The new Apple Silicon Mac Pro badly misses the mark for most of the target market

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited June 2023

The Apple Silicon Mac Pro is here two and a half years after the shift from Intel began, but it looks like the company only did it to say that they had.

Apple Silicon Mac Pro still looks the same as the Intel one.
Apple Silicon Mac Pro still looks the same as the Intel one.



So, it's been a few days since the omnibus Apple WWDC keynote. Just about every year, there are rumors that a wide swathe of Apple's product line -- particularly Macs -- will get updated.

This was the first year in a long time that happened. But, those announcements were little more than a preamble to the Apple Vision Pro announcement.

Right after the consumer-focused 15-inch MacBook Air, and the "pro"-centric Mac Studio, Apple announced the end of the shift to Apple Silicon in the new Mac Pro.

What we got from the Apple Silicon Mac Pro, in summary, was this.

  • M2 Ultra processor, promised to be fast and well-cooled

  • Soldered-in 64 GB of RAM, with the max at 192GB

  • Vague promises about the equivalent of seven Afterburner cards on the chip

  • 1TB of SSD space, with up to 8TB available through Apple

  • Six full-length PCI-E fourth generation slots

  • Wi-fi 6E

  • More expensive wheels

  • And it's quieter than the Intel version



And all this for $6999, $1000 more than the Intel version.

Gone this year is the upgradeable RAM. And, the maximum amount of RAM is less. But don't worry -- Apple says it's enough to run large language models if you max it out at the time of purchase.

Also gone is the ability to support Radeon PCI-E video cards, and that's a baffling removal. Apple doesn't even have MPX modules for it, and even that slot is gone.

No MPX, all PCI-E gen 4
No MPX, all PCI-E gen 4



As it stands, the M2 Ultra processor in the core Apple Silicon Mac Pro will deliver right around 185,000 on Geekbench 6, based on extrapolation from Apple's tech specs for the chip with a bonus for better cooling. That puts it right around the AMD Radeon Pro W6800X.

And, it, and the Mac Studio for half the price, will only ever deliver just that. There's no way to get better Metal performance with an add-on.

It also puts it far lower than the Radeon RX 6900XT that's available at retail. That delivers about 230,000 on Geekbench 6. Intel Mac Pro tower owners can jam four of these cards in, with slower PCI-E slots to spare.

The up-gunned Mac Pro looks like it will deliver about 215,000 on Geekbench's Metal testing. That's still less than the Radeon PCI-E card in a PCI-E 3.0 slot in the Intel Mac Pro.

The reasons why for this are complex. It's not just about drivers -- Apple has decided that it didn't need a way for the Apple Silicon processor to talk to an external graphics card, at all, under any circumstances.

It seems unlikely that they'll retrofit this.

What the Pros think



I've spent a few days talking to my contacts across a few industries. Nobody's really impressed.

The music industry folks I talked to are mostly sticking with their 2019 Mac Pro, and a few stalwarts are hanging on to their 5,1 Mac Pro towers for a few more years. The ancient Mac Pros in the studio or on the road don't connect to the internet, so they're not too worried about a lack of security updates.

My Department of Defense folks that used to use Mac Pros are using the Mac Studio now for the most part, with a PCI-E breakout box or two. They have no intentions of shifting, even though they effectively have a spigot of hot and cold running cash to draw from for research or projects.

In every case, the lack of PCI-E GPU support is the killing factor for the new Mac Pro for these folks that all have buckets of money to throw at a problem, if the lack of upgradeable RAM didn't turn them off before they got there.

No video cards, but still PCI-E



Like I said earlier, if you had one of those MPX modules for increased storage, that's too bad. You're out of luck.

There is still a need for PCI-E cards in media production. There are capture cards for many source of audio or video, there are cards for more storage, more USB, and so much more.

The Intel Mac pro is being used by music producers, I've seen it backstage at shows of all kinds. There's a need for it in science of all aspects, and so forth. Obviously, think massive calculational loads, not emails or surfing-primary users unless for a fashion statement.

