Why the $52K Mac Pro is important for everyone who cares about the survival of the Mac ecosystem

The high-end Mac provides necessary headroom, runway, and the promise of room for growth for those who need to invest in bigger projects on the Mac platform.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

Let me be clear here. I don't ever see myself buying the new Mac Pro. That's not only because trying to justify buying a computer that would cost more than putting an extension on the house wouldn't be possible, it's because I don't actually need it. Even so, I'm very, very comforted by the knowledge that it exists.

In fact, I'm quite content with my new Mac mini and my well-equipped repurposed 2013 iMac which now lives in my family room as a development machine. That's because I need 32GB of RAM to run my development system, video editing environment, and gaggle of virtual machines. I don't need 1.5TB.

And yet, the existence of a $6,000-$52,000 Mac Pro adds to my sense of existential security -- and if you're a Mac user, it should add to yours as well. Here's why.

Everyone reading ZDNet clearly understands the concept of a computing platform. It's a hardware/software environment that we build solutions on top of. iOS and Android are platforms, and they support (more with Android, of course) a variety of mobile solutions.

Linux (and, to some extent, BSD), Windows, and MacOS are platforms, and they support general purpose computing, ranging from running little point-of-purpose Raspberry Pi servers up to all our desktops and laptops, up through the giant server farms at Google, Amazon, and Facebook.

Now, the fact is (with a few limited exceptions), no one is going to run a Facebook-scale server farm on Macs, not even Apple. But desktop and workstation computing? That's definitely the domain of Macs.

As we all know, the desktop computing market has changed considerably in the past decade. Many consumers who need mostly to communicate and consume data have moved off traditional desktops and laptops to smartphones and tablets.

But even as the needs of many consumers have been met by simpler-to-use mobile-centric devices, the needs of workers and professionals have continued to grow.

As recently as 2013, I said I didn't need the then-Mac Pro, because I didn't see myself needing to do video editing or 3D modeling, two tasks that require a lot of computing resources. Fast forward six years, and a huge portion of my workload involves video editing and 3D modeling.

When buying a computer for business use, perhaps the single most important factor is understanding the intended workload. If you're traveling all the time and you want to be able to write and respond to email, a tablet or a small MacBook Air-sized machine is fine. If you're doing animation for a big-budget blockbuster movie, a MacBook Air or a Microsoft Surface would simply melt under the load.

In business, we choose the computer we're using based on our expected workload over the next 2-3 years. We choose the computer platform based on our expected workload over the next 5-10 years.

This is a critically important distinction. When we choose a platform, whether that's Windows, Mac, or Linux, it's because we're planning on investing in software and skills that we expect will stand the test of time. It's fine to upgrade a machine, but if you have to migrate a software platform, that's a lot more work, if it's even possible.

Changing from one machine to another on the same platform is a day or two of work. Migrating from one platform to another is a staged battle that could take a year or longer.

It's the platform migration problem that makes the Mac Pro, especially at it's ear-bleedingest high end, so important to Mac users. Put simply, the Mac Pro future-proofs the platform when it comes to workload demand.

What does this mean?

It's all about headroom. When we choose a platform, we're not just thinking about the machine we're using now, but whether that platform can service us throughout our scope of work and beyond. Building a piece of software can take a few years. Making a big-budget movie can take three to four years. Designing a new car can take a decade.

When we choose a platform, we want to make sure it will work for us throughout all that time. That means it's important to know that as our needs grow, our platform can meet those needs.

Before I go on, it's important to say that many of us use two or more platforms. I regularly switch between Mac, Windows, and Linux. I use Mac for most of my daily work, particularly my heavy workloads. I use Linux on all my servers. And I use Windows for some business applications that don't have Mac implementations. And let's not forget the cloud. The cloud is its own platform and turns desktop platforms into engines that run browsers.

So, it's not just about choosing between Mac, Windows and Linux. It's about whether the platform you're using for a specific workload can scale with that workload. For me, the Mac needs to scale for my development environment and video production needs, while Linux needs to scale with the load on my servers. Windows just needs to keep running all that Windows-only software.

From about 2014 to about 2018, it was completely unclear whether or not Apple cared about providing its Mac customers with that headroom. Machines generally went un-updated. It took six years for a new Mac Pro, for example. It was unclear that pro users would have enough power in the Mac platform to take us where we needed to go.

This was an existential question. If the platform wouldn't grow with our professional needs, then the platform would have to go. The gotcha, at least for me, is that there are applications on the Mac platform that don't exist elsewhere. While I can do the same work on Windows and Linux as on Mac, I can't do it as quickly. In fact, I save two-to-three days a week using Mac apps. That's measurable.

But if Apple was abandoning Macs -- and it sure looked that way in 2017 -- then I and many other Mac-using professionals would have had to begin looking at a long migration process.


That all changed in 2018. The company finally introduced a laptop that had more than 16GB RAM. The iMac Pro was in active use by many pros. The Mac mini got a very long-overdue overhaul. And Apple announced the new Mac Pro.

This was big, not because we all just wanted to spend money, but because it meant that we had more runway with our workloads. Those of us relying on the Mac platform did not have to begin developing a migration strategy.

Key to this was the high-end Mac Pro, which tops out at a whopping $52,000. It's not, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, that I have a need for it. Most business users won't. But you don't choose a platform based on what you need now.

Some folks, today, need a machine with 1.5TB of RAM. Others need to know that such a machine is available, even if we never expect to use one. The creativity, software support, market engagement, and robust project environments that will result from the high end machines and their users are of big benefit to all Mac users. The Mac Pro promises that those who will need to go there in the future actually can.

Oh, and for those who think that $52K is at the top of the dollar spectrum for PCs, you'd be wrong. For kicks, I just spec'd out a $162K (and that's after $69K in discounts) Dell 7920 Tower Workstation. While you and I might never spend that on a single PC, some folks need all that capability for their workloads.

That said, the four hundred dollar upcharge to add wheels to the Mac Pro is just rubbing it in.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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