Mac Pro: R.I.P.

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

Apple’s Mac Pro is dead. May it rest in peace.

It’s not literally dead. At least not yet.

You can still buy one. And, apparently, enough people continue to do so that Apple retains the desktop behemoth in its catalog. I should know. I bought a 2009 Mac Pro this year. And I have been delighted with the purchase. It was a huge improvement over my aging Power Mac G5 in every way. From its welcome silence (compared to the jet plane sounds that the G5 loved to imitate) to its blazing speed, it has been a great machine.

Still. The Mac Pro is dead. May it rest in peace.

Macworld’s review of the new 27-inch iMac concludes that the iMac is overall faster than the Xeon Mac Pro (even the 8-core version). Especially when you consider that a Mac Pro requires the purchase of a separate monitor, the iMac emerges with another advantage: it is much much cheaper. Rob Griffiths compared a Core i7 iMac to a similarly-equipped Quad-core Mac Pro: the Pro cost nearly twice as much.

Given these numbers, why bother with a Mac Pro? Personally, I can only think of one and half reasons — neither of which will drive a large number of sales. The one reason is internal expandability. If you want three internal hard drives and two internal optical drives and an upgraded graphics card, you need a Mac Pro. The half reason is the display. The iMac has a great display. But if you want more flexibility, including the option to replace your initial display without having to get a new computer, you may prefer a Mac Pro. 

For at least the next several years, I expect the market for the Mac Pro to remain. There will always be some people for whom the Mac Pro is the best fit. But their numbers will continue to decline. As with the old minicomputers that desktop computers replaced, all brands of large desktop computers (not just the Mac Pro) are destined to be phased out over time.

The Mac Pro is dead. May it rest in peace.

There was a time when the Mac Pro (or its desktop ancestors) was the go-to choice for running Mac OS X Server. Not so much anymore. Xserve has been Apple’s “ultimate workgroup server” for several years now. For those with less demanding server needs, you can now get a Mac mini with Mac OS X Server preinstalled for just $999.

Actually, as the Mac mini’s tech specs continue to improve, the standard Mac mini is closing in on the Mac Pro as a viable alternative for anyone who prefers a headless Mac.

The Mac Pro is dead. May it rest in peace.

There is one more major force working against the Pro: portability. Increasingly, Mac users of all stripes are leaning towards smaller and more portable machines. That’s one reason the MacBook Pro continues to be the star of Apple’s Mac lineup.

In fact, recognizing that more and more owners have a MacBook Pro as their only computer, but may still want a larger display at home, Apple has promoted docking a MacBook Pro to a 24” Cinema Display. You’ll see these two items featured and connected together on Apple’s Cinema Display Web page. With this setup, if you close the MacBook Pro’s lid and connect a separate keyboard/mouse, you’ve converted your MacBook Pro into a viable desktop Mac. It’s just about a case of having your cake and eating it too.

It doesn’t stop there. The overall trend in personal computers keeps moving toward greater portability. Many (obviously not all) people are finding that even an iPhone can function as a full-time alternative to a laptop. Apple’s expected “iTablet” should help further the trend to downsize from laptops. In this environment, the odds are against the survival of a device so big that it generally has to sit on the floor instead of a desk.

What do you have when you put all of these varied pieces together? An attack on the Mac Pro from all sides. So far, the Mac Pro has fought off these assaults. But I predict its days are numbered. That’s why I say…

The Mac Pro is dead. May it rest in peace.

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33 Comments Leave Your Own

Photodan

I seem to remember this same conversation coming up after the original iMacs started getting more powerful. There may be more to it this time though.

Last time, I remember one of the stumblng blocks being a healthy need for aftermarket SCSI cards. There was also an issue with the old iMac design being quite out of place in any business environment. Neither issue has much validity any more though.

aardman

When the iMac offers an external hard drive throughput that matches that of an internal hard drive then yes, the Mac Pro becomes truly and irretrievably dead.

coaten

Er… hands up how many FCP editors reliant on fibre link and Xsan are buying iMacs for their edit suite?

jimothy

I’ve heard a rumor that the Mac Pro will one day get a faster processor.

