Three days with Apple's new Mac Pro: incredible speed that will accelerate with time

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited February 2020
The Mac Pro is here. It is very fast now, and as developers get a handle on the machine and what it can do, it will only get faster.

The new 2019 Mac Pro
The new 2019 Mac Pro


After a half-year wait, the Mac Pro has shipped. We knew that it would be a conversation-generating subject -- but we all grossly underestimated how complex a topic it would be. From a technical standpoint and from ongoing discussions about what it means to Pro users now and in the future, this latest Mac demands to be examined and delved into.

AppleInsider has been testing two different configurations of the Mac Pro since last week. We've been able to use the "low end" $5999 configuration, as well as the 24-core configuration with the Vega II Duo video card, the Afterburner card, and 192GB of RAM worth $22,199.






With these or any other configuration, it should go without saying that the Mac Pro is complete and utter overkill for daily tasks and for most users. Your money could -- and really should -- be better spent elsewhere.

What the Mac Pro is, and what the Mac Pro is not

Apple's original Mac Pro back in 2006 had configurations as low as $2199. But from a price to performance standpoint, it was the quad-core 2.66 GHz machine at $2499 that had the best bang for the buck. When you hear people remembering the Mac Pro, it was the great days of the $2499 model.

There were higher-end models too. The quad-2.66 and the 2.0GHz model were aimed at the market that Apple had previously served with the lower-end G5 towers, and the lower-priced G4 towers before that. The lower end of the lineup had tower-like pricing, and the higher-ends had pricing more similar to the workstations of the day.

As released in 2019, the new $5999 Mac Pro has more in common with those higher-end configurations from back in the day. And it is competitively priced similar to Windows workstations.

There is an argument to be made that there is value in a configurable tower with consumer-oriented Intel processors, one that we have made before. The Mac Pro as it stands today is not that, and wasn't ever intended to be that -- and that is also an argument we have made before.

The Mac Pro ships with black Apple accessories including the Magic Keyboard, Magic Mouse, Magic Trackpad 2
The Mac Pro ships with black Apple accessories including the Magic Keyboard, Magic Mouse, Magic Trackpad 2


As has been robustly discussed in the AppleInsider forums, perhaps Apple would have been better served calling the new Mac Pro, the "Mac Workstation" or something similar to break the fixed mindset of the halcyon quad 2.66GHz Mac Pro. But, it didn't, so here we are.

It's okay to like the Mac Pro for what it is -- a reasonably priced workstation -- and still think that an Apple-engineered midrange tower like that 2.66GHz Mac Pro is a good idea. The two concepts aren't mutually contradictory, nor should they be wedded.

Mac Pro in the real world

One of our sources that we've relied on for over two decades has a very computationally-intensive task that can easily be broken up into sub-tasks and performed with GPU assistance. We really can't delve into the specifics of the application or the calculation, but the need for it has remained static over the years. And, the more timely the result, the better.

At the beginning of our relationship before the turn of the century, the calculation took three days to perform. Even as recently as 2016, the same task would take one full day.

On the Mac Pro 2019, on Sunday night, it took just a hair under four minutes using the 24-core Mac Pro configuration with a single Vega II Duo card, and the Afterburner.

The speed improvements go beyond just custom software. As a general rule, on the eight-core Mac Pro, we're seeing video encode times half of what they are on a high-end i9 MacBook Pro. The Mac Pro hit about 96 percent total CPU utilization.

The same encode on the 24-core model halves the shorter time again with about 80% total CPU utilization -- leaving power for other tasks at the same time without impacting encoding times. It's the early days of our testing, but we also see 10-bit 8K video processing faster than real-time.

One of several massive cooling fans on the Mac Pro that remain quite quiet
One of several massive cooling fans on the Mac Pro that remain quite quiet


Between that, some other less-intensive video work that we've done, and other observations that we've made so far, even the "low end" is a brutally fast, incredibly quiet machine.

The total Mac Pro package

Hardware and operating system are two points of the computing triangle -- the third is software. The software that had the incredible speed gains that we cited earlier is custom, and the coders responsible for the application in question have historically jumped on new macOS features immediately, like Metal 2.

Other developers aren't there yet. Because of that, the Mac Pro is built for tomorrow for most, not today. But, that's okay, as long as you're forward-thinking, as tomorrow is always on the way.

