Mac Pro (Late 2013): Apple's new Mac Pro really is for pros

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The Mac Pro also supports Display Port Multi-Stream Transport (MST), which allows multiple displays to be connected using a single connector or, in the case of some 4K displays, to use a single cable for a high-resolution display that previously required two DisplayPort connectors. (For those displays that still use two cables, the Mac Pro can automatically detect which cable contains the data for which half of the screen, assuming the display provides that information.)

Bottom line

For many years, "pro" meant a big, expandable tower case, lots of internal storage, replaceable graphics cards, and so on. For Apple, it now means "maximum performance when using pro apps." In that respect, the new Mac Pro reflects multiple trends in computing. It, of course, continues Apple's ongoing shift across its product lines towards flash storage and external expandability at the expense of capacious hard drives and internal upgrades. But it also illustrates the ways in which Apple and other vendors are responding, at the high end, to the fact that processor speeds simply aren't increasing at the same rate that they used to: Namely, they are focusing on multi-core and GPU-based processing technology, in both hardware and software.

You can see this when you look at our initial benchmarks. A souped-up iMac has just as much horsepower as a new Mac Pro when it comes to many of the things nonprofessional users do on a daily basis. It's not until you get to specialized applications that the Mac Pro really shines. Which means that this Mac Pro really is a Mac Pro: It's a computer for professional users who need multiprocessing capabilities and the kind of high-bandwidth capability that only a high-end computer can provide. If you need this kind of performance, the new Mac Pro is for you.

Of course, some people won't be happy with the new Mac Pro's lack of internal expansion, and given the current paucity of Thunderbolt peripherals, and the limited number of apps that take full advantage of the Mac Pro's capabilities, the new computer is in some ways ahead of its time. But if you want a Mac for professional work, you'll have to accept these limitations--or keep using your older Mac Pro until more hardware and software is available. My guess is that most people who don't jump ship--a threat heard frequently when the new Mac Pro was announced--will adapt fairly quickly. And as the computer finds its way into the hands, offices, and studios of pro users, we'll see plenty of software updated for it, and hardware solutions for many of its current limitations, making the transition easier. (We plan to publish some of the real-world experiences of professional users, so you can see how these transitions are playing out.)

The big question for many pros will be which Mac Pro configuration to get. Since we haven't been able to get our hands on any other Mac Pro models, we can't yet make definitive recommendations about performance and value. However, based on what we've seen from our initial testing, and what we know about the various processors available, we can say that the more time you spend using multi-core-aware apps, the more you'll benefit from more cores. Similarly, the more apps you use that take advantage of GPU computing, the more you'll benefit from upgrading the Mac Pro's GPUs to the D500 or D700. On the other hand, because the base clock speed goes down as the number of cores increases, you'll get better overall single-core performance with fewer cores. Because every Mac Pro model is identical except for the options you choose, you can mix and match whatever components are the best fit for your apps and workflows.

Whatever configuration you create, one thing is certain: It won't be like any "pro" Mac you've ever used before.

This story, "Mac Pro (Late 2013): Apple's new Mac Pro really is for pros" was originally published by Computerworld.

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