Yes, I’m being a smart you-know-what, but the fact that the iMac is faster at some tasks than the Mac Pro doesn’t mean the latter is dead. It, too, will be upgraded, and be wicked fast. 12-core dual i9 sound good, anyone?

djo2

There is a business case for Mac Pro power even if one doesn’t require internal expansion or monitor flexibility. Even though the iMac *can* exceed the clock speed of the Mac Pro, it most definitely can’t offer up 16 virtual cores to process video in After Effects, Final Cut Pro, Compressor, or other similar applications, or filters in Photoshop, Aperture, and the like.

During a render, After Effects can (at least version CS4 can) spawn multiple child processes that can each work on part of the render job and each eat up 200% - 300% or more CPU power. The 8-core Mac Pro offers up 1600% total CPU power for these processes to share. The best 4-core iMac will hit 400%, meaning that a well-coded application will take 4 times as long to do the same work on the iMac.

Those same After Effects child processes work in their own (up to 2GB) memory space. The Mac Pro can hold up to twice the RAM the best iMac can. This means up to twice as many of these child processes can be spawned by After Effects. Or if the application in question is 64-bit capable, it can access more RAM with a single process. It is also common for pro graphics and video people to have open multiple RAM-hogging applications at the same time. Being able to do this without hitting virtual memory is a significant time-saver.

Additionally, the 4 internal SATA drive bays allow for much faster storage than FireWire 800 can offer. The pressing need for faster storage has led our company to start deploying SSDs in these internal bays. An external SSD on a FW800 cable is like putting a Ferrari engine in a minivan.

Even though the Mac Pro is a diminishing part of the total number of computers Apple sells, they are certainly extremely profitable, as are the Pro apps Apple has done very will with over the last 10 years. If Apple were to decide that the Mac Pro was truly dead (i.e. dropped from the product line) it would also risk ceding a significant chunk of the pro video and graphics market to other computer companies that *can* supply that kind of power. And of course every edit system that moves to a Windows-based workstation will also be one less license of Final Cut Studio sold.

I readily concur that there is absolutely no reason for 95%, or maybe even 99.9% of Apple’s customers to consider these systems, but they are indispensable for many people, and very profitable for Apple. The Mac Pro is definitely not dead.

ragle

As someone who uses AE, FCP, C4D and other processor intensive programs, I hope this prediction does not come true. I just expect to pay a premium to have lots of drives, crushing performance with the ability to add advanced IO cards. There are so many out there that do not need this kind of machine, but for the people who do, they’ll always be willing to pay. Perhaps the real solution is to make laptops that can add processors/graphic preformance when docked at a desk. I’m totally on board once you can start chaining on multiple CPU’s for added performance.

daemon

Ted,

The Mac Pro has it’s place, and it’s not in a consumer’s home.

The iMac has it’s place too, and it’s not in a busniess’s office.

doogie

As long as the Mac Pro is able to demand it’s current profit margins, it will remain.  I don’t think that Apple is sentimental about it, nor does it provide an engineering showcase that will keep it alive.  Only profitability will do it.

James

Same here. For the work that I do and the software that I do it with, I need a real work station, not a regular PC. And I need OS X.

True, I can’t fathom why a regular home user would ever need to consider a Mac Pro, but for me there isn’t really anything better suited. A niche market perhaps, but we are out there. I’d be really miffed if I was forced into using an iMac instead.

Oh! And I use my iPhone for mobile computing, for me, it suits those needs just fine.

zewazir

The Pro will never die, because the highest end users will always need more than a consumer-aimed model will deliver. How many times have we seen pictures of a high end station using 3 displays?  The Pro can handle up to 8 (though I cannot for the life of me image a need for 8 displays!) The Pro user does not have to settle for whatever video card Apple places in the iMac either.  Multiple internal HDs has already been mentioned. Add to that greater RAM expansion.

And let’s not forget that the processors being lauded in the newest iMacs had not been released when Apple last updated the Pro line. Try putting the 3.2 GHz i7-960 processors in the 8-core Pro and then compare THAT to the iMac.

Ted Landau

The Mac Pro indeed has its place. And it has its great profit margins.

