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Mac Pro: Options and Verdict

Andy Vandervell

By Andy Vandervell

Reviewed:

Awards

  • Editors choice
Apple Mac Pro

Summary

Our Score:

10

User Score:

Apple Mac Pro - Options

As with most Macs there are just a couple of base specs to the Mac Pro, but plenty of upgrades available. Our test model is the entry-level version, which has a 3.7GHz Intel Xeon E5, 12GB of ECC memory, two AMD FirePro D300 GPUs with 2GB memory and a 256GB PCIe SSD.

Mac Pro 3

If you're a heavy Photoshop and After Effects users, this is likely enough for you. The two D300 GPUs are very effective for image work and handle most video editing workflows well, though it's worth looking further up the range if your video duties are heavier or if you're doing 3D graphics work. If it's the latter you should probably be looking at the top-end D700 cards.

CPU options include 6-core (3.5GHz), 8-core (3.0GHz) and 12-core (2.7GHz) Xeon processors, though each step up results in a slightly lower clock speed. This isn't a problem if the programs you're running are heavily multi-threaded, but it does mean single-threaded ones run slower on the more expensive CPUs.

Memory options run from 12GB up to 64GB, all of which is 1,866MHz DDR ECC memory. The RAM slots are standard though and user accessible, so you can easily upgrade these yourself if you so choose -- as ever it's cheaper to do it yourself.

MAc Pro

The memory modules pop out easily

The GPU options are 'custom' cards made specifically for the Mac Pro, namely with 2GB D300, 3GB D500 and 6GB D700 memory. These are basically slightly down-clocked versions of AMD's FirePro cards, but they're all very capable cards in the right context. The key difference, apart from clock speeds, between these and AMD's standard desktop FirePro cards, is the lack of ECC memory. This won't matter a jot to Apple's target market of video and creative professionals, but it does rule out the Mac Pro for most scientific uses where any data corruption and errors are unacceptable.

Where things get particularly interesting is storage. That's because the Mac Pro only ships with SSDs, the largest being a 1TB one that's a mere £640 upgrade on the 256GB standard one. As we've already noted they're seriously fast SSDs, but they do mean it's more or less essential to rely on external storage. This is where the Thunderbolt 2.0 comes in.

Review Danny Phillips Maxell MXSB-252 n/a Submitted No Yes No

The SSD is a non-standard config, but third-party upgrades seem likely

One of the benefits of Thunderbolt 2.0 is it runs at a seriously fast 20Gb/s, double the first generation of Thunderbolt. This isn't fast enough to match a PCIe connection, which could cause a problem for anyone who needs to use external cards (GPUs, audio cards etc.), but it's more than fast enough to provide extremely fast external storage for those who need it. The ability to daisy chain peripherals means you can have up to 36 Thunderbolt devices connected to the six Thunderbolt ports, though good luck keeping track of all them.

There's always some debate about the extra expense compared to internal RAID setups in existing desktops, and it will mean additional cost for those upgrading from old Mac Pros, but the benefit is any external Thunderbolt storage you use is also compatible with any Mac. This means you can take your work with you and carry on where you left off without any bottlenecks. On balance it seems an acceptable compromise with some useful benefits, and of course it's one of the key reasons Apple can make the Mac Pro as small, quiet and efficient as it is.

Mac Pro

What, if any, GPU upgrades Apple will offer is unknown.

Other things to consider

One thing your £2,500 won't get you is a mouse or keyboard. Neither is supplied as standard. In one sense this is annoying, but if you're a pro you probably have peripherals you have and like, and have no intention of trading in. It's not a big deal.

A greater concern is the upgradability of the Mac Pro. The memory is easy to upgrade and the SSD is user accessible, though it's a non-standard part. But the GPUs are neither standard nor particularly accessible.

They're accessible in the sense that you can disassemble the Mac Pro entirely, but they're non-standard cards you can't buy right now. Apple has been fairly non-committal on its plans to offer GPU upgrades. It hasn't ruled it out, but neither has it committed to doing so.

This is no doubt a concern for those who feel they'll want to trade-up to faster GPUs in three or four years’ time, but don't want to trade in for a new Mac Pro. Apple might counter that many in the movie business lease rather than buy Mac Pros outright, but that's only one subset of a much larger market. If you're buying a Mac Pro outright, upgrade options have to be concern and it's one we'd like to see Apple be clearer on.

Mac Pro 14

Should I buy the Apple Mac Pro?

As noted right at the beginning of the review, the Mac Pro is for a very specific kind of person. This is both a good and a bad thing. Apple has clearly targeted video pros as the key market, and provided you're an Apple and Final Cut Pro user, the Mac Pro is an absolute must-buy. It's an equally good buy for any particularly demanding photo editor, though the entry-level spec will likely suffice for most.

The only caveat, as we've repeated several times before, is application support. If what you're using can't address the two GPUs, upgrading straight away doesn't make a great deal of sense. Equally, the true strength of the Mac Pro is the dual GPU setup, but this benefit is moot if you're predominantly running CPU-limited programs. Apple is betting the farm on GPU acceleration being the future for workstation level computing, but support (and confidence in) GPU processing won't happen overnight. It depends very strongly on the field you're working in.

