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2013 Apple Mac Pro: Faster or Slower, Elegant but Klunky, Promise vs Reality, Video Oriented

2013 Apple Mac Pro

We will get a faster machine with Thunderbolt and USB3 and faster graphics. That’s the good news, the rest is not so good.

Faster, but perhaps not so elegant for many

The new design will work OK for many usage scenarios, and be faster (but not in all cases—apparent memory limits).

But note that Apple states “up to 2X faster for floating point performance”. Which is irrelevant for the vast majority of users. It is integer computing performance that matters. Which begs the question as to performance in things like Photoshop or Lightroom.

The new model is less elegant than the current model, because straightforward usage scenarios have suddenly become multiple boxes instead of a single convenient Mac Pro chassis: it is not even possible to install a single internal hard drive for extra storage. That is not elegance and it’s not progress. It is a glorified iMac.

Somehow Apple doesn’t “get” that boxes connected with cables is inelegant, more expensive, and depends on existence of products that are very limited in selection (e.g. Thunderbolt choices and cost):

When we began work on the next Mac Pro, we considered every element that defines a pro computer — graphics, storage, expansion, processing power, and memory. And we challenged ourselves to find the best, most forward-looking way possible to engineer each one of them.

When we put it all together, the result was something entirely new. Something radically different from anything before it. Something that provides an extremely powerful argument against the status quo. Here’s a sneak peek at what’s next for the pro computer.

A pile of external boxes and cables costing a lot more in total to do the same job my existing Mac Pro does far more cleanly internally. Will the new model cost 1/2 of what the existing one does? Highly unlikely. I wonder if Apple will continue to offer the existing model for a time, concurrently; market support is not there for this radical departure.

Where do I install my four internal hard drives, four PCIe cards and three internal SSDs? Some of those might not be needed in the new model, but those four hard drives surely are. I don’t like noisy external boxes for daily use; it becomes aggravating over long work days.

What “powerful argument” exists here, since a conventional box with all the same (or more) ports and bays can just as well be built instead of an paean to someone’s Star Trek for iOS design ego? (Seriously, this thing looks like it was designed for a movie prop). What possible argument can be made to call an extra box with an extra cable at extra cost better than inserting a drive into a drive bay?

CPU

No mention of clock speeds. Will we get the fastest Intel Xeon E5 CPUs with the oversize caches or some middle of the road speeds as has always been the Apple way? (e.g., Apple never did offer a 3.46 GHz 12-core in the existing model, limiting it to 3.06 GHz, even my customized 12-core is 3.33 GHz, faster than any Apple offering).

The new Mac Pro is muscle through and through, starting with the new-generation Intel Xeon E5 chipset. With configurations offering up to 12 cores of processing power, up to 40GB/s of PCI Express gen 3 bandwidth, and 256-bit-wide floating-point instructions, you’ll never be at a loss for speed.

OWC 8GB DDR3
1333 MHz memory module

Memory — 4 slot limit?

Observe no mention of how much memory, which is an insane factual omission. The pictures suggest a paltry four (4) slots. No serious workstation has only four memory slots.

The (unconfirmed) four memory slot limit suggest a maximum of 64GB memory, a disastrous downgrade for my work. It means that new model might run quite a bit slower than my existing model for some of my work, due to virtual memory paging. Possibly 32GB modules might address that (but at extreme cost, at least at present).

Is it possible that the 12-core model will have eight memory slots? Sure, but that case is very tight, so where is the real estate to be found? Maybe. But form over function triumphs here: instead of one spec-sheet page with real information, we have glitzy blurred pictures with minimal information. Stupidly incompetent communication about a key feature.

Every component in the new Mac Pro is optimized for performance. That includes a four-channel DDR3 memory controller running at 1866MHz. It delivers up to 60GB/s of memory bandwidth, which means you can fly through even the most compute-intensive tasks in no time. And since it’s ECC memory, your render job, video export, or simulation won’t be stopped by transient memory errors.