That’s why I conceded that the Mac Pro will continue to exist for at least the next several years.

But there was a time when every computer that is now extinct had its place and its profit margin. I expect that the Mac Pro’s place and profitability will continue to decline over time. At some point (I would guess within about 6-8 years at most), the Mac Pro’s place will be gone and its profitability will not be sufficient to keep it going.

There will always be some people that will prefer the unique features of a Mac Pro. That doesn’t mean that Apple will continue to make it. Either Apple will abandon those remaining users…or the technology will advance to a point that a much smaller computer will satisfy them.

zewazir

Either Apple will abandon those remaining users?or the technology will advance to a point that a much smaller computer will satisfy them.

I do not see either happening. To make that assumption you’d have to predict that user demands would remain fixed, or advance more slowly than new technology.  This, historically, has not been the case. User demands - at least at the high end professional level - more often stay ahead of what the technology can deliver, not lag behind.  10 year ago the thought of being able to do high resolution real time video editing on a (relatively) affordable desktop station was but a dream.  Now it is a fact.

But the technology of the field(s) that use Mac Pros as a necessity is also advancing, which in turn will require ever better computers to handle the jobs. How long will it be before polarized 3D video editing becomes the standard instead of the high end exception? The people who work in those fields don’t crunch pennies when it comes to buying computers. (NO professional crunches pennies when buying the tools their trade depends on.) As such the profitability of the professional line of Macs will remain as long as high end professionals need high end computers to work with.

Ted Landau

But the technology of the field(s) that use Mac Pros as a necessity is also advancing, which in turn will require ever better computers to handle the jobs.

Perhaps you are right. I have a Mac Pro on my desk right now and enjoy using it. However, the idea of the Mac Pro as the high end of the standard Mac line such that even someone like me would choose one, that seems like a dying idea.

If Apple continues to market to these Pro users…I believe the machines will become so different from the iMac-type models—as to not really be the same species anymore.

Moeskido

The Mac Pro is dead. May it rest in peace.

Does it come true if you say it often enough? And does it then happen to all of Apple’s pro apps, too? And does Apple then cease codevelopment of Mac-compatible higher-end graphics cards that lead the way for lesser components that end up in iMacs?

I can see this part of the product line reducing production as its core customers become more specialized, but eliminated altogether? I’d need more than anecdotes to agree.

zewazir

If Apple continues to market to these Pro users?I believe the machines will become so different from the iMac-type models?as to not really be the same species anymore.

That depends on what you mean by “not the same species”. From one standpoint, they will always be the same species. IE: and Apple computer running Mac OS-whatever operating system and other Apple software.

From another, they are already different species: different models specifically designed for different markets. The iMac is an all-in-one consumer model and the other being a “headless” professional model, each designed to fit a particular user niche.

Don’t let the fact that updating the consumer model a half-year or so after the pro model confuse you.  Had Apple updated the iMac model before the 3.06 and 3.2 GHz Core i7 processors were out, the Pros would still be king of the hill in speed and power. Like I said, wait until the Pro line gets the latest and greatest - like the upcoming 3.33 GHz Core i7-620M - and then compare.  Sometimes 8 months can make a BIG difference in computer technology. I applaud Apple going ahead and putting front line processors in their consumer line shortly after their release. But the time of the iMac overpowering the Pro line is, I am certain, a very temporary situation.

jsk

You should add easy DIY repairs to your list of Mac Pro pros.

The Mac Pro and its PowerMac G5 predecessor are a dream to work on. The iMac, Mini, and laptops - no so much.

vpndev

There are a number of interesting reasons for Mac Pro.

One of the interesting ones is that it supports ECC memory (correct a single-bit error, detect a double-bit error).

It turns out that memory errors are MUCH more common than people thought (recent research done at Google).

So I *AM* pleased that I found out about it and could get it replaced (thanks OWC)

anovelli

I don’t think this argument could even be made if the delays to the Pro upgrade trajectory weren’t sacrificed for readying for the holidays with the latest portables and iMacs. I don’t see Apple letting loose of the “fastest personal computer” label any time soon… just the opposite in fact.