But today, there are better options. I'm in the process of wrapping up a review of a Sonnet rack-mount for a Mac Studio, which is oddly prescient. The xMac Studio Pro will, for about $1100, hold a Mac Studio for $1999 or $3499 at full retail, depending on processor, and allow for a PCI-E card.

There's also Sonnet's DuoModo system that we've reviewed before, that can provide three PCI-E cards in one enclosure. Alternatively, that old Thunderbolt eGPU enclosure that Apple said in 2016 was the future can handle any of these cards as well, albeit with a 32 gigabit per second cap, versus up to eight times that on a x16 fourth-generation PCI-E slot.

The DuoModo eGPU Module can easily accommodate just about any PCI-E card on the market.
The DuoModo eGPU Module can easily accommodate just about any PCI-E card on the market.



And, all of this, even with a M2 Ultra Mac Studio, still comes in well under the price of the core Mac Pro.

Apple Silicon is great, but the Mac Pro with it is not



Apple Silicon has been great for Apple, and the Mac faithful. It's got industry-leading computing grunt to power consumption, and it does it all quietly and in a very cool package. No more lap-singeing MacBook Pros!

It's restored pricing at the low-end that hasn't been seen in a long time. It's also broken the shackles of promises Intel made for years that led to engineering choices that couldn't handle the heat as well as they should have been able to when the chips that fell short of those lofty goals were delivered.

Mac Studio next to a Mac mini
Mac Studio next to a Mac mini



The Mac Studio and M2 Pro Mac mini are amazing machines. They're both powerful and reasonably affordable for the market segment that needs them. The 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro are some of the best portable Macs ever made -- but I will admit still having a soft spot for my PowerBook 540c to this day.

The Apple Silicon Mac Pro falls short of these lofty heights. It's not close.

As it stands, it is a computing appliance. A set-and-forget computer is fine for most of the Mac-using public, but it is very not fine for the target market for this computer.

Apple once had a Pro-centric team that it consulted for the iMac Pro, and it used them again for the Mac Pro reboot in 2019. I don't think that they talked to them at all for the new one, based on what Apple released.

Maybe that focus group will get together for a M3 or M4 Ultra Mac Pro. But, I'm not holding my breath.

Read on AppleInsider

curtis hannah
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 71
    I think the Mac Studio is enough for a lot of previous Mac Pro buyers who needed the power but not the extendibility of the past Mac Pro, reducing the need for an extensible Mac Pro. In addition, the new SoC approach of Apple Silicon does not allow it to extend memory, which is probably a must have for buyers of this kind of machines. Because of this, I am a bit surprised Apple came with a new Mac Pro. This is not a Mac Pro in the same sense the previous one was.
    keithwmuthuk_vanalingamwilliamlondonAlex1Nwatto_cobra9secondkox2viclauyycFileMakerFellercurtis hannah
  • Reply 2 of 71
    keithwkeithw Posts: 145member
    I'm getting 192,834 on Geekbench 6.0.3 metal with my 2017 iMac Pro with a TB3-based Sonnettech eGPU with a Radeon RX 6900 XT.  It's disappointing that the M2 Ultra apparently can't even reach that number!
    edited June 2023 muthuk_vanalingamlam92103williamlondonAlex1N9secondkox2FileMakerFellercurtis hannah
  • Reply 3 of 71
    I’m curious how you’re fitting four 6900’s in the Mac Pro. I was only able to get two. Any examples?

    I think Apple has once again drawn a line in the sand
    making it clear they are OK with true power users having to use PC’s. Apple is just bored by and unserious about truly high end computing. I’m guessing they are OK with folks with extreme use cases moving to commodity Windows machines. 

