Can You Build a PC Equivalent to the Apple iMac?

It’s time for me to upgrade my primary work computer, which has been a 2012 (Late) iMac for the last 4 years.

In this video I go through different options – can I get an iMac-like experience with a DIY PC build, both Intel and Ryzen? Or can I buy other AIO desktops at a cheaper rate? What is the Apple tax on the iMac and is it good value for money?

Some notes from the video:

  • Ryzen sounds cool, but isn’t ready for powerful video editing and grading. It only supports 24 PCI lanes, which is not enough for a decent Resolve station (see below). What I’m really waiting for is ThreadRipper.
  • The new 7-th generation -7 processors only support 16 PCI lanes. It’s what’s used in an iMac, but if I’m building my own I definitely want at least 40 PCI lanes. This means either the i7 6900K, i9 7900X or Dual Xeons.
  • If you are serious about Resolve you need to follow the configuration guide. I believe they’ll have a new guide out soon for Resolve 14. But it’s still in beta and they are ‘ironing out’ some chinks.
  • A really good computer that would show a marked improvement over an iMac in performance is close to $6,000+. I’ve priced such systems from different vendors. So at that point you have to be thinking about your ROI.
  • For me, the choice of GPU is either RX 580 x2 or GTX 1080 Ti x2
  • Obviously, cheaper systems are possible. Especially with Creative Cloud, I believe you can tackle 4K projects (through transcodes and proxies) on a professional level with a $1,000 to $1,500 PC. It’s only when you seriously consider DaVinci Resolve that you need to go higher.

Why do you need a good i7 processor with a high clock speed? The higher end processors have two important features – better cache (L2, L3) and support for more PCI lanes (if you want to add GPUs, a thunderbolt card and a Blackmagic card). The higher the clock speed, the more easy it is to tackle H.264 and H.265 based codecs. For the latter, you need Kaby Lake. On the other hand, for Resolve, the message we get is Resolve also needs more cores. That’s why they recommend dual Xeons with the fastest clock speeds you can afford. Things get pretty expensive real fast at that level.

Why do you need 64 GB RAM? When running one app, you might not need more than 32 GB. However, I’m used to the Creative Cloud way where you might have four or five Adobe apps open at one time, so RAM is important.

Why do you need a high-end GPU? It allows for tackling tougher grades, multiple power-windows, and some help with real-time playback for some codecs. I’m considering having dual RX 580 or 1080 Ti in my new system. Even though I can edit okay with my current system, grading in Resolve is impossible. You need PCI 3.0 x16 speeds. I’ve seen tests where a speed drop to x8 matters. Two x16 is already 32 PCI lanes. Add a thunderbolt card and a Blackmagic card, and maybe a sound card, and you can see how even 40 lanes is tight!

For me, the prices of systems where you see a difference are as follows:

  1. Lower than $1,500 – most beginners and hobbyists.
  2. $2,500 – the iMac, which is the best bang for the buck for professional editors who do some coloring work as well
  3. $6,000 – Powerful systems that can handle almost everything, but will bottleneck on tough projects
  4. $20,000 – what you need to spend to tackle anything thrown at you by anyone at any time.

What do you think?

3 replies on “Can You Build a PC Equivalent to the Apple iMac?”

  1. As usual, great video. You make a very strong case when comparing apples with apples (pun intended). As one who has just recently gone from iMac to PC (Intel) though, you omitted one consideration which was critical in my decision : the environmental footprint. After three years, you will need to buy an entirely new iMac. None of its component are reusable, not even the screen, whereby a good deal of a modular Intel machine’s components can be reused in an eventual rebuild. As a friend likes to say : It’s a small planet.
    Keep up the good work, it’s much appreciated.

  2. You did not mention storage. It needs to be fast and vast. That’s not cheap.

    Producing video was never cheap. But it has become cheaper. One no longer needs to have costly audio and video decks coupled to a video capture and playback card!

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