Ted Landau

Sometimes 8 months can make a BIG difference in computer technology.

The next Mac Pros will certainly outpace today’s iMacs. Still…I was trying to make two overall points in this article:

1. The number of users who will demand the increasingly marginal superiority of the Mac Pro will decline over time.

2. The size of a computer needed to do what a Mac Pro needs to do will similarly decline over time.

The result? The “Mac Pro” of the future (I’ll define this as within the next 6 years) will either be a much smaller version of what it is today and/or the market for those who demand a much bigger Mac Pro will be so small as to be no longer profitable. Either way, the Mac Pro as we know it today will be gone.

Maybe events will prove me wrong. When you make predictions like this there is never a guarantee of success. But I still believe these are reasonable expectations.

Rooster

eSATA RAID and 32GB of RAM expansion are the two main reasons I chose the macpro over an iMac.

I can’t see those features being added to the imac line anytime soon.

grouse

I think one of the main things that has changed in my experience is in the field of pure graphic design.

The screens on the iMacs are so good, and have been since the first 24 inch, that with enough memory and the fastest processors available they are absolutely perfect for the graphic design studio. I’m aware of almost hundreds of design studios that previous would always have gone for the mid range tower but over the last three-four years have replaced the whole set with iMac 20 and 24 inches.

For Indesign, illustrator and most work in Photoshop, you have absolutely no need for anything else. If it’s 2D or the occassional 3D effect, but it’s static and you’re working for print or web, most of professionals I know in large studios or as freelancers who don’t need laptops and need a big screen, it’s been the iMac taking over completely.

And this suits us designers fine. It’s less clutter, it’s cleaner, smarter, neater and cheaper. And it absolutely does the job. Again often linked to the old towers or a new mac mini as the server.

This is what is killing the towers Ted. I agree with others that in the realms of motion and sound and the software that apple has now appropriated the Pro towers are still essential but that market minus what was the sector that kept Apple alive in the dark years, is much much smaller.

iMac’s in business, absolutely, in London in my old workshops they were everywhere. Some companies might have had a Tower in the corner for crashing through some 3D static rendering, but most had suites of 24 inch iMacs.

And that’s no bad thing, although I agree absolutely that I would miss the daddy of the line if it weren’t available, although I never see myself buying one again. There’s a status symbol element to it in the company’s portfolio and I also agree with all the very high end software Apple and Pixar own, license and develop it would be sad day indeed when they are not able to run on Macs.

So my point is simply the graphics arts and design sector jumped away from the MacPro’s a couple of years back and will never go back.

YankInOz

I am a very avid user of the Mac Pro - have two living in my house and several in my labs. There is no comparison with any other Apple product. Show me another Apple product where I can have four 30” monitors connected. Where else can I have 4 TB of storage on board? Where else can I have 32 GB of RAM?
(I have discovered that I can push the 1.5 TB drives in the bays and they are recognised. Dual CD/DVD drive bays? - yes, I have a BlueRay DVD burner in my second bay. (Which I was able to install myself - SATA connected).
RAID CArd or Fibre channel card?
The Mac Pro isn’t even close to dead - but IMHO, I believe you are limiting the market in our own thinking. I am in the scientific community and we actually really need the computing power of the MAc Pro to do our work.

Do I have a portable solution? Of course, I have an additional MBP but I still can’t connect even two 30” monitors to it.

Cheers, Mate.

Donald Eckhardt

But have you noticed how much faster the 8-core Pro is than any other Mac when using Mathematica?  I have used digital computers since 1953 (starting with MIT’s Whirlwind) and I continue now with iMacs, which are immensely more powerful than the Whirlwind.  Although I am long retired, I continue to do scientific research - pro bono - and to publish in refereed journals.  I had happily been using Mathematica (and LaTeX), but after I became aware of the large Mathematica speed advantage of the 8-core Pro over the iMac, this happiness abated.  I’d love to have an 8-core Pro, but I feel it prudent to save a little more money for my heirs.

