Apple's Mac Pro now available: How will it sell?

Apple's Mac Pro now available: How will it sell?

Summary: Apple's Mac Pro is a juggernaut with an interesting design and impressive tech specs. The price tag, however, may give some aspiring creative pros pause.

TOPICS: Hardware, Apple

Apple's Mac Pro will be available Dec. 19 and it's going to be interesting to watch how sales fare for this tech powerhouse for creative professionals.

The company doesn't really need Mac Pro to sell millions of units, but the tech specs---4-core, 6-core, 8-core or 12-core Intel Xeon processors, AMD GPUs and memory and bandwidth tweaks to juice performance---and interesting design will attract high-end buyers.

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Now the price is a bit hard to swallow. Depending on the initial configuration Mac Pro starts at $2,999 and $3,999. Configure to order options will likely push that price higher.

Add it up and Mac Pro is really a vanity system. For Apple, Mac Pro is an recent example that the company can innovate and break a few molds.

For $2,999 you get:

  • 3.7GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon E5 processor 
  • 12GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC memory
  • Dual AMD FirePro D300 with 2GB GDDR5 VRAM each
  • 256GB PCIe-based flash storage

For $3,999 you get:

Topics: Hardware, Apple

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  • Hmmmmm....

    This ought to get fun, once the ball gets rolling...... ; )
  • It's more than a vanity system

    It's one of the best workstation class desktops you can get. At any price.
    • Definitely not the best, not at this price.

      It is one of the smallest, however.

      The fact that you're forced to buy external enclosures for all of your PCI and PCIe slots pisses some off to no end.

      I also seem to remember an old Mac commercial, involving them plugging a Dell computer full of USB dummies and keeping the iMac simple.

      With only 4 USB and 6 Thunderbolt ports, expect to see some wiring hell.
      • New technology

        USB3 and Thunderbolt has really made a case for a small machine and external drives. Although I would have liked to see upgradable video cards and more than 256GB on the base unit.
        • I don't see the case for ditching, er, the case

          Yes, USB 3 and Thunderbolt mean that the internal system bus transfer rates aren't a reason to keep stuff in a case, but there are plenty of others:

          1.) Thunderbolt cables are still ridiculously expensive. SATA cables are $2 or less.
          2.) A set of offboard hard disks require power, which means extra power cables, DC wall warts, and power strips. A case powers all hard disks.
          3.) Software RAID only with offboard hard disks.
          4.) Quadro cards are very expensive, as are BlackMagic, Matrox, and ProTools interfaces. It was a slap in the face to owners of all of these hardware devices (and many others) to render them incompatible.
          5.) I know that ZDNet readers seem to be of the persuasion that optical media is dead, but there's a solid cottage industry of event videographers and documentary creators who still burn DVDs and Blu-Ray discs...because no customer ever has paid $500-$500,000 and been content with a Youtube link.

          Add it all up, and it's like you're spending $3,000 or more for half a computer.

          • This one is key and removes all value from Thunderbolt:

            "3.) Software RAID only with offboard hard disks."

            And guess what Software RAID means, tech heads? Here's a hint - where does software run? Oh yes - in RAM and on your processor! That thing that you normally want doing, you know, work, rather than calculating parity on your RAID 6 array!

            Really useful to have all that power when you have to then add overhead just to try to get back what you already had with the last generation of computer.
          • Parity calculations are inconsequential on today's processors.

            I guess if you want the very last bit of performance this might be an issue. Otherwise it's nothing to be concerned about.
          • It's not the processor time

            The issue isn't simply the fact that the CPU is performing the parity calculations. It's the fact that the nature of doing RAID on a hardware card isn't even an option. The good RAID cards keep the rotation of the disks synchronized, software doesn't. Good RAID cards can hot swap disks; I don't know if Apple's software RAID implementation allows this. On top of this, the CPU gets to calculate the parity data. It's not the fact that software is possible, it's that hardware is impossible.

          • Dated information.

            "The good RAID cards keep the rotation of the disks synchronized..."

            Most hardware RAID cards do not provide for spindle synchronization as it's not longer a benefit. The largest impact to RAID is the read-insert-write update when only a portion of the data needs to be updated. If this aligns on the array boundaries one can merely write new data. If not the original data has to be read, the insert made, and the entire block written out to disk. With hardware RAID this all happens on the local buses and is managed by the array controller. With software RAID it has to traverse whatever bus (in this case Thunderbolt) back to the host system.

            Software RAID affords a lot of flexibility and my Sun systems, which utilize ZFS based software RAID, allow hot swapping of drives. In fact my x4100 based systems offer hardware RAID but I'm not utilizing it because I prefer ZFS.
          • Good point, ye...

            "Parity calculations are inconsequential on today's processors."

            True, that is a very valid point - the overhead isn't great, but it is still overhead - and as you said, it would only make a difference to those wanting to squeeze the absolute most performance possible out of the machine.

            There is another issue with software RAID though - it is OS dependent. Again, not a big issue for most, as those using the machine as intended would generally run Mac OS X, Windows, or Linux on it. It can become an issue if you want to run a bare metal hypervisor on it (such as VMware ESXi) software RAID is a no-go for some of these applications.
          • Re: 3) Software RAID [using Mac Pro CPUs]

            I guess you've heard of NAS. Now picture NAS, with its own hardware doing the error correction, attached to a Mac Pro with Thunderbolt.

            This is hardware RAID running at the same speed as built-in hardware RAID. Such systems are already available: do a web search.

            A for 1) the cost of Thunderbolt cables ($60 IIRC) I don't think you're in the right demographic for this machine. That's fine, but it's not a valid reason for carping about the new Mac Pro!
          • Most NAS systems use Software RAID.

