2016 ended with a spreading school of thought that Apple was about to abandon the Mac Pro and Mac mini because sales for each are anemic. Apple does not break out Mac sales units, but upwards of 75-percent of all Macs sold– according to Apple– are notebooks. That leaves the three desktop models– including the iMacs– as the smaller percentage of Apple’s overall Mac sales.
I still have a PowerPC Mac mini with 512MB of RAM dating from 2007-2008 and it runs great, so I can’t say much for Apple’s least expensive Mac, but I have some considerations on the most expensive; the Mac Pro.
Apple introduced the Mac Pro in 2013. It’s that black cylinder trash can-like device with a gazillion ports, uber-powerful Intel Inside built-core Xeon CPUs, enough graphics horsepower to run three Retina 5k screens, and is fully upgradeable so long as all you upgrade are RAM and SSD storage (neither one of which is inexpensive, but the upgrades are user accessible which makes it more of a personal computer than a new MacBook Pro.
Why hasn’t Apple upgraded the Mac Pro in three years?
After all, Intel has upgraded the crazy powerful Xeon CPUs inside three times since. Graphic GPUs? Apple still pushes as new the Mac Pro’s graphics capabilities which are more than three years old; a lifetime in the graphics community.
Strangely enough, the Mac Pro remains the most customizable Mac, and the most personal of Apple’s personal computers. The most personal? How is that possible? Three words: Build. To. Order.
The base Mac Pro with the quad-core Intel Xeon E5 is a honker but requires specific applications to take advantage of the power. 12GB of RAM is not much, but easily upgraded. About $3,000 gets you 256GB of very fast PCIe-based flash SSD.
This machine is not a slouch, and it remains somewhat user accessible and upgradeable. That’s limited to add-on accessories thanks to a bunch of USB, FireWire, and HDMI ports, but elsewhere it’s just RAM and SSD storage that can be upgraded; not GPU or CPU.
A fully tricked out Mac Pro with 1TB of PCIe-based SSD storage, dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs with 6GB of VRAM each, 64GB of DDR3 ECC RAM, and the 12-core Intel Xeon pushes the price tag to $9,399.
That’s Apple. And if memory serves me correctly, the aluminum tank cheese grater Mac Pros had similar options– lots of ports, plenty of room for storage and RAM and GPUs– but no upgradeable CPUs, and the built-to-order price tags also approached 5-figures.
Where’s the beef?
Apple has yet to upgrade the new (and I hate to use the word new because it’s over three years since this Mac was launched and it has yet to receive any upgrade other than the macOS inside) Mac Pro but let’s say we compare a fully tricked out 2016 Mac Pro with a soon-to-be-released Mac Pro, circa early 2017 with the latest GPUs, CPUs, and USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 ports, et al.
How much faster and upgradeable will Mac Pro 2017 be than Mac Pro 2016? I say nominally, and maybe that’s why Apple hasn’t moved the bar forward because there’s not much to move. Recent versions of Intel’s Xeon CPUs are not leaps and bounds faster than previous versions. USB-C doesn’t raise the speed bar, though the seldom used Thunderbolt 3 may help with peripherals. How much faster in real world usage is whatever new crop of GPUs Apple could use? Geez, the Mac Pro can drive three Retina 5k displays now. How many do you need?
I don’t think we’ve seen the last of the Mac Pro and Apple wouldn’t need to do much to make it a better seller than to upgrade the CPUs, the GPUs, the storage, increase and upgrade the ports, and get competitive with the price tag.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, “Reports of the Mac Pro’s death are greatly exaggerated.”