Apple aimed the new Mac Pro at the most demanding of all high-end users, so we talked to users that fit the bill, and asked what they thought. Video editors, medical experts and the Department of Defense are all looking at the machine, with some going for it on the first day of release.
Editor's note: The new Mac Pro is available for pre-order on Tuesday, December 10. Following Apple's weekend announcement of the availability, the debate has restarted as to who's going to buy it. Shortly after reveal, AppleInsider spoke to some people who said why they were going to get one.
You know if you're in the market for a new Mac Pro. That does mean that you know whether you've got the budget for one, but really it means your type of work leaves you in no doubt of your needs. It's so clear that you need a powerful machine that when Apple announced the new Mac Pro, you had to check it out. You listened to Apple, you read all you could, and at each step you were comparing what you learned to what you know you absolutely must have in your work.
Apple talked to many such people during the process of designing the new machine. Now that it's out and everyone can consider it, AppleInsider talked to the very type of users that Apple has aimed at with this new machine.
Not everyone could go on the record. We spoke with people from the Department of Defense, and we spoke with people such as photographers and editors whose work is sensitive and so can't be identified.
However, we also spoke with people inside companies such as Adobe, who were happy to tell us publicly what we wanted to know. We talked with users who work in video editing, ones who already run their entire businesses on the previous Mac Pro, and ones who need to work with huge amounts of data and do so without delays.
They did not all say that they would buy the new Mac Pro. Every one of them recognized the value, each one said that it would fit their needs well, but two interviewees said they wouldn't be buying one at launch.
One of those, though, is not buying the new Mac Pro only because his current Mac Pro model "is still going strong."
To balance that, however, after one person told us what he expected his company to do, he then said that he was buying a 2019 Mac Pro for himself at home.
Needing a Mac Pro
"Basically I do a lot of video editing/compression at work, and it has to be done quickly" a video editor that AppleInsider has known for 30 years said. "I have to cut, render and output HD and 4K video very quickly. The video files can be very large and sometimes I'm running multiple programs. I need as much horsepower as I can get."
Another prospective buyer, Blake Garner, is an Automation Architect at Adobe and has been there for 15 years servicing the company's internal engineering community.
"The rack mount option is huge for Adobe," Garner said, "as we host a lot of Macs in server rooms doing Xcode builds and automated testing. Using server racks instead of bakers' racks with iMac Pros is a huge improvement.'
"Outside of the physical form," he continued, "the memory capacity is going to be a very noticeable improvement. Running large RAM virtual machines or sets of virtual machines for homelab work will eat all the RAM you can afford, let alone the large Xcode builds."
A photographer who wished to remain anonymous is working on sensitive projects uses some of those Adobe products. He said that the new Mac Pro was appealing because of "raw horsepower" in his workflow. "Not having to wait while rendering [is key]," he said, "especially since Adobe makes minimal use of GPU processing in Lightroom and Photoshop."
Michael Trauffer, senior video editor for a large post production facility, also hopes to see improvements with software.
"The Keynote mentioned that Adobe is one of the software providers that is on board with the new Mac Pro," he says. "I'm hoping that their software will finally be able to take advantage of all of that horsepower that is being made available. Premiere Pro doesn't [currently] utilize multiple GPU when playing/editing."
"We are planning on getting one of the new Mac Pros to test it as a possible upgrade/replacement for our 2013 Mac Pros," he continued. "I, for one, have been waiting for this announcement and am excited to get my hands on one whenever they're released."
Amongst his other work, Keith R. Sbiral is also a photographer, but he spoke to AppleInsider about how a Mac Pro is going to fit in with his managing IT for his career-development consultancy business.
"Our office is an all-Mac one," he said, "and that alone makes my work and my life easier. There is something to be said for the dependability and expandability of a Mac Pro that simply make it a great machine."
"For a vast majority of Mac users, admittedly including myself," he continued, "the specs are likely far beyond what I really need to do my job. But I love to work on a blazing fast machine, particularly when I'm working on photography projects."
Photography and imaging is a recurring need amongst all the people we spoke to, even if it's not their primary job.
"I work in product development for medical visualization," Jules Ryckebusch told us, "specifically in the minimally-invasive surgery space. I am also a long-time hobby photographer and a video guy."
As we'd mentioned before, we've been approached by high-ranking members of the Department of Defense that we've been speaking to, for some time. Without divulging specifics, use cases cited include real-time image processing, and time-sensitive audio classification and identification.
Price is always a factor
Not one of the people we spoke to is casual about the cost of the new Mac Pro, it's just that in every case the value is worth it.
"Price is not too much of a concern," said the photographer. "I'm expecting to spend around $9,000-$10,000, depending on the pricing menu of configuration upgrades."
"Personally, cost is a factor," says Adobe's Garner. "I'll likely go with the bottom end GPU and enjoy using third party storage and RAM. Adding upgrades over time is a great way to get value from a high-end system like this. In the work context, teams will pick configurations that are optimized to save time, and high-end configurations will be worth the cost."
"Price always matters," agrees Sbiral, "particularly to a small business. I'll likely buy the base unit and go from there."
The video editor is not planning to get one on launch day either.
"I won't buy it right away," he says. "My current Mac Pro is still getting the job done. I [also] want to take it for a test drive and see how well (or poorly) it performs with Adobe Premiere."
Medical product developer Ryckebusch feels the same, but he is certain that he will get one soon.
"I expect it will be in the $10,000 - $20,000 range when I purchase," he says. "The other thing to take into account here is where the rest of it is going. We will need a 10gig LAN to really take advantage of the whole ecosystem. I remember when I put a wired gigabit network in my house over a decade ago. That allowed for a lot of things we take for granted now. All of that also will need to catch up."