    I’m a Houdini user on my Mac Pro, use it for running special effects simulations and rendering. The Mac was already a slightly painful platform for 3D work because of lack of Nvidia support, but with a cap of 192GB Ram, simulation work is out the window. And 3D rendering is a joke without multiple GPUs. So, after being a lifelong Mac user, my next primary machine will have to be a Windows box, which makes me ill. But, I get it, I’m a niche user and Apple just isn’t in the unsexy, geeky, high end compute business. 
    keithwmainyehcmuthuk_vanalingamlam92103dewmelolliverwilliamlondonAlex1Nwatto_cobracgWerks
  • Reply 4 of 71
    keithwkeithw Posts: 145member
    Could you explain the statement "The reasons why for this are complex. It's not just about drivers -- Apple has decided that it didn't need a way for the Apple Silicon processor to talk to an external graphics card, at all, under any circumstances."?  If my 6-year-old Intel iMac Pro can talk to a graphics card over Thunderbolt 3, why can't an Apple Silicon-based Mac do the same?  I think it IS about drivers, and the fact that Apple doesn't want to work with either AMD or nVidia ever again. https://machow2.com/m1-mac-egpus/

    edited June 2023 muthuk_vanalingamwilliamlondonAlex1Nwatto_cobracgWerksFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 5 of 71
    chutzpahchutzpah Posts: 392member
    I don't understand why MPX got dropped.  It seemed a pretty neat form factor, and wasn't only being used for GPUs.  The new Mac Pro supposedly has the exact same PSU and fans arrangement, so it's not as if there wasn't the capacity there.
    muthuk_vanalingamwilliamlondonAlex1Nmattinozwatto_cobracgWerksFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 6 of 71
    Fidonet127Fidonet127 Posts: 521member
    I think the 2023 Mac Pro will have graphics cards, just Apple wasn't ready to announce it yet. The Aux power cables for video cards and other PCI power is listed by Apple as being compatible for both 2019 and 2023 Mac Pros. getting the video cards to work with ASi is very complex, and likely needs more work before releasing. Unfortunately Apply is being forthcoming about video card usage. The memory is a miss for those who really need that amount of memory, however how much need is there for more memory? 
    williamlondonAlex1Nwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 71
    timmilleatimmillea Posts: 247member
    Three awful mistakes in a row - the wedge-less MBA, the monstrosity Studio and now the Mac Pro which alienates all its key markets. I was present for the second coming of Apple but I feel that golden era has sadly passed. I doubt the 'Vision Pro', with such limited use cases and such a high entry price will alter Apple's destiny. 

    As an investor, I would start buying up unopened Macs from a few years ago and putting them into storage. They will never be as good again. 
    edited June 2023 lam92103williamlondonentropys
  • Reply 8 of 71
    It seems really ...silly to just cast aside video cards for Pro machines. These are not actually pro machines now. I'm having flashbacks to the late 90's when Apple badly lost the pro market as they had no video card support.
    lam92103Alex1Nwatto_cobraFileMakerFellercurtis hannahspliff monkey
  • Reply 9 of 71
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,897administrator
    keithw said:
    Could you explain the statement "The reasons why for this are complex. It's not just about drivers -- Apple has decided that it didn't need a way for the Apple Silicon processor to talk to an external graphics card, at all, under any circumstances."?  If my 6-year-old Intel iMac Pro can talk to a graphics card over Thunderbolt 3, why can't an Apple Silicon-based Mac do the same?  I think it IS about drivers, and the fact that Apple doesn't want to work with either AMD or nVidia ever again.
    Sure. To make a long and complex story simple, Intel chips on-die have the ability to address external graphics processors, like PCI-E ones. With that, all you need is a software driver.

    Apple Silicon does not. All video work must be done on-die.
    lam92103xyzzy01appleinsideruserAlex1Nwatto_cobracgWerkschiaddawson100viclauyycFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 10 of 71
    timmillea said:
    Three awful mistakes in a row - the wedge-less MBA, the monstrosity Studio and now the Mac Pro which alienates all its key markets. I was present for the second coming of Apple but I feel that golden era has sadly passed. I doubt the 'Vision Pro', with such limited use cases and such a high entry price will alter Apple's destiny. 

