Mac Pros. Mac Users?

Mac Pro: 4, 8, or 12 Cores. WORTH IT?
The current Mac Pro update disappoints actual pro users. Image: Apple Computer

Apple recently released, after over a year in waiting, an update to their Mac Pro line of tower configuration computers. They introduced the Westmere line of the Xeon workstation processors and now a version with 12 computing cores is available. But for many Apple watchers, the update was a bit of a disappointment.

For openers, while Apple has been determinedly cutting edge on their new flagship mobile products, iPhones, iPads… were notably conservative on this update. New tech such as USB 3, Firewire 1600, Litghtbridge, or even established desirable standards as eSATA were skipped. Few expected Blu-Ray support, since Steve doesn’t like Blu-Ray. The video cards options offered by Apple are decent, but somewhat mediocre by contemporary standards. But all in all, commentary in the tech blogs has negative commentary edging out positive reviews. The general consensus seemed “meh,” with a lot of dissatisfaction centering on performance versus price issues compared to alternatives on the Windows and Linux side.

The machines are pricey.

“The upgraded desktop is available in three standard options: a quad-core 2.8GHz Intel Xeon “Nehalem” processor with 3GB of RAM for $2,499; an 8-core machine with two 2.4GHz quad-core Intel Xeon “Westmere” processors and 6GB of RAM for $3,499; or a 12-core system with two 2.66GHz 6-core Intel Xeon “Westmere” processors and 6GB of RAM for $4,999.” – Apple Insider

The pricing here is without display, so add anywhere from $799 to $1800 for Apple display. The upcoming 27” LCD display will be priced at $900 and replace both the existing 24” and 30” displays and will be glossy-only.

Much of the following is taken from my  grumpy comment at Engadget. I’ve taken the liberty of cleaning up some of the unpolished language and clarifying some remarks in this version.

First off, the disclaimers, I am a Design Pro, not an IT person, gamer or semi-pro geek tinkerer. So most if this is OPINION, not hyper scrutinized lists of facts. Bear with it. I am also not going to dis down anybody’s personal choice of hardware or OS preferences. Or debate fanboyism at any level. It’s been done already. To death. Seriously.

That said, as a Graphic and Web Designer, I’ve been a Mac user for many years. I’ll say that in the day, the Mac OS offered clear advantages over window and all non-graphical OSs. And also in the day Apple hardware also offered some unique qualities unavailable in the WinTel world. But that day is PASSED. The only reason anyone should chose Mac hardware or the Mac OS is personal preference.

When Apple was releasing G4 and G5 Towers, they were cutting edge machines at the absolute top end, and provided performance that was just not available at the desktop level elsewhere. But that is clearly no longer the case. Now that Macs and PCs are essentially the same guts under the hood, there are far less differentiating qualities. For the Mac Pro, while they may be shiny, spiffy, and fairly stout machines, they are NOT the ultimate computing machines Apple would have us believe. There are comparable workstation class machines available from HP, Levono, Acer, and even *gasp* … Dell at better price points. Yes, I looked. The current lineup just manages essential parity with Windows workstation-class machines out there, and offers downright mediocre graphics cards, which have become much more important components in modern computing.

It’s been pointed out by my geekier colleagues that more powerful configurations can of course be assembled from off the shelf components for leaner budgets if that’s your thing. Some of us do like to tinker in the garage. Some of us just want to say, “give me the keys, I’d rather drive.” It should go without saying, your mileage may vary.

Are the Mac Pros overpriced for the tech level offered? I may be a bit of an Apple loyalist and I still have to say, OH HELL YES. I will offer that the overall reliability, build quality and case design is superior, even if the internal components are decent but fairly standard. And yes, while Apple has evolved the case internals to a very refined level, it’s still a seven year old overall case design. It could absolutely use a refresh.

The galling point for us Design Pros, and I am talking about Publishing, Photography, Graphics and Web Design, is that Apple has tossed us to the curb YEARS ago to the tender mercies of Adobe. Go into an Apple store and good luck finding any serious pro gear, such as an tabloid size (11″ x 17″) printer or press quality scanner. Not for the likes of us. And we’ve been crying for a mid-range Mac for frakkin’ ages. The majority of us would probably be quite comfortable with the performance range of the 27″ i7 iMac in an expandable tower configuration. The price gap between the i7 iMac nicely appointed and the Base Mac Pro and Display is enough to buy a decent laptop and the Adobe CS5 upgrade. Which I might mention is a non-trivial sum. Adobe enjoys a near monopoly in the must-have graphics applications that design pros use such as Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Dreamweaver, Flash and Actobat, and charge us accordingly. The further fact that Apple has done away with all non-glossy screens except for the BTO MacBookPro, shows their disdain for Design pros over “oooohhh shiny,” which does look spiffier in the Apple Store lighting.

The present scene now is all about Apple’s current relentless pursuit of the “consuming” computer user… hence the iPods, iPhones, iPads and the like. I feel that Apple keeps the Mac Pro remains in the lineup merely to say that they have a high end machine for the very needful (climate modeling and 3D rendering anyone?) and quite affluent users. But the Mac Pro line is no longer the champion of the Apple universe, or does it seem to have much of Steve’s attention.

Since the current Adobe CS5 Applications requires an Intel multicore processor minimum, this will retire a LOT of still working G5 machines. As design has becomes a much more marginal profession in the current economy, I expect we’ll see a lot of “downgrade upgrades” to iMac, laptops and Windows machines as design pros look at their bottom lines and budgets.

I don’t think Steve will miss us much. We complain.

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7 thoughts on “Mac Pros. Mac Users?”

  1. The writing is on the wall, unfortunately.

    The switching (from PowerPC to Intel) that further saves Apple is the beginning of the end of the Mac. In 5 years, Apple will still produce Mac, but will be insignificantly even smaller quantity.

    1. The Intel switch was inevitable, tho’. When Steve asked IBM/Motorola when he could expect the low-power, cool running G5 for laptops, they were, “We got nuthin’,” and it was “see ya!” Now Apples dash in to the small mobile computing market de-emphasizes desktop Macs to “just another product” status. The further from iPhones & IPads, the less Steve seems to be interested.

  2. Kurt,

    A very insightful article. It’s a shame that Apple has watered down their high-end product line, especially since one of the reasons why Apple was so revered by the general public was its refusal to cut corners and remain focused on Total Quality.

    If they are looking to continue their unprecedented recent successes in the consumer segment (not to mention prevent PR meltdowns like the iPhone 4 “antenna of death”), they’d better start going six sigma again or they will end up as another Texas Instruments (which by the way was an awesome first computer…the TRS-80 portable personal computer – hooked right into the TV and gave me my first crack at basic programming…whoops sorry I digressed).

    Anyway, hopefully you will find solace in the next slew of releases from Apple. It’s the complainers that enable change.


    1. Or Atari… I got my personal computing chops on an Atari 800, followed by the 1040ST, which at the time was a graphics MONSTER. Then I moved over to the Mac side following the Postscript revolution, which was essentially “go digital or retire.”

      And Apple’s machines still have the customary fit, finish, and insane build quality. But this round, they’re just not… a5350m3. Maybe my G5 will survive another round before I get the CS5 file from a client or vendor that I can’t open.

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