- Impressive multi-core performance
- Dual workstation-class GPUs
- Fast internal storage
- Plenty of external-expansion options
- Compact, attractive design
- Quiet and relatively cool
- Many internal components upgradeable
- Single-core performance not substantially better (and sometimes worse) than that of other current Macs
- No internal expansion options
- Higher-end configurations quickly get expensive
Back in June, when Apple gave us a preview of the new Mac Pro, the company said it would ship “later this year.” Here we are, just a few days shy of 2014, and the new Mac Pro has arrived. Apple calls it the Mac Pro (Late 2013); a snarky reviewer might call it the Mac Pro (Almost 2014). Whatever you call it, it’s the company’s new flagship computer—its halo car, if you will—and we’ve been putting it through its paces. Does it live up to its name as a professional’s Mac?
The short answer is, “It depends.” When the new Mac Pro was announced this past summer, the initial reactions were, to put it mildly, polarized. Some people thought the new computer was a brilliant design that embraced current trends in high-end computing. Others thought it was a slap in the face of “real” pro users. Both sides can make a good case: Depending on your particular uses and needs, the new Mac Pro may be exactly what you want (a state-of-the-art, multi-core-processor, workstation-GPU computer that doesn’t waste space and resources on expandability you may never use), or nothing like what you need (a workhorse tower with tons of bays and slots for expansion).
I’m not here to tell you which view is right or wrong, because real people with real jobs and real needs hold each. The best I can do is tell you what the new Mac Pro is, what it does, and how well it does those things. You’ll have to decide if Apple’s new approach is right for you.
Small and Space Gray
If you’re reading this, chances are you know all about the new Mac Pro’s design, but here’s a refresher. Apple has done away with the massive enclosure of the 2012-and-earlier Mac Pro: The new Mac Pro is instead a small cylinder with a beautiful, unibody exterior made from a single block of aluminum. As we noted in our first impressions, while Apple’s PR videos and images make the new Mac Pro look like a dark, metallic gray—almost black—it’s really closer in color to the new Space Gray finish of Apple’s current iPhone and iPad models. It even looks somewhat silvery in bright light.
The cylinder is just 9.9 inches tall and just 6.6 inches in diameter. Apple says the new model is about 1/8 the size of the 2012 Mac Pro, but that number doesn’t really hit home until you see the new Mac Pro sitting next to one of its predecessors, or next to something else that gives you some size perspective.
It truly is a tiny computer given its capabilities. Apple achieved this size reduction in part by doing away with many things professional-level computers have traditionally reserved internal space for: multiple bays for hard drives, multiple slots for graphics and expansion cards, and space for an optical-drive (or two). Instead, the 2013 Mac Pro offers most of its expansion options on the outside: Turn the cylinder around, and you’ll find a compact panel that hosts a slew of ports and connectors: four USB 3.0 ports, six Thunderbolt 2 ports (two each on three independent controllers), two gigabit ethernet ports, an HDMI 1.4 (audio+video) port, a 1/8-inch analog/optical-digital line-out jack, and a 1/8-inch headphone/headset jack.
But Apple also reduced the Mac Pro’s size with some clever engineering. Traditionally, each heat-producing component in a desktop computer—CPU(s), graphics chips, memory, and so on—has had its own heat sink, and sometimes even its own fan. Fitting all these components into a case, and creating good airflows to make sure each can adequately cool, requires a relatively large enclosure. It’s also an inefficient use of materials, because each heat sink is only cooling its respective component(s) part of the time.
