First unveiled in June 2013, Apple's shiny, futuristic new desktop computer is finally here and it looks fantastic. Check out our new Mac Pro review...
After months of seductive pre-hype, Apple’s new top-of-the-line desktop computer was unleashed on the unsuspecting Christmas-rush public. Looking like Darth Vader’s new plaything, the Apple Mac Pro’s sudden pre-order announcement gave those searching for a power upgrade something to contemplate, and now it’s finally ready to ship.
Mac Pro: Size and build
Armed with an all-new exterior aesthetic that’s hard to ignore, the new Mac Pro is the latest example of Sir Jonathan Ive’s united hardware and software approach to design.
The unit feels premium, its aluminium shell reassuringly pristine, yet is a product built to be divisive. Early images on our social networks led to a variety of comparisons, from biscuit jars to coffee machines, but we’d argue it’s Apple’s most iconic design in years, part Harmon Kardon Soundsticks, part Death Star.
This isn’t style for the sake of it, though. The cylindrical design aids heat dispersal, creating a central triangular vent that the circular base fan uses as high-tech chimney, pushing thermals out of the top and keeping the precious innards cool. The 16.7cm diameter and 25cm height also means its imprint is small, a compact desktop built to do exactly that: sit on top of your desk, rather than be tucked away out of sight.
Mac Pro: Connections
A solitary power button and a streak of connections are concealed round the back of the cylinder, which can be spun round for ease of access, and which lights up dramatically and usefully when working late. You get four USB 3.0 ports, a whopping six Thunderbolt 2 ports – 20 Gb/s throughput apiece – two Ethernet ports and an ultra-HDMI out.
As is almost universally the way now with Apple, there are no built-in media drives, so it’s a good job there’s 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 on hand, plus a slim range of pricey professional Thunderbolt 2 accessories; hopefully a few more will appear soon.
Mac Pro: Features
It’s possible to run three 4K monitors off of one Mac Pro if you feel the need, and when networked the Pros look impressively/unsettlingly like a nest of Alien pods. Each “pod” can be opened with a click of the lock switch, the outer metal casing sliding off to reveal a triangular structure of adaptable processors and memory. It may be compact, but there’s 5kg of computing power packed under that gloss-black hood.
That power, of course, will vary massively depending on what setup you’re rocking, as a raft of custom options are available. At the entry level of £2,499 you get a none-too-shabby 3.7GHz quadcore Xeon processor, a pair of AMD FirePro D300 graphics processors with 2GB of VRAM apiece, 12GB RAM and 256GB of flash storage. However, if your wallet’s as deep as your love of raw computing grunt, you can get into eight-core and 12-core setups without breaking sweat.
Mac Pro: Performance
Our test machine proved to be nearer the top end of the spectrum, with the 3GHz eight-core CPU, AMD FirePro D700, 64GB RAM and 1TB hard drive giving it a total worth of £6,579. At that level, we’re not surprised to report that it’s a bit of a processing beast. It ranked in the top percentile in a wide variety of professional benchmarks tests, proving itself over five times more powerful than the T3 office’s MacBook Pro Retina.
Our 64-bit, eight-core rig ranked in Geekbench’s top five performing Mac setups of all time, while Apple’s new 12-core Pro currently sits on top of the pile.
Mac Pro: OS Mavericks
Running the now familiar OS X Mavericks system software out of the box, the basic running speed boost is palpable, with software instantly responsive and lag non-existent. The Mac Pro is able to handle all kinds of professional creative media tasks simultaneously without drawing breath, or making any distinguishable peep. Everything drags and drops with ease, even in performance-intensive applications.
Mac Pro: Final Cut Pro X
Final Cut Pro X was specifically upgraded to make the most of the new Mac Pro’s prowess and it’s a dream for film editing, at one point seeing us cut between sixteen 4K videos all in real time, with no rendering or stutter.
The dual FirePro graphics cards enable some neat tricks of their own, from instant 11,000% time lapses with a simple click to real-time multiple-effects additions without any waiting time. We were able to export filter-laden 1080p video footage more than ten times faster than from our MacBook Pro; it’s revelatory.
Mac Pro: Gaming
Our gaming hands dabbled with Metro: Last Light, Amnesia and the new Sky Gamblers, with visuals super-smooth and frame rate super-tight. We could get used to instant 1GB Photoshop file opening, too.
To be frank, the Mac Pro swatted away all tasks we could throw at it, even those of our incredibly demanding video team. This is an expensive machine, but the money is all there in the performance.
Whether you can justify that price tag, of course, depends mainly on what you’re planning to do with it.
Final Cut has been updated, as have its Motion and Processor companions, but other non-Apple software is yet to harness the Pro’s full potential; that’s the price of living on the cutting edge and it’s best to check what your program of choice has in store in terms of optimisation. Its unique design cuts out all excess space, too, which means that while
PC-style component switching is present, there are limits to its flexibility.
Mac Pro: Verdict
While the Mac Pro will attract mainstream interest among the not-unwealthy, it remains a machine for, well, pros. If your daily computing wants are more 4OD than 4K video editing, sit on your hands and count to ten – your pounds can be better spent elsewhere. But if your needs are as mighty as your spending power, you’d have to try hard to be disappointed.
Mac Pro price: From £2,499 (monitor, keyboard and mouse not included),
Mac Pro: Out now
Mac Pro: Opinion - Matt Bolton, deputy editor, MacFormat
While the use of non-standard graphics cards and a lack of extra drive space inside had lead to initial concerns over the new Pro’s expandability, it turns out to be much simpler than expected. We’re more than comfortable with the raft of external ports for expansion (the six Thunderbolt 2s alone allow for 36 accessories to be attached) so the only issues here are of tidiness and convenience. These aren’t worth ignoring, but are relatively minor.
Where we do have concern is the maximum 64GB of memory, determined by only four RAM slots. The last Mac Pro supported 128GB simply due to more of these and if you work on extremely complex Photoshop files, this could be troublesome. We hope it’s addressed with RAM sticks of greater size than the current 32GB offerings.
That said, there is an absolutely huge amount of power on offer, but the hardware has to be used properly to unlock it fully. When software is designed to take advantage of the dual GPUs, like Final Cut Pro, it flies, but this isn’t universal yet. Adobe Premiere, Final Cut’s rival, hasn’t been rewritten and the results offer little speed advantage over the old Pro. Apple needs to help third-party developers harness the power inside.
Mac Pro: How to configure your perfect Pro
Of the many combinations, the six-core processor currently looks like a sweet spot, offering no penalty on single-core speed compared to the quadcore model, but with good improvement on multi-core tasks for a relatively modest £400 upgrade.
For work such as 3D effects and rendering, you’ll want at least the mid-range D500 option (with 6GB of VRAM), and as GPU upgrades are comparatively modest they are likely to be the best value improvement.
The mid-range 16GB RAM is comfortable for many tasks, but pro-level video and image editing will benefit from more. However, Apple RAM upgrades are famously above market rates (£400 to go from 12GB to 32GB) so shop around.
The basic 256GB flash hard drive isn’t very much at all – enough for applications but not really for the data to use in them. Again, Apple’s prices for storage upgrades are quite steep, although the type of solid state drive used here isn’t
very common as yet, so an external hard drive may be your best bet.
Matt Bolton is deputy editor of T3’s sister magazine, MacFormat; macformat.com/ipad