The Mac Pro with the case removed
The Mac Pro with the case removed


Metal has been around for more than half a decade, and has had slow uptake outside of Apple's walls. Setting the table for the Mac Pro, Apple shipped Metal 2 in macOS Catalina in anticipation of its new hardware, using Metal Peer Groups to rapidly share data between multiple GPUs in the new Mac Pro without hitting the CPU or system memory so hard.

This isn't seamless, though. Applications need to be correctly coded to take advantage of Metal 2 APIs. And, that Afterburner card has uses outside of Apple's prescribed ones, but it also requires just the right kind of workflow, and coding to boot.

There are other considerations. Our testing has so far shown that even under massive load, Photoshop won't use more than 10 cores. Other software has similar limitations, but we expect these limits to disappear as developers update software to fully leverage the new hardware.

A Radeon Pro 580X MPX module
A Radeon Pro 580X MPX module


Not everything can use the Afterburner card, so videographers will need to assess their software to see if that Afterburner makes sense, or if another video card will.

Like when Apple shifted to Intel, it's going to take a while for coders to take full advantage of what Apple has brought to the table with the Mac Pro. And, when it settles out, your sweet spot in the vast Mac Pro price range will vary.

And, these code improvements will have a positive impact on folks that don't have the Mac Pro.

No one true Pro, no one true Pro workflow

Every single AppleInsider reader has a unique workflow, and everybody has specific needs.

We've said it before, you don't need the Mac Pro to be a pro, and having a Mac Pro doesn't by default make you a pro. We aren't fans of Apple's wide-brush use of the term, but what you can always assume is that the products that have the name applied, are higher-end than the ones that don't.

The front handle of the Mac Pro
The front handle of the Mac Pro


What we know so far is that the Mac Pro is an incredibly powerful machine. Today, it isn't as fast as it will be in just a few months as more and more software takes advantage of what it brings to the table.

If you've gotten this far, you already know if you need one for work, or if the time-savings you will glean from it are worth it to you or your organization versus what it costs.

Still a lot to talk about

Since the Mac Pro debuted at WWDC, we've discussed what the machine will do with the target market, and what it can do for them. Now that the rubber has hit the road, these conversations have kicked into high-gear, and we've found that this is still very much a learning experience for everybody. Assumptions are being challenged, for better and worse,

Because of all this, our full review of the Mac Pro is going to take some time, and there will be a lot of steps along the way as we dive deeper into the hardware.

Where to buy

Apple's Mac Pro starts at $5,999 and can run upwards of $53,000. Discounts are available now, though, with savings of up to $1,600 off.

For the latest deals and product availability, check out the AppleInsider 8-core Mac Pro, 12-core Mac Pro, 16-core Mac Pro, 24-core Mac Pro and 28-core Mac Pro Price Guides.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 79
    There's an okay knowledgeable article on the Afterburner card here: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT210748 I'd still like to know what the impact is on 4k vs 8k. Presumably, performance is more significantly impacted if you're working with 8k video. Also interesting to note that "up to three Afterburner cards will provide increased performance"! I don't have a good sense of this. And Nikon is dragging on ProRes support. Something to track for the future or those with better gear than me.
  • Reply 2 of 79
    What a beast.  Apple rolled out a good one!
    edredwatto_cobraguscat
  • Reply 3 of 79
    hodarhodar Posts: 357member
    Yes, it will get faster - but this is not due to any major accomplishments by Apple.

    This is largely due to the work being done by very bright people at AMD/Intel/nVidia - who are enabling Apple to benefit.  It would be interesting to benchmark the price/Performance of the A-series chips from Apple in a desktop/server application, against AMD/Intel/nVidia and work in that direction.

    But, currently - to give credit to Apple, is akin to giving credit to the cock that crows every morning at sunrise.
    williamlondonSpamSandwich
  • Reply 4 of 79
     Photoshop won't use more than 10 cores”. How embarrassing.
    caladanianSpamSandwichdysamoriaedredwatto_cobraMacPro
  • Reply 5 of 79
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,861administrator
    Wgkrueger said:
    “ Photoshop won't use more than 10 cores”. How embarrassing.
    And given history, somehow unsurprising.
    caladanianfastasleepEsquireCatsSpamSandwichdysamoriaedredcornchipwatto_cobrawelshdog
  • Reply 6 of 79
    hodar said:
    Yes, it will get faster - but this is not due to any major accomplishments by Apple.

