Apple’s Mac line seems to have become more prosumer than professional in recent years. As much as I’m in awe of how fast the new MacBook Pro models are– seriously, they scream– I’m somewhat bummed because nothing is upgradeable and everyone knows that’s what professionals love to do. Upgrade.
In fact, there just isn’t much that’s user accessible and upgradeable about any of the Mac line in 2016. The iMac can get more RAM. I expect that option to be gone next year. Mac minis can be upgraded a bit but it’s a painful process. What about the Mac Pro? What’s really wrong with the Mac Pro?
Love. Hate. Perception.
You won’t see too many Mac Pros in the wild and even then it seems as if there are more of the humongous cheese grater Mac Pro models of yesteryear still running than there are new Mac Pro cylinders gracing the desktops of system administrators, programmers, and creative pros.
Apple introduced the newest Mac Pro with a bit of the company’s notorious and typical hubris-filled hullabaloo back in mid-2013 at WWDC. That means the Mac Pro hasn’t been upgraded in more than three years and still ships with an older Xeon CPU that has seen three upgrades from Intel since. The Mac Pro also carries the distinction of being the only Mac assembled in the U.S. of A.
With all the noise from so-called professionals regarding Apple’s new MacBook Pros not being upgradeable, what about the Mac Pro? Oddly enough, the Mac Pro can be upgraded. Mostly. I have a few co-workers who use the Mac Pro, and know a few others in the Mac creative field– graphics and media– who have Mac Pros in use daily.
Except for one thing, they love the Mac Pro. But why?
First, it’s screaming fast. In the right configuration. Mac Pros need plenty of cores, plenty of RAM, and plenty of SSD storage, and those components add up quickly. A not quite fully tricked out 12-core CPU Mac Pro with basic 16GB RAM and 256GB SSD storage and dual 6GB GPUs weighs in at $7,599.
Repeat. That’s $7,599.
Those prices do not include screens, keyboard, or mouse. No wonder you don’t see many of them floating around. MacSales can push the 12-core CPU model’s RAM to 128GB for about $1,100. 4TB of SSD flash storage adds another $2,000 to the price tag. Total? $10,699.
The next most powerful Mac is the new MacBook Pro, the 15-inch model with an Intel Core i7 CPU and faster Radeon GPU. Fully decked out with maximum RAM, storage, and upgraded GPU and that model hits $4,299. That even tops a loaded Core i7 iMac with 32GB of RAM, 1TB SSD storage, and a 4GB GPU.
If the new MacBook Pro is faster than anything Apple makes except a multi-core Mac Pro, then why isn’t the notebook a professional machine? Methinks thou dost protest too much.
Back to the future. What’s wrong with the Mac Pro?
First, it’s damned expensive. A quad-core entry-level Mac Pro with similar RAM, storage, and graphics as the iMac weighs in at $4,499. And, again, that’s without screens, keyboard, or mouse. Price matters.
Second, while upgrades to RAM and SSD storage are possible, Apple has fallen behind a few generations of Intel’s Xeon CPUs (v5 is out, Mac Pro remains on v2). Does that matter? In overall performance for high end requirements, probably not, especially on benchmarks, but if it matters to you, then it matters. It also says Apple is not inclined to keep up with Intel’s CPU advancements and that may indicate the Mac Pro’s days are numbered. Who wants a Mac as expensive as a car if Apple won’t keep it around?
Finally, what constitutes a professional has changed, even since the Mac Pro was introduced in mid-2013. While a fully loaded Mac Pro gets into five figures quickly enough and the price might be justified for editing movies, rendering effects, and producing game graphics, a large portion of those industries find acceptable performance with large Retina 5k iMacs and MacBook Pro models. And, very few Mac applications take advantage of all that RAM and multi-core CPU power.
The landscape has changed. Professional doesn’t mean what it once meant. Needs have changed, too. Only Apple knows where the Mac Pro will go in the future but for most of what the Mac’s new era professionals need, the price tag of a Mac Pro doesn’t justify the high end horsepower.