James

Actually, on the evolution tip I’m in complete agreement. I also think that we’ll see a convergence with mobile technology and desktop PCs will simply be a thing of the past. That’s probably a good 8 years away at least, as you noted Ted, but I think it’s coming too. We’ll simply be doing our work in different ways, and central storage and processing power will be so ridiculous that a big form factor just won’t be necessary.

For now though, give me my Mac Pro and it’s many RAM slots. smile

Akex

True, I can?t fathom why a regular home user would ever need to consider a Mac Pro…..

Because when a hard drive takes a dive, I don’t want to have to be a safe-cracker to be able to open up my machine. With each new iteration of the iMac and Macbook, they are locking them down tighter and tighter (suction cups anyone? - absurd!). With small SSDs, the number of drives in an iMac or Macbook may change, but the main problem will still exist - accessibility. In under ten minutes I can have a new HD in my Pro. Try that with an iMac or current Macbook model. I had an iMac, but replaced it this year with a Pro. Having four *external* drives for my iMac was workable, but because of no eSATA support was slow, inefficient, and absolute clutter. Maybe one day they will give us these options on the iMac, but don’t count on it - it’s not in Apple’s nature. Until they solve some of these *basic* accessibility problems, the Pro is my only choice. Oh, and to bring up an old debate - I’m not fond of glossy displays (that’s subjective though).

A niche market perhaps, but we are out there. I?d be really miffed if I was forced into using an iMac instead.
Agreed.

Photodan

?? grouse said on November 23rd, 2009 at 7:19 PM:
I think one of the main things that has changed in my experience is in the field of pure graphic design.

The screens on the iMacs are so good, and have been since the first 24 inch, that with enough memory and the fastest processors available they are absolutely perfect for the graphic design studio. I?m aware of almost hundreds of design studios that previous would always have gone for the mid range tower but over the last three-four years have replaced the whole set with iMac 20 and 24 inches.

For Indesign, illustrator and most work in Photoshop, you have absolutely no need for anything else. If it?s 2D or the occassional 3D effect, but it?s static and you?re working for print or web, most of professionals I know in large studios or as freelancers who don?t need laptops and need a big screen, it?s been the iMac taking over completely.

And this suits us designers fine. It?s less clutter, it?s cleaner, smarter, neater and cheaper. And it absolutely does the job. Again often linked to the old towers or a new mac mini as the server.

This is what is killing the towers Ted. I agree with others that in the realms of motion and sound and the software that apple has now appropriated the Pro towers are still essential but that market minus what was the sector that kept Apple alive in the dark years, is much much smaller.

So my point is simply the graphics arts and design sector jumped away from the MacPro?s a couple of years back and will never go back.

Absolutely spot on.

Has anyone noticed Apple completely abandoning all Cinema Displays except the 30” (very attractive for the mega horsepower video market) and the Macbook Pro-only 24”? The under 30” display market has disappeared because those people are now buying iMacs.

The Mac Mini customers are mainly interested in low cost or turning it into an HD TV companion, so they most likely wouldn’t buy a cinema display anyway.

iJack

I?ve heard a rumor that the Mac Pro will one day get a faster processor.

It already has a faster processor/s - the Intel Xeon, which is the fastest one they make.

RoDe

I think the Mac pro is far from dead. But if Apple doesn’t act quickly maybe inching closer to it’s demise.

The only way for Apple to make the Mac Pro more attractive is to make it even faster but more importantly make it more affordable. ?1899,- would be a great starting point.

For most really serious Audio/Video production types the Mac pro is still the go to machine. Since these people use PCI cards a lot. Or need a more powerful GPU

But even for them it is hard to grasp that they are paying way more money for a machine that is only marginally faster than an i5 or i7 iMac (in comparison with the basic MP not the 2.66 2xquad or the 2x2.93quad). The only thing their getting is the possibility for an upgrade path.
$1999 for the i5 iMac and $2499 for the Quad Core MP. That’s a $500 difference.

