Thoughts on Choosing Between the Apple 2019 Mac Pro vs 2019 MacBook Pro 16-Inch and Expected 2020 iMac Pro
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Many photographers doing stuff like me are going to be best off with the 2019 Mac Pro, due out in less than a month from now. But most do not travel like I do so that’s an easy decision.
I do not plan on getting the 2019 Mac Pro, because it is a poor choice for travel in my Sprinter van (power hungry, requires separate display, bulk), and because I do a lot on the road where the iMac 5K is the ideal form factor, built-in screen, fast setup and teardown. That, and the Mac Pro is insanely expensive—will be well over $10K for the 192GB / 4TB / fast GPU config I’d want—without a display.
While it might seem appropriate, I also do not plan on getting the Apple 2019 MacBook Pro 16-inch for travel, because the ergonomics are awful when used by itself (hunching over the built-in keyboard and screen). The screen is too small for my work and my eyes too (presbyopia), so it would demand an external display, and that’s more setup/teardown hassle.
So for myself, the only form factor that is viable for home and on the road in my van is the iMac 5K form factor (I have not mentioned all the reasons, here, but they are many).
Probably I will migrate to a future iMac Pro model, hopefully a 6K model, because it pulls together all the features discussed below. Advice: I would advise against the iMac Pro at this juncture unless at a solid discount; it is a two-year-old design priced at very high premium. There is surely a revised model with the newer CPUs coming soon.
Note: add 128GB OWC memory to the iMac 5K.
That said, the one thing I’d really like is a 16 core CPU (12 cores would suffice, 24/28 would be fantastic), and only the 2019 Mac Pro or iMac Pro can deliver that. Indeed, with 16 CPU cores, the Mac Pro would run rings around the fastest GPU on any other Mac when doing image scaling or focus stacking. It is almost always the smart move to choose more CPU cores over some fancy add-on GPU because CPU cores get used a lot more by imaging software these days.
CPUs with 12 or more cores are insanely expensive. Most of us will have to be content with 8 or 10 CPU cores. But that equation might change in 2020 and beyond so that 16-core CPUs become more affordable.
The key for me is 128GB memory, which is another reason why the 2019 iMac 5K is my choice—that extra memory has really helped with stitching in particular, saving me gobs of time in some cases. But for most users, 64GB is ample, so the 2019 MacBook Pro 16-inch should be considered for those who want a single machine for both home and travel.
The GPU is increasingly used by imaging software, and it is a big help for things like image upscaling with Gigapixel AI, Adobe Camera Raw Enhance Details, though most other Photoshop and Lightroom features hardly use the GPU. Video users are a special case, and the GPU (and/or more than one) is much more important.
The 2019 iMac 5K and 2019 MacBook Pro both have solid GPU options that are plenty fast for the vast majority of photographers.
Beware of external GPU (eGPU) which DO NOT WORK with some Macs. They are much hyped, but they are NOT a solution for many computing problems as they just do not get used, video again being an exception.
The 2019 Mac Pro rocks for Thunderbolt 3 busses and ports (with options).
The 2019 MacBook Pro rocks in having dual Thunderbolt 3 busses with four ports. Ditto for the 2018 Mac mini, but its GPU is so slow that it is a very poor choice overall.
The single Thunderbolt 3 bus of the 2019 iMac 5K (two ports) is a half-assed design Apple should be ashamed of, but for most users it is of zero consequence.