If you were on the fence about buying Apple's new Mac Pro, look no further than our in-depth review detailing everything you need to know about their latest
Product: Mac Pro
Price: from £2,499 / $ 2,999 USD
Release date: December 2013
Star Rating: 4.5 / 5
To say it's taken a long time for Apple to launch a redesigned Mac Pro is an understatement. Aside from a minor update in 2012, the old model hadn't changed in nearly four years, lacked many modern technologies such as Thunderbolt and USB 3 and had been discontinued in the UK. People were questioning whether Apple remained committed to the product, since the lion's share of the company's revenue now comes from the iPad, iPhone, and iTunes store.
However, Apple's reputation was built on being a computing platform that was useful for content creation. Even though a new Mac Pro wouldn't provide the profit margins that has made Apple the wealthiest technology company, it's a way for the company to say it still holds the design industry in high regard.
Aside from the rear ports, logo and power cord, the Mac Pro's chassis is featureless. There is an internal speaker however,
which is more useful for diagnostic beeps than listening to music
Macs are really popular in the fields of desktop publishing, graphic design, video and audio editing. But Apple's position as a platform for 3D design is more tenuous. In a survey in July 2013, 3dtotal found just 10% of respondents used a Macintosh for 3D (in a survey of 176 responses), favoring Linux and Windows-based workstations. While there are plenty of reasons for this difference, the new Mac Pro brings the top-end Mac hardware right up to date.
The Mac Pro's futuristic and minimal appearance is the first thing most people notice. It's nothing like the old model, or any traditional computer. The chassis is a glossy dark grey that looks almost black under a camera's flash, but near silver in bright natural light. Instead of a rectangular box, the Mac Pro is shaped as a cylinder, occupying less space than even Mini ITX PCs. Indeed, you can fit one onto the smallest of desks.
The internals are easy to access and replace should a hardware problem arise
"The Mac Pro's base configuration starts at £2,499 ($2,999) including VAT, and hits £7,779 ($9,599) when fully loaded with the most high-end processor, memory, GPU configuration and storage. That may sound incredibly expensive, but is competitive with PC workstations, considering what you get"
The reason for the cylindrical design is its unique cooling system. A large portion of the Mac Pro's weight comes from its heatsink; a triangular, hollowed-out chunk of metal that passively cools all the components attached to it with great efficiency. Warm air is drawn from the bottom, rises through the heatsink and is blown from the top of the Mac Pro by the only fan in the system.
This idea is superior to the design of traditional PCs, which need intake and outtake fans, a fan on the CPU, one or more on the GPU and another for the power supply. When under load, and rising temperatures, the fans in a PC often become noisy and distracting. This is often a serious problem in audio recording studios.
The six-core Mac Pro looks to be a sweet spot in terms of value
The Mac Pro's base configuration starts at £2,499 ($2,999) including VAT, and hits £7,779 ($9,599) when fully loaded with the most high-end processor, memory, GPU configuration and storage. That may sound incredibly expensive, but is in fact competitive with PC workstations, considering what you get.
Every Mac Pro has an Intel Xeon E5 v2 processor, ECC DDR3 memory, PCI-Express solid-state storage and dual AMD FirePro graphics cards. The base model comes with a quad-core Xeon E5 chip, with 6, 8 and 12-core processors available. There's also 256GB of storage, configurable up to 1TB, and 12GB memory, which can be upgraded to a maximum of 64GB.
Our preferred configuration would be adding D700 GPUs, a larger SSD, and then fitting some less expensive third-party memory
The FirePro graphics cards
are reconfigured variants of desktop W-series FirePro cards. The base D300 is similar to an AMD FirePro W5000, the D500 to a W7000, and the D700 to a W9000. The Mac Pro versions are clocked slightly lower though.
Upgrading to dual D700 cards adds just £480 to the price of the Mac Pro
A trade-off between the large boxes of traditional PC workstations and the Mac Pro's cylindrical design is internal expansion. There's no space to add extra hard disks inside the Mac Pro. Instead, Apple has included six 20GB/s (per second) Thunderbolt 2 ports at the rear for high-speed networked external storage. These ports also support two 4K displays. There are also four USB 3 ports and dual-linked Gigabit ethernet ports for wired networking and an HDMI 1.4 connector that allows for an extra 4K display.
Although you can't add extra internal storage to the Mac Pro, its internals are easily accessible. Undoing a lock at the back lets you lift off the lid. The storage and memory are user serviceable and Mac repair site iFixit
has confirmed the CPU is not soldered in and can be removed and replaced with an off-the-shelf Xeon processor. Similarly, Apple has also confirmed that the GPUs can be replaced if they fail.
UThe ports illuminate whenever the Mac Pro is rotated. You can connect dozens of Thunderbolt 2 devices,
four USB 3 drives and a display via HDMI
In depth – processor options
Intel's new Ivy Bridge-based Xeon processors are not cheap. They're responsible for a large part of the cost of the Mac Pro, and upgrading from the base model to the 12-core variant adds £2,800 ($3,000) alone. Xeon E5 processors aren't particularly faster than desktop Core i7 processors though.
Indeed, in single-threaded rendering software, a desktop processor can outperform a Xeon that runs at a lower clock speed.
But with a Xeon, you get additional technology that supports more cores, dual-CPU systems and ECC memory, which makes them expensive, but also the processor of choice in workstations.
The Mac Pro only comes with a single CPU socket, so there are no dual-CPU configurations, but the E5 is still necessary for ECC memory and the option of 12 cores offered in the highest-spec model.
The 12-core Xeon processor runs at 2.7GHz, while the base model's quad-core runs at 3.7 GHz. That's a big difference, and will certainly be evident in single-threaded software that relies more on raw power than multi-threaded software that splits a computing task evenly between CPU cores. However, most 3D software has been written to use multiple CPU cores, dividing rendering jobs across a workstation's processor.
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