iMac Pro 2021: Here’s everything we know so far

When Apple killed off the iMac Pro, we thought that was the end of the road for the high-end all-in-one computer. Yet when the iMac was completely revamped earlier this year, Apple only revealed the smaller 24-inch version. That left a very obvious question hanging in the air: What about the pro-level iMac to replace the current 27-inch iMac?

It could be that Apple decides to leave the iMac Pro dead and buried and instead just offer a more powerful all-in-one under the regular iMac branding. But considering Apple’s other product lines, it makes sense to offer an iMac Pro that offers a greater level of performance than the 24-inch iMac. Regardless of what the name ends up being, here’s everything we know about the next pro-level iMac.

Price and release date

The powerful iMac Pro is a machine made for creative professionals.

Apple has been coy about when the top-end iMac will hit the shelves, but we can make some inferences based on other product news and rumors. For one thing, we know Apple delayed the larger model to get the 24-inch iMac ready for its April 2021 launch date. While we do not know how far along the larger model was, putting it on hold like that undoubtedly stymied its development and production.

Now that the MacBook Pro 14 and updated MacBook Pro 16 laptops have been released, that potentially clears the way for Apple to put its focus back on the iMac Pro. We doubt there’s time for anything else to launch in 2021, but a spring 2022 launch date for the iMac Pro would not be out of the question.

As for the price, we think that hinges on what form the high-end iMac takes. If it is just a larger version of the current 24-inch iMac, a starting price of $1,799 (the current cost of the 27-inch iMac) would be expected. If it is a true successor to the iMac Pro, however, don’t be surprised if it hovers somewhere around the $4,999 Apple used to charge for that device.

Design: Bright colors or muted tones?

The webcam on the 24-inch iMac has been vastly improved.

When Apple redesigned the iMac in April 2021, it brought back the classic, colorful look of the iMac G3 from 1998. The new iMac is kitted out in a range of snazzy colors, from pinks to yellows to blues, giving it a playful vibe that Apple hopes will make it down-to-earth and approachable, just like its G3 inspiration.

Will the high-end iMac get the same treatment? As with the price, that likely depends on how Apple positions it. If it brings back the iMac Pro nomenclature, then we would consider it unlikely. Apple’s Pro devices usually come in muted, “professional” colors like gray and silver. A pro-grade machine clad in bright pink or yellow shades would likely feel out of place.

However, if Apple drops the Pro moniker and makes the larger iMac a variant of the 24-inch model, we could see the colors sticking. It would simply be an extension of the existing model, so maintaining the color continuity would make sense. However, given some of the other developments, most notably relating to performance (detailed below), we think the iMac Pro name is most likely — and so bright colors are probably a non-starter.

A colorful outlook was not the only makeover the iMac got in April — it was also made radically thinner. Will this slimline design remain with the iMac Pro? We think there is a good chance. Now that Apple has switched to Apple Silicon chips, it has started mounting everything together — the CPU, the GPU, the memory — into a single system-on-a-chip (SoC) unit. Given how efficient Apple Silicon chips are, and how little space the SoC will take up compared to a system that uses discrete GPU and memory modules, it’s possible the iMac will not need to beef up to accommodate it.

Bet on Apple Silicon

The M1 is Apple's first attempt at Mac chips using Apple Silicon.

Still, the iMac Pro’s shape depends a lot on the chip that powers it. The 24-inch iMac felt like the first Mac that was designed around the benefits of Apple Silicon, but that does not mean its higher-end sibling will go the same way.

We know Apple is working on monstrous 32-core chips, but we think that’s likely bound for the next Mac Pro. Instead, rumors are floating that the iMac Pro will get a hybrid chip called the M1 Max Duo that combines two M1 Max chips into a single behemoth. This rumor comes courtesy of YouTuber Max Tech, who believes various clues abound that Apple is heading in this direction. For example, the current M1 Max chip slightly underperforms the top-end Intel i9 in the current 27-inch iMac. If Apple equipped the next iMac Pro with the M1 Max, that would actually be a downgrade in performance — not good for a pro machine. If the M1 Max Duo becomes a reality, it could offer 20 CPU cores, 64 GPU cores, and up to 128GB of memory, making it by far the most powerful Apple Silicon chip out there.