Of course, not having traditional hard drives, PCI expansion cards, honkin’-big PCI-card GPUs (graphics processing units—a.k.a., “video cards”), and the like inside does wonders for internal temperatures. But the new Mac Pro also incorporates what Apple calls a unified thermal core. This is essentially a large, triangular, extruded-aluminum frame in the middle of the new Mac Pro that acts as both the structure for the computer and a central heat sink. The inside of the triangle looks like a traditional heat sink, with thin slats to increase surface area. Coupled directly to each of the three sides of the triangle are, respectively, the Mac Pro’s CPU and each of its two GPUs. The result is a single heat sink that services the entire computer. Apple says the design allows the components to share the core’s thermal efficiency, as it pulls heat away from each of those components and distributes it evenly across the core. Even when working hard, the outside of the Mac Pro’s aluminum case feels only warm, not hot—it won’t heat your office like older models.
The new Mac Pro also contains only a single fan. Located just below the top of the cylinder, this fan sucks air up from vents at the bottom of the computer, and over the thermal core to cool it, and then pushes the now-warm air out the ring at the top of the enclosure. Instead of the wind-tunnel-like noise levels you’d sometimes hear with previous Mac Pro models, the 2013 Mac Pro’s fan is generally very quiet. In fact, in normal use, it’s nearly silent: If you put your ear next to the vent on the top, you hear only a quiet hum. (Apple told us the computer produces only about 12dB of noise at idle, and roughly 17dB under load.) In my quiet office, I couldn’t hear the Mac Pro’s fan over the noise of my 2010 iMac, even when live-rendering some effects on 4K video in Final Cut Pro X. That’s not to say you’ll never hear the fan, but you should expect a much quieter experience than with previous models.
Combine all that technology with the Mac Pro’s compact size, and you get a surprisingly dense computer: While it’s one-eighth the size of the 2012 Mac Pro, it’s over one-fourth the weight. Pick it up by its handle—the rim around the fan exhaust ring on top—and it feels heavy and solid. But thanks to its diminutive profile and attractive design, this is clearly meant to be a computer for your desk, rather than something you hide under your desk.
Pricing and configurations
Apple sells two stock configurations of the 2013 Mac Pro, each running OS X 10.9 Mavericks. One, the $2999 model, uses a 3.7GHz quad-core Intel Xeon E5 processor with 10MB of level 3 cache and includes 12GB of 1866MHz DDR ECC memory (RAM), dual AMD FirePro D300 graphics processors (each with 2GB of GDDR5 video RAM), and 256GB of PCIe-based flash storage. The other, the $3999 model, uses a 3.5GHz six-core Intel Xeon E5 processor with 12MB of level 3 cache, plus 16GB of RAM, dual AMD FirePro D500 graphics processors (each with 3GB of VRAM), and the same 256GB of PCIe-based flash storage. Each model also includes 802.11ac Wi-Fi (compatible with 802.11a/b/g/n), Bluetooth 4.0, and a built-in speaker; you also get copies of iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, along with the standard OS X apps.
Apple offers a slew of configure-to-order (CTO) options for each. For starters, you can upgrade the $2999 Mac Pro to match the $3999 model’s processor ($500), RAM ($100), or GPUs ($400)—do all three, and you’ve got the $3999 model. (The $3999 Mac Pro is simply the $2999 model with standard upgrades.) But you can keep going: Another $1500 gets you a 3.0GHz, 8-core CPU with 25MB of L3 cache, and another $1500 beyond that gets you a 2.7GHz, 12-core CPU with 30MB of L3 cache.
On either model, once you get to 16GB of RAM, another $400 bumps you up to 32GB, and an additional $800 takes you to 64GB. A $300 premium gets you 512GB of PCIe-based flash storage; tack on another $500 and you get 1TB. Finally, a $600 premium over the dual AMD FirePro D500 GPUs gets you dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs (each with 6GB of VRAM). Neither model includes a display, keyboard, or any other input device.
If this all sounds a bit confusing, think of it this way: Apple essentially offers a base Mac Pro model for $2999, along with options for upgrading its processor, GPUs, RAM, and flash storage. (If you’re curious, a maxed-out 2013 Mac Pro, complete with a 12-core processor, 64GB of RAM, 1TB of flash storage, and dual FirePro D700 GPUs, will set you back a cool $9599.)
