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12/19/2013
11:25 AM
Thomas Claburn
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Apple Mac Pro: 9 Ways It Wows

Ignore the haters. Apple's Mac Pro is one amazing machine. Here's why.
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Apple's redesigned Mac Pro became available for order Thursday, arriving at once as a symbol of the company's capacity for innovation and as a reminder of how much the computer business has changed in the past seven years.

When the first Mac Pro debuted in August 2006, Apple was still known as Apple Computer. It would be five months later, in January 2007, that then-CEO Steve Jobs announced his company henceforth would be known simply as Apple, Inc. Among Apple's various product lines at the time -- Mac, iPod, iPhone, and the newly launched Apple TV -- he reasoned that only one represented a computer.

That wasn't entirely accurate. Each of those products contained a CPU. But apart from the Mac, Apple had moved beyond traditional personal computers. Jobs believed people would prefer the more curated, less complicated experience embodied by the iPhone ecosystem, rather than the one offered by computers -- at the time, maintaining a computer and keeping its software updated was onerous. And Apple's subsequent success proved him right.

In its fiscal Q4 2013, Apple made $5.6 billion in revenue selling Mac computers. But that's only about 15% of the company's total revenue during that period. Personal computers just don't matter that much to Apple as a source of revenue.

But they're part of Apple's history and a source of pride. As the company notes in its public relations boilerplate, "Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world." Stung by grumbling from investors about an underwhelming product pipeline and by doubts about CEO Tim Cook's ability to fill the shoes of his iconic predecessor, Philip Schiller, SVP of worldwide marketing, defied Apple's critics in June at the company's developer conference. "Can't innovate anymore, my ass!" he declared, in reference to the company's impending Mac Pro.

Though ridicule was quick to follow -- some likened the unusual cylindrical design to a trash can -- Apple has always been the target of such criticism. Recall departing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's comment about the iPhone in 2007: "There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share." Or Dell CEO Michael Dell's advice to Steve Jobs in 1997 about how to save Apple: "I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders."

The new Mac Pro represents a redefinition of the workstation, at a time when cloud computing can handle many of the number-crunching jobs that used to go to workstations. It remains to be seen whether expensive workstations like this will continue to be viable as high-end applications shift toward cloud delivery.

Apple's latest offering is not the sort of easily expandable, modular, upgradable system that many computing aficionados prefer. That may not please everyone, but Apple has never aspired to be all things to all people. Apple makes choices and insists on some limits to balance form, function, and its business needs -- make a system that's too modular, and customers won't buy new hardware.

The new Mac Pro is a blazing fast desktop computer. If you deal with sophisticated graphics, video editing, data analysis, or you simply have $3,000 or more you want to spend on a striking desktop computer -- Call of Duty: Black Ops, anyone? -- you owe it to yourself to try the new Mac Pro. Now take a closer look at its appeal.

Thomas Claburn is editor-at-large for InformationWeek. He has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and his mobile game Blocfall Free is available for iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire.

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Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
12/20/2013 | 8:08:52 AM
Re: Really?!?!?
"A wallet emptying black hole" -- haha. The design is certainly interesting and the specs are impressive, but $3k+ is a bit too steep for my likes. No doubt people will be lining up for this, though.
stevew928
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stevew928,
User Rank: Strategist
12/19/2013 | 8:40:04 PM
Awaiting the 'here's why"...
I think there are some nice aspects of the new Mac Pro, but the article never really answered the, "here's why" claim. It basically said how Apple has done cool things in the past (I agree), often pushing the envelope to the complaint of some of the user community (I agree), and then several pages of specs and machine details. So, why does that make it compelling or 'wow'?

OK, I want one, but I'm not the target market. The target market seems to have concerns about expandability, especially upgrading the GPUs. That's a pretty big thing for most 'pro' users. It seems more like this would be a great machine for the prosumer... but will they spend that much money?

Yes, it's a nice case design. That's about the only place I see innovation. The specs are OK. They do a few things maybe not yet common amongst generic PCs, but not uncommon in workstations or built-up performance oriented systems. A friend who built a Hackintosh a couple years back believes his machine will outperform the new Mac Pro (yes, something he built a couple years ago!).

It's fast... compared to the previous Mac Pros, but not necessarily that fast in comparison to current pro systems. It's on-par with some of them. The biggest thing is probably the quiet and lower power usage. But, these are just modern trends with the CPUs used and the case design. I'd love that, but I'd guess most 'pros' need other aspects more.

