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Friday
Jan312014

Review: Apple Mac Pro (2013)

By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla

Apple's new Mac Pro goes beyond being a statement product, it actually heralds a brave new age for desktop computers and unapologetically pushes the industry forward by using very new standards and cutting edge technologies to seamlessly enable an incredible level of performance. Designed for professional video editors, animators, graphic designers and scientists, the Mac Pro is for users who require the most powerful performance available.

 

This is Apple at its finest, casting away the creaky and comfortable norms of computing and simply dragging the industry kicking and screaming into a new era of what the future should be. 

It reminds me of when Apple announced the iMac, relegated the floppy drive to obsolescence and pushed the little-known USB interface as the I/O of the future. 

Same thing with the Mac Pro. Apple started from scratch, rewriting the rules of what a modern desktop computer should look like and work, they took all the knowledge gained from creating the G4 Cube, the MacBook Air, the Mac Mini and even the iPhone 5 and looked at many emerging technologies and chiseled away at this unbelievably small yet powerful computer.

 

The result is truly remarkable. The exacting design and precise engineering that have gone into the Mac Pro are simply unlike anything the computer industry has ever seen in a mass produced (made in the USA no less) desktop. The Mac Pro may have taken three years to get an update, but the wait was worth it, this is the crown jewel of today's Apple desktop design and engineering.


Looking at the Mac Pro, it simply defies a lot of notions of what a super-powerful desktop could be. It is 1/8th the size of the previous generation 'Cheese Grater' Mac Pros, which were larger because they needed massive fans to cool the blistering Intel Xeon processors as well as house the multiple hard drives most pro machines are known to have.

The new Mac Pro has a unified thermal core to handle the cooling of the new Intel Xeon processors, a singular fan kicks in when the system needs to be cooled but even when working on 4K video files, it never got perceptibly loud or warm.

The result is an eerily quiet desktop and the only hint that the thing is one at all is the glowing power button or the warmth emanating from the top section where the handles are.

The Mac Pro seems to have been designed to not call attention to itself, the super shiny exterior even blends into its surroundings, just like Predator's cloaking device.

  

Unboxing the Mac Pro feels like unwrapping a portable nuclear reactor. The thing is packed so carefully and precisely that one cannot but feel they are uncrating a weapons grade device. My hands are still shaking.

The aura of power is evident when you lift Mac Pro and put it on your desk, suddenly raising the value of everything within a three-meter radius by several thousand dollars, and adding a few extra coatings of cool. 

Our review unit had the 2.7GHz 12-core processor with 30MB of L3 cache, 32GB RAM, 512GB SSD storage and with dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs with 6GB of GDDR5 VRAM each. Easily the top of the line model costing $8,400.00 with all the trimmings. 

Expensive? Well, that's relative.

Consider that the price of a single AMD FirePro W9000 graphics processor which is comparable to the Mac Pro's FirePro D700 GPU, (http://shop.amd.com/us/All/Detail/GraphicCard/100-505632) retails for $3400, and that’s for one graphics card. Factor in the price for the Xeons, the super-fast SSD and the RAM and the Mac Pro starts to make a whole lot of sense for its intended market.

The Mac Pro introduces faster Thunderbolt 2 ports (six of them!), four USB 3.0 ports, dual Gigabit Ethernet ports and and an HDMI-out port. It also has the latest spec WiFi and Bluetooth.

Mac Pros start at $3,099.00 for a completely respectable quad-core and dual GPU model featuring 3.7GHz Intel Xeon E5 processors, 12GB of RAM, 256GB of storage and Dual AMD FirePro D300 GPUs. Orders placed today should see the Mac Pros shipping in early March.

The less-is-more approach to industrial design gives us a unique cylindrical case that is exceptionally polished and shiny. One latch frees the exterior case, or helmet, from the internal core.