But none of these points make the Mac Pro any less of a triumphant product. The engineering and design behind it are nothing short of astounding. The power is impressive, but it's the stability, coolness and near-silent operation that will really floor you. And while the Mac Pro is expensive from an 'ordinary' perspective, for a workstation it's by no means extortionate and it delivers something no other can match.

Verdict

Apple has redefined what a workstation can be with the Mac Pro. It's not for everyone, but it delivers handsomely on what it sets out to do and sets a new standard for what's possible in a desktop computer.

Next, find out what we thought of the 27-inch iMac

Overall Score

10

Scores In Detail

  • Design 10
  • Heat & Noise 10
  • Performance 9
  • Value 8

Prem Desai

January 30, 2014, 8:43 am

I am not Apple's biggest fan and won't be buying one of these but I can appreciate what they have done here.

The looks alone are gorgeous let alone the spec.

Good start to the year. Nice one Apple.

schriss

January 30, 2014, 9:21 am

Yea it looks good, kinda reminds me of Dyson products. I too would never buy this, I build my own, but still, this thing looks solid.

DigitalFury

January 30, 2014, 10:10 am

x

DigitalFury

January 30, 2014, 10:16 am

Too expensive for what it is, as 99.99999% of pro Mac users want something stronger than a Mini and without the fixed glossy screen of the iMac. We don't need dual AMD Pro GPUs and Xeons, but a very fast NVidia consumer part, a big and fast i7, lots of RAM (e.g. 32 Gb) and ports, and a big SSD (say 512 Gb) in the same Mac Pro enclosure. I will pay 2K € for that.

Steve

January 30, 2014, 10:17 am

Don't understand how you can write negative points but still give a product 10/10.
I do like the look of it even though it does look like a bin from some angle, silver isn't helping this.

Beaky69

January 30, 2014, 10:43 am

I think you're missing the point. The Mac Pro is a niche product; maybe not for *your* niche, but for the people it's targeted at, it's a fantastic tool. If you earn your living using Mac software which can take advantage of the hardware provided, it is, as our American cousins would say, a "no brainer".

DigitalFury

January 30, 2014, 12:07 pm

I do get the point, but you fail to understand that most PROFESSIONALS using Macs earn their living doing something else than video compression or 3D rendering. The Mini is severely underpowered, and there are screens much better than what ships with iMacs.

andyvan

January 30, 2014, 1:04 pm

I think the key point is Apple is missing a trick by not having an 'inbetween' model that isn't an iMac. That said, I'm guessing Apple feels the potential market isn't that large.

Pg

January 30, 2014, 1:58 pm

I agree. Any product is perfect for a niche group, but issues with 4K display and lack of internal storage, not to mention the price, don't sound like a 10 to me. It's not perfect for most people, there are issues even with the niche who would utilise it properly, it's not a 10.

How it looks is also a side point, not relevant to its performance. You don't buy a workstation because of how it looks, at least you shouldn't.

"..
is
means you can take your work with you and carry on where you left off
without any bottlenecks. On balance it seems an acceptable compromise
Read more at http://www.trustedreviews.com/... means you can take your work with you and carry on where you left off without any bottlenecks. On balance it seems an acceptable compromise.." Why would you buy this if you can do your work on another MAC? Why pay the extra? A compromise and it still gets a 10? I can only assume it's looks have beguiled you.

On the storage point, I'm guessing you can't do RAID with the external storage, so if your harddrive fails, you lose your work? Or you have to have two drives, one you work off, one is your backup. I'd have thought losing your work due to a harddrive failing due to not having RAID would be a negative. This here is form over function. Unless I'm wrong about the whole RAID thing...but even then, the amount of drives and cables from multiple external drives.

One question I've no idea about is how much space does 4k need? I can only assume 256gb is enough.

andyvan

January 30, 2014, 3:38 pm

We get asked this question a fair amount. For us, a 10/10 doesn't mean a product is perfect... otherwise we'd never give it. What it means is a product sets an entirely new benchmark for similar products to match. The Moto G is good example being a 'cheap' phone that's genuinely great to use.

Our scores guide goes into more depth: www.trustedreviews.com/opinion...

andyvan

January 30, 2014, 4:29 pm

All reasonable points, but a few counters.

1) 4K display issue more a small wrinkle rather than a serious deal breaker. It's a judgement call and I'm sure it'll get sorted soon. The paucity of 4K screens has a large part to play here as they're only just coming out now (not including TVs, btw)

2) Because you may have to move location, switch to a laptop or use someone else's hardware. Using external Thunderbolt storage means you can do all of these things without serious impediment to your workflow. Plug in and go, no problems.

3) You can have have RAID in external drives, no problem. Cable mess is a reasonable concern, but the key point for me is you couldn't have this efficient design with internal RAID arrays etc. And the size benefits are more than just aesthetic. Greater portability is better for optimizing office space and makes it easier to transport hardware on location etc, and the lack of noise makes it ideal for working in places where excess noise is serious issue.

4) 256GB will run out pretty quickly. If you were working with 4K you'd definitely need some external storage.