How does limiting memory capacity “optimize” performance exactly?

Graphics

Great for video users, which is the clearly stated use case and apparent intended market for this new model.

But this means just about zero for my photography work. In fact, I turn OpenGL off for my Photoshop work, due to drawing glitches and blurrily-scaled images.

Traditionally, pro computers have relied primarily on the CPU for their computing power. But as GPU performance has dramatically increased, software developers have begun to leverage that power in their apps. With the new Mac Pro, we looked ahead and engineered an even more powerful GPU architecture.

Not only does it feature a state-of-the-art AMD FirePro workstation-class GPU with up to 6GB of dedicated VRAM — it features two of them. With all that power, you’ll be able to do things like seamlessly edit full-resolution 4K video while simultaneously rendering effects in the background — and still have enough power to connect up to three high-resolution 4K displays.

Storage

Great, but where do I install my hard drives? And when Apple charges a 3X premium for too-few and too-small SSD options, then what?

No mention of storage capacity, 3rd-party options, etc. This is bad communication at work again: no details, readers left in the dark with generic generalities.

There’s flash storage, and then there’s next-generation PCI Express flash storage. We’re talking storage that’s up to 2.5 times faster than the fastest SATA-based solid-state drive and up to 10 times faster than a 7200-rpm SATA hard drive.

Most flash storage systems connect via SATA buses designed for slower spinning hard drives. But we designed the new Mac Pro around new PCI Express-based flash controller technology to deliver the fastest solid-state drives available standard in a desktop computer. So booting up, launching apps, even opening massive files happens in, well, a flash.

Nice case

Quality materials.

If a car could omit seats for passengers, I’m sure they would get a lot smaller and more efficient, too. Until the trailer for carrying passengers was attached.

Refined impact extrusion technologies are more material-efficient and give the polished aluminum enclosure its incredible shape and finish.

The new Mac Pro looks unlike any other computer. Because it is unlike any other computer. By rethinking the architecture of its internal components, we had the chance to rethink the entire enclosure. And since everything centers around a unified thermal core, we were free to design a much leaner, lighter, quieter, and far more streamlined structure. Its unique design and beautiful finishes are executed to an extraordinary degree of precision. And at just 9.9 inches tall with a diameter of just 6.6 inches, it’s a pro desktop computer that can actually sit on your desk.

Unified thermal core

Given that the energy savings will vaporize on several external boxes with noisy fans, the net effect might be higher energy consumption, at least for my situation. And I lose all the convenience of slots and bays.

The new Mac Pro packs an unprecedented amount of power in an unthinkable amount of space. A big reason we were able to do that is the ingenious unified thermal core.

Rather than using multiple heat sinks and fans to cool the processor and graphics cards, we built everything around a single piece of extruded aluminum designed to maximize airflow as well as thermal capacity. It works by conducting heat away from the CPU and GPUs and distributing that heat uniformly across the core. That way, if one processor isn’t working as hard as the others, the extra thermal capacity can be shared efficiently among them. No computer has been built this way before. And yet it makes so much sense, it’s now hard to imagine building one any other way.

A single breakthrough fan

What about all other fan or fans I’ll now need to add in the external boxes now required to house hard drives? The existing Mac Pro was very quiet already.

An incredible amount of innovation went into designing a fan system capable of cooling such a high-performance device. Instead of adding extra fans, we engineered a single, larger fan that pulls air upward through a bottom vent. As air passes vertically through the center of the device, it absorbs heat and carries it out the top. It’s simple and elegant — and also astonishingly quiet.

To achieve that, we had to consider every detail: the number of blades, the size of the blades, the spacing of the blades, and even the shape of the blades. By minimizing air resistance throughout the system, we were able to design a fan with backward-curved impeller blades that runs at fewer revolutions per minute, draws air more efficiently as it spins, and creates considerably less noise.

Expansion, vastly expanded

4 USB3 ports is skimpy.

Expansion, complicated. Gone is the ability to install a drive in an internal drive bay.

