,1 AJA System Test Flash Storage ScoreScreen Shot 2014-11-13 at 09.48.37 Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 10.45.36

iMac 5K Retina

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 16.10.25Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 15.00.36Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 14.57.43Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 15.03.30 Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 14.58.08




20 thoughts on “Mac Pro 5,1 & 4K Monitor vs. iMac 5K: Create Pro Face Off

  1. How did you manage to get 4k @ 60 Hz on the Dell UP2414Q? As it is a MST Screen, things seem to be a bit difficult according to research on the web. I have the same monitor, but at this time only a 13″ MBPr, so I’m looking to buy a computer that’ll drive this amazing display at 60 Hz. I only had luck in the hackintosh department yet – but this is not an option… Did it work out of the box with your system?

    1. Hi Christian, we were only running the monitor at 30Hz, 60Hz 4K support on Mac systems is currently quite patchy. We’re hoping (and quite postitive) that Apple will release an update in the near future to address this and add much better 60Hz support for 4K displays.

      I don’t think buying a different Apple system will help, it doesn’t seem to be a hardware issue, best thing to do is wait it out until Apple address this across all systems.

  2. Ummm…I think your pricing is wrong here. The 12 core CPU alone is £2,800! This test should have been done with the base model 3.7GHz quad. Or am I missing something???

    1. Hi Steve, I think you are perhaps referring the the Mac Pro 6,1? At Create Pro we build custom Mac Pro 5,1 systems. Our 2.66GHz 12 core processor in a brand new Mac Pro 5,1 chassis currently is available for £1,340.

      We prefer to work with the 5,1 system as it’s PCI-E and storage expandability means it much more suitable for professional users.

      Hope that helps!

  3. Thank you for your Face Off. One important thing: Dell UP2414Q with Mac Pro 5,1 working only on 30Hz, but iMac 5K @60Hz. And this is very important.

    1. Hi Michal,

      We did mention this a couple of times in the comments, and did give that section to the iMac 5K. We think we are very close to figuring out a 60Hz solution for the Mac Pro 5,1, however. 🙂

  4. Hi,
    You mentioned that you were able to power 2 280x internally. How did you do that or is it well protected secret?
    Best wishes
    Rainer

      1. Hi Tom. Can you do this with a couple of Nvidia cards for us as well? With Adobe’s embrace of Cuda cores I think it’s likely of more interest to creative pros (yet another reason not to buy a 6, 1). I’m sure you guys have this covered, but can’t find any info on your site.

  5. The Sonnet Technologies Tempo PCIe SSD is a speedy Samsung SM951 on an M.2 PCIe board. The goal is to provide faster boot or scratch volumes for Mac Pro towers. How come you don’t use this in the towers?

    1. Hi James,

      We actually do offer the SM951 in our Mac Pro towers, if you would like one, just send an email to build@create.pro.

      Mostly, however, we use the Gen 2 Official Apple flash storage modules, as they are the same speed as the SM951, but have native TRIM support.

      Hope that helps.

      Tom

  6. Awesome article, thank you!
    One question, if I may-

    Is the any real difference in performance between the Mac Pro 4,1 system and the 5,1 ?

    would you be so kind to email me with the answer?

    thank you

  7. This is what I just looking for! Thank you for testing. I’m preparing to purchase classic Mac Pro with almost same configuration except for the graphic card.

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