End is nigh for iMac Pro as Apple stops offering custom configs of high-spec desktop

High price and poor upgradability made this an unattractive alternative to the 2019 Mac Pro

The iMac Pro is dead. Apple has stopped allowing prospective customers to create their own custom configurations of the premium all-in-one box.

Referring to the basic model, the Apple Store currently says that it's only available "while stocks last," suggesting no new inventory.

Separately, MacRumors claimed it was told by an Apple source that there are no plans to refresh inventory once the existing stock has sold out. It's not clear whether Apple plans to release a new version of the iMac Pro, or will discontinue it entirely in favour of a simplified line-up.

Released in 2017 and modestly refreshed in 2020, the iMac Pro was an unusual duck. It served as a stop-gap between the highly panned "trash can" Mac Pro released in 2013, and its conventional "cheese grater" successor released in 2019.

While occupying the same form-factor as a normal iMac, it offered punters the choice to add an 18-Core Xeon W processor, up to 256GB of RAM, and came with a bevy of Radeon Vega graphics options. This made it a good choice for anyone wedded to the Mac ecosystem who needed to do some serious number-crunching, like those wrangling ultra-high definition video.

But it had some pretty major drawbacks, especially compared to the bog-standard Mac Pro. Although the tower form factor feels a bit pastiche at this point, it does lend itself well to long-term upgradability. The iMac Pro, on the other hand, was vastly more complicated to upgrade.

With the graphics card soldered in place, users are stuck with whatever chipset they picked when they ordered the machine. RAM upgrades were possible, but required the removal of the display – a delicate, time-consuming process. Compare that to older, non-pro iMacs, which had a dedicated RAM bay that could be obtained by removing just a few screws. Separately, the thermal envelope of the iMac Pro meant it could never compete with the equivalent tech housed in a airier tower chassis.

Although the SSD storage was removable, finding replacement cards proved to be a tricky task. Rather than use standard M.2 NVMe drives, Apple opted to use a non-standard flash-storage format, which had the storage controller housed on the machine's logic board. Even if you managed to obtain one, the screws keeping the flash chips in place are covered with a "warranty void if removed" sticker, deterring would-be upgrades.

The iMac Pro was a Pro machine in specs, but not when it came to lifespan. Since there are people still happily chugging along with 4,1 and 5,1 Mac Pros (released in 2010 and 2012 respectively), this was a major oversight.

The rumour mill indicates that Apple may release new ARM-powered iMac models in the coming months. Given that the M1 chip offers superior single-core performance to the top-level iMac Pro, and almost matches the entry-level Mac Pro in multi-core performance, this may be enough for those looking for a sufficiently potent desktop.

But this wouldn't be a like-for-like replacement. The M1 comes with low RAM limitations (existing Apple Silicon machines have a maximum of 16GB, compared to 256GB on the iMac Pro) and lack support for discrete graphics. Punters can't even use an eGPU workaround.

Separately, there are rumblings that Apple has plans for two new Mac Pro models, including one in a tower configuration, and another resembling the G4 Cube of yore. Details about how these will work, as well as their potential configurations, are thin on the ground.

Those desperate for an upgrade and with a high tolerance for frustration may wish to follow the path of YouTuber Luke Miani and whack an M1 Mac Mini into an old 2011 iMac chassis. Upping the game somewhat, we've also seen the latest-and-greatest Apple desktop inserted into a G5 iMac from circa 2004. That said, we won't be impressed until someone shoehorns an M1 into a ghastly Performa tower from the early '90s. ®

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