            Hardware RAID cards often cost as much or more than entire NAS enclosures. Should give you a clue right there.
          • Of course I've heard of NAS; I have two of them

            I've seen the offboard RAID storage units for Thunderbolt. The Pegasus R4, to pick a single example, has a sticker price of $1,099 and doesn't include hard drives. What bothers me is the fact that the Pegasus unit wasn't required before the update, and now the recommendation to accommodate Apple's removal of an actual case, is to buy an $1,100 device just for hard disks...and this is considered an "improvement".

            A 3TB Western Digital Black drive costs $196 on Amazon. The fact that I think that using a $2 cable to connect a $196 drive is a better idea than getting a $289 3TB LaCie drive and buying a $60 cable on top of it puts me "not in the right demographic" for a Mac Pro? Being as my latest FreeNAS build cost me about $900 for 9TB (RAID6) of storage, I'll take that as a compliment.

          • Re: "I don't think you're in the right demographic for this machine. "

            That goes right to the central question in the headline of this article: "how well will it sell?"

            I agree, I'm not in the demographic for this machine. Funnily enough, I was squarely in the demographic for the machine that it replaces. Apple keeps pushing people "out of their demographic", we won't have Apple-branded workstation-class machines to "carp about" for very long.

            As I said previously - Xserve 2.0. Apple's understanding of "professional" computing is on display for all of us to see - and it ain't pretty.
      • Only 6 Thunderbolt ports? Seems someone ate your knowledge cookie

        regarding "daisy chaining" Thunderbolt devices together.
    • Totally tubular!

      ...props to Apple for joining the non-traditional design realm which happens to include the BMW-designed Thermaltake Level 10 design for starters.
      • Only Apple could design a computer case...

        With the expense of a Thermaltake 10 and the expandability of a G4 Cube.
    • You really shouldn't make unsubstantiated claims with words like "best"...

      When you use a phrase like "best workstation class desktop", you're inherently making a comparison against a lot of other workstations. Take a comparison against the flagship workstations of Dell, the T5610/T7610.

      The biggest difference of all is that the Mac Pro is a single CPU machine, while the Dell 5610/7610 are dual CPU machines. It obviously gives the Dells an edge when it comes to raw CPU power, but it also gives the Dells many more RAM slots and internal PCIe lanes to work with.

      The RAM is the next big difference. Mac Pros only have 4 slots, while the T5610s have 8 and the T7610s have 16. The T5610 is configurable up to 128 GB 1866 MHz ECC, while the the T7610 is configurable to 256 GB ECC upon release (with 512 GB ECC configurations coming soon). If I had to guess, I'd say that the new Mac Pro would max out at 64 GB at 4 slots. Technically 32 GB ECC DDR3 DIMMs exist, but they're prohibitively expensive at around $1,000 per module for 1600 MHz (I've yet to see 32 GB 1866 MHz ECC). Apple may release 128 GB configs around the same time Dell releases 512 GB configs.

      The next issue is the GPU. The Dell T5610 can take up to two graphics cards, selected from Nvidia Quadro K600/K2000/K4000/K5000 and AMD FirePro V4900/W5000/W7000. T7610 can take up to three from the same range. The Nvidia Tesla K20C is also available, with at most one in the T5610 and at most two in the T7610.The Dell T7610 also has options for an Intel Xeon Phi 3120A PCIe card and up two Quadro K6000s.

      The Mac Pro offers two AMD FirePro GPUs, effectively selected from W7000/W8000/W9000. The lack of Nvidia options is alarming, considering that CUDA and Nvidia dominate the workstation market, taking 80.1% share in 2Q2012:
      Moreover, AMD's W8000/W9000 has done poorly in comparison to the Quadro, as per reports:
      The worst part about this all is that even if you wanted to use an Nvidia Quadro or Tesla or even a Xeon Phi with a Mac Pro, you'd be forced to use a Thunderbolt 2.0 PCIe chassis, which would be bottle-necked to a measly two lanes of PCIe 3.0.

      Storage is a harder comparison to make because little is really known. Internally, the Mac Pros only have room for PCIe SSD storage with 1.25 GB/s sequential read. The Dell offers room for either 4 2.5" or 3 3.5" drives, which can be picked from 7200/10K/15K HDDs or SATA SSDs. There's also a PCIe SSD option from Dell, namely a Micron P320h 350 GB with 1.75 GB/s sequential read. Thunderbolt allows for external storage on the Mac Pros, but so do PCIe RAID cards on the Dells.

      As far as peripherals go, there are 10 external USB ports, 2 PS2, 2 RJ45, and 1 serial on the Dell, while there are 4 external USB, 2 RJ45, and 6 Thunderbolt on the Mac Pro. There are options for internal sound cards, media readers, and BD/DVD drives in the Dells.

      AFAIK the only real reason people buy a Mac Pro is that they need legal OS X on a powerful machine, which is often the case with content creators. And despite the overwhelming difference in capabilities between brands, I don't see that specific group complaining about the specs in the new Mac Pro. In fact, most consider it an overwhelming improvement over the previous model, which it rightfully is with workstation GPUs and a PCIe SSD. Most of the complaints I've seen from them is that it prioritizes form over function and forces the user to have many external peripherals and chassis.
  • Hmmmm... part 2

    Come to think of it, it looks like something out of Doctor Who.....or the Master Cylinder from felix the cat fame.... : )
  • Impressive specs but overpriced

    Why did they make it like like a tacky 70's themed air filter? Thats something to hide under the desk out of sight! I would think you could build an equal system with un-Apple-ized BSD Unix for a heck of a lot cheaper and put it in a slick un-embarassing gaming case with pretty neon tubes.