Apple Mac Pro
17th Jan 2014 | 16:39
With a unique design and tremendous power, this is the workstation to beat
Introduction and Specification
It's finally here. We've been waiting for Apple's new high-end Mac since the summer of 2012, when a user emailed Tim Cook about the apparent neglect of the Mac Pro range and was promised "something really great for later next year".
A year and a half on it finally arrived, but was Apple's late 2013 Mac Pro worth the wait?
Apple's Mac Pro range is designed for power users. If your needs aren't extreme enough to justify buying a Mac Pro – or your pocket isn't deep enough to afford one – you could go for an iMac.
- Apple Mac mini review
- 21-inch iMac review
- 27-inch iMac review
- 11-inch MacBook Air review
- 13-inch MacBook Air review
- 13-inch MacBook Pro review
- 15-inch MacBook Pro review
- MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display review
- MacBook Pro 15-inch with Retina display review
The iMac range is significantly cheaper than the Mac Pro, and has the advantage of having a built-in screen and coming bundled with a keyboard and mouse, all of which you have to supply yourself if you buy a Mac Pro.
If you'd rather not take the Apple path, there are plenty of high-end Windows PCs to choose from. Overclockers Gold Rush Gamer Pro gives a great gaming performance, and has a 250GB solid state drive. The Aria Gladiator Diablo GTX is great value for money but runs a little noisily, and the PC Specialist Vanquish Eclipse 670 MKII features a built-in Blu-ray drive, unlike the Mac Pro, which has no optical drive at all.
At first glance, the most striking thing about the new Mac Pro is the radical redesign of its casing. It's just 9.9 inches tall and just over 6.5 inches in diameter. By volume, it's an eighth the size of the previous-generation Mac Pro, and only a little over a quarter of the weight. But its smaller size doesn't mean it puts in a pint-sized performance...
It features the latest Intel Xeon processors, quad-core or six-core off the shelf. Eight-core and 12-core processors are available as custom options if you buy from the Apple Online Store, but there's no option for two processors. Its two AMD FirePro GPUs deliver up to eight times the graphical performance of the previous-generation Mac Pros, though to be fair, when the 2012 Mac Pro went off sale early last year due to an amended EU safety regulation, the graphics card it offered was already well out of date.
Unsurprisingly given its compact size and the way Macs have developed over the last few years, storage is solid state. Equally unsurprisingly, there's no optical drive. If you still use CDs and DVDs, you'll have to invest in a USB SuperDrive or similar external disc drive.
At the heart of the new Mac Pro is the thermal core, a unified heat sink around which the processor board and two graphics processor boards are attached. Where the previous Mac Pro had eight separate fans, the new Mac Pro only has one. It draws air through the base and out through the top of the casing, over the heat sink that stretches from the top of the Mac Pro to the bottom. Naturally, this means it runs very quietly. The 2013 Mac Pro is designed to be used on top of your desk, not underneath it, and its quiet running, attractive casing and minimal footprint means it's welcome to do just that.
Apple is known for its delightful design features, and the new Mac Pro is no exception. Turn the Mac Pro to get at the expansion ports around the back (as far as a cylindrical casing can be said to have a 'back'), and they all light up. Even if the Mac Pro isn't currently powered up, the ports are lit so you can plug in or disconnect peripherals. Leave it still for a few seconds, and the light fades to off again. Neat.
Most of the Mac Pro's main expansion options are geared around external peripherals, so it has an excellent range of data ports. There are four high-speed USB 3.0 ports, and six – yes, six – Thunderbolt ports. These are based on the new Thunderbolt 2 protocol, which combines the two 10Gbs channels offered by first-generation Thunderbolt into one 20Gbs bi-directional channel, making it ideal for streaming large amounts of data, such as 4K video. As up to six Thunderbolt peripherals can be daisy-chained to each port, the Mac Pro can support up to 36 Thunderbolt devices at once. You can, of course, use Mini DisplayPort monitors in a Thunderbolt port, and with adapters (sold separately), you can also connect your old FireWire peripherals.
There's also a HDMI port and two Gigabit Ethernet sockets, but don't expect an SD card reader. For wireless connectivity, there's 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.
Every system ships with dual GPUs. Off the shelf, these are Dual AMD FirePro D300 or D500 cards, but you can custom-configure them up to D700 GPUs with 6GB of GDDR5 VRAM on the Apple Online Store. Likewise, the processor (a Xeon E5) starts at a quad-core 3.7GHz, but it can be upgraded as high as a 12-core 2.7GHz chip. Memory is industry-standard, so can be user-upgraded. Up to 64GB can be installed.
The Mac Pro reviewed here has a 3GHz, eight-core Xeon E5 with twin AMD FirePro D700 GPUs, 64GB of RAM and 1TB of PCIe-based flash storage. The two off-the-shelf Mac Pros cost £2,499 (USD $2,999, AUD $3,999) and £3,299 (USD $3,999, AUD $5,299) respectively, but the custom options included in this review model drive the price up to £6,579 (USD $8,099, AUD $10,229).
- Geekbench 3 single core: 3656
- Geekbench 3 multicore: 25490
- Handbrake: 15 mins 60 secs
- Boot Time: 18 secs
- Cinebench R10 Single core: 5895
- Cinebench R10 Multicore: 34141
- Cinebench R15 OpenGL: 88.37 FPS
- Cinebench R15 CPU: 1180 cb
- Unigine Heaven 4.0, FPS: 27.6
- Unigine Heaven 4.0, Score: 695
- Arkham City, 1080: 79 FPS
- Arkham City, Native (4K): 48 FPS
- Blackmagic Read: 869.6
- Blackmagic Write: 951.7
- NovaBench, Score: 2342
- NovaBench, RAM: 311
- NovaBench, CPU: 1418
- NovaBench, Graphics: 545
- NovaBench, Hardware: 68
As you'd expect from a high-end Mac Pro – especially a custom-enhanced model such as the one on review here – performance is excellent.
