The Mac Pro has been the hallmark workstation for Creative in the last few decades. From print to music to film, almost every major creative professional have used the Mac Pro as his or her dedicated workstation. Thought before the new Mac Pro there were rumors that Apple might leave the professional market and only concentrate on the Consumer market. The old Mac Pro was so outdated that many professional had no choice but to switch to either Windows or build a Hackintosh. Apple finally addressed the issue at last Year’s WWDC, and introduce a totally revamp machine. Below are my thoughts on the 2013 Mac Pro after 4 months of use.
I have to say I was somewhat disappointed when they first showed this at WWDC, mainly cause all I wanted was for the old Mac Pro to be updated with new specs and also add the new Thunderbolt connection. But I was naive on where the industry is heading and why did Apple built this machine.
None the less the machine itself is truly the marvel between Industrial Design and Engineering. Like every other Apple product you have to see this in person to appreciated to small details that went into building this machine.
01 | DESIGN
The design language for this Mac Pro shares a lot in common with Apple recent products like the iPhone 5 and iPad Air. This machine was designed to set on the desk next to your Monitor. For all-purpose this could be someone’s home theatre pc cause of the size. Apple has tried very hard in recent years to unify all of their software and hardware to share similar design cues.
You physically can only expand the RAM and storage. The rest all through external connection. There are 4 USB 3 ports and 6 Thunderbolt 2 ports, in which logically you can daisy chain up to 36 devices.
The machine resemble much like a modern art piece than a workstation.
The exterior shell is made out of a whole piece of Aluminum with metallic gray finish. The cylinder is just about 10inches high and around 7inches in diameter.
This new Mac Pro is about 1/4th size of the old Mac Pro, and all of the components inside the machine are only cooled by one central fan. It indeed resemble a trash can and also Darth Vader Helmet. There's a great quote by Steve Jobs in the Walter Isaacson's biography and really explains the company philosophy in Industrial Design.
“I want it to be as beautiful as possible, even if it’s inside the box. A great carpenter isn’t going to use lousy wood for the back of a cabinet, even though nobody’s going to see it."
The Mac Pro design takes a lot of cues from the Power Mac G4 Cube. The Power Mac G4 Cube was an unique product on its own, it requires no fan to cool the machine and it was very easy to access the inside internals. The Mac Mini resemble much of what G4 Cube was and I am glad that Apple has merge the DNA of G4 Cube into this new Mac Pro.
The machine weight only about 11 pounds which comparing to the old Mac Pro is much lighter. The top of the machine is dominated by a huge central fan as the air ventilation goes from the bottom to the top. The inside of the Mac Pro is well crafted piece of engineering. Every small detail are consider when fitting the internals of the Mac Pro. All the hardwares are custom designed specifically for the Mac Pro.
Apple developed a way to cool the entire machine with only one thermal heat sink which they call it “The Unified Thermal Core” (pictured below)
During my four months of using the machine I have yet to hear the fan at full speed. The machine is so quiet that it scares me sometime that if the fan is even on. The only time when the fan goes above normal is when you are using applications that demands intensive power from the graphic cards. There are two graphic cards in this machine, which is a first for a Macintosh.
The market for workstation hasn't changed for decades. Only company like Apple can make something so radical different. We are slowly moving away from those heavy boxes for personal workstation which this is marketed for. For big companies and small business I still believe those big boxes are still required cause of the easy maintenance. This machine was aimed for those film makers and Photographers who's always on the move to different locations, its much easier to carry around.
Nowadays many people are using external storage (NAS & DAS) for all the data files/backups and only using the internal storage (mostly flash) for main applications like Photoshop or Final Cut. The external bus speed (Thunderbolt or USB3) are fast enough that it could match the same speed as the internal drives.
This machine is gonna be a big turn off for those who wanted to do future upgrades since all the parts are custom build its only up to Apple if there’s any future upgrades. The new Mac Pro was designed for creatives who just want a workstation that works and don't have deal with all the issues that comes with a PC workstation.
