Monkersolver on the New iMac Pro (Q4’2017)
Looking for a computer to run Monkersolver on? Do you have 10,000$ to spare? If you answered ‘yes’ to both questions then look no further, because Apple has a solution for you!
All joking aside, we are not looking at a value for money proposition here by Apple, instead what you have is a pre-built, premium machine with up-to-date technology in a pretty package.
How suitable is the iMac Pro for running Monkersolver?
Monkersolver comes with native support for Mac. Combine this and the fact that the new iMac Pro comes with workstation grade hardware, and you have a decent option for running solutions Monkersolver. According to Apple themselves, the iMac Pro is geared towards individuals doing scientific work. Monkersolver falls within the realm of data analysis, so we fit the target market. With support for up to 128GB RAM and an up to 18-core Xeon CPU, we are able to solve HU postflop to a reasonable degree of accuracy, as well as short-handed preflop, depending on the game tree and stack depth.
Below we’ll go into more detail about which configuration I would recommend using, as well as future upgrade options. We’ll also compare our final configuration to an equivalent PC build to get an idea of what we are paying for.
By default the iMac Pro comes configured with an 8-core Intel Xeon W processor and 32GB of RAM. This configuration already enables you to utilize Monkersolver in a limited fashion. You can view pre-solved solutions and run small prefllop and postflop game trees, as well as analyze turn and river situations. However from a high-end desktop workstation we might expect more, and so we will be looking to expand upon the base configuration.
You can view all possible configurations of the iMac Pro on Apple’s wesbite here. I’ll break down each category, and give my take on what I think is best, assuming no budgetary restrictions, but whilst still avoiding choices that add to the price unnecessarily, without really adding much value to the performance itself.
The very first option that Apple provides us with is which processor to choose from. You can find an overview over the recently (Q3/Q4’17) launched Xeon W Series CPUs that Apple uses in the new iMac Pro here. At the time of writing there is limited information in terms of bench-marking of the individual CPU options, however given that the Monkersolver workload is heavily multi-threaded, it is reasonable to assume that the high thread count options will perform better than their low thread count counterparts. We can therefore expect the 18-core Intel Xeon W that Apple offers us to perform the best in Monker.
On a side note, it is probably of value to know that the CPU is upgradeable, as it is not soldered to the motherboard. So it is possible to start out with a cheaper configuration and swap out the CPU later, perhaps as prices drop. At the the time of writing, supply of these processors seems limited, and so it is not easy to find reference prices to see whether 3rd party swapping of the CPU after purchase is already a viable option. It is conceivable that Apple has a temporary embargo on these CPUs, but it is something to keep in mind for the future.
The default selection for RAM is 32GB. Given our selection of the 18-core Xeon, we will want to load up our iMac Pro with as much RAM as possible. The iMac Pro comes with four slots for RAM and these are all populated. This means that you can’t simply buy a 32 GB RAM model and then expect to be able to upgrade it at a later point by adding more RAM to the already existing RAM. You will have to replace all of the RAM in the machine. Additionally, you might also want a third party to do this for you, since the iMac Pro is not upgrade friendly and you probably want to avoid voiding your warranty on such an expensive AIO (all-in-one) machine.
At the time of writing, Apple is charging 2,400 USD to upgrade from the base 32GB RAM to 128GB RAM. This is quite expensive, considering the pre-installed RAM should already be worth approximately 3-400 USD. That means that Apple is charging roughly 2,750 USD for 128GB of DDR4 ECC RAM. There is currently at least one trader on eBay that is selling compatible iMac Pro RAM for ~1,743 USD.
Assuming you are able to sell the currently installed 32GB RAM, we are talking about 800-1000 USD in savings, after factoring in that we might need to hire a third party to install the RAM. This is something to consider and that will have to be researched based on the region in which you are ordering from. For the sake of this article however, we will simply assume that we selected the 128GB RAM option.
Next up is storage. Using the Samsung 960 Pro NVMe as reference, which is a very fast and modern consumer SSD, 1 TB would cost us approximately 650 USD, and 2 TB would cost us approximately 1,250 USD. So this time Apple’s markup is smaller, but still present. For Monkersolver however, we will never need more than 1TB of available storage space to run our solutions (a solution can’t be bigger than available total RAM). I would recommend leaving the base configuration as is, and instead making regular backups to an external hard drive if storage space becomes an issue. However, working with compressed files, which is the norm, will not leave you having to backup at a high frequency, though of course backing up important files at regular intervals is generally prudent and should be done anyway.
A high-end graphics card is not required for work with Monkersolver, therefore we will simply stay with the base configuration.
The remaining options are not pertinent for our use case and can simply be omitted, or added as needed.
So now that we have our configuration the way we want it, let’s compare the price to what we might pay for a PC of equivalent spec.
Configured straight from the Apple website, the final price comes to 9,799 USD. At a glance this seems very high, but it’s worth breaking down, since there are components in the configuration that one might not consider at first glance, such as the 5k display for example. I will try to use equivalent hardware where possible. Apple customize their machines a lot, often having parts specifically manufactured just to fit their design and spec, so we won’t have an exact reference price for a lot of the parts, but we should have a decent approximation:
Display – LG Ultrafine 5k Display – 1,299.95 USD
Case – Phanteks Enthoo Evolv – 149,99 USD
Motherboard – Supermicro X11SRA-RF – 340 USD
CPU – Intel Xeon W-2195 – 2,553 USD
RAM – 4x Supermicro 32GB 288-Pin DDR4 2666– 1632 USD
GPU – RX Vega 56 – 529 USD
Storage – 1 TB Samsung 960 Pro NVMe – 449.99 USD
PSU – EVGA Supernova 750 P2 – 159.99 USD
Cooling – Noctua NH-D15 – 89.99 USD
Mouse – Logitech MX Masters – 97.95 USD
Keyboard – Logitech G613 Wireless Mechanical Keyboard – 129 USD
High Speed Network Adapter – Asus XGC100C 10G Adapter – 99.99 USD
OS – Windows 10 Pro OEM License – 149.99 USD
Total: 7680.84 USD
So it seems that for this use case, the approximate Apple tax is 2118 USD. In the real world we may not even need to purchase a lot of the items on the list, since we may already have them available to us, such as the keyboard and mouse for example. But we also need to consider the assembly and warranty of our machine. For this we might add an extra 300 USD, which would close the gap to ~1800 USD. Still pricey, but not completely outrageous given that it does give you exclusive access to Mac OS and Apple’s eco system (if that is something of value to you) as well as official Apple support.
The airflow of the Q4’17 iMac Pro is not ideal. There have been some reports of CPU throttling. Another thing to keep in mind is that when comparing to an equivalent PC, we might want to opt for a build that includes an i9 over a Xeon W-2195. For example the i9-7980XE, that also has 18 cores, appears to slightly outperform the Xeon W and at approximately 500 USD less as can be seen here:
These benchmarks should be taken with a grain of salt as they are very limited, but given the cooling limitations of the iMac Pro, it is conceivable that a desktop PC build with an i9-980XE would outperform in Monkersolver, especially considering that we can overclock the i9 and provide substantially better cooling.