I’ve been looking at replacing my 2008 Mac Pro, and as much as I’d like to replace it with a new Mac Pro, the Mac Pro just looks so odd when you compare it to both Windows products and other Macs.
The most visible missing feature that has been widely commented on is the lack of an Apple 5k display. I don’t really want to buy a Mac Pro at the present time because I’m pretty sure it’s going to get outdated by Thunderbolt 3, and I’m not sure what the 5k support picture will look like for the current Mac Pro in the future.
But even if I look past the 5k display, the current Mac Pro is a machine that simply doesn’t make sense as a pro machine. The onboard SSD is decent, but still half the speed of the 2015 Macbook Pro’s SSD. For a seriously expensive pro desktop, it’s odd that it has roughly half the I/O performance of a laptop. (It’s also odd that Apple’s 5k iMac did not get the same I/O upgrade.) The Mac Pro is also the only Apple desktop that only has a single drive. Both the iMac and the Mac Mini have multi-drive options. And while the Mac Pro is limited to 1 TB of storage, the Mac Mini supports up to 2 TB and the iMac supports up to 3 TB.
The GPU picture makes even less sense for a machine that’s been mostly sold as a strong GPU performer. Depending on who you ask, the D700 in the Mac Pro is either comparable or worse than the M295X in the iMac. And while the thermal profile of the iMac would normally give the Mac Pro an advantage, Apple made the disastrous choice to put a 450w power supply in the Mac Pro. The D700s in the Mac Pro are roughly equivalent to the Radeon 7970 (which itself is an ancient card), which means each card should have a power draw of 250 watts maximum. I haven’t even looked at the power draw from other components, and we can quickly see with just two D700 GPUs that the Mac Pro has a problem. While Apple has down clocked the D700s in the Mac Pro to compensate for the anemic power supply, it’s still not possible to actually run both GPUs and the CPU on the Mac Pro at load. The machine will dynamically down clock components to save power. So the Mac Pro doesn’t even have a stability advantage over the iMac.
When the Mac Pro was first announced, none of these issues were quite as pronounced as they are today. And not all of these issues are Apple’s fault. The lack of a 5k display specifically seems to be waiting on the DisplayPort 1.3 standard. But, for a machine that used to be about having a Mac with no compromises, the Mac Pro seems like a machine that is nothing but compromises. I’m not sure who Apple thinks they are making the Mac Pro for, and I’m also not sure who’s buying the Mac Pro. But it wouldn’t surprise me if Mac Pro sales were poor not due to a lack of interest in the pro Mac desktop, but due to a lack of Apple building a machine that doesn’t really work for anyone.
For once I’m really not sure where I fit in the Apple product matrix. The 5k iMac certainly is nice, but I’d have to be comfortable going back to the all in one camp where my customizability options drop, and I don’t get the fast storage that just debuted on the Macbook Pro. I could go with a Macbook Pro for my only machine, but then I lose the powerful GPU that I love having on a desktop. And I could go with the Mac Pro which is more customizable, but lose the 5k display and still be saddled with compromises.
Apple’s Mac product matrix seems like a total mess right now. What used to be a simple grid of choosing a laptop or a desktop, and then choosing consumer or pro has become a tangled mess of mis-aligned products. And the days of buying a no compromise Macintosh desktop seem to be over.