Of course, if you’ve got an older Mac Pro with lots of PCI cards, hard drives, and other upgrades, you’ll need to factor in the price of the various adapters, enclosures, and PCI chassis needed to integrate those components into your new Mac Pro system, or the cost to replace those products—if it’s actually necessary—with newer ones that are compatible with the Mac Pro.
The new Mac Pro was available for order in the wee hours of the morning of December 19. Apple told Macworld that the earliest orders were actually shipped out later that day, but by breakfast time here on the West Coast, shoppers were seeing shipping estimates of February 2014.
Multi-core is where it’s at
When we review a new Mac, we prefer to review the base model(s), and then we purchase one or more CTO models for benchmarking purposes. However, the Mac Pro Apple loaned us for review was a CTO model with a 3.0GHz, 8-core Xeon E5 processor; 32GB of RAM; dual D700 GPUs; and 512GB of flash storage. (The cost, if configured on Apple’s online store, would be $6799.) And because new orders aren’t shipping until February, and Apple retail stores don’t have Mac Pros in stock, we haven’t yet been able to purchase either of the base models. We’ll test those models as soon as we can get them.
We published our first benchmarks of our review model, and the results were in some ways surprising: The eight-core 2013 Mac Pro was only 8 percent faster in our Speedmark 9 benchmark suite than a CTO 2013 iMac maxed out with a quad-core 3.5GHz Core i7 processor, a 3TB Fusion Drive, 8GB of RAM, and Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M graphics (a $2699 configuration). In the individual tests that make up our Speedmark benchmark, the iMac actually beat the new Mac Pro in a Finder test, the iMovie test, the iTunes test, the Aperture test, the Parallels test, and the Cinebench OpenGL test. It also beat the Mac Pro in GeekBench 3’s single-core benchmark.
Speedmark 9 scores
|Mac model||Speedmark 9 Score|
|Mac Pro 8-Core/3.0GHz (Late 2013)||350|
|Mac Pro 12-core/2.4GHz (Mid 2012)||196|
|Mac Pro quad-core/3.2GHz (Mid 2012)||171|
|27-inch iMac quad-core/3.5GHz CTO (Late 2013)||326|
|15-inch Retina MacBook Pro quad-core/2.3GHz (Late 2013)||282|
However, the new Mac Pro handily beat the iMac—and every other Mac we’ve ever tested—in our Final Cut Pro X test, the iPhoto test, the HandBrake test, the Photoshop tests, the Cinebench CPU test, the Mathematica test, and several graphics-engine tests. It also crushed most other Macs in GeekBench 3’s multi-core benchmark.
The Mac Pro’s Final Cut Pro X performance was especially impressive, as it finished our rendering test in half the time of the next-fastest Mac, and about a quarter of the time it took on two 2012 Mac Pros (a quad-core and a dual six-core). An Apple demonstration to Macworld staff was likewise striking, as it involved Final Cut Pro X displaying 16 different angles of 4K Multicam video simultaneously, while live-rendering 4K video with multiple, complex effects applied. This demo was, of course, designed to show the Mac Pro in the best light, but it’s a demo few computers could do at all. Similarly, the user-run Final Cut Pro X site fcp.com published its initial tests based on a Mac Pro similar to ours. In one test, the site put a Red Raw 4K clip in a 4K project and added 18 effects; the clip rendered and played in real time without dropping frames.
The disparate results of our individual tests reflect my real-world experiences with the new Mac Pro. When performing basic computing tasks, such as working in the Finder, surfing the Web, working with iTunes, and the like, the new Mac Pro of course felt a good deal faster than the heavily upgraded 2010 iMac in my office, but not necessarily $4000 and three years faster. But when I started playing with filters on high-res video in Final Cut Pro X, and transcoding video using HandBrake, the new Mac Pro showed just how much more powerful it really is. For example, it took just over 12 minutes for HandBrake to convert a two-hour movie from a ripped .dvdmedia package to an H.264 file, and this was while the computer was downloading and installing about 1.5GB worth of software updates and I was browsing the Web. On my 2.93HGz Core i7 iMac with Fusion Drive, the same conversion took roughly 40 minutes.
