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Apple 2019 Mac Pro: Everything I Want... but Truly High-End and Unaffordable for Most

Apple has announced the 2019 Mac Pro, a beast of a machine along with many optional and very powerful modules and (for me) the “killer app”: the about $5999 32-inch Apple Pro Display XDR 6K display (6016 X 3384 = 20 megapixels), claimed to be the best in the world, and with sophisticated hardware calibration. It is by leaps and bounds the most powerful system Apple has ever delivered. Kudos to Apple for what looks to be an extraordinarily robust and quiet ultra-high end pro-grade workstation.

  • 1.4 kilowatt power supply to support the massive potential power draw (1280W maximum continuous).
  • Advanced cooling system claimed to keep noise to a minimum.
  • 8/12/16/24/28 core Intel Xeon W CPU options with “support for up to 2TB memory” on the higher core-count CPUs.
  • SSD options up to 4TB (odd to not see 8/16TB options).
  • 12 DIMM slots accepting up to 1.5TB of 2933 MHz memory for 24/28 core CPUs, 1TB for the others.
  • One or two MPX modules (GPU and more) with three choices including the AMD Radeon Pro Vega II Duo with support for up to four 5K displays and with 64GB memory, Infinity Fabric Link connection between the GPUs, four DisplayPort connectors, four Thunderbolt 3 ports.
  • Eight PCI Express expansion slots including extra power support (some slots used for MPX modules, if installed).
  • Afterburner ProRes and ProRes RAW accelerator card supporting playback of up to 3 streams of 8K ProRes RAW or up to 12 streams of 4K ProRes RAW.
  • I/O card installed in the half-length PCIe slot with 2 USB-A ports, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, two 10GB ethernet ports.
  • Two Thunderbolt 3 ports built into the top of the machine.
  • Built-in speaker with headphone jack.
  • WiFi, Bluethooth, keyboard, mouse.
  • Relatively compact at only 20.8 X 17.76 X 8.58 inches.
  • Optional wheels for rolling within a studio or similar work situation.

A basic system with Pro Display XDR costs at least US$13000 (plus tax = ~$14000 here in California). But it would be silly to buy one with 256GB SSD and 32GB memory, so more realistically it’s at least $18K for a machine suitable for my needs (memory and SSD).

My rough guess is that a maxed-out 2019 Mac Pro with 1.5TB memory / 4TB SSD / dual Vega II GPU cards / MPX accelerator card is likely to cost around $40,000. Worth every penny for video producers, presumably.

Is it for photographers?

Looking at the specifications, it’s not clear that the 2019 Mac Pro will be faster than 2019 iMac 5K—the Mac Pro might be slower, particularly with the entry-level 8-core CPU. That’s because for most tasks in Photoshop and Lightroom, only a few CPU cores are used and so what matters is clock speed for the cores actually used—and the Xeon processors run about a gigahertz slower.

My prediction is that it will be a mixed bag with the 2019 Mac Pro much faster for a few tasks (and only if configured-up on CPU/GPU), and slightly slower for many tasks.

Don C writes:

I can confirm your suspicion that the VFX post-production world is all a-twitter over the new Mac Pro. At the Dog and Duck in Soho (the original Soho) some lads even arrived late on Monday night so as not to miss any of the WWDC keynote. It will be a significant boost for the use of ProRes as an intermediate compression format, and the 1600 nit capability of the new display fills a need for a lower cost HDR-capable 4K+ monitor. It’s almost like someone asked their (high-end) customers what they wanted and then built it. Remarkable.

For us still photographers, it’s always good to have something unattainable to aspire to.

DIGLLOYD: setting aside the appeal of a presumptive long-term reliability of the 2019 Mac Pro (and future expansion options), I can’t think of any meaningful benefit for my photographic work as compared to my well-configured 8-core 2019 iMac 5K. While things like the Vega II GPU option will speed up Enhance Details, in the context of my workflow it's just not much of a factor—and I suspect that the Vega II option will run $3K or so. I’d expect that a 2019 iMac 5K configured with 2TB SSD and 128GB memory and Vega GPU and 8-core CPU will cost at 2X to 3X what my maxed-out 2019 iMac 5K did (about $5K total, with memory)—and I suspect that the iMac 5K would outperform.

Barton T writes:

Curious to read your take on this. I see it as quite good value over the long term (considering I’m running a 2010 machine and with the latest firmware it can now boot off the latest and greatest NVMe SSD). I was considering a new Mac Mini, but there’s a performance hit (and hassle and extra cost) as far as the eGPU, the kind of memory it uses is generally more expensive (it’s quite cheap to pick up used/overstocked server memory in contrast), and the lack of internal PCIe slots. The Mac Pro never throttles either which can be an issue with the Mini, iMac, etc. not to mention noise.

I’d probably go for the minimum storage, it’s enough for the system and then put a couple of NVMe blades in PCIe adapters — so cheap: and now we’ll have faster performance on them with the newer PCI standard — and RAID them, plus a few spinners (there will be adapters, I can already see the Promise options). Then memory and most likely CPU can be upgraded over time.

DIGLLOYD: it’s doubtful that CPUs will be upgradeable—Xeon CPUs don't get refreshed often and almost certainly need new motherboard support.

2018 Mac mini is a bad plan due to the toy built-in GPU and poor eGPU support and its general irrelevance to most photographic taskes.

BYO SSDs in adapters make no sense to me given products one can rely on such as the OWC Thunderblade and a built-in SSD up to 4TB that will outperform reliably. Problems and headaches are anti-professional builds— buying a Mac Pro to then do BYO makes no sense to me. The 2019 iMac 5K is ample power for my needs (which are greater than most) and without any hassles.

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