Objections to the new Mac Pro?

Yesterday at WWDC Apple announced and gave a sneak peek of the new Mac Pro, which I have been waiting for for a couple of years. For background, here is my current setup, an 8-core 2008 Mac Pro (3,1) with two ATI Radeon HD 5870s driving two 30″ cinema displays and 32 GB of 800 MHz DDR2 memory (8 x 4 GB):

mac_pro_about

mac_pro_displays

However, this machine is now over 5 years old, and while it is still *capable*, it is not as fast as it *could* be, and also the 32 GB limit can make it very difficult to set up a true AlwaysOn Availability Groups demo environment.

What I am looking forward to is:

  • Forcing myself to migrate *all* of my stuff to SSD or other flash storage.
  • Updating to better GPUs, even though I’ll be told which GPUs I want (very few alternatives are supported for the current model anyway).
  • Moving to the new Thunderbolt displays, as my current displays are showing artifacts more and more (and this Mac Pro does not have TB capability).
  • Exceeding the current 32 GB limitation to allow for more VMs running simultaneously.
  • Cleaning up all that space under my desk currently occupied by the tower.

mydesk

Having perused a few forums trying to glean more information, I saw a lot of objections and complaints about the new design. I’ll treat a few of the more common ones I’ve been seeing:


But why is it so different?

This is a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t problem. When they make something radical, people complain that it’s too radical. When they make minor refreshes to an existing design, they’re not radical enough. I like the design but it’s obviously not for everyone.


But I don’t like how it looks.

Why do you care so much about how it looks? Did you buy your current Mac Pro for its looks? The nice thing about this new design is that it’s < 10" high and < 7" wide. Don't like the way it looks? Ok, you can hide it behind a Big Gulp or a stack of books. Try hiding the current Mac Pro – never mind just lifting it to a new location. That thing is heavy. I laughed at the "genius" who suggested – back in 2008 – that I bring the tower in to get help installing the WiFi chip. Good luck!


But why is it round? It looks like a trash can or a Dyson.

It is round to facilitate better cooling. And to look cool. The presentation goes into more detail about the internal design and why the cooling is so much better with this design.


But how do I rack mount it?

Seriously? Why do you need to rack-mount a workstation? How do you rack mount the Mac Pro you have now? Either you don’t have one and you *think* it can be rack-mounted, or you’re just making up objections.


But why is it plastic?

The images in the keynote (and in fact in the slides on the Apple web site) make the case look plastic:

2013_mac_pro

I can assure you it is not plastic:

2013_mac_pro_metal

2013_mac_pro_metal2

2013_mac_pro_metal_3


But how do I upgrade internal storage?

It *looks* like the PCIe flash card is swappable. Whether that is supported, and whether any of the scaffolding is proprietary, remains to be seen. You will not be able to add any additional internal hard drives; there simply isn’t room in that tiny case. Expandability is external which, in my mind at least, is more flexible than the current model. I see a market here for attractive and/or matching enclosures / shelves / caddies so that you don’t have a tube with a bunch of dangling appendages.


But is Thunderbolt fast enough?

The six Thunderbolt ports, supporting up to 36 TB devices, actually use Thunderbolt 2. It is plenty fast enough. If you can saturate 20 Gbps of bandwidth, then you are doing some pretty incredible stuff, and perhaps a workstation is not the workhorse you’re looking for.


But how do I upgrade the video cards?

From the looks of it, you can’t – they are accessible when you open the case, however they are not a standard form factor. These cards will be amazingly capable for just about anything you’re doing, unless you are a very high-end gamer. If dual FirePro GPUs aren’t enough for you, as with the Thunderbolt, I’d be curious to know what machine you would use that would allow more, why you need it, how much that would cost (Titans are pretty expensive), and whether the machine itself would outlast the Mac Pro.


But how do I upgrade the RAM?

Finally, an answer you’ll like: looks like the RAM slots are easily exposed and upgradeable. Now, I have not heard if OS X Mavericks will finally abolish the 96 GB maximum. See below, Mavericks will support 128 GB. Nor do I have any idea what configurations will be available from the site when this thing is shipping, or if the bumps in RAM will be reasonably priced. Back when I bought my Mac Pro, Apple wanted almost $9,000 to max it out at 32 GB, but I bought the same set of sticks from Other World Computing for about 10% of that. (The stock RAM upgrades have become much more reasonable for those machines where the RAM is soldered on the board – if they take away your ability to upgrade they needed to still make a good machine possible.)

I believe the chips you’ll be looking for are the 16 GB chips here (DDR3 PC3-14900/DDR3-1866). Or check for equivalent part numbers at your favorite memory supplier (surely 32 GB chips at 1866 will be more readily available before long). Not sure what the base config will be from Apple, and whether that will occupy all 4 slots (e.g. 16 GB could be 2 x 8 GB or 4 x 4 GB), but it looks like you can completely swap it out if you need to for the following prices (and less if the existing chips allow you to just add to get to your target):

  • 32 GB (4 x 8 GB) for $300
  • 48 GB (2 x 16 GB + 2 x 8 GB) for $600
  • 64 GB (4 x 16 GG) for $900
  • 96 GB (2 x 32 GB + 2 x 16 GB) for $??? (probably $1,200 – $1,500)
  • 128 GB (4 x 32 GB) for $??? (probably $1,800 range)

(I’ll update this when I find mainstream DDR3 32 GB chips available at the 1866 speed.)

Whether you should bother going beyond 96 GB depends, again, on the OS. If you plan to Boot Camp into Windows, you will be able to use all 128 GB if you go there.


But it will cost too much!

Prices haven’t been announced, but speculation is a starting price anywhere from $2,000 to over $5,000. The GPUs alone are pretty expensive, but those are street prices. Plus, we don’t have details about exactly what model will ship in the Mac Pro, never mind what kind of volume deal Apple will get on the cards. My guess is that the base configuration will be *lower* than the current base model. But only time will tell.

And, sorry to be blunt, but if you can’t afford it, you probably don’t need it. And if you can’t justify the price of the machine vs. what power it will give you, don’t buy it. 🙂


Conclusion

I’m in, obviously, as long as my predictions about price are on target. It’s obvious they’ve put a lot of thought into this design, and I am looking forward to consolidating my peripherals and eliminating the tangle of wires under and around my desk. Like the current Mac Pro, it’s not for everyone, and I get that – I don’t expect that everyone is going to ditch their current computer for this one. But it certainly should be on your radar if, in the fall, you’re looking for a high-end workstation and your thinking is in line with a lot of my points above.

2 responses to “Objections to the new Mac Pro?

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