We also ran the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test on the Mac Pro to see what kind of I/O performance the PCIe-based flash storage provides. The utility showed write speeds of 952.8 MBps and read speeds of 920.5 MBps—both impressive numbers, though similar to what we’ve seen on Apple’s latest Retina-display MacBook Pro, which also uses PCIe flash storage.
You might find our overall results confusing, but in many ways they confirm what we’ve found with other Macs in recent years: When it comes to apps and tasks that can take advantage of multiple processor cores, GHz matters, but multi-core matters just as much—or more. For apps and tasks that don’t benefit from multiple cores, the processor’s clock speed becomes more important. Thus, a 3.5GHz quad-core iMac beats a 3.0GHz eight-core Mac Pro at things like Finder and iTunes tasks; the Mac Pro, on the other hand, easily bests the iMac in Final Cut Pro X, HandBrake, Mathematica, and Photoshop.
Indeed, if you look at Apple’s webpage on performance, the company touts the new Mac Pro for video editing, 3-D modeling and animation, photography, design and layout, audio production, and science—all areas of computing where multi-core processors and/or high-end, high-resolution displays are key.
(It’s also worth noting that the non-Xeon processors in current and recent MacBook and iMac models incorporate Intel’s QuickSync technology, which is specifically designed to accelerate the transcoding of video; the Xeon processors in the Mac Pro lack this feature. iMovie takes advantage of QuickSync, which explains why a maxed-out 2013 iMac bested the Mac Pro in our benchmarks. The iMovie test in turn boosted the iMac’s overall Speedmark score relative to the Mac Pro: If the 2013 Mac Pro had scored even identically to the souped-up 2013 iMac in the iMovie test, the Mac Pro’s Speedmark score would have jumped from 312 to 342, besting the iMac overall by 54 points, rather than 24.)
Like previous Mac Pro models, the new Mac Pro should also offer performance advantages (compared to Apple’s other computers) in an area that our Speedmark scores don’t really show: sustained peak performance. Intel’s current processors, including the Xeon processors used in the Mac Pro and the i5 and i7 processors used in Apple’s other computers, have a feature called Turbo Boost. When more computing performance is needed, Turbo Boost can increase the processor’s clock frequency (up to a particular speed that’s determined by both the processor itself and its number of cores). However, Turbo Boost is limited: The processor can ramp up its performance only as long as the CPU stays below particular temperature, power-consumption, and current-consumption limits.
In desktop and laptop computers, it’s generally the TDP (thermal design power)—the highest amount of heat the processor is allowed to generate before performance is restricted—that’s the limiting factor for Turbo Boost. As noted by Marco Arment, the Xeon processors used in the 2013 Mac Pro have a TDP of 130W, while the TDP of the i5 and i7 processors used in Apple’s MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac mini, and iMac lines have TDPs ranging from 15W to 84W. In addition, the Mac Pro’s unified thermal core provides much more cooling capacity than the tiny heat sinks and small fans found in Apple’s other computers. Combine these capabilities, and the Mac Pro can boost its processor cores for much longer periods. The result should be significantly better sustained maximum performance for the Mac Pro, even if, say, a 3.7GHz i7 iMac can best the Mac Pro in short, single-core tasks.
TDP also explains why, when choosing processor options for the Mac Pro, clock speeds go down as the number of cores go up: The 12-core Xeon processor used in the Mac Pro has the same TDP as the 4-core version, so the base clock speed must be lower for the 12-core CPU.
