The new Mac Pro: Not so grate
A freelance motion graphic designer’s (initial) perspective on Apple’s new Mac Pro and Pro Display
Yesterday, Apple finally announced the new 2019 Mac Pro. It finally corrects the flaws of the 2013 trashcan Mac and focuses on function over form. The specs are truly mindblowing and the design, whilst pretty polarising, finally allows users to customise and upgrade/update the Mac the way they want to. But it’s not all perfect. In fact, I’m massively disappointed. Although I switched to Windows several years ago, part of me hoped Apple would pull it out of the bag and create a machine that would live up to the pro title. They both succeeded and failed in a way only Apple can.
Where do I even begin with the specs? This thing is a beast so I’m not going to go through every aspect of it and instead just give you an overview of the machine.
You can have up to 1.5TB of RAM. I didn’t even know that was possible. The base model comes with an 8-core Xeon W processor but it can be upgraded all the way to 28-cores. Regarding GPUs, the base configuration comes with a rather underwhelming AMD Radeon Pro 580X, but it can be upgraded to a Vega II. Apple being Apple, they’ve also announced their own proprietary system that allows you to connect multiple cards (talk about reinventing the wheel). There’s also an afterburner card which is a chip specifically for hardcore editing in native 8K formats. It’s great but man is it overkill.
When I first saw the design I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was happy to see the return of the tower form factor but the thing literally looked like a cheese grater, a nickname bestowed upon the old, old Mac Pros. Once they started to talk about how much air this thing could shift, it made sense and I’m glad to see Apple prioritising function over form. I still think Jony Ive could have found a more subtle way to achieve this without it looking like you might accidentally shred half of your skin off with it. Still. At least we have a tower. Beggers cannot be choosers.
This thing was never going to be cheap but I think a few people were surprised at the price of the base model. $5999 only gets you an 8-core CPU with a pathetic 256GB SSD and a Radeon RX 580X. Sure, there’s a lot of scope to keep adding to it but you don’t get much out of the box. I can’t wait for these to launch to see how much the top configuration will be. For studios like Pixar et al, it’s peanuts but for almost all small businesses and freelancers, Apple has priced them out.
Using the same overall design aesthetic as the Mac Pro, we also get the Pro Display. Again, the specs are mindblowing but when they referenced an equivalent reference monitor would cost up to $43,000, I knew this thing wouldn’t be cheap and at $4999, I wasn’t wrong. I laughed when I heard the groans from the crowd when they announced the stand would be an additional $999. As great as it might be, for almost all Mac Pro users this thing is overkill. More on this later.
No Nvidia, no deal
Although I’m happy with my PC, there was this tiny voice inside my head hoping Apple would support Nvidia. I wouldn’t exactly jump ship but it would allow me too in the future. Alas, Apple didn’t mention anything about it and so they clearly are never going to announce support in the near future. This is a motion graphics, video and animation industry as CUDA really does make a huge difference. Time will tell if Apple’s Metal can even come close to the performance of Nvidia’s cards.
People have estimated that the top spec model will cost $40,000 + which is insane but even the base model is too expensive. As a freelancer, Apple are making it clear that I am not their target market. They’re hoping that studios like Pixar and other large businesses will gladly pay for this power. But Apple missed a trick: as more and more people in the creative industries are going freelance, what about making a semi-pro version? Why price out a huge and growing market? I don’t know a single professional that will pay $4999 for a monitor but I do know many people who would have bought a really good but lesser specced monitor at around the $1K mark. Very few people need monitors that powerful. Apple has purely focused on a tiny niche within a niche. I’m calling it niche-ception. Admittedly, Apple had its work cut out. There’s no way they could have pleased everybody but this just feels like overkill for Apple.
All of this worries me. With a focus on such a niche market, Apple have relinquished the lion’s share of creatives to either get an iMac or a PC. So many creatives just wanted a decent Mac without a display. The Mac Mini is fine but it has serious thermal issues. In a year or twos time, there’s a real chance that Apple will turn around and moan that nobody bought this machine and they’ll give up on the platform but surely someone at Apple must realise this?
Anyway, I digress. For a freelance motion designer, I can honestly say this machine is a huge fail. For After Effects and 2D motion graphics, it’s overkill and will actually run far slower than a machine that costs ¼ of the price. 3D designers might find it more useful but without Nvidia support and a lot of unknowns about Metal’s performance with Redshift and Octane, it’s a hell of a gamble. My honest advice, and this is coming from someone that loves MacOS, just buy a PC and save your money.