The new 2013 Mac Pro can drive up to three 4K monitors at once. That's three screens, each with a pixel resolution of 3840x2160, four times that of high-definition 1080 screens. Software that's optimised to take advantage of the two graphics cards really flies. Its fast flash storage is ideal for video editors too. The latest release of Apple's own Final Cut Pro X is designed to take full advantage of the power offered by the new Mac Pro.
Using its multi-cam feature, on the new Mac Pro you can view nine feeds of 4K video at once, with no stuttering or lag. The previous generation of Mac Pro could manage four. Video editors who work in Ultra HD will experience a hands-on immediacy that simply wasn't possible before.
According to Apple, the new Mac Pro 'redefines what it means to be expandable'. Whereas the last generation could be expanded by opening the casing and fitting new hard drives, replacing the graphics card or adding new PCI Express cards, the new Mac Pro's expansion options are largely focussed on its four USB 3.0 ports and six Thunderbolt 2 ports on three Thunderbolt controllers (this is the first time more than a single controller has been used on a Mac).
That's not to say the new Mac Pro's internal components can't be upgraded. At the flick of a switch the cylindrical cover can be removed, exposing the graphics and processor boards within.
The solid state drive can be removed and slotted into a different Mac Pro. If you have a Mac Pro at home and another at work, you can use the same SSD in both, effectively carrying your computer in your pocket with minimal disassembly. As welcome as this is, some might bemoan the lack of opportunities for internal expansion. Although the Thunderbolt 2 port has enough bandwidth to make performance a non-issue in this respect, adding (for example) extra storage on a new Mac Pro demands an external drive, with its own power supply and desk space. The tower models that preceded it offered four internal bays, where you could slot relatively cheap bare drives, with no clutter and no extra power supply needed.
Because Apple wisely made the new Mac Pro's graphics cards and SSD user-removable, it's theoretically possible to upgrade these internal components by replacing the ones supplied. But at the time of writing there's nothing on the market to replace them with. It's possible third-party manufacturers will release Mac Pro-specific components in the future, but as it wouldn't be possible to use them in anything other than a Mac Pro, they might be reluctant to make the investment. RAM is industry-standard, and can be added or replaced by the end user.
Like the Core series chips, the Xeon E5 processor used here offers Hyper Threading and Turbo Boost features. Hyper Threading means each of its eight cores can run two threads simultaneously, for 16 virtual cores, and at times of high processing needs, Turbo Boost takes the clock speed from 3GHz to up to 3.9GHz.
The new technologies certainly proved their worth in our benchmarking tests, as you can see from the results above, but it's worth noting that three of our four graphics test – the Batman: Arkham City frame rate test, the Cinebench tests and the Unigine Heaven test – can at present only use one of the two graphics processors. No doubt they – and third-party Mac applications built for the pro user – will be optimised to get the most out of the new machine soon. In the Novabench test, which does use both GPUs, the new Mac Pro was over 56% up on an iMac custom-configured with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M, the top-of-the-range graphics option in a Mac other than the Mac Pro.
According to Apple, the new Mac Pro redefines what is meant by expandability. This is achieved by using three Thunderbolt controllers, six Thunderbolt 2 ports and four USB 3.0 ports. The new Mac Pro is expanded by adding external peripherals rather than internal components, though the graphics cards, solid state storage and memory sticks are user replaceable.
The new Mac Pro is around an eighth of the size of the previous generation by volume and a quarter of the weight. Because its components are built around a single thermal core, only one fan is needed. Therefore it's quiet enough to use on top of your desk instead of under it. Its small footprint and great looks mean it's very welcome as a desktop computer too.
The Late 2013 Mac Pro is gorgeous to look at, but it's what's under the lid that really matters. With twin enterprise-class graphics processors, a super-fast solid state drive that gives excellent read and write speeds and a powerful Xeon E5 processor, the new Mac Pro is the most powerful Mac Apple has ever built. The one reviewed here wasn't quite the top of the range (it had an eight-core CPU, not the 12-core chip), but it certainly impressed in our performance tests. Running Batman: Arkham City at 48 frames per second in Ultra HD quality is no mean feat, and imagine how quickly games will run when they're optimised to use both graphics processors? If you're a high-needs user, the new Mac Pro is exactly what you need.
Not everyone will welcome the switch to the new, smaller form factor. Where the previous generation of Mac Pro let you slot new hard drives into its four bays, or replace the graphics card with an industry-standard PCI Express card with only the firmware distinguishing it from the PC version, expanding the new Mac Pro is largely achieved with external devices. This isn't ideal, as they need separate power supplies and take up room.
Also, we can't understand why the new Mac Pro is sold with no input devices. With its sleek black looks, it's crying out for special-edition black versions of the Apple USB or wireless keyboard, Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad.
Not everyone needs the power and performance offered by the new Mac Pro, and not everyone can afford it − but wouldn't you just love one? It's a masterpiece of engineering.
Fresh ideas such as the unified thermal core and backlit expansion ports, and high-performance components like the Thunderbolt 2 ports, Xeon E5 processors and FirePro graphics cards, combine to make the Late 2013 Mac Pro the ultimate high-end Mac.