    As an investor, I would start buying up unopened Macs from a few years ago and putting them into storage. They will never be as good again. 
    Predicting the future is pretty tough. And defining 'golden eras' and dark ages usually happens hundreds of years later. I think it's possible that Apple doesn't really care about the Pro market but hasn't come to terms with it yet institutionally. But as others have said, there is nothing to stop them from introducing the support of external or internal video cards in the future. But is it even worth it? What they have is good for, let's say 90% of the market. Do they want/need that other 10% (or less) of the Pro market? That's the question. Not 'golden age' or 'dark age'.
    dewmewilliamlondonrobin huberAlex1Nwatto_cobracurtis hannah
  • Reply 11 of 71
    mfrydmfryd Posts: 217member
    Apple is clearly targeting the Mac as an appliance.   Frankly, that's a benefit to almost all of the market.  Yes, there is a very small percentage of users who need expandability, insanely fast graphics cards, and over a TB of RAM.   They are not in Apple's target market.

    Apple has transitioned to a system on a chip model that limits expandability.   Frankly, it does a great job for the vast majority of the market.  This design vastly increases performance, but places limits on total RAM and external graphics.  By having the CPU and GPU share the same memory, you reduce time wasted moving data between the two.  By having that RAM onboard, and not in an external slot, memory access speeds are greatly reduced.   If you move to off chip socketed memory, or an external GPU with dedicated memory, you lose a lot of the benefit of the Apple Silicon architecture.   Yes, you could have a Mac Pro with more memory than a Mac Studio, but it wouldn't run as fast.  

    I am not saying that Apple couldn't design a CPU that efficiently supports socketed RAM and external GPU, but it may not make business sense for them to design a new architecture for such a small market segment.

    sdw2001lolliverAlex1Nwatto_cobraquadra 610
  • Reply 12 of 71
    Good report Mike. I also don’t think 2023 Mac Pro will sell nearly as well as the 2019 Pro. I hope that dip in sales prompts them to double down on improving future Mac Pros, rather than abandoning it altogether.

    I’d guess that they would have liked to do more with AS Mac Pro, but for whatever reason were not able to get it done this year. Hopefully they will keep pushing forward. From taking a year longer than their 2 year transition goal, to failing to deliver the planned Jade 4C “Extreme” SoC in both M1 and M2 generations, seems like they really hit some roadblocks from their original intent. I highly doubt they would have given 2019 Mac Pro such dramatically better expansion capabilities if they knew they wouldn’t be able to maintain that level of performance after Apple Silicon transition.

    One has to suspect the ongoing brain drain on the Apple Silicon design team is part of these stumbles. Let’s hope Srouji gets the big Mac back on track, and their patented multi-GPU tech comes to light soon!
    roundaboutnowlam92103Alex1Nwatto_cobraFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 13 of 71
    Good report Mike. I also don’t think 2023 Mac Pro will sell nearly as well as the 2019 Pro. I hope that dip in sales prompts them to double down on improving future Mac Pros, rather than abandoning it altogether.

    I’d guess that they would have liked to do more with AS Mac Pro, but for whatever reason were not able to get it done this year. Hopefully they will keep pushing forward. From taking a year longer than their 2 year transition goal, to failing to deliver the planned Jade 4C “Extreme” SoC in both M1 and M2 generations, seems like they really hit some roadblocks from their original intent. I highly doubt they would have given 2019 Mac Pro such dramatically better expansion capabilities if they knew they wouldn’t be able to maintain that level of performance after Apple Silicon transition.

    One has to suspect the ongoing brain drain on the Apple Silicon design team is part of these stumbles. Let’s hope Srouji gets the big Mac back on track, and their patented multi-GPU tech comes to light soon!
    The 2023 Mac Pro does feel like a stop gap, and I also feel like Apple still intends to do more with it. 

    Thanks for the links to the other AI articles to provide evidence of what Apple might hope to achieve with the Mac Pro and the possible reason why only so much progress has been made.

    As much as I would like to see a more versatile and expandable Mac Pro, the fact is that one of the reasons I wanted this was for the horsepower to play back very large format video files out of 4 to 8 4K display outputs. Now we see that the Mac Pro can do this without the need for GPU expansion cards, so yay... However, if no expansion card needed, guess what? -- the Mac Studio M2 Ultra can do this too (and is much less expensive).