Tom Scharf

January 30, 2014, 8:06 pm

It likely wouldn't have mattered if the unit cost $20,000, the Apple Acceptance Factor would have ruled the day. The mindless praise without respect to cost only applies to one company.

Yes, you can find a Dell or HP that costs as much, but you have to try hard, and you can get 90% of the performance for 1/2 the cost in different configurations. To pay this much and not have the option for multiple processors is an oversight, as single threaded applications actually run faster on the iMac. Those with mutli-thread necessity get stomped by multi-procesor configurations. So it's the not best of neither world. But hey, let's not get into details here, it is back and shiny and has an Apple logo.

The iMac is great because it reduces cables to almost nothing, the Mac Pro is great because it makes you cable up everything with no internal expansion. Yeah, I get it. I think. It's not like anyone every upgraded their video card in professional applications, right?

Well, we will deduct two points from our base score of 12 for Apple and ding them down to a 10.

Tom Scharf

January 30, 2014, 9:04 pm

You are aware there are internal raid systems, right? That's what all those disk slots are for in EVERY OTHER workstation. The 4 year old Mac Pro could implement them. 4 years ago internal raid support was likely a deal breaker for you, this year making it mandatory they be external is now a feature, right? Mindless praise != Critical thinking.

I'm having a hard time understanding how not having internal raid capability and inability to upgrade video processors is a "benefit" to workstation users. These are limitations with with very little payback.

andyvan

January 30, 2014, 9:24 pm

Of course I'm aware. Read the review.

ROBERT DUNFORD

January 31, 2014, 11:43 am

I have a feeling that if the new MP is a good seller and I think it will sell not only to old MP users, but new users. Then I'd wager Apple will bring out three sizes, Mini, Regular and Max. Mini has say E3 Xeon and just one GPU, the Max has space for dual CPU and dual GPU. The MacMini will disappear.

Pg

January 31, 2014, 2:28 pm

1) Yeah, not a huge issue as it will be sorted at some stage but if, as you say, apple are using 4k as a selling point for this machine, I feel apple have made it an issue.

2) My problem with this one is that it's nothing new, USB has been around ages, unless I'm missing something? I just can't understand what work you'd be moving with you that internet/network doesn't already handle? Sounds like spinning no internal storage expansion into a positive thing.

I'd asume all 4k stuff is rather large would always be moved via external storage, but external storage isn't new.

3) External RAID...nice. I guess this is linked to 2 for me - portability. Do people really lug pros around? This some sort of movie editing on location type of thing? In which case internal storage is more appealing as less external devices makes for easier transport. Quietness is close to my heart, but for a beast of a machine I wouldn't complain if it's not almost silent. Design just doesn't come into it - but that's just me.

I understand perfection isn't possible and that you want to give
outstanding products a high score. I just feel there are enough
negatives here to lower the score (to 9 1/2 rather than 9). But that's the beauty of opinion.

Thanks for the reply, in fact thanks for all the replies in this thread. It's great to see feedback and defending your position/opinion, as well as answering some of the questions I had.

Mark Lindsey

January 31, 2014, 3:56 pm

Its FAST, RELIABLE OS, Better options within the software, and won't be bogged down with layers of 3rd party fixes for the security and OS problems that other platform has. Its a Professional workstation for creative pros, not a fix and reload weekly PC sort of thing.

Mark Lindsey

January 31, 2014, 3:59 pm

You also don't have to put the Mac Pro on the floor to collect dust inside. You can hide it and the cables BEHIND those 27" monitors.

DigitalFury

February 1, 2014, 6:22 pm

I think they realise it would just cannibalise a lot of iMac 27" sales, as the price would have to be lower, and they must make a good margin off that display panel. I am actually looking at either buying a maxed out 27" and shoving it under my desk, or getting a entry level Mac Pro. 1st option would allow me to do some occasional gaming here and there to relax. 2nd option to have a status symbol on my desk; and enjoy extra Thunderbolt ports (I have a lot of TB devices).

PJ Matthews

February 2, 2014, 12:15 pm

Its amazing how success brings such hatred. I remember being a dedicated 14 year old AMIGA user with a hatred for Microsoft which was of course unfounded.

Some of you should re-read what is a well written review as you have obviously glossed over most of the key parts.

Lets remember this Mac Pro isn't aimed at most of us. This is for high end home enthusiasts and professionals. Apple has ruled the 'creative' market for many years where people will pay top dollar for performance which this has in bucket loads. For the rest of us there is the iMac.

Its a great design, its innovative and not a boring box.

andyvan

February 4, 2014, 9:12 am

Interesting idea.

Baz

April 3, 2014, 9:36 am

Better options with the software? Are you mad? The software choice for Windows PC's is far superior to any Mac - Pro or not.

WSAY

October 22, 2014, 1:24 am

Haters have to hate. Apple is a great, successful, American company. Of course losers hate them. But let's be honest here. The reason people who claim to hate Apple hang around Apple articles is because they want to see the future.

James G

June 1, 2016, 2:09 pm

Do you know how much dual FirePros and a Xeon costs? Those in themselves are worth far more than the base price of $3,000.

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