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The Apple Mac Pro Is Back, Doing What It Does Best…Costing A Fortune?

By Matthew Saville on June 6th 2019

Ahh, the good ‘ol days of Apple are back again. …And, by “good ‘ol days”, I mean, back when your Mac cost more than your “starving artist” car, and you had to keep it for 10+ years for the investment to be truly worth it.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, as you’ve likely already heard, the Mac Pro tower is back. The infamous cheese-grater, the 2003-2006-esque Mac desktop tower computer, in all its upgrade-able glory.

(Do YOU remember the 1st-gen Mac Pro? The Powermac G5? Have you left Apple since then, or stuck with them? Leave a comment below!)

Of course, you’ll have to fork over at least $5,999 for a bare-bones configuration, and that is not including their new 32″ 6K XDR (HDR) display, ($4999) …or the most controversial item of all: the $999 stand for that display!

So, if you’ve got a lot more money to spend, just how crazy can this thing get? Here’s the potential configuration:

2019 Mac Pro Specs

  • Up to 28-core (56 thread) Xeon processor
    (2.5GHz, Turbo Boost up to 4.4GHz)
  • Up to 1.5TB of RAM (12 DIMM slots)
  • Expansion: 8 PCI-E slots

Okay, that’s a lot of room for “stuff”, in fact, it’s twice what the previous Mac Pro tower offered. You can currently fit up to 4TB of SSD storage, for example, and that’s only going to consume two slots!

Mac Pro Graphics

The graphics in the new Mac Pro deserve their own category in the spec sheet. Simply put, the specs are insane, just as their add-on prices are going to be insane.

There’s a new Mac Pro Expansion Module, (MPX Module) which is touted as the “world’s most powerful graphics card”. It can handle up to 4 Radeon Pro Vega II GPUs. (56 teraflops, 128GB HBM2)

There’s the “Afterburner” accelerator card, which boosts the performance of ProRes video, allowing for up to 3 streams of 8K or 12 streams of RAW 4K video.

Simply put, this is not your average “famous Youtuber” or “wedding cinematographer” workstation. This machine is made for a whole different level of professional video production. One where the jobs pay five or six figures, not three or four.

Last but not least, there are a handful of (though not tons of) Thunderbolt, USB3, DisplayPort, and Ethernet ports.

Oh, and the thing weighs about 40 lbs and has a 1.4-kilowatt power supply. Since we’re partying like it’s 2003, I’ll just say it: Yowza!

What You Get For $5,999

By the way, all of those crazy “up to” specs will indeed cost a whole lot more than the “starting at” price tag. The configuration page isn’t even available yet, (comment below if you find it!) and this machine isn’t going to be shipping until the fall of 2019.

So, what do you get for the base price of just $6K? You get the 8-core CPU, a “mere” 32GB of RAM, and a single, dare I say paltry by today’s standards, 256GB SSD hard drive. (That’s not even enough space to work on a single 30-second TV commercial in 4K RAW, is it?)

But, here’s the thing: remember, you’re back to the old days; meaning you can go on Newegg or pop over to your local Fry’s Electronics, and pick up 1TB SSDs for just a few hundred bucks, or 10-terabyte HDDs or whatever you want. RAM, graphics, …it’s all interchangeable. And storage/RAM get cheaper ever year.

What Apple Got Right With The 2019 Mac Pro

Before the dark days of soldered-in RAM, hard drives, and other parts, (I’m still running a 2012 Macbook Pro partly for this reason) the Mac Pro and indeed even its laptop counterpart was impressively customizable. Many a “photographer friend” of mine would tell me about how their 2006 Mac Pro Tower was still going strong in 2010, or even 2016, as their computer reached its 10th birthday.

When a computer lasts that long and continues to offer smooth operation and reliable performance, it really is a thing of beauty, both for your long-term business expense budget, and your general stress level in day-to-day work.

