Thursday, June 6, 2019

Apple delivers, mostly

I was wrong! Apple has indeed delivered a cheese grater sequel in the new Mac Pro. It is a tower. With slots. Thank goodness.

I didn't expect Apple to deliver everything I wanted in the new Mac Pro, which would basically be the 2010 Mac Pro with updated specs and the ability to run modern Nvidia cards. I thought maybe I'd get 50% satisfaction, but I'd say Apple gave me more like 70%, which is pretty good! But let's talk about that remaining 30%.

Apple and Nvidia

Not surprisingly, all the Mac Pro graphics card options are from the AMD Radeon family. My main interest in Nvidia cards was to run CUDA, Nvidia's API used by GPU renderers like Redshift and Octane. But Apple flipped the script on me! They announced that both of those renderers would be porting to Metal and would run on the Mac Pro.

While this does go a long way toward quieting my Nvidia interest, it doesn't do it completely. There is software other than Redshift and Octane that use CUDA, and Nvidia cards are generally faster than AMD's. If you own a Mac Pro, don't you want the maximum possible selection of expansion options? Eliminating half the GPU market greatly limits the utility of those eight beautiful slots.

This turn of events demonstrates how far Apple is willing to go to keep Nvidia out of the Mac, refusing to get past whatever beef they have. It must have taken quite a bit of convincing to get Redshift and Octane to port to Metal. I wouldn't be surprised if Apple had actually covered the cost of porting, or even provided their own engineers. How can it be worth all the trouble?

I'd love to know what happened between these two. With the PCI slots in place, Apple could flip a switch at any time and let Nvidia in the door; refusing to do so only hurts their customers. Frankly, it just seems childish to me. I'd like to think Steve Jobs wouldn't have done this.

Apple Being Apple

Between the slots, the Xeon CPUs, and the option for up to 4 GPUs, this really is a pro computer. Naturally Apple eliminated those useful SATA drive bays from the new Mac Pro, but I guess we're supposed to be grateful that the RAM and SSD appear to be upgradable. I was pleasantly surprised to see they included two USB Type A ports and even a headphone jack! How big of them.

But then there is the matter of price, which starts at $6000. Yikes.

I believe all previous Mac Pro models had an introductory price of $3000 or less, including the newly-obsolete trash can. Now if you want access to PCI slots, you'll have to fork over twice as much. The next cheapest option for a Mac without a built-in display is a decked-out Mac mini, which is about half the price. That's quite a gap.

On the Windows side, you can get a tower with slots and an Nvidia 2080 Ti card for less than $2500. Maybe if you configure a PC with the same specs as the Mac Pro the price will be similar, but many of us would like a more affordable, lower spec option. Especially for those of us doing GPU rendering, we're blowing our wad on the graphics cards and just want a basic box to hold them.

If the new Mac Pro started at $3000 and could accept our existing Nvidia GPU investment, our studio would immediately start the process of replacing 9 year old Mac Pros with new ones. At $6000 and up, we will have to think about it. We'll probably get one for our editing suite, others for any artists that just can't stand working in Windows, but otherwise we'll continue to wait and continue to render on PCs where we get much more GPU bang for the buck. That price will certainly hurt Mac Pro sales, and then Apple will say to us, "See, we told you there was no market for the Mac Pro anymore."

In case there was any doubt the new Mac Pro is a computer for the 1%, just look at the monitor that was announced alongside it. It does appear to be a pretty spectacular monitor, but $5000 is gobsmacking. And that doesn't include the stand, a piece of metal which somehow costs an extra $1000!

My biggest disappointment in this new Pro gear is that Apple only seems be aiming for a very high end of the market, leaving out those of us without very deep pockets. If these towers had been in production all along maybe we could opt for an older model, but given the state of things we don't presently have many options if we want to stick with the Mac. But at least we have more than we did a week ago.


Anonymous said...

Top of the range Mac Pro will be up over $50,000. Not for the normal user, even the Pro user.

Brendan said...

There is a pro market for a $50k system, but it's very small, obviously. Those DaVinci and Avid suites won't blink too hard at such an expensive machine, and will even be glad that there is an option to get as much performance as money can buy. But I'd bet the vast majority of previous Mac Pro purchases were in the $3k - $5k range.

Well, wait 9 more years and you'll be able to get a good deal on a used 2019 Mac Pro! In the meantime I'll keep using my 2010.