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You can now have a Mac Pro in your data center

News Analysis
Jan 29, 20203 mins
Data Center

The company that once eschewed the enterprise now has a server version of the Mac Pro. Apple's rack-mountable Mac Pro starts at $6,499.

mac pro 2019 front back
Credit: Apple

Steve Jobs rather famously said he hated the enterprise because the people who use the product have no say in its purchase. Well, Apple’s current management has adopted the enterprise, ever so slowly, and is now shipping its first server in years. Sort of.

Apple introduced a new version of the Mac Pro in December 2019, after a six-year gap in releases, and said it would make the computer rack-mountable for data centers. But at the time, all the attention was on the computer’s aesthetics, because it looked like a cheese grater. The other bit of focus was on the price; a fully decked Mac Pro cost an astronomical $53,799. Granted, that did include specs like 1.5TB of DRAM and 8TB of SSD storage. Those are impressive specs for a server, although the price is still a little crazy.

Earlier this month, Apple quietly delivered on the promise to make the Mac Pro rack-mountable. The Mac Pro rack configuration comes with a $500 premium over the cost of the standing tower, which means it starts at $6,499.

That gives you an 8-core Intel Xeon W CPU, 32GB of memory, a Radeon Pro 580X GPU, and 256GB of SSD storage. Most importantly, it gives you the rack mounting rails (which ship in a separate box for some reason) needed to install it in a cabinet. Once installed, the Mac Pro is roughly the size of a 4U server.

Mac Pros are primarily used in production facilities, where they are used with other audio and video production hardware. MacStadium, a Mac developer with its own data centers, has been installing and testing the servers and thus far has had high praise for both the ease of install and performance.

The server-ready version features a slight difference in its case, according to people who have tested it. The twist handle on the Mac Pro case is replaced with two lock switches that allow the case to be removed to access the internal components. It comes with two Thunderbolt 3 ports and a power button.

The Mac Pro may be expensive, but you get a lot of performance for your money. Popular YouTube Mac enthusiast Marques Brownlee tested it out on a 8k resolution video encoding job. Brownlee found a MacBook Pro took 20 minutes to render the five-minute-long video, a iMac Pro desktop took 12 minutes, and the Mac Pro processed the video in 4:20. So the Mac Pro encoded 8k resolution video faster than real time.

Apple’s last server was the Xserve, killed off in 2010 after several years of neglect. Instead, it made a version of MacOS for the whole Mac line that would let the hardware be run as a server, which is exactly what the new rack-mountable version of the Mac Pro is.

MacStadium is doing benchmarks like Node.js, a JavaScript runtime. It will be interesting to see if anyone outside of audio/video encoding uses a Mac Pro in their data centers.

Andy Patrizio is a freelance journalist based in southern California who has covered the computer industry for 20 years and has built every x86 PC he’s ever owned, laptops not included.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of ITworld, Network World, its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.

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