What does this mean for you? A couple of things. First, even if you’re shopping for performance, unless you regularly use software that either takes advantage of multiple cores or subjects your Mac’s processor to sustained heavy loads (or both), you’re probably better off with an iMac or a MacBook Pro. These computers offer competitive single-core performance, often at higher base clock speeds; they’re even competitive at particular nonsustained multi-core tasks. Second, even if you do need a high-end, multi-core processor, you’ll want to consider how frequently you need the full multi-core capability. Unless you will regularly be tasking all the cores of a 12-core processor, you’ll be better off with fewer cores running at a higher base clock speed.
In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll be performing additional performance testing, both with this particular Mac Pro configuration and with other Mac Pro models as we get them.
Apple also touts the 2013 Mac Pro’s energy use. We measured the power draw of this 8-core 2013 Mac Pro versus a 12-core 2012 Mac Pro. With its stock hard drive, the 2012 Mac Pro drew 257 watts at startup, 147W at idle, 220W at sustained load, and 256W at peak. We noticed that the processors were being underutilized in the 2012 Mac Pro, as the hard drive in the system was struggling to keep up. Switching over to an OWC 480GB Mercury Accelsior E2 PCIe SSD installed internally in the 2012 Mac Pro helped eliminate the storage bottleneck and allowed the processors to work harder, boosting the sustained draw to 260W and peaking at 320W. The new Mac Pro drew only 156W at startup, and just 58W at idle; however, it drew around 330W under sustained load, and 367W at peak.
GPUs vs. CPUs
Another area where the 2013 Mac Pro promises performance benefits—and an area our benchmarks may not fully recognize—is in GPU computing (aka, “GPU compute” or “general-purpose computing on GPUs”). Many things you do on a computer don’t require the full processing power of the GPU, which means that some of the GPU’s capabilities go unused. GPU computing allows applications, generally using OpenCL, to send discrete instructions and calculations to the computer’s GPU for processing. Given that today’s GPUs are extremely fast, use many cores, and offer substantial data throughput, they’re often able to process more—but smaller—bits of independent instructions, in parallel, than CPUs. (Engadget has a good primer on the topic.)
Apple has designed the Mac Pro with a heavy focus on GPU compute, and the fact that every configuration of the Mac Pro includes dual workstation-class GPUs means that developers can count on having substantial GPU resources available. In fact, the Mac Pro actually connects all displays to one GPU, leaving the second GPU available to focus exclusively on GPU-computing tasks. (This also means that the second GPU can power down when it’s not being used for such tasks.)
You can see the benefits of GPU computing in some of our benchmark tests: Version 10.1 of Final Cut Pro X includes updates specifically made to take advantage of the 2013 Mac Pro’s dual GPUs; and Mathematica is designed to benefit dramatically from GPU computing. Any app that uses OpenCL and OpenGL should immediately benefit from the Mac Pro’s improved GPU-compute performance, and we suspect that pro-level apps that don’t yet use OpenCL will be updated to do so, now that developers can depend on significant GPU-compute resources.
Upgradable inside, expandable outside
Easily the most controversial aspect of the new Mac Pro is what it doesn’t have: traditional internal expansion. You can upgrade the RAM to 64GB (that’s the official limit—I suspect that third-party vendors will eventually provide solutions for more); you can upgrade the built-in PCEe-based flash storage; and you can even replace the removable GPUs—assuming that, at some point down the road, Apple or a third-party vendor provides compatible GPUs that offer improved performance. And getting to those components is dead-simple: You just slide a small lock switch on the back panel of the computer, and then slide the Mac Pro’s aluminum shell up and off, revealing the components inside.
But once inside, you won’t find any PCI-card slots, empty hard-drive bays, or a place to add a new optical drive. (You don’t get an optical drive at all—this is 2013 Apple we’re talking about.) This is a dramatic change from the Mac towers of the past decade: The 2012 Mac Pro, for example, offered four hard-drive bays, two optical-drive bays, and four PCI Express slots; you could even add a RAID card to set up an internal RAID array.
