Mac Pro workflow

Apple begins accepting orders for the new Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR today. With prices starting at $5,999, the Mac Pro is the most expensive base model Mac in Apple’s lineup. For another $4,999, the Pro Display XDR is equally dear (with another $999 needed for the display’s custom stand). Are they worth the high price tags?

I love to go to auto shows and see all the cars I’ve fantasized about driving but never had the chance. I appreciate the amazing engineering behind supercars, but I could never, ever imagine owning one. First of all, I’m not in that tax bracket. But more than that, such vehicles are not made for how I approach driving, or how I use the road. That’s a bit how I feel looking over the Mac Pro.

Mac Pro: Built for speed and expansion

Mac Pro internal

The Mac Pro has gobs of internal expansion, unlike its trash can shaped predecessor.

The Mac Pro has always been a bit of a special-purpose system in Apple’s arsenal – Apple’s heaviest iron, intended for the most computationally intensive activity you can throw at it. The new Mac Pro is a return to form for the system after Apple’s 2013 redesign, which tossed away a brutalist modular design that dated back to the Power Macintosh era for a sleek, elegant turbine-shaped device that, while fast, was ill-suited to many environments where the Mac Pro is used for its complete lack of internal expansion.

Six years after that system launched, Apple all but admitted that design was mistake, and the new Mac Pro is the result: A stainless steel frame clad in aluminum, housing Intel Xeon W workstation CPUs with 8 to 28 cores. Data pipelines designed for massively parallel processing with few bottlenecks. Twelve physical DIMM slots mated to six channels of ECC memory, with support for up to 1.5 TB. Eight PCI Express expansion slots.

There’s support for dual workstation-level graphics cards housed in Apple’s new MPX module, which combines PCI Express, extra PCI channels, and Thunderbolt 3 for maximum bandwidth. Two MPX modules can contain up to four GPUs in total. What’s more, Apple is offering Afterburner, a specialty hardware accelerator card for the Mac Pro aimed at helping to process video, capable of up to three simultaneous streams of 8 video encoded in Apple’s ProRes RAW format.

Mac Pro: Built for making money

It’s all very impressive, but is it worth the money? After all, $5,999 is simply the base. By the time all is said and done, some custom Mac Pro configurations will cost as much as a luxury car. To a lot of digital creatives working in cinema and video, the answer is an instant yes. Because this is a system designed to crank the cash.

The old turbine Mac Pro was a bad match for a lot of businesses that depended on custom configurations they just couldn’t match with the new “trash can.” There’s a lot of pent-up demand from digital creatives looking for a replacement for their now aged-out old model aluminum Mac Pros.

Apple’s been seeding out pre-production units to key influencers in the creative communities, like DJ/producer Calvin Harris, who’s had his at least since November. It’ll be interesting to see how much more of this stuff pops up in the coming days and months as the early adopters come out of the woodwork.

Time is money, and the less time your Mac is doing rendering or processing, the more time you can spend on the creative and productive efforts that actually matter. The Mac Pro appeals to people who can write off the cost of one, for sure. For the rest of the human race, well, the Mac Pro is delightful to behold, but not terribly useful.

But the view!

Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR

The Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR make an elegant industrial pair.

Apple’s focus on making the Mac Pro to appeal to the high-end digital creative community is clear with the Pro Display XDR. It’s the first external monitor Apple has offered since the discontinued Thunderbolt Display.

The Thunderbolt Display was a specialty niche item, a $999 27-inch monitor that integrated beautifully into Apple desktop configurations but cost a significant amount more than its competitors.

The Pro Display XDR, however, is in a completely different category. It’s a 32-inch “Retina 6K” display – 6016 x 3384 pixels at 218 pixels per inch (PPI) density. The XDR in the title stands for Extreme Dynamic Range. It provides up to 1000 nits brightness sustained with a million to one contrast ratio and P3 wide color gamut.

That’s a lot of alphabet soup and numbers – Apple’s positioning the Pro Display XDR squarely at the same movie studios and high-end design studios it’s aiming the Mac Pro. While $4,999 may sound excessive, the Pro Display XDR is competing in a world of professional reference monitors that can cost lots more.

I anticipate this display is going to be wildly popular with its target market. And those folks won’t bat an eyelash at the extra $999 for the aluminum stand that allows it to rotate to portrait mode (great for visualizing how content will look on mobile devices), assuming they’re not using the $199 VESA mount.

Mac Pro: Not for me

I wish I could justify the purchase of any of this gear. I miss my Mac Pro terribly – I had an 08 model that lasted until just a year or two ago. But I’ve moved on from Apple’s heaviest iron to something more lightweight.

My fondest hope is that Apple will eventually scale some of the expandability and performance of the Mac Pro into a more moderately-priced mid-range model, to provide Mac users with a more customizable desktop configuration than they can currently get from an iMac or Mac mini.

But for now I’m content to sit on the sidelines and admire the Mac Pro from afar, just like those gleaming exotic supercars I like to see at car shows.