Server Hardware for iMacs: Speculations and Specifications
Apple related Web resources are buzzing with the jaw-dropping gossip: new iMacs, the company promised to roll out later this year, will get server class Intel CPU and RAM. It’s not the first time Apple stirs interest to the new products through the nicely orchestrated leaks. Let’s see what they are going to sell us on.
First come the alleged specifications of the 2017 iMac. According to many more or less competent sources, the new high end all-in-one will feature Intel’s Xeon E3-1285 v6 processor (which hasn’t arrived yet), from 16 to 64GB error-correcting ECC RAM, up to 2TB NVM Express PCI-e solid-state storage, and a “latest discrete graphics card”. Taking into account, that iMacs usually did with a mobile-class GPU, this is a great departure. The iMac of 2017 will be manufactured by Quanta Computer, the acknowledge all-in-one PC maker # 1.
Sounds all good and solid, but will it? First, I seriously doubt the discrete graphic card. It’s rumored to be made by AMD, mostly due to the fact that the AMD company still has a contract with Apple. Aside from Apple AMD is launching their own big thing this year: the standalone Vega graphics card. Being an all-the-time runner up to NVidia AMD is desperate to become the king of the mountain. If they have some secret wow-card in their backroom for Apple, the sources are hush about it.
Anyway, the all-in-one form-factor determines the video card size as well. So, even a discrete card will be of the laptop class and as such – a step behind the full-scale desktop one. For now, the top laptop video card by AMD is the R9 series, which is the gaming series. And Apple has never positioned their iMacs as gaming systems. It’s not bad, either. All-in-one PCs typically got the video cards of the laptop class. What we’re saying is, that there’s nothing special to hype.
But what about the CPU and the RAM? Is it so good for a home or office system to feature the server hardware? Let’s have an educational moment. Servers are the large serving computers which host the sites, the mail service, the clouds and the game locations. When you type in your Gmail inbox address, your system goes looking for the certain server that hosts it. Physically the server can be located in any place of the world: round the corner, or in Minnesota, or in Finland. And it must work 24/7/365. So, all its parts are experiencing the super-load. They rarely or never idle, hence the increased durability of all the hardware manufactured for servers.
Let’s have a look at the Intel’s CPU server family called Xeon. The main feature that sets them apart is the number of cores. While general CPUs can have 6 cores tops, Intel Xeons sport up to 24 Cores, each capable of hyper threading, so in the end we get 24 physical and 48 virtual cores. But it’s too early to swoon over the new super-charged iMac. With any of these Xeons in, its price will soar over the clouds. You’d have to shell out about 10 000$ and more.
Likely, Intel will issue the cut-down Xeon limited edition for iMac only. Again, installing it in home of office system is like mounting the Formula 1 Ferrari drive on the Volkswagen Beetle chassis. I mean, you can, but what for? CPU goes arm in arm with cooling system and Xeons demand lots of cold. LOTS. If you’ve ever been in data centers which house hundreds of servers, you know how cold is there. In Finland (I’m positively a bit Finnish today) they use winter sea water to cool the servers in Helsinki’s data center. And Apple is proud for their products to be slim. There’s no way a slim all-in-one can take in the Xeon and the cooling system for it.
As for the ECC memory, it’s a more probable deal. ECC stands for error-correcting code memory that can detect and correct the most common kinds of internal data corruption. No wonder, the ECC memory is used under circumstances where data corruption cannot be tolerated. It’s a must-have for scientific or financial computing and as such – a welcomed change in iMac architecture. But… There’s always a but, isn’t it? Ok, but the ECC memory cannot be installed on a consumer class motherboard. The PC won’t ‘recognize’ it and think it has no memory at all. So implementing the ECC memory to iMacs means implementing the completely other motherboard as well. In other words, the whole innards are going to be overhauled. And it shall influence the price tag.
So, it all boils down to the fact: Apple is going to give us the tag shock of the decade, if the rumors come true. And the iMac will turn into a high-professional tool for engineers or filmmakers and such. If they need the all-in-one for their job is another issue.
Meanwhile, if you’ve made up your mind to save some money for the new iMac, you can sell your old gadgets to iGotOffer and get a sweet deal.