Raise this up and you have access to the RAM, the storage and even the socketed CPU, which can theoretically be replaced when future processors are available. The new PCle-based flash storage introduces faster read and write performance — up to 60 percent faster than previous SSDs..



Apple is looking at this form factor to endure the next eight to 10 years and while many have reservations about expansion capabilities (all external, and need to be plugged into the rear of the case), there's no denying that the new Mac Pro is a more elegant and portable solution than its predecessor. It will be interesting to see a server cluster made out of Mac Pros, below is a theoretical mock up of what this might look like.

http://media.gizmodo.co.uk/

All the Mac Pro comes with is a black plug, leaflets and some stickers, that's it. Connect it to your existing keyboard, monitor and mouse press the on button and you never look back.

Running regular, non-optimized OS X applications feels snappier but not exceedingly so. Comparing the performance of my daily driver iMac, apps like Mail, Safari and iTunes are perceptibly smoother and faster but it is when running optimized, processor and graphics-intensive applications that the Mac Pro's jets really kick in.


 

The benefit of having a completely solid-state desktop is that there are no moving parts and neither is there much latency managing the throughput.  processors, graphics cards, memory and storage are all so fast that transferring large amounts of data is fast and efficient.

AirPort wireless connectivity is surprisingly good considering the Mac Pro is pretty much shielded in aluminum. My guess is that the antennas are located on the top of the machine, hear where the thermal core's vents are.

No moving parts means less heat generation and less cooling requirements. I remember my last PowerMac G5's fans going turbo while rendering video on Final Cut and the amount of noise and heat generated by that beastly workstation and the new Mac Pro is whistle quiet and generates very little heat.

 

In terms of performance, I had to update various Apple Pro apps in order to take full advantage of the Mac Pro. Final Cut Pro, which received some initial flak for lacking certain features, has since been updated with most of the features users want.

The Mac Pro was able to easily decode and play back a massive 98GB 4K video file. I applied some titling and realtime edits and alterations and there was almost no latency for rendering. I had to double check that my edits were being applied, and they were. Working on files of this size and magnitude is buttery smooth and you feel there's lots of extra power to spare. I credit this to the optimized software as well as the hardware. Again, another benefit of working with tools that offer the 'whole widget' approach of integrated solutions.

The same goes for Motion 5, a professional application for creating and editing HD titles and video effects. There’s no perceptible lag, stuttering or dragging even when piling on a bunch of effect layers simultaneously.

For professional video editors, this type of performance is of paramount importance, the hardware pays for itself in terms of improved billable hours and the ability to get more done in less time.


The only quibbles I have with the Mac Pro are minor ones. Since it is so quiet, it’s hard to tell if it is awake or asleep (power button/indicator in the back).

The gorgeous dark profile of the Mac Pro itself sort of gives way to a mess of (mostly white) cables poking out the back. I also connected my old MacBook Air's external SuperDrive but found that the cord was too short and since the USB ports are placed up high on the Mac Pro, it takes some care to make sure this doesn't scuff or scratch the Mac Pro's case.

I filled up the four USB 3.0 slots pretty quickly but all of my six Thunderbolt 2 ports are empty because I do not own any Thunderbolt powered peripherals. 

These are just aesthetic challenges, which don’t affect performance at all, but with a desktop computer this visuallt striking, it's easy to develop one's OCD tendencies.

The Mac Pro is for niche power users who need the absolute latest in terms of power and performance and are willing to pay for tomorrow’s technology standards today. 

With the Mac Pro, Apple is presenting the future of the desktop and making it available today. The technologies and components running on the Mac Pro put it out off reach for the regular consumer who have various other options like the Mac mini or the iMac as well as older Mac Pro towers.

Professionals whose livelihood depends on getting their work done faster won't bat an eyelash, this is the desktop they've long been waiting for.


Rating: 5 out 5

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Reader Comments (3)

Really nice post and thanks for sharing

November 2, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterinzy

Nice post!!!

February 13, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPooja Yadav

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