i-Mac 27" Retina 5K vs MacPro – A Performance Analysis

I recently bought a new i-Mac 27″ with the Retina 5K screen to replace my 6+ year old MacPro which although still going very well I thought it was time for an upgrade. The new i-Mac 27″ 5K model appealed to me as a photographer as the screen resolution would be very valuable when editing and post-processing large RAW images.
I was interested to benchmark the performance of the new i-Mac against my MacPro and was very pleasantly surprised by the results.
Machine Specifications
The specifications of the two machines were as follows:
MacPro (Early 2008)

CPU : 2 x 2.8 GHz Quad Core Intel Xeon
Memory : 18 GB 800 MHz DDR2
Graphics Card : NVIDIA GeForce GT 640 2048 MB
Storage : 1 x 4TB system disk, 2 x 3 TB RAID disk for photo archive and 1 x 4TB disk for system backup
Monitor : 30″ Apple CinemaDisplay
The MacPro had been upgraded over the years with higher capacity storage disks added, memory upgraded to 24 GB and the graphics card upgraded from the original graphics card.

i-Mac 27″ Retina 5K (Late 2014)

CPU : 3.5 GHz Intel Core i5
Memory : 32 GB 1600 MHz DDR3
Graphics Card : AMD Radeon R9 M290X 2048 MB
Storage : 1 x 3TB Fusion Drive, 2 x 4 TB Thunderbolt Western Digital RAID disk for photo archive, 1 x 6TB disk for system backup
Monitor : 27″ Retina 5K (5120 x 2880)
The 27″ i-Mac was ordered via the Apple online store and upgraded from the base model with maximum memory of 32 GB and a higher capacity 3 TB Fusion drive instead of the standard 1 TB Fusion drive. I did not upgrade the CPU to the i7 as I felt that there would not be a significant performance improvement for the photo editing and processing that I routinely use the machine for.
Benchmark Tests

I tested out 4 different benchmark tests using identical procedures to measure the difference in performance between the two machines. These tests represented standard processes I carry out when editing and post-processing my photos. The tests used different post-processing apps and were as follows:
1. Aperture – Export of 100 full resolution jpg images
2. PhotoMatix Pro – HDR processing of a 7 bracketed sequence of images
3. AutoPano Pro – Processing and blending of a 15 image panoramic sequence
4. FotoMagico – Rendering of a 4.35 minute long 720p movie from a slideshow
The same software versions and the same test images were used on both machines and times measured for each process.
Benchmark Results

The results clearly demonstrated the improved performance of the new 27″ i-Mac ….. over 50% faster for most processes compared to the speed on the MacPro. Even given that the MacPro has 2 quad core CPU’s it was no match for the newer CPU and probably the extra memory on the i-Mac 27″.

Screen Resolution

The new 27″ Retina 5K screen on the i-Mac was simply stunning and for my photography editing and post-processing this will be a major benefit. Also for showing off images and slideshows at high resolution this will also be a major improvement. When you use a high mega pixel DSLR it is nice to be able to take advantage of this resolution rather than having the final image on the screen downgraded to the lower resolution of the screen.

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