02 | HARDWARE
The Model I got was the base model with only upgraded the Graphic Cards.
Here are specs listed below
3.5 GHz 6-Core Intel Xeon E5
16GB DDR3 ECC RAM
AMD FirePro D700 (2) 6GB RAM
256GB PCIe-based Flash Storage
Flash storage has been around for long time now, and it does make a huge difference on the system performance. The base model come with only 256GB of flash storage, but for me its enough to store all of my application. The Mac Pro flash storage is now PC-e based rather than SATA based, and can achieve the read/write speed close to 1 Gbps. The boot up speed is so fast it feel like waking up instead of restarting.
For the first time in history Apple has put dual graphic cards in their pro machine as a standard. The reason that you want to get this highest configuration is for future proofing. This machine need to last me at least the next 7 or 8 years, so I went ahead and got the Dual AMD FirePro D700 option. Sadly on the OSX side there is a option for Crossfire like the windows side, each Application or Games has to program to take advantage of the Dual Graphics. The only program I’ve seen that does this is Apple’s new update to Final Cut X. There was recent review done by The Verge where they showed off just how smooth video editing can be when both cards are in use. Adobe Premiere recently got an update where it off load some intensive task to the second card.
I did test with the footage from my Nikon D800 which I recorded at 1080p 30fps, Final Cut X chewed the video like it was butter. It was so smooth editing the RAW videos without transcoding to ProRes.
For gaming performance its best you install Windows to get the best performance. Gaming on OSX is still much limited since most of the games are ported from there windows counter part. There are some good ports like Tomb Raider or BioShock, but its still limited in term of performance. Crossfire is turned on by default if you install Windows so you can take advantage of both card and get speed close to a GTX Titan.
Remember these are FirePro cards AKA they are workstation cards thats made for doing more long intensive task like 3D rendering and Video Editing. Workstation cards are normally in use for long period of time like Medical Data Analysis or Architecture Model Rendering.
Just like the the graphic cards, the Mac Pro has workstation grade CPU. On the previous Mac Pro’s you can have option on choosing dual CPU’s configurations, but on machine this size there is enough room for a second CPU. Though you can still configure up to 12 Cores Intel Xeon processor. I choose the 6 Core since none of my applications take advantage beyond 6 cores.
You can upgrade the RAM to 128GB if you ever feel the need to go bankrupt, I just got the standard 16GB which also fits most of my needs. These are ECC RAM’s so its bit more expansive if you want to upgrade, both Crucial and OtherWorldComputing already has kits that does go up to 128GB.
03 | FINAL SUMMARY
So how expansive is this workstation? Well if you already own a workstation from either Dell or HP than the price shouldn’t be a shock for you, but if you are coming from a consumer computer the price might be a bit high. There are two base models, one starts at $2,999, and the higher end starts at $3,999. I suggest you find someone with a .edu email account, cause with the student discount you can save up almost 600bucks. Actually looking from a workstation perspective this is actually a great bargain. The AMD FirePro Graphics Card cost nearly 2k on their own, and with two you are looking at 4k for just the graphic cards alone.
I started saving up for a new machine since December of 2011. At the time my old 2008 MacBook Pro has already starting to show its age. It was fine for normal small tasks, but when editing huge RAW files and also doing motion graphics it really starts to slow the machine down.
I was really interested in building my own Hackintosh. The instructions looks simple and it was a lot cheaper than buying a Mac Pro. But after careful consideration it wasn’t worth it to go through all that trouble and not having the machine to work down the road if Apple decides to change something in OSX. The iMac feel like a feasible option, but I already have a nice display and the down side was that it only included a mobile graphic chipset.
After nearly five months of use I am actually really happy with my purchase of this new machine. Apple took the time and did something thats very forward thinking and stylish at the same time. This probably my biggest purchase to date, but I think it’s gonna be worth it in the long run. This machine will be my work horse for the next 8 to 7 years.
- Fast both in CPU and Graphic performance
- Its small so its very portable.
- It’s silent. Dead Silent
- OSX lacks Crossfire