    This is largely due to the work being done by very bright people at AMD/Intel/nVidia - who are enabling Apple to benefit.  It would be interesting to benchmark the price/Performance of the A-series chips from Apple in a desktop/server application, against AMD/Intel/nVidia and work in that direction.

    But, currently - to give credit to Apple, is akin to giving credit to the cock that crows every morning at sunrise.
    Oh, so did they design the Afterburner card and implement it in Apple software? Did they write the Metal framework? Also, considering thermal throttling, thermal management is the name of the game -- and that is designed entirely by the OEM, and Apple should get the credit for how their design handles heat.

    Tho by the same token then Apple is not to blame for lack of updates. On Gruber's The Talk Show he said the 2017 iMac Pro has no suitable Xeon chips to update to, thus no updates...but I see on the forums Apple gets the blame. 
    edited December 2019 minicoffeen2itivguysocalbrianRayz2016iqatedopscooter63mwhitecanukstormwilliamlondontmay
  • Reply 7 of 79
    After decades of gray and white, the black mouse and cables seem like a significant design departure, and a break from the reign of Ive. Of course lots of people don’t care about these details, and I can see an argument for their position, but I hope the Ive design aesthetic is generally maintained, at least until Apple comes up with something better. I know it’s illogical, but even after all this time, I think the gray and white can still feel futuristic in a way that black cables and peripherals never will. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 79
    After decades of gray and white, the black mouse and cables seem like a significant design departure, and a break from the reign of Ive. Of course lots of people don’t care about these details, and I can see an argument for their position, but I hope the Ive design aesthetic is generally maintained, at least until Apple comes up with something better. I know it’s illogical, but even after all this time, I think the gray and white can still feel futuristic in a way that black cables and peripherals never will. 
    Ive only left Apple very recently, while this has been in development for years. So it seems illogical to deny his involvement, if we are to associate his involvement with all other product design. 

    Perhaps when something is unveiled in 2-3 years we can consider it Ive-free, but certainly not now.
    edited December 2019 lkruppRayz2016mwhitewilliamlondoncornchipwatto_cobrawelshdogMacPro
  • Reply 9 of 79
    After decades of gray and white, the black mouse and cables seem like a significant design departure, and a break from the reign of Ive. Of course lots of people don’t care about these details, and I can see an argument for their position, but I hope the Ive design aesthetic is generally maintained, at least until Apple comes up with something better. I know it’s illogical, but even after all this time, I think the gray and white can still feel futuristic in a way that black cables and peripherals never will. 
    I think the Space Gray accessories with the iMac Pro look better on their own, though they would look more mismatched with the MP. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 79

    hodar said:
    Yes, it will get faster - but this is not due to any major accomplishments by Apple.

    This is largely due to the work being done by very bright people at AMD/Intel/nVidia - who are enabling Apple to benefit.  It would be interesting to benchmark the price/Performance of the A-series chips from Apple in a desktop/server application, against AMD/Intel/nVidia and work in that direction.

    But, currently - to give credit to Apple, is akin to giving credit to the cock that crows every morning at sunrise.
    NVidia you say? The company that’s dropping existing Mac support from their next round of drivers? Okay.
    EsquireCatsn2itivguysocalbriandysamoriacornchipwatto_cobrachasmguscat
  • Reply 11 of 79
    kevin keekevin kee Posts: 1,289member
    as well as the 24-core configuration with the Vega II Duo video card, the Afterburner card, and 192GB of RAM worth $22,199.

    Let me sink that in in a second...

    Okay, I want it but I don't need it for my use. It is a beautiful machine that demand to be respected with real hard tasks, not sitting on my desk while I am checking email and stuffs. I don't think the machine will like that at all.

    iMac Pro is still my best option and the best 'consumer' Mac available right now.

    edited December 2019 macpluspluswatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 79
    hodar said:
    Yes, it will get faster - but this is not due to any major accomplishments by Apple.

    This is largely due to the work being done by very bright people at AMD/Intel/nVidia - who are enabling Apple to benefit.  It would be interesting to benchmark the price/Performance of the A-series chips from Apple in a desktop/server application, against AMD/Intel/nVidia and work in that direction.

