Apple’s transition to Apple silicon is complete, now that the Mac Pro has finally been unveiled. But the reality is, Apple met its deadline last year when it rolled out the Mac Studio–a computer that, for a lot of customers, filled the role of the Mac Pro as a Mac with the most processing muscle. In terms of mass market appeal, Apple was able to provide, within two years, Macs with its silicon for just about every use case.
The Mac Pro is a computer that very few customers will actually consider buying. Apple could have probably dropped the Mac Pro from the lineup after the Mac Studio arrived and few would have complained. But after the 2013 trash can Mac Pro debacle, Apple is uniquely aware that the needs of those few are extremely important. It’s not just that they need powerful CPUs and GPUs, PCIe slots for expansion cards, and support for multiple, high-resolution displays. It’s that they want a Mac to do PC things.
That’s why Apple’s brought back the Mac Pro tower design in 2019–and in fact, is still using the same case for the M2 Ultra model. While it might be disappointing to us common folks that the new Mac Pro has the same design as the Intel model, it didn’t really need to change. And most importantly, the new Mac Pro can literally slide into the same spot as the old Mac Pro, whether it’s on a desk or a server rack.
The Mac Pro is the nichest of niches. It doesn’t sell in enough numbers to drastically impact Mac sales, and the companies and users who are buying one won’t replace it for several years. But in the PC market where Apple touts the power of its silicon, the company needs the Mac Pro to complete a picture that shows how its Mac lineup can accommodate users from the most basic to the most demanding professional. It needs to satisfy those users who want a Mac but need a PC.
The Apple silicon Mac Pro is a far cry from the Intel model it replaces. It costs $1,000 more at the low end and $40,000 less at the high end. It doesn’t have user-upgradeable RAM. There aren’t any $2,400 graphics card options at checkout. And the Afterburner card that was a $2,000 upgrade is now standard—and Apple says the M2 Ultra’s media engine is equal to seven of those cards.
But the Mac Pro is still the Mac Pro—and now it’s all Apple inside and out. The Mac Pro is a bit like the cherry on top of a delicious ice cream sundae that is the Mac lineup. Most users who need the power that a Mac Pro provides can turn to the Mac Studio, which is available with the same M2 Ultra chip, memory, and storage. It comes down to PCI slots, which are limited to audio and video I/O, networking, and storage cards. More than ever, the Mac Pro seems like a superfluous vestige of old Apple.
But the Mac Pro isn’t a frivolous part of Apple’s lineup. Even with matching performance to the Mac Studio, the Mac Pro has an important role: to keep its most demanding users from switching.