If that comes to pass, it means Apple will forgo a discrete graphics card in the iMac Pro, just like it did in the MacBook Pro 16. Instead, Apple probably believes its Apple Silicon chip will be enough to meet most users’ graphical needs. What we will see, however, is a decent cooling system to keep everything performing optimally. Once again, the MacBook Pro 16 is the clue here. If its M1 Max chip needs to be actively cooled, you can bet the house a chip that houses two M1 Maxes will need a beefy cooling system.

If Apple does not go quite so high-end, it could update the M1 to its next generation (dubbed M1X or M2). Benchmarks of this chip have apparently leaked out, pegging it at 12 CPU cores (up from the four in the M1), although we will have to see if they prove to be real.

There is one other possibility: Apple could stick with Intel chips for a little longer. This would allow developers of professional apps more time to port their products across to the Apple Silicon architecture. If that happens, Apple will surely need a chunky chassis for the iMac Pro to house the cooling system and discrete GPU that will almost certainly be included. Yet given the expected 2022 release date — and Apple’s commitment to a two-year transition to Apple Silicon chips from 2020 — this prospect seems unlikely.

An XDR display seems probable

Apple's XDR technology debuted on the Pro Display XDR.
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The current iMac sits at 24 inches across, up from the 21.5-inch model it replaced. That increased size came from Apple reducing the bezels around the edge of the screen. You can still buy a version with a 27-inch display, but it is almost certain this will get the same treatment as its 21.5-inch counterpart and have its screen size shifted up a notch. Our money is on something in the 30- to 32-inch range. Alternatively, Apple could stick with a 27-inch display but reduce the size of the chassis housing it by cutting down the bezels.

If we get an amplified screen size, we can also expect a greater screen resolution. The 24-inch iMac comes with an impressive 4.5K resolution, while the current 27-inch iMac sits pretty at 5K. As with the screen size, though, we would expect the resolution to move up, again because that’s exactly what happened to the smaller iMac, which went from 4K to 4.5K. Apple’s Pro Display XDR (the monitor made for the Mac Pro) has a 6K resolution, so we think that’s what Apple will be targeting for the top-end iMac or iMac Pro.

But to truly earn that “Pro” name, the larger iMac will need a display that clearly differentiates it from the 24-inch iMac, and a higher resolution might not be enough. To augment the increased pixel count, we would not be surprised if Apple brought its mini-LED XDR brand name into play as it did for the latest iPad Pro. This brings a huge contrast ratio and peak brightness, as well as key techs like True Tone, the P3 color gamut, and HDR support. That would really set the iMac Pro apart.

Everything else we expect to see

The 24-inch iMac's peripherals were redesigned and color-matched.

Touch ID has been around on Macs for years, but it only came to the iMac’s Magic Keyboard in April 2021 as part of the midrange $1,499 offering. That makes it a dead cert for the iMac Pro or higher-end iMac when it releases, giving the quick convenience of logging in and verifying purchases with a touch of your finger.

Alternatively, Apple could supersede Touch ID with something even better: Face ID. We know the company is working on adding this secure login tech to the Mac because of a smattering of patents — the only question is whether it is good to go. Given the chaos that the coronavirus has caused in the industry, Face ID might not be quite ready, but we have our fingers crossed. With the projected 2022 release date, that might be just enough time for Apple to make it a reality, and reliable reporter Mark Gurman agrees, predicting it could arrive as soon as next year.

Finally, iMac fans will have been heartened to see the 2021 MacBook Pro get much more port variety, including the return of the HDMI slot and SD card reader. Given the iMac Pro’s demanding professional audience — and the variety of peripherals and devices they use — the next top-end iMac is likely to have many more ports than just the USB-C slots offered on the current entry-level iMac. With that in mind, the new MacBook Pro models could offer a sneak peek at the ports offered on the iMac Pro.

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