    But, currently - to give credit to Apple, is akin to giving credit to the cock that crows every morning at sunrise.
    And that is the problem right there: not enough credits to Apple when it's due, all blames on Apple when it's not.
    StrangeDaysn2itivguybadmonkpscooter63mwhitetmaycornchipwatto_cobraguscat
  • Reply 13 of 79
    kevin kee said:
    as well as the 24-core configuration with the Vega II Duo video card, the Afterburner card, and 192GB of RAM worth $22,199.

    Let me sink that in in a second...

    Okay, I want it but I don't need it for my use. It is a beautiful machine that demand to be respected with real hard tasks, not sitting on my desk while I am checking email and stuffs. I don't think the machine will like that at all.

    iMac Pro is still my best option and the best 'consumer' Mac available right now.

    But define "best consumer" Mac? I looked at the iMac 5K and iMac Pro and decided 5K was best for my use cases, as a consumer and software dev. It's an awesome machine, and with 3.6Ghz 8-core i9, 2TB SSD, 64GB RAM, 8GB Pro Vega 48, I could have paid more for the iMP but the returns didn't really make sense for me. IMO this is the best consumer iMac and the one I'd recommend to any consumer without knowing more about their use cases.
    edited December 2019 anonconformistwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 79
    After decades of gray and white, the black mouse and cables seem like a significant design departure, and a break from the reign of Ive. Of course lots of people don’t care about these details, and I can see an argument for their position, but I hope the Ive design aesthetic is generally maintained, at least until Apple comes up with something better. I know it’s illogical, but even after all this time, I think the gray and white can still feel futuristic in a way that black cables and peripherals never will. 
    Ive only left Apple very recently, while this has been in development for years. So it seems illogical to deny his involvement, if we are to associate his involvement with all other product design. 

    Perhaps when something is unveiled in 2-3 years we can consider it Ive-free, but certainly not now.
    I thought Ive left to start his own company that will do work or help with designs for Apple?  But they will be free to do non Apple projects having their own company.  There were articles a while back stating that.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 79
    thttht Posts: 5,450member
    Pictures please!

    Can you take out the GPUs and take pictures of the heatsinks? Do they go all the way front to back?

    Can you figure out the flow path for the impeller fan (blower)? Where does the outlet go? The PSU? The back of the motherboard?

    Always amazing to see a system that doesn’t appear to have any internal cabling. With 3rd party hardware it will, but still.

    I thought RED was going to do a rollout of their Metal optimized software this week. If so, maybe a before after test on that. A before after with FCPX with its recent Metal optimization too.
    dysamoriawatto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 79
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,861administrator
    tht said:
    Pictures please!

    Can you take out the GPUs and take pictures of the heatsinks? Do they go all the way front to back?

    Can you figure out the flow path for the impeller fan (blower)? Where does the outlet go? The PSU? The back of the motherboard?

    Always amazing to see a system that doesn’t appear to have any internal cabling. With 3rd party hardware it will, but still.

    I thought RED was going to do a rollout of their Metal optimized software this week. If so, maybe a before after test on that. A before after with FCPX with its recent Metal optimization too.
    More of all of this is coming.
    edited December 2019 radarthekatdysamoriawatto_cobrawelshdog
  • Reply 17 of 79
    M68000 said:
    After decades of gray and white, the black mouse and cables seem like a significant design departure, and a break from the reign of Ive. Of course lots of people don’t care about these details, and I can see an argument for their position, but I hope the Ive design aesthetic is generally maintained, at least until Apple comes up with something better. I know it’s illogical, but even after all this time, I think the gray and white can still feel futuristic in a way that black cables and peripherals never will. 
    Ive only left Apple very recently, while this has been in development for years. So it seems illogical to deny his involvement, if we are to associate his involvement with all other product design. 

    Perhaps when something is unveiled in 2-3 years we can consider it Ive-free, but certainly not now.
    I thought Ive left to start his own company that will do work or help with designs for Apple?  But they will be free to do non Apple projects having their own company.  There were articles a while back stating that.
    I would think that he is tired of redesigning phones and computers by now and would instead want to spend his time designing completely different products.
    fastasleeptmaywatto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 79
    kevin kee said:
    as well as the 24-core configuration with the Vega II Duo video card, the Afterburner card, and 192GB of RAM worth $22,199.

