We’re all doing more on our mobile devices. Laptop computers, tablets, and smartphones are able to handle basic email, web browsing, and other tasks. Some people are able to get by without any computer larger than a laptop.

However, some computing work is best done on a powerful computer that has a large display and a plethora of accessories readily available, such as external hard drives, scanners, oversized track pads, etc. You may need to spread out at a desk for projects and have room to work, and a place to return to larger projects that are in progress. Or, you may need to have a computer that can be left on and running while dedicated to certain tasks.

Photographers, videographers, web designers, and those working with hardware repair, data recovery, or legacy media conversion would be a few examples of those who could benefit from having a desktop computer.

If your computing work is done mostly at a desk, and you’d like to have a large display, then an Apple iMac or Mac Pro would be a good choice. The Apple iMac is an all-in-one computer that includes a great display. The Mac Pro is a very high power stand-alone computer that requires an external display. A fully equipped iMac with plenty of memory and a solid state hard drive would almost indistinguishable from an entry-level Mac Pro in terms of performance for the work that most people do.

If you need to have additional computing power, then the Mac Pro would be a good choice. However, if you’re wanting visual experience that an iMac delivers be prepared to pay extra for a nice display. What follows here are some considerations for each system.

Display Technologies

The Apple iMac is available to be configured with a 21.5-inch Retina 4K display (4096-by-2304 pixels resolution) or a 27-inch Retina 5K display (5120-by-2880 pixels resolution). These are really bright, sharp, and accurate displays with excellent color rendering. For comparison, here are some similar 5K displays available from Amazon:

Those prices are just for the displays and don’t include a computer. The iMac is one of the best 5K displays in the world and includes a powerful computer built-in.

So, if you’re looking at spending $2,000 to $3,000 on an Apple iMac, know that a big chunk of that expense is for the display.

There are some nice quality displays available for less money. An article from 9to5 Mac lists several for $500 to $1,000. [View Article]

What this means is that if you purchase a similarly equipped iMac or Mac Pro, the iMac may end up being a better value.

Mac Pro Display Benefits

Here are some advantages to the Mac Pro when it comes to display technology:

  • Multiple Displays. While the iMac can have additional displays plugged in, they won’t be identically matched. With the Mac Pro, you can have two identical displays.
  • Repairs. Remember when we were all told to get a stereo system with separate components so if one fails, the rest of the system is still working while that component is in the shop or being replaced? To some degree, the same rule applies to computers. If your display stops working properly, you don’t need to take your entire computer into the shop for repairs, just the display. Or simply replace it. Similarly, if your computer stops working, at least you have a display at home that you can connect something else to.
  • Size. With the iMac you have two choices of display size (21.5″ and 27″). With the Mac Pro, you can get any display size you want. For people concerned more about crunching numbers or performing processor intensive tasks, who don’t really care about the display, it would be possible to get a used 15″ display for $30 and plug that in. If you later change your mind, you can always get any display you want. Keep in mind that the higher quality visuals will be achieved through having a display that’s properly matched to the video output.
  • Upgradeable. If several years from now, new display technology becomes available, a Mac Pro can accommodate that. Sell your old display, and buy a new one. Wth the iMac, the display is built-in. So, you’ll be forever stuck with that internal display. Apple is rumored to be developing a new display to replace their older cinema display at a cost most likely similar (around $1,200).

Mac Pro – $4,500 to $5,000

A 6-Core Mac Pro with 32 GB RAM and 1TB SSD (solid state drive) would cost about $4,000 plus the cost of a display. So that could take it to $5,000 with all accessories. Apple has not upgraded the technology on their Mac Pro line for a few years, although on 4 April 2017 they announced 8-core and 12-core options with a lower price on the 6-core model. [View Article]

Some vendors are selling discounted versions of the 6-core Mac Pro computer, such as an offering from CDW for $3,133 that has 256GB storage (instead of 1000GB) and 16GB RAM (about standard for today). The lower internal storage capacity would necessitate external storage for video or photo collections. Also, the CDW offering describes the operating system as OS X 10.10 Yosemite, an operating system from 2014. This suggests the computer has been sitting in a box for a while. Since Yosemite, Apple has released El Capitan (September 2015), and Sierra (September 2016). If you’re spending several thousand dollars on a computer, you’d want it to at least have a somewhat current operating system.

iMac – $3,600

An iMac with 32GB RAM and 1TB SSD (solid state drive) and 4.0GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor would cost $3,600 and have all components internally housed and cooled. [Configure Here] While you may notice a slight performance improvement on the Mac Pro, depending on what work you’re doing, you may not really notice much of a difference. So, basically the iMac is about $1,500 cheaper and has what some people feel is a nicer display. The all-in-one design will reduce cable clutter.

NOTE: The brightness and dimming controls on the Apple keyboard will work with an iMac, but it’s not clear if these would work with a third-party display on a Mac Pro configuration.


In summary, if your work demands a really powerful computer, get a properly configured Mac Pro and outfit it with the best display you can find. The cost could be about $4,500 to $5,000. If you’d like fewer cables and a nice integrated display, choose the iMac for about $3,600.