Internal drive bays would not preclude the claims here; one could have both. Does Apple plan to offer a 4-bay or 6-bay expansion box to solve this issue?

In creating a pro computer for the future, we wanted to provide an enormous amount of expansion — without being limited to the space inside the enclosure. Designed with built-in Thunderbolt 2, USB 3, Gigabit Ethernet, and HDMI 1.4 ports, Mac Pro sets a new standard in flexible, high-performance expansion. It’s our most expandable Mac yet. And it has everything you need to build a workstation completely customized to what you need and how you work.

Thunderbolt 2

All good, but not to the exclusion of internal bays.

Thunderbolt took a long time to develop and still suffers from few and expensive choices, and we’re to believe that Thunderbolt 2 peripherals will be available soon?

My information is that Thunderbolt 2 chipsets (not products) aren’t due until 2014. Which means those four hard drives that I need for My Stuff go where exactly? On four USB3 cables occupying all four USB3 ports? (to ne daisy-chain or hub-connect USB3 for critical drives is a Bad Idea).

In practice, it means that you’ll be using Thunderbolt v1, not v2. So much for the marketing hype.

Note well that “connect” and “add” mean more cables, more cost, more noise, just to do something simple, like add a few hard drives.

HOORAY: 4K video support.

Thunderbolt is the fastest, most versatile I/O technology there is. And with Mac Pro, we’re jumping even further ahead. Thunderbolt 2 delivers twice the throughput, providing up to 20Gb/s of bandwidth to each external device. So you’re more than ready for the next generation of high-performance peripherals.

You can connect massive amounts of storage, add a PCI expansion chassis, and work with the latest external displays — including 4K desktop displays and peripheral devices capable of broadcast monitoring in 4K. And since each Thunderbolt 2 port allows you to daisy-chain up to six peripherals, you can go all out by plugging in up to 36 external devices via Thunderbolt alone.

Other I/O connections

Four USB3 ports will be immediately filled for me, so this means plugging in a hub.

Too bad it wasn’t 10 Gigabit ethernet, but gigabit is good enough.

Mac Pro equips you with all kinds of connections for all kinds of peripherals.

USB 3 gives you the versatility to hook up dozens of different types of external devices.

Two Gigabit Ethernet ports let you connect to multiple networks.

And an HDMI 1.4 port provides support for the latest televisions, projectors, and displays, including Ultra HD TVs. But the thought we put into expandability extends beyond the types of peripherals you can use. As you rotate Mac Pro to plug in a device, it senses the movement and automatically illuminates the I/O panel. So you can easily see the ports you need when you need them.

Advanced wireless

All good, but I prefer gigabit ethernet rather than the unreliability and latency of wireless and this capability requires also buying a high-speed base station.

Access your network over three-stream 802.11ac Wi-Fi for the latest in high-speed wireless connectivity. For all your other wireless connections, Mac Pro includes Bluetooth 4.0. It’s the fastest, most reliable way to connect your keyboard, mouse, and other wireless devices without having to physically attach anything.

Designed and assembled in the US

With some foreign parts, but this is a global world, so what.

All good, at least as an American it seems so, not sure this “plays” overseas.

With the new Mac Pro, we’re assembling the entire product and machining several of its high-precision components in the United States. By leveraging the innovative power of industry-leading companies in Texas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, and over a dozen other states across America, we're able to build a product that's impeccably constructed and beautiful in every detail. In other words, exactly as it was envisioned by our designers and engineers in California.

* Bad web design

Pretty graphics are ugly when they interfere with communication and are badly blurred as well.

Apple’s web description found here. The web page design is a “total fail”: tedious to work through, and with badly blurred scaled low-res images on my big screen: someone thought it was a good idea to size up to fit the screen (mine is 30 inches). The presentation is off-putting, especially once one realizes that the actual machine has serious compromises that undermine its raison d'être: form over function for both.

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