    Let me sink that in in a second...

    Okay, I want it but I don't need it for my use. It is a beautiful machine that demand to be respected with real hard tasks, not sitting on my desk while I am checking email and stuffs. I don't think the machine will like that at all.

    iMac Pro is still my best option and the best 'consumer' Mac available right now.

    But define "best consumer" Mac? I looked at the iMac 5K and iMac Pro and decided 5K was best for my use cases, as a consumer and software dev. It's an awesome machine, and with 3.6Ghz 8-core i9, 2TB SSD, 64GB RAM, 8GB Pro Vega 48, I could have paid more for the iMP but the returns didn't really make sense for me. IMO this is the best consumer iMac and the one I'd recommend to any consumer without knowing more about their use cases.
    The highest base-built for iMac 5K is actually pretty decent: 3.7GHz 6-core processor Turbo Boost up to 4.6GHz, 2TB storage, Retina 5K display vs the lowest base-built for iMac Pro: 3.2GHz Intel Xeon W up to Turbo Boost up to 4.2GHz, 32GB RAM 1TB SSD, Retina 5K display. The only reasons I will go for Pro is for higher upgradable RAM and CPU, the slightly better GPU, I get SSD with the base built, bluetooth 5 and better ethernet. But that will cost me double than the highest base-built 5K.

    At the moment I have 3 options if I go for decent built:
    1. 27 iMac 5k starting from A2799
    2. 27 iMac Pro 5k starting from A7299
    3. Mac Pro starting from A9999* (tower) +A8499 (monitor)

    *although for Mac Pro, it will be better upgrade all in.
    edited December 2019 watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 79

    hodar said:
    Yes, it will get faster - but this is not due to any major accomplishments by Apple.

    This is largely due to the work being done by very bright people at AMD/Intel/nVidia - who are enabling Apple to benefit.  It would be interesting to benchmark the price/Performance of the A-series chips from Apple in a desktop/server application, against AMD/Intel/nVidia and work in that direction.

    But, currently - to give credit to Apple, is akin to giving credit to the cock that crows every morning at sunrise.
    NVidia you say? The company that’s dropping existing Mac support from their next round of drivers? Okay.

    Have I missed an announcement?
    elijahgwatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 79
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,861administrator
    kevin kee said:
    kevin kee said:
    as well as the 24-core configuration with the Vega II Duo video card, the Afterburner card, and 192GB of RAM worth $22,199.

    Let me sink that in in a second...

    Okay, I want it but I don't need it for my use. It is a beautiful machine that demand to be respected with real hard tasks, not sitting on my desk while I am checking email and stuffs. I don't think the machine will like that at all.

    iMac Pro is still my best option and the best 'consumer' Mac available right now.

    But define "best consumer" Mac? I looked at the iMac 5K and iMac Pro and decided 5K was best for my use cases, as a consumer and software dev. It's an awesome machine, and with 3.6Ghz 8-core i9, 2TB SSD, 64GB RAM, 8GB Pro Vega 48, I could have paid more for the iMP but the returns didn't really make sense for me. IMO this is the best consumer iMac and the one I'd recommend to any consumer without knowing more about their use cases.
    The highest base-built for iMac 5K is actually pretty decent: 3.7GHz 6-core processor Turbo Boost up to 4.6GHz, 2TB storage, Retina 5K display vs the lowest base-built for iMac Pro: 3.2GHz Intel Xeon W up to Turbo Boost up to 4.2GHz, 32GB RAM 1TB SSD, Retina 5K display. The only reasons I will go for Pro is for higher upgradable RAM and CPU, the slightly better GPU, I get SSD with the base built, bluetooth 5 and better ethernet. But that will cost me double than the highest base-built 5K.

    At the moment I have 3 options if I go for decent built:
    1. 27 iMac 5k starting from A2799
    2. 27 iMac Pro 5k starting from A7299
    3. Mac Pro starting from A9999* (tower) +A8499 (monitor)

    *although for Mac Pro, it will be better upgrade all in.
    You don't need the Pro Display XDR to go with the Mac Pro. Any HDMI display will do.
    StrangeDayskevin keesidricthevikingcornchipwatto_cobra
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