FlipFriddle

Perhaps in relation to the “consumer” Macs, the MacPro is merely now more “Pro” than it used to be. High-end users will always need high-end equipment. Editing video at 1080p is the tops right now, but what computers will we need when consumer TVs are pushing out twice that resolution and we need comparable hardware to edit it? Dead? Nah, I think they may just be more and more different in power than the consumer or pro-sumer machines.

zewazir

1. The number of users who will demand the increasingly marginal superiority of the Mac Pro will decline over time.

First, it is the assumption that the superiority between the consumer and pro models will be “increasingly marginal” in the future. The only reason this topic came up is the TIMING of which model got an upgrade first.  Had Apple changed its timing by just a few months, the specs of the iMac would not be directly competing with the Pro. (Though I personally question the advertised outcomes, because when looking at the Pro evaluation they came out with when the new Pros were released, they come out with different numbers.) The form factor of the Pro assures that they can - and probably will - always be way out ahead when BOTH models are using the latest available processors. IF Apple were not focusing on the Christmas sales season - which is by far led in consumer models - tehy’d probably have a Pro model out with the latest and greatest, and the comparison to the consumer model would look like last years comparison to the consumer models.

Second, while the needs of the print media industry are being met by consumer model abilities, the needs of motion entertainment media are actually growing as fast as computing ability can keep up. Real time video editing is constantly pushing the envelope because of the ever increasing resolution demanded for each frame. Add in the movie industries move toward polarized 3D components on top of ultra high resolution imaging, and you have a problem for anything except easily-networked, easily expandable headless boxes of top end computing power.

2. The size of a computer needed to do what a Mac Pro needs to do will similarly decline over time.

Well, if you are talking strictly about the Pro model being in a large, thick-walled heavy metal case, then yes, the Pro model will probably change.  There will most likely come the day when platter based hard drives are entirely replaced with SSDs 1/4 the size and 10 times the ability. Could be the day will come when optical disks will shrink to 1/4 their current size, with a corresponding size change in optical drives. (“Guess I’ll have to buy the White Album again”) Video cards will shrink to the size of today’s DIMMs.

But regardless of what specific form the Pro model takes, there will always be a market for a pro model, whose form factor include the ability to contain multiple, easily excanged storage devices, multiple third party video cards, lots of slots for maximum memory expansion, and internal room to handle the airflow necessary for 8, 16, 32, 64 (etc.) processor cores running at maximum capacity.  Those needs will never be met by an all-in-one consumer model format.

DaMoose

r me, the mac pro is essential for massive parallel processing, vector processing, etc. I believe that the Mac Pro’s permanent niche will be in scientific processing and numerical analysis. My 8-core Mac Pro allows me to perform complex numerical solutions to extremely compute bound problems. I consider it a desktop Cray! Therer is also the need for powerful graphics processors as some compute power haas been moovexd to such devices.

Dan Phillips

I registered here specifically to respond to this post.

First, note that the article doesn’t actually conclude that “Mac is overall faster than the Xeon Mac Pro (even the 8-core version).” A quick look at the comparison chart shows that the referenced 8-core Mac Pro was the *slowest available* model, at 2.26GHz; Apple also sells 8-core systems at 2.66 and 2.93GHz. If we assume that the Speedmark scores scale linearly with frequency, then the 2.93GHz model would come in at 267, well ahead of the fastest iMac’s 225.

Note also the Mathematica benchmark, which rates even the slow 2.26GHz 8-core machine at around *twice* the speed of the iMac. That’s showing some of the power of multiprocessing, which will only become more common as more apps take advantage of Snow Leopard’s Grand Central.

Think an extra little bit of performance doesn’t matter? Try telling that to people working with video or audio. We’re always pushing these machines to their breaking points.

This doesn’t even take into account the advantages of PCI cards, greater amounts of RAM, multiple internal hard drives, and so on.

Ted writes that the Mac Pro will be gone in 6-8 years at most. If by this he means Mac computers made for professional users, with significant internal expansion and high-end processors (expecting that the product name might change eventually), then I’ll happily take him up on a bet: loser buys dinner. Let me know, Ted.

brett_x

So, Dead means.. in 6-8 years. Is that a good summary of the article and comment followup?
How can that possibly be dead? Considering the Mac Pro is only about 3 years old, it’s just barely middle-aged if you’re saying it has 6-8 years. From the looks of your picture, Ted, you look about middle-aged. Are you dead yet?

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