Mac Pro review
- Stunning, iconic looks
- Immensely fast and powerful
- Very quiet
- Brutally expensive
- No physical media drives
- Needs more optimised software
After months of seductive but release-vague pre-hype, Apple's new top-of-the-line Mac Pro desktop computer has been unleashed on the unsuspecting Christmas-rush public without warning. While the masses hunt down those still-warm new iPad Airs for last-minute pressies, those in search of a power upgrade have something of their own to investigate.
Available to order now, this hugely ambitious overhaul of Apple's high-end professional workstation comes armed with not just the expected seriously impressive specs but with an all-new exterior aesthetic that's hard to ignore. But is it style and substance? T3 has had an early forage…
Mac Pro: Size and build
Only 25cm in height, the new cylindrical Mac Pro is short but deceptively weighty, revealing in its 5kg heft what it's packing in processing punch under the hood.
WATCH: New Mac Pro unboxing video
The 16.7cm diameter means its desk imprint is small, a compact desktop built to be exactly that: sat basking on top of the desk, not buried beneath away amid mounds of cable. It's more than welcome up there, too.
To the touch, it feels premium, its metal outer reassuringly pristine, but visually it's a product built to be divisive. Our early images on our social networks lead 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 Harman Kardon Soundtsticks, part Darth Vader.
With the Sir Jonathan Ive approach of hardware and software development in unison continued once more, the Mac Pro's utilitarian chassis is a stark aesthetic statement of old, and for us a refreshing visual shift after several years spent refining and tinkering with established and familiar designs.
Mac Pro: Features
Being a top-of-the-line desktop, the Mac Pro is, as you'd expect, hugely customisable. At entry-level pricing you get a 3.7GHz quad core Xeon processor, a pair of AMD FirePro D300 graphics processors with 2GB of VRAM apiece, 12GB RAM and 256GB of flash storage, though if your wallet's as deep as your love of raw computing grunt, you can get that up to a 12-core Xeon E5 processor with D500 GPUs, 16GB RAM and 1TB of space in no time; real pros will need to.
A solitary power button and a spectrum of connections are concealed round the back of the sleek and shiny cylinder, which can be spun round for ease of access. Here four USB 3.0s, six Thunderbolt 2 ports (20 Gb/s throughput apiece), two Gigabit Ethernet ports and a 4K HDMI out nuzzle next to each other.
WATCH: New Mac Pro hands-on and first impressions
As is increasingly the way with Apple, there's no built-in media drives at all, so it's a good job's there's 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0, although there's a host of increasingly essential if pricey professional Thunderbolt 2 accessories already shipping. It's possible to run three 4K monitors off one Mac Pro, and when networked they look pleasingly/unsettlingly like a spaceship full of Alien pods, too.
These pods can each be partly detached with a click of the lock switch, the outer metal casing sliding off like Anakin's outerwear to reveal a triangular structure of adaptable processors and memory. In the middle of this frame is a vent shaft that partners with a circular fan to pull heat out of the system. It's a very clever design trick that makes a visual feature out of its functionality and increased flexibility.
Mac Pro: Performance
The Mac Pro is a processing beast, taking all kinds of professional creative media tasks simultaneously without drawing breath. A quick system update for some Mac Pro-specific bits and bobs gets you up and running on the pre-instaled OS X Mavericks software, with free day-one optimisation updates specifically for Final Cut Pro X, including Motion and Compressor.
Indeed, Final Cut Pro X is chief in showing of the technology. The dual graphics card aids some neat tricks, from instant 11,000% time lapses with a simple click of the new 'retimed to fit' option, to real-time multiple-effects additions, without any waiting whatsoever. Our video team's rendering woes are remedied.
Around the now familiar Mavericks interface, the basic running speed boost is palpable, software instantly responsive and lag non-existent. We'll be testing it more thoroughly in the coming weeks, but initially it's simply swatted away anything we've thrown at it, from 60fps gaming to instant 1GB PSD opening. A swift edit of 16 4K videos simultaneously in real time using Final Cut Pro X, across two displays, didn't produce a single stutter or peep of sound.
Mac Pro: Verdict
The new Mac Pro is the kind of product that's invented to wow. Exceptionally powerful technology, an almost eye-watering price and a strikingly bold design that looks a bit like Darth Vader – it's what tech fetishists live for. Not since our first "eyes on" experience with Google Glass earlier this year has the entire T3 office crowded round just to catch sight of a piece of technology. People were gawping before we'd even turned it on.
Yet while we reckon the Mac Pro will attract some mainstream interest among the not-unwealthy due to its eye-catching looks, compact build and ease of use, this is not a Mac Mini – it's a professional machine, the pinnacle of Apple's computing powers, built for creative businesses and demanding tasks, and to this end there's a lot more poking and prodding to be done.
We will be testing thoroughly over Christmas, with benchmarks and extended pro user testing with our video and graphics team to see if it earns its technical stripes over prolonged use, so expect a definitive review in the new year. But for now, first impressions are strong with this one.
Mac Pro release date: available to order now, shipping early 2014
Mac Pro price: From £2,499