Alongside the ability to save time in their work now, every person we interviewed sees the Mac Pro as an investment that will pay off over years.
"The reality is that each of these machines will last years, allowing monitor upgrades, storage upgrades and expansion that a mini or iMac just wouldn't permit," says Sbiral. "A running average for Mac Pros in my work... has been 6-8 years. They get recycled down and used for different purposes, but they are certainly a long-term purchase."
"Systems like this tend to be in service for at least five years for primary use," says Garner, "and often get a second life for another two to three years for non-critical tasks."
"I usually replace my iMac every three to four years," says the photographer, "so I'm expecting this new Mac Pro to last me at least six to seven, but hopefully ten. It's a system I plan to own for twice as long as I normally keep an iMac."
Ryckebusch says that it this longevity, and especially because of the expandability, that makes him want a new Mac Pro.
"Expandability and robustness [are important]," he says. "I owned a 2008 Mac Pro for quite a long time. When I moved on from it I had all four drive bays full and was on a third graphics card with the RAM maxed out. This one needs to last five to seven years to make it financially viable. Longer if there is a clear upgrade path along the way."
AppleInsider has revealed before how surprisingly few owners of an expandable Mac actually expand it. With these high-end users, expandability turns out to be essential — but sometimes just as future-proofing.
"Having to rely on Thunderbolt for expansion was a pain at first," says Trauffer, "[though] we've made it work. It's nice to see Apple putting everything back into one chassis again. It'll clean up the workspace by consolidating all of these external devices into a single chassis."
Asked specifically what PCI-E cards they intended to install, the answers started with the very specific.
"NVMe storage cards and RAID controllers," said Garner. "At home I have an external Thunderbolt chassis with two slots to hold those cards. The NVMe storage already hits the 1200MB/s Thunderbolt 2 limit of the Mac Pro 2013."
Sbiral represented the opposite end of the scale when asked about cards. "At this point, none," he said, "but I'm glad the option is there."
Somewhere in the middle was Ryckebusch, who expects to begin with a Mac Pro and then steadily expand it.
"I can see this machine easily growing over time," Ryckebusch said. "Are you going to need a terabyte of RAM today? Would it be nice to add that later as a need arises? Absolutely! I am hoping for some future expansion cards that address future expandability."
The expandability needs for the Department of Defense are less important than the case's accessibility, even rack-mounted. Existing commercial off the shelf, or COTS, gear still has regular maintenance required in challenging environments including clean-outs and other actions, sometimes involving the unit's crew.
First impressions last
Nobody we spoke to has been involved in Apple's testing of the Mac Pro and so none of have had the machine to test yet. All of them studied Apple's launch, though, and every one had similar first impressions — plus second impressions too.
"I was super excited to watch the announcement and at the same time a bit caught off guard with the pricing," says Ryckebusch. "From a technology standpoint it is very impressive. I like the expandability but am wondering how proprietary it will actually be."
"I think it is great," says Sbiral. "I was never one that trashed the 'trash can' Mac Pro. I've had most every pro-level Mac since the 840AV, and I think the one fantastic part about the product is the longevity of use. I had a 2008 Mac Pro and a 2013 Mac Pro and now I'm ready for the 2019 version. I'm really excited about the power, graphics, and upgradability."
As certain as he is that he and Adobe will be buying Mac Pro machines, Garner is also waiting for more details. "Thoughts will evolve once the third-party MPX modules and pricing is posted to the Apple Store," he said.
Nonetheless, Garner knows that he wants more.
"The Rack Mac Pro really needs a remote management card option and I'm hoping Apple or a 3rd party can deliver that," he told AppleInsider. "One of the pro use cases is virtualization for software development. Apple really needs to update their EULA to allow more than two virtualized instances of macOS per physical system. With the huge compute power of the Mac Pro running 20+ macOS VMs per host would deliver a ton of value."
"The Afterburner card seems like it will bring some abilities that are not fully vetted yet," adds Ryckebusch. "That one intrigues me. My thoughts now are mid-range graphics card at initial purchase, Afterburner based on pricing and knowing a little more. As it already has 10Gig networking built in and Thunderbolt 3, there are no specific ones I will add at initial purchase."
How Apple did
Each of our interviewees immediately looked at a Mac Pro as a contender, but they did so as people who need the power. They are as invested, both financially and emotionally, in the Mac ecosystem as any of us and they are also conscious of Apple's history of providing tools they need. Even so, the work comes first. If Apple had not gone for such a high-end machine as it has, our interviewees would looked elsewhere.
"I had an inkling things would play out exactly as they have," said the photographer that we spoke to. "Had they not, I would be shopping for a Microsoft Surface Desktop about now."
Ryckebusch has previously built his own Hackintosh specifically because Apple was not providing what he needed and would have continued doing so.
"Their new Mac Pro isn't something I would build [though]," he says, "I will go straight to Apple for that one. This machine is truly a beast. People talk about the 'Apple tax,' but they really do build machines that are hard to match. And then for some of the features, you really can't [compare]."
"One thing that caught my attention," he adds, "was the number of PCI lanes. This is critical for many things and they didn't stress that one during the launch."
Where it's Phil Schiller's "can't innovate, my ass" comment that stuck with the 2013 Mac Pro, there was another WWDC comment that describes the 2019 version. While he said it as a joke about a completely different announcement, Craig Federighi used a slide with the words "Nailed it!" in his WWDC presentation.
That could've described the whole WWDC keynote and it definitely describes the new Mac Pro — at least as far as all of the very high-end users we interviewed believe.
We're not going to see the Mac Pro in Best Buy, but otherwise it looks like Apple has a hit.