Instead, you get the aforementioned external ports and connections, located on a panel in the rear. In a nice touch, that panel lights up whenever the computer is moved—Apple told us that many Mac Pro owners use their computers in dark studios, so the company added this feature to make it easier to see the panel. However, while Apple’s advertising shows how easy it is to rotate the Mac Pro to access the panel, in real-world use it’s not always such a seamless process: Unless all your cables are long enough (and flexible enough) to let you turn the computer around, you’re going to have to reach behind the computer (or unplug those cables first), just as you had to with an older Mac Pro.
This new approach will definitely present challenges—both logistical and financial—for some people. For starters, since the Mac Pro’s internal storage tops out at 1TB, many pros will need to spring for some external drives, or enclosures for existing drives. At the other extreme, some users will need to pony up for a Thunderbolt-based PCI expansion chassis to handle required PCI cards. (For those who used a PCI-card slot in an older Mac Pro for a workstation-class GPU, the new Mac Pro’s GPUs may make that particular card unnecessary.)
The good news is that Thunderbolt 2 should be adequate from a performance perspective for many such uses: Each Thunderbolt 2 port provides up to 20Gb/s of bandwidth to each connected device, and you can daisy-chain up to six devices on each port for a total of 36 external Thunderbolt peripherals (including displays). And USB 3.0 is a less expensive option for bulk storage where performance isn’t important.
The bad news, of course, is that such peripherals add to the cost of buying a new Mac Pro. But let’s be honest: Many of the people who really, truly need the Mac Pro and are willing and able to pay for it won’t hesitate too much to pay for the necessary accessories and add-ons. (Apple won’t come out and say that, but I’m sure more than a few people at the company have thought it.)
Still, while that may be true, the question some people are asking is “Why?” Why this dramatic change from what we’d come to expect from a “pro” computer? Apple’s take is that the new Mac Pro is looking forward, not back, by embracing current trends in computing: multiple processor cores, solid-state storage, GPU compute, external expansion that’s as fast as internal options, and so on. And this design reduces wasted space and resources.
The company has some valid points. For example, there are good reasons for separating storage and other expansion peripherals from the computer itself, including size, heat, and noise. Apple says that some of its pro users—for example, those working in recording and production studios—actually want to get hot, noisy components (such as hard drives and RAID arrays) away from the computer and the work area. Similarly, many pros use a SAN—often located in another room—for bulk data storage, and with older Mac Pros, this often required a fibre-channel card for connecting to the SAN. So even though your storage was elsewhere, you still had a big, loud, hot computer sitting next to you. Apple expects Thunderbolt 2 to handle such connections on the 2013 model, so your workspace contains only a small, quiet, and relatively cool-running computer.
How much of this is PR spin, and how much is Apple actually solving problems in new ways while embracing new technologies? I suppose it depends on how much you’ve got invested in “old” technologies and how much additional capital you’re going to have to expend to convert your work setup for full compatibility with the new Mac Pro. But I do think that once people get over the initial shock, many will be won over by the Mac Pro’s approach.
I say this in part because, despite the affection I still hold for my old Mac Pro with scads of drive space and upgrades, over the past week of using the new model, I came to appreciate many things about it: That it takes the same amount of space as one of my speakers. That I couldn’t hear it over the external hard drive under my desk. That after using it for an entire day, my office was no warmer. And that I could shut it down, unplug a few cables, pick it up with one hand, and take it to a different location. (Of course, this also raises questions about security—the machine doesn’t have any sort of lock or security slot.) Say what you will about the lack of internal expansion, there’s something pretty special about this design in many other respects.
All that said, few Thunderbolt peripherals are yet available, in part because this is the first Mac Pro to (finally) get Thunderbolt. I expect we’ll be seeing more PCI chassis, RAID configurations, stand-alone drives, and the like in the months to come. Macworld will be testing these peripherals as they become available, and we’ll be publishing a number of articles on the options for, and performance of, Thunderbolt gear for pros.