Let’s be honest, the “trash can” Mac Pro was a flop. Its unconventional design caused it to be nowhere near as upgradeable as its predecessor, and Apple themselves neglected it for years.

The 2019 Mac Pro tower is, simply put, a strong “we’re back!” statement from Apple. Price tag and all.

Is Apple “Out Of Touch”? Maybe Not.

The computer hardware is impressive, yes, and the external shell is downright sexy looking. However, the price tag immediately puts the whole thing out of reach of most types of artists.

The general consensus on the internet seems to be that Apple is too late to redeem themselves, and the $999 display stand in particular is just a slap in the face to anyone who thought they might actually be able to dive wholeheartedly back into the Apple sphere again.

Honestly, though? Even if you’re a full-time professional photographer or videographer, even if you’re shooting thousands of 40-50 megapixel raw files, or editing 4K video, …this computer is still total overkill for you. The display is likely overkill, too.

What Apple has offered is much like what Canon used to offer in their $8,000 flagship 1Ds series DSLRs: a professional workhorse that only a few actually require, and a status symbol that only a few non-pros will actually afford.

If you can’t afford it, yet you still love the Mac operating system, well, that’s what an iMac or MacBook Pro is for. Or, if you’re not OS-obsessed, building a PC of similar high-end spec, (especially the graphics and the 6K HDR display) will still cost you a small fortune.

Why Is Everyone Losing their Sh*t, Then?

Most of the internet loves to be critical of things it can’t obtain. If money were truly no object, you’d drive a fancy sports car that can do 200 MPH, even if you’re not a Nascar winner. You’d own a huge mansion, even if you only have one or two kids. And, you wouldn’t bat an eye at buying this computer, even if all you ever do is toy around with your 4K GoPro footage, or your 45-megapixel landscape photos from your recent trip to Patagonia.

Of course, if you’re a working pro in an industry where these types of computer specs are actually necessary, then you also invest in good quality computer equipment. If you’re working with 8K and/or 4K RAW/HDR video, (and getting paid good money to do it) then spending $10-20K on a computer system is likely a good long-term business investment. Well, hopefully, a good long-term investment. That is what brings us to our last point of discussion, Apple’s quality control in recent years. (Uh-oh!)

What Apple Needs To Focus On From Now On

Unfortunately, asking Apple die-hard fans to spend $6K (Well, $12K if you  also want the XDR display and its stand) is still a very bold request, given Apple’s overall trend of quality products in recent years. We have had extensive experience with Apples’ quality control, or lack thereof, and to be blunt, we would feel downright foolish to throw that much money at Apple again right now.

So, here’s what Apple really needs to focus on delivering with this new high-priced machine: Prove that they’re not just back in the game with regards to the outward visuals and the user-upgradeable factor that we missed so much. First, they need to prove that they’re committed to professional-grade quality control and customer support. Because, if the user experience isn’t silky-smooth, the price tag is going to sting.

Even though this computer is something that the masses will never be able to afford, it is still the new benchmark by which Apple will be judged in the public eye, and the eye of serious photographers and videographers who at least dream of owning such a machine, even if all they really need is a decently spec’d Macbook Pro or iMac.

So, what do you think? Is Apple totally out of touch, or is this an exciting new chapter in their proud line of impressively spec’d, beautiful looking computers?

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Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Rob Durston

    I’ve been waiting for the MacPro 7,1 for three years since my older MP3,1 was maxed out but still slow. This spring I couldn’t wait any more with true 4K video and 50mp raw photos and AfterEffect. 

    So I bought a super decent spec  MacPro 5,1 with 64gb, NVMi drives , usb 3.1 card and GT1070 8gb gpu. The thing is super sweet and cost me about two grand. You could do it yourself for less but I was up against a deadline and needed it fast. 

