As a minor (I stress minor) pundit on all things Mac Pro after my definitive Mac Pro Upgrade guide I figure I should weigh in to the ever expanding sea of opinions. For the first time in a very long time the WWDC really hit the right notes: the iPad is growing up, the Photos app is beautiful and even more compelling, iTunes is no more and finally broken apart, the Watch has a de-tethered experience, Mac OS now will sport screen mirroring natively on an iPad, but Apple seemed to sense that the most important announcement was the return to the professional with the almighty Mac Pro.
Pictured: Apple feeling itself with the new Mac Pro. Don't be fooled by the monitor, it's 39.7 lbs/18.0 kg
Apple delivered but for $$$$
The presentation was oh-so-Apple like, and then it wasn't. Apple talked big numbers, lots of numbers, the kind of numbers that make average-people glaze over in boredom: 8k, 6k, 3.0 16x PCIe, billions of pixels, 2000 audio tracks, GPUs, multiple GPUs. It's enough to make someone throw up their hands and rhetorically ask: Who cares? But we care. We always have. There was a surreal moment when Apple showed how the case opened. They invited you inside, and look, there are slots! So many slots. What-in-the-name-of-Ives was going on?
The new Mac Pro is a monster, there's no other way to say it:
- Up to 28 Cores
- Up to 1.5TB of RAM
- Eight PCIe slots
- Two "MPX" slots with Thunderbolt 3 passthrough (optional 16x ports if the slots aren't obfuscated with large cards)
- 3 full length slots (1 16x, two 8x)
- 1 half length slot (8x) with I/O connectivity from factory
- Two SSD slots (unclear if natively NVMe)
- Two 10Gb Enet
- Two USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 / two USB-A ports front facing
- Two Thunderbolt 3 ports on I/O card
- Headphone jack, internal speaker
- 802.11ac/Bluetooth 5
- Custom additional co-processor for video that allows for three 8k streams to be played back at once.
It's an absolute monster beast of a computer. Dare I say, this may very well be the best-designed desktop Apple has done. Visually, it may be a little too avant-garde. It's alien-looking but with a very clear nod and a wink to the cheese grater. It's built to last, just like how my 3.1 Mac Pro still works a decade layer. The hitch is the entry price of $5999.... ouch, oh and that pretty monitor? $4999 with a very understandable groan from the audience when the stand price tag of $999. The monitor is too much but I guess time to start saving for the Mac Pro. It's been a very long time since I've had this level of interest in a computer.
I've been following social media conversations and have some additional thoughts that I felt necessary to expand on.
More thoughts on price
The Mac Pro 2019 was what the people wanted, Xeons are more expensive than ever, with the CPU itself making up for roughly 1/3rd of the price even in the entry model. The Mac Pro 2019 also is the most upgradable Mac we've seen on several accounts. The PowerMac 9600, a monster in its own right had six PCI slots, twelve RAM slots, SCSI, ethernet and a serial port (3x 5.25 inch drives), debuting in 1997 at $3,700 (Roughly $5800 adjusted for 2019). The 2019 Mac Pro may lack the drive bays (only two SSD slots), it also has eight PCIe slots with an additional four Thunderbolt 3 ports. Let that sink in, Thunderbolt 3 adds the rough equivilent of four more 4x PCIe slots. It's better to think of the Mac Pro 2019 as having twelve PCIe slots. It has effectively double the physical PCIe slots of the Mac Pro 2006-2012, triple if you consider Thunderbolt 3, and far more CPU configuration options despite one CPU (which can scale to 28 cores, 56 virtual cores). You are effectively getting double the computer than the previous generation Mac Pro. It's expensive. Really expensive but go look at other Xeon workstations. It's price competitive. You wanted upgradable? Here it is.
Lastly, part of the price hike problem is the stagflation for most workers. This isn't to say that the problem isn't with Apple's price-point as even in 1997 a $3700 computer was a bitter pill to swallow, rather that it is exacerbated by the lack of meaningful raises that'd make investments like this more attainable. Also Mac users haven't kept up with the current Xeon prices, they are damn expensive. There's not really an affordable gap between an Intel i9 and the Xeons sadly. What a bulk of users wanted (self-included) was a $3000 Mac Pro. The i9 line certainly provides the CPU horse-power but is handicapped in the I/O department, only 40 lanes of PCIe and maximum memory and 128 GB. However, at 68 lanes maximum is certainly beefy enough but still locked at 128 GB of RAM, less than the 2010 Mac Pro.
As for the monitor? Nope, I can't justify it. Charging $1000 for the stand is not a good look. While a 6k true-10 bit display is impressive, I'm sure within 2 years we'll see equal displays for less money. Also for wallet injury, Apple had the gall suggest connecting 6 of these monitors to the Mac Pro, $36,000 worth of displays. Riiiight.
Thoughts on GPUs
If you hoped for NVidia support, well.... you placed your hopes on the wrong company. Apple and NVidia have not reconciled. There was absolutely no reason to expect them to resolve their issues. Expect to remain disappointed for the foreseeable future. I want NVidia as much as anyone, but it's not happening. Should Apple allow NVidia GPUs? Of course. Will they? Probably not. I've been wrong about a good many things though.
Thoughts on chipset
I'm not crazy about the Xeon price tags, and I've seen several people arguing that Apple should have gone AMD with like the thread ripper series. So far the Threadrippers are limited to: max 128 GB/s of RAM, 64 PCIe lanes and no Thunderbolt 3. While personally, these specs would be fine for me on a desktop (in fact I'd personally like a more modest config for affordability), they aren't for the target market: too few PCIe lanes, not enough ram and no Thunderbolt 3 is a deal breaker.
Also, the commitment to Xeons lends credence for a personal theory of mine, that the mac lineup might end up a split CPU architecture. Windows already is. The MacBook and MacBook Air line could end up on ARM where the I/O abilities of ARM are much less and the limitations of size mean that an Apple GPU would be more viable than Intel's built-in offerings. Is this true? Who-the-hell-knows outside of infinite loop but Apple speculation is a past time and I figure I should put this in writing just to see how accurate I really am.
Thoughts on I/O chipset
Now here's one that took me for a loop and I'm surprised that no-one I've seen has talked about this: The I/O card has two of the Thunderbolt 3 ports. This means (possibly) that more ThunderBolt 3 ports could be added to the computer or better, possibly whatever I/O (thunderbolt 4?) could be added down the road. This certainly improves the shelf life.
Thoughts on Power Draw
It's an easy target for people to skewer Apple on, but GPUs need juice. Their power requirements aren't going down anytime soon with 8k and VR. Perhaps focus on performance-per-watt will become needed in soon in the desktop arena as watts-in = heat out, creating issues for everyday users but we haven't seen the worst of it yet. The real question is the idling power, which is bound to be much lower than the ma
Thoughts PCIe 3.0 / DDR4
A few people are angry about the lack of PCIe 4.0 and DDR4. This one is easy. PCIe 4.0 isn't a shipping spec and Intel may skip it altogether, DDR5 is still more than a year out. The Mac Pro delayed even further. The real test is will Apple update to PCIe 4.0 and DDR5 when it comes time? If you hoped for Thunderbolt 4, it isn't even a thing yet.
Thoughts on looks
I find it strange, not hideous, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I won't lie; it made me smile though that they brought back the cheesegrater motif. Long as its quiet and doesn't glow with neon LEDs, I'm happy. Maybe I'm an odd man out, but my Mac Pro is on the floor next to my favorite piece of furniture, a drab grey McDowell & Craig 1940s all-American all steel desk that weighs roughly 200 pounds that inherited from my grandfather. It'll look just fine next to it but each to their own.