Three 4K (or pick six)
The new Mac Pro provides impressive display support. You can connect up to six non–4K DisplayPort displays, including any mix of Apple Thunderbolt Displays, Apple LED Cinema Displays, or third-party Mini DisplayPort displays. Alternatively, you can connect three massive 4K displays. Want to combine? The Mac Pro can handle, for example, one 4K display and four Mini DisplayPort displays. (The options differ slightly for Windows running via Boot Camp.) Apple says that for the best performance, if you have only two or three displays, you should connect each to a different Thunderbolt bus, and if you have more than three, you should never connect more than two to any single bus. (The top two Thunderbolt ports on the left are on one bus; the top two on the right are on another; and the bottom two, along with the HDMI port, are on the third.)
The Mac Pro also supports Display Port Multi-Stream Transport (MST), which allows multiple displays to be connected using a single connector or, in the case of some 4K displays, to use a single cable for a high-resolution display that previously required two DisplayPort connectors. (For those displays that still use two cables, the Mac Pro can automatically detect which cable contains the data for which half of the screen, assuming the display provides that information.)
For many years, “pro” meant a big, expandable tower case, lots of internal storage, replaceable graphics cards, and so on. For Apple, it now means “maximum performance when using pro apps.” In that respect, the new Mac Pro reflects multiple trends in computing. It, of course, continues Apple’s ongoing shift across its product lines towards flash storage and external expandability at the expense of capacious hard drives and internal upgrades. But it also illustrates the ways in which Apple and other vendors are responding, at the high end, to the fact that processor speeds simply aren’t increasing at the same rate that they used to: Namely, they are focusing on multi-core and GPU-based processing technology, in both hardware and software.
You can see this when you look at our initial benchmarks. A souped-up iMac has just as much horsepower as a new Mac Pro when it comes to many of the things nonprofessional users do on a daily basis. It’s not until you get to specialized applications that the Mac Pro really shines. Which means that this Mac Pro really is a Mac Pro: It’s a computer for professional users who need multiprocessing capabilities and the kind of high-bandwidth capability that only a high-end computer can provide. If you need this kind of performance, the new Mac Pro is for you.
Of course, some people won’t be happy with the new Mac Pro’s lack of internal expansion, and given the current paucity of Thunderbolt peripherals, and the limited number of apps that take full advantage of the Mac Pro’s capabilities, the new computer is in some ways ahead of its time. But if you want a Mac for professional work, you’ll have to accept these limitations—or keep using your older Mac Pro until more hardware and software is available. My guess is that most people who don’t jump ship—a threat heard frequently when the new Mac Pro was announced—will adapt fairly quickly. And as the computer finds its way into the hands, offices, and studios of pro users, we’ll see plenty of software updated for it, and hardware solutions for many of its current limitations, making the transition easier. (We plan to publish some of the real-world experiences of professional users, so you can see how these transitions are playing out.)
The big question for many pros will be which Mac Pro configuration to get. Since we haven’t been able to get our hands on any other Mac Pro models, we can’t yet make definitive recommendations about performance and value. However, based on what we’ve seen from our initial testing, and what we know about the various processors available, we can say that the more time you spend using multi-core-aware apps, the more you’ll benefit from more cores. Similarly, the more apps you use that take advantage of GPU computing, the more you’ll benefit from upgrading the Mac Pro’s GPUs to the D500 or D700. On the other hand, because the base clock speed goes down as the number of cores increases, you’ll get better overall single-core performance with fewer cores. Because every Mac Pro model is identical except for the options you choose, you can mix and match whatever components are the best fit for your apps and workflows.
Whatever configuration you create, one thing is certain: It won’t be like any “pro” Mac you’ve ever used before.
Updated on December 24, 2013 to fix minor error about which Thunderbolt ports share busses.
Updated on January 5, 2014 to add a video.
Opinion: The new Mac Pro makes the iMac the power user’s desktop