Our take on the new Mac Pro

Apple are a very unique company, they’re both the most loved and mocked company we’re aware of, in some cases at the same time. They’ve a loyal faithful, and those who pretty seem to live to hate anything they do, and this has not been demonstrated more so with the response to this, the new 2019 Mac Pro.

The new Mac Pro, is a result of Apple’s long struggle to replace the previous “trash-can” Mac Pro, which Apple themselves admitted was a misstep. The new Mac Pro returns the upgradability of the older Mac Pro, though also comes with some rather, let’s say, divisive design choices.

What Apple haven’t disappointed on is the performance potential of the Mac Pro. Whilst Apple still insist on using Intel’s Xeon workstation CPUs for any “pro” desktop Mac, we’d rather they at least offered the option for the more consumer friendly i Series of Intel CPUs, or anything from AMDs lineup for that matter, especially as they’ve built an ARM processor just for video rendering, a task which would be aided by the use of Intels quick sync, which isn’t present in Xeon, but that’s Apple. You can configure the Mac Pro oddly starting at 8-core, which sure is a lot, but it’s also what the lower cost iMac Pro features, but it does climb up to a beefy 24-core processor.

Apple have also redefined what we come to expect in terms of RAM expectancy, as you can literally purchase (or will be able to) a Mac Pro with 1.5TB … yes terabyte, of RAM!

Unfortunately, the Mac Pro starts at £6,000* with a rather disappointing starting spec, just looking at the 256GB SSD is enough to make you question a lot, especially when the base iMac Pro comes with 1TB SSD.

However, that isn’t really what the Mac Pro is about, though it’s a disappointing base.

The hot word for this years Mac Pro, from the start, was “modular”. Whilst we wouldn’t agree on the full level, it certainly is expandable, and a lot of this is due to the return of PCI, all 8 of them, made up of 1 half length slot, 3 single slots, and 4 double wide. All of these feature a more than adequate power supply to boot.

Apple + AMD = The world’s most powerful Graphics card

One of the biggest requests by many with the Mac Pro is ironic when you think about it, as it still uses Intel processors and AMD graphics, when most would like the option of AMD processors and Nvidia graphics, but what can you do. The bigger side of the story is with the Graphics, as whilst AMD is doing incredible work in the CPU space, they’re still always the second best in Graphics, though Apple have teamed up with AMD to try and make the most powerful “graphics card” in the world, branded the AMD Radeon Pro Vega II. The Radeon Pro Vega II has 32GB of AMDs fast graphics memory, but they haven’t stopped there, Apple are giving you the option to include two, or four with enough power to offer the full power of 128GB of graphics memory.

The GPU however needs a hand, so it’s led to Apple building a whole new way of upgrades in the future, called MPX. With the Radeon card, the MPX model allows it to get more power than from a regular PCI-3 slot, which combined with Apple’s ARM processor used for processing video encoding, together in the MPX model, then allows the phrase “world’s most powerful graphics card”.

Naturally, it’s unclear how a regular AMD Radeon Pro Vega II would compare to Nvidia’s RTX 2080i, but for now at least, AMD and Apple have the ingredients for the fastest Graphics card, just hopefully they’ve got all the Drivers figured out, not just for macOS, but Windows on Boot Camp as you already know, folk are going to test these for Gaming.

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Our take on the Mac Pro (rant and analysis)

To properly understand the pressure Apple had with the Mac Pro, you’ve to look back a couple generations to the last Mac Pro, which at the time was comfortably referred to as the cheese-grater … oh the irony. Was it the quietest computer in the world, of course not, but one thing it did right, was accessibility and upgradability. You could get a Mac Pro tower for, with inflation, around £2,600, which honestly is close to where Apple should be pricing the base model Mac Pro here. Like the new Mac Pro, you could configure it for days and spend well in to car money, it’s expected it would be even more so with this Mac Pro, but one thing we’re not too sure about in relation to this Mac Pro, is as time goes by.

You can get a second hand Mac Pro (last generation cheese-grater), and if you max it out, like Luke Miani did on YouTube, you can still 9 years after it’s release build a Mac that’s faster than anything Apple sell today … no really. In fact, you can go further with a simple mod to the Motherboard and Power Supply, which will allow near-to PCI-3 performance, allowing, like Luke did, to run an AMD Radeon VI Graphics Card, so yeah, you can take these still very far. Rewind back to the “trash-can” Mac Pro, and that’s stuck where it is, that’s one of the biggest fears with the just announced Mac Pro, and this is where some concerns are lying.

Obviously upgradability moving forward depends on many factors, some of which of course are unavoidable, such as changes in architecture, but from what we can see from what we know (so far) about the Mac Pro, it doesn’t have as much access to components like the CPU in order to upgrade those in the future, something which has being an important factor to keeping the older Mac Pro’s alive.

However, the market Apple are targeting with the Mac Pro this year is very convoluted. Apple are branding it as a high end Pro desktop set for things end users would never need, in terms of the performance, mostly as a defense for the price tag, however that doesn’t change the fact the low end is over-priced, and going forward this most likely won’t have as much flexibility as the older Mac Pro, Apple’s choice to target the higher end Pro market, is clearly an inkling that the level of maintenance from the older “cheese-grater” Mac Pro is probably not necessary as those kind of users would probably just buy another going forward, which is a shame.

Apple need a Mac mini that’s good again … a Mac Pro mini?!

The ironic thing about the Pro market focus on the Mac Pro, is that the loudest voices crying for a Mac Pro update, weren’t even that market. Obviously it was fairly important Apple did address this market as it remains a big profit margin for the company, and those rely on Mac only applications, such as Logic, Final Cut Pro X and more, but, it’s more end users who were looking for Apple to deliver a powerful Tower.

The only real option Apple offer users is the Mac mini, which when it comes with a Core i3 for nearly £800, it’s quite an insult. Whilst the upper level Core i5 model (or configurable i7) are decent performers, and full power Thunderbolt 3 opens the doors for things such as high speed eGPUs, it’s still incredibly over-priced for what it is, despite it’s actually decent design for what it offers.

What Apple need is more of a Mac Pro mini. A large Tower, one which could fit, power and cool a full size and single PCI expansion, AND offer the 4K / 5K iMac level of specifications. This, quite honestly, would be the one gap missing in Apple’s lineup. The Mac Mini is great, but overpriced and doesn’t offer enough, but the Mac Pro is too much and out of consumer price range, so this would fill a very open void in Apple’s market. But, Apple don’t seem to have the same level of care for the Mac they used to, especially with iOS devices leading Apple’s future, and with the iPadOS variant of iOS bridging the iPad/Mac gap more.

Our summary of the Mac Pro

It’s the most powerful Mac in history, it needed to be, it’ll be one of the most powerful (if maxed out) PCs in history, it needed to be, but it’s targeting a very fragmented audience and further exposes Apple’s lack of consumer grade desktop for those who like to use their own equipment.

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