    Check it out Google a MacPro upgrader in your neighbourhood    

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  2. Giuseppe Pipia

    Well, here I am, that guy that had an Apple computer for 10 years and working good! I bought my first MacBook Pro in fall 2009, already with maximum specifications back then, when 8GB of RAM would cost 1000 euros. Yet that computer, or better that mother board, with soldered processor and dual graphics processors, is still working fine. Yes, I also had my issues: less than a week since I bought it the RAM was defective, so it needed replacement. Less than three years since I bought it the optical drive stopped working, so I got rid of it and added 512GB of SSD storage and moved the original hard disk as extra internal storage. I had the battery changed five years in. I replaced the monitor that broke, and went through three MagSafe adapters. It might sound like a lot of pain, but that was all the pain in 10 years! Without the pain of unwanted unskippable OS updates and the ability to do (although limited) work with 4k clips. Meanwhile I jump-started my photography and videography passion, with over a quarter million views on YouTube, covering some events and even getting paid! Also used it as my academic work: writing a thesis and all the various reports an aerospace engineering degree requires.

    The last issue, though, was one of the chip that would send the signal from the graphic processor to the screen got corrupted, making the image all green, especially in the dark tones. So last December, unwillingly, I had to stop using it and replaced it with, you might have guessed, with another MacBook Pro with 32GB of RAM and Vega 20 (only i7).

    So yeah, they are, overall good machines and let’s not forget that even us humans have defects and do not last forever: for what they last (I also have an iPod nano from 2007 still working and an iPod touch from 2010 still also working), they are great pieces of gear that could be helpful.

    Another point that I want to remind people, and is mentioned in the article, is the fact that although this computer could cost even upwards of 35000 dollars/euros, there are cameras and videocameras, with their equipment to actually be used, that cost even more than that. For example the “undisclosed” Canon EOS Cinema camera that shoots 8k: that will cost at least 15000 dollars. With a couple of PL mount primes, the price of just that equipment will also be around the 35000 dollars/euros mark. That’s the market for this beast of a computer.

    Also the investment part: I’ve encountered Italian professional photojournalists, that still regularly use for their work the old Nikon D3 or the Canon 1Ds Mark III! Those are also 6000 dollars/euros cameras that still work but they cost just as much as this computer or monitor. So yes, this computer is obviously not for every body.

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  3. Jared Gant

    As beautiful as Apple products are, and smooth as their os runs, I simply can’t get myself to spend x3 as much. My custom PC that cost me about $2K has never once given me a problem and outperforms the vast majority of computers out there. 

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    • David J. Crewe

      This is pretty much my stance…i LOVE apple products…or at least i did…until they started jacking the prices up to astronomical levels for what’s barely considered an upgrade. My issue is i’m so ingrained into my workflow with apple products that I am really having a hard time figuring out switching to PC…so i’m stuck using a very old laptop while I weight out my options…

      Either way…i WANT the new gear from apple, i just definitely don’t want to pay the price they’re asking when you can get the same specs at a fraction of the cost in a PC >.< 

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    • Matthew Saville

      Jared, my question would be…can your PC run 3 separate 8K feeds, or 12 separate RAW 4K feeds? Probably not. That’s the customer base Apple is aiming for with this type of machine.

      You’re totally right- most photographers, indeed even most videographers who are starting to dabble in 4K video, don’t need to spend more than $2K on a good PC machine. $3-4K if you include a good 4K monitor and make it 4K (not RAW or HDR) capable.

      But, that is like comparing a really nice car against a Formula One racecar. They’re simply in far different categories.

      Personally, I’m still happy with a decently spec’d MacBook Pro. I’m really glad that I don’t need such cutting-edge computer power. However, if I did truly NEED what this computer offers, I’d probably be doing 5-6 figure jobs, too.

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    • Matthew Saville

      David J. Crewe, that’s what a mid-level iMac or MacBook Pro is for. They can be had for about $1-2K used, if you don’t need the latest generation. Or, of course, if you don’t need the absolute latest OS, but you do need insanely high-end specs for CPU/RAM etc, you can still build a “Hackintosh”. If I am not mistaken, that alternative is still alive and kicking…

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