Ultimately, I think this design is a bit too far ahead of its time. Once Thunderbolt goes optical and we possibly acheive a true external bus (though internal bus won't sit still waiting either), this might work well. But currently, the only thing external is going to be storage and maybe some I/O devicese... and these will all add substantially to the cost (which is high, though not as crazy as many of the responses claim). It's certainly cool... I'm just not sure about Pro.
mamichaeldb
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mamichaeldb,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/19/2013 | 4:30:06 PM
Re: Vastly too expensive for actual hardware specifications
I read your post and although I do agree that the machine is fairly expensive, I have to wonder, did you just "learn" the word extortion and not look up the definition, because well nothing that you claim is extortion is anything close to extortion, as extortion requires force or threats or coersion. What you are lamenting in your post is ridiculous, despite your claims about how one could build a similar machine that is just as good if not better, for less, I highly doubt that you could build one machine for less that is as good or better. Like it or not, Apple makes machines that are expensive at first glance, but actually much less expensive than their competitors when one factors in the life span of the machine. From my experiences, Apple's desktops operate functionally two to three times longer than Windows based machines made by Dell and the like. I have had three Apple desktops in my life and every single one had to be replaced because the hardware became obsolete after over a decade of regular use, compare that to the five PC desktops I built myself and the workstations I have had custom made which last about two years before they get clunky and have to be replaced in the third year. Bottom line Apple makes machines where all the internal hardware is designed to work together in an electrical ecosystem, Windows and other companies machine fail to use this methodology in their designs of the internal hardware and instead try to take the best of what can work together and create an electrical ecosystem around that. Both manners work well, but the method in which the internal hardware is designed to work with specific internal hardware will always be "better" than hardware that is designed to work with almost everything.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
12/19/2013 | 4:08:50 PM
Re: Design reactions?
It really does look like a trash can, at least when you can't see the ports. But it's a nice looking trash can. If I had one, I'd be tempted to run it with the cover removed, since the circuitry just looks cooler. But I expect that would make dust more of an issue.
NorBdelta
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NorBdelta,
User Rank: Strategist
12/19/2013 | 1:45:17 PM
Re: Design reactions?
The case is quite beautiful, the shape also is very thermal efficient. All the heat being extracted vertically from  the top is a good design choice.
lenehey
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lenehey,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/19/2013 | 12:39:23 PM
Re: Really?!?!?
Yes really.  But I'm going to wait for the white one.  ;-)
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
12/19/2013 | 12:26:58 PM
Design reactions?
What do people think of the design? Interesting aesthetic. Makes me think of a castle tower.
NorBdelta
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NorBdelta,
User Rank: Strategist
12/19/2013 | 12:25:19 PM
Re: It's a beast
OSX can be put on quite a few much cheaper workstations with similar if not much better specs.

Whilst it may be powerful the cost is not justified. OSX being the operating system on the device is no excuse for an extortionately high cost.

The device clearly fills a specific market of users but this is no excuse for the price when compared to equally capable machines or even a server side processing system for vastly less.
NorBdelta
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NorBdelta,
User Rank: Strategist
12/19/2013 | 12:19:21 PM
Vastly too expensive for actual hardware specifications
Apple propaganda at its finest.

Whilst the specs are quite impressive, the cost of included components and inclusive of assembly is considerably less in reality. While the case is quite attractive and the components are a made to fit format I cannot comprehend the cost of such a workstation with such mediocre components. While I am no anti-apple campaigner I have always maintained that the profit margin on their items is truly extortionate.

As mentioned, overall the Pro is a good PC but charged at too high a cost and could be easily be acquired from any other workstation with the same or roughly similar specifications or even built from scratch albeit with a different case for substantially less.

Considering that all the components are not even apple tech themselves and are practically off the shelf; the only real Apple portions of the PC are the case and OSX. So cost wise a huge downer.

No upgradability of most components is a ticket for Apple to charge even more for refits or future upgrades by themselves.

Additionally all the upgradable component options are an extreme case of extortion, upgrading the CPU/GPUs/RAM/SSDs/e.t.c. are in order of magnitude more expensive than reality cost. And to put it bluntly the base cost is another exercise in extortion let alone upgrading it with them. 

Only four USB ports is a bit of a restriction and six thunderbolt ports is overboard. Dual gigabit ports is also an unnecessary inclusion.

Whilst you can judge it on software quality (i.e. OSX e.t.c), the hardware side is vastly too expensive and Apple should be ashamed of this.
RayLeeBob
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RayLeeBob,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/19/2013 | 12:03:43 PM
Really?!?!?
Looking at the specs and price tag, it appears Apple is once again banking on customers addicted to having something with the logo vs. a product that truly wows. The last phone that had little more than a different charging plug was definitely worth waiting in line for...and this is equally impressive. Sorry, but for $3K+ there are a lot better options out there. If you want to play games get a gaming system. Cute design, kinda looks like a wallet-emptying black hole.
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