Apple will finally release its 'workstation-class' iMac Pro on December 14 2017. Launched at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Jose in June, it'll be the first iMac to feature an Intel Xeon processor - currently only found in the ageing Mac Pro (and PC workstations such as Dell's Precision, HP's Z-Series and Lenovo's ThinkStation ranges).

No replacement for the Mac Pro was announced, though Apple has reiterated that it's working on a traditional desktop workstation to replace the Mac Pro in 2018.

Pricing begins at US$4,999. That's around £3,750 now, but UK pricing hasn't been announced yet.

Apple's site says that you'll be able to purchase the iMac Pro with a W-series 8-, 10- or 18-core Xeon processor (the current iMacs use Core i5 and Core i7 chips). The clock speeds for these have not been announced, though a hands-on preview by vlogger Marques Brownlee based on testing an iMac Pro under embargo states that the 10-core chip runs at 3GHz. He also mentions that only the 8- and 10-core versions will be available this year, with iMac Pros featuring a 18-core - or a, as yet unannounced, 14-core chip - shipping early in 2018. 

Xeon processors have a number of benefits for creative pros over Core chips. Xeon chips are generally more robust and reliable than Core chips. They can use ECC (error-correcting code) RAM, which can prevent errors that could - for example - crash your computer during a long render. They also have larger caches, which means better performance with more complex data - whether large, multi-layered Photoshop files, 4K video or 3D scenes with huge textures.

The iMac Pro supports up to 128GB of ECC RAM - four times that of the previous iMac, and twice that of the new model announced today. And it sees the debut of AMD's Radeon Vega graphics platform. This supports 8GB 16GB of its own graphics RAM - with 16GB twice that found in even the highest end iMac available today.

The Vega platform has a memory bandwidth of up to 400GBps - almost as high as Nvidia's highest end workstation-class graphics card, the Quadro P6000. Vega's performance is rated at 11 TFlops - which isn't much lower than the 12 TFlops offered by the P6000.

At the launch, Apple also made much of the external and internal design of the iMac Pro. The exterior is the same as the standard 27-inch iMac - ports and all - except for a Space Gray colour scheme taken from the company's and iPads and MacBook Pros. It has the same 27-inch 5K display.

Inside there's been a complete redesign to fit the Xeon chip in, with a new airflow system (below).

New iMac

Back in June, Apple also launched new iMacs and MacBook Pros, adding 7th-generation Intel Core chips - often referred to by their codename of Kaby Lake. There's two new 21.5-inch iMacs, but its the new 27-inch model that's going to be of most interest to Digital Arts readers.

This offers a Core i7 chip at up to 4.2.GHz and up to 64GB of RAM - twice that of its predecessor. There's a choice of new Radeon Pro graphics chips - the 570, 575 and 580 models - with up to 8GB of RAM. Also new are "50% faster" storage options and two Thunderbolt 3 ports.

The 27-inch iMac also has a new screen. It has the same 5,120 x 2880 '5K' resolution screens, but is 43% brighter and can output up to 1 billion colours through 10-bit dithering - so you'll see more subtle shading on-screen.

To demo the performance of the new Mac Pros, Apple brought out VFX legend John Knoll. One of the co-developers of Photoshop (with his brother Thomas), he's currently chief creative officer at ILM - having worked on films from The Abyss to Rogue One.

John described the new iMac as a "great platform for VR content creation" - with both Oculus and HTC adding support for the Mac to their Rift and Vive headsets. He intro'ed a demo of a Star Wars experience for the Vive, based on the Unreal Engine. Support for both Unity and Unreal engines are coming to Mac, as is the Steam VR SDK.

The 27-inch iMac starts at £1,749 inc VAT/US$1,799 - while a maxed-out model will cost you £4,949/US$5,299. You can buy one online today from the Apple Store.

While the new tech in both the iMacs and MacBook Pros don't exceed what's available on Windows-based hardware, it brings it in line with competing models - such as the MacBook Pro-rivalling Dell Precision 5520 and HP ZBook Studio G4.

What wasn't added to the iMac - which had been expected by some - was a keyboard with a Touch Bar to match that found on the MacBook. Without Touch Bars across both of Apple's most popular Mac products, we find it unlikely that major software developers like Adobe will add further support for the Touch Bar to their apps beyond their current lukewarm efforts.

New MacBook Pro

The upgraded MacBook Pro - also launched in June - gains only support for Kaby Lake chips. The 15-inch MacBook Pro now starts at £2,349 for a 2.8GHz Core i7 processor and 16GB of RAM. A fully tricked out model with a 3.1GHz Core i7, 16GB of RAM, 2TB storage will set you back £3,969.

The new 15-inch MacBook Pro is also available today from the Apple Store