    The current M2 Ultra's GPU performance and physical display outputs will be enough for a good number of users and that while providing additional expansion capabilities is important, Apple has bought the time to figure it out. In the meantime, at least users that need non-GPU cards (don't forget about those SSD expansion cards) have something to work with.
    edited June 2023 lolliverAlex1Nwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 71
    keithwkeithw Posts: 145member
    Perhaps it's too early to write off the Mac Pro entirely. It's clearly a placeholder product. Here's a job description for a job Apple is currently trying to hire for:
    "As a GPU Design Engineer, you will be responsible for delivering high-quality, low-power graphics IP that meets our performance, timing, and area goals. You will explore design trade-offs, while employing rigorous design principles. Additionally, you will be required to understand and contribute to cutting edge microarchitectural specifications, while designing best in class GPUs. To accomplish this, you will collaborate closely with cross-functional teams in architecture, validation, modeling, and physical design."

    roundaboutnowlolliverrobin huberAlex1Ndanoxwatto_cobracgWerks
  • Reply 15 of 71
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 3,426member
    keithw said:
    Could you explain the statement "The reasons why for this are complex. It's not just about drivers -- Apple has decided that it didn't need a way for the Apple Silicon processor to talk to an external graphics card, at all, under any circumstances."?  If my 6-year-old Intel iMac Pro can talk to a graphics card over Thunderbolt 3, why can't an Apple Silicon-based Mac do the same?  I think it IS about drivers, and the fact that Apple doesn't want to work with either AMD or nVidia ever again.
    Sure. To make a long and complex story simple, Intel chips on-die have the ability to address external graphics processors, like PCI-E ones. With that, all you need is a software driver.

    Apple Silicon does not. All video work must be done on-die.
    GPUs can be used for purposes other than driving a monitor. Could a GPU used solely for computation be a possibility?
    Alex1Nwatto_cobracgWerks
  • Reply 16 of 71
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,897administrator
    blastdoor said:
    keithw said:
    Could you explain the statement "The reasons why for this are complex. It's not just about drivers -- Apple has decided that it didn't need a way for the Apple Silicon processor to talk to an external graphics card, at all, under any circumstances."?  If my 6-year-old Intel iMac Pro can talk to a graphics card over Thunderbolt 3, why can't an Apple Silicon-based Mac do the same?  I think it IS about drivers, and the fact that Apple doesn't want to work with either AMD or nVidia ever again.
    Sure. To make a long and complex story simple, Intel chips on-die have the ability to address external graphics processors, like PCI-E ones. With that, all you need is a software driver.

    Apple Silicon does not. All video work must be done on-die.
    GPUs can be used for purposes other than driving a monitor. Could a GPU used solely for computation be a possibility?
    It's not just monitors as far as Apple Silicon goes. At present, there's just no way to feed calculations to a GPU.
    roundaboutnowlolliverAlex1Nwatto_cobracgWerks
  • Reply 17 of 71
    The limitations only really affect users whose workflow depends on Mac only apps. Anyone using apps that are also available for Windows or Linux can just migrate to the new HP Z8 Fury G5.
  • Reply 18 of 71
    Yeah but where is Bob Iger on this? Will Disney+ be on the Silicon Mac Pro from day one? We need answers. 
    williamlondon
  • Reply 19 of 71
    danoxdanox Posts: 3,098member
    keithw said:
    Could you explain the statement "The reasons why for this are complex. It's not just about drivers -- Apple has decided that it didn't need a way for the Apple Silicon processor to talk to an external graphics card, at all, under any circumstances."?  If my 6-year-old Intel iMac Pro can talk to a graphics card over Thunderbolt 3, why can't an Apple Silicon-based Mac do the same?  I think it IS about drivers, and the fact that Apple doesn't want to work with either AMD or nVidia ever again. https://machow2.com/m1-mac-egpus/

    With the introduction of Apple Vision Pro, the redesign on a lot of their in-house software and hardware across the Mac, iPhone, iPad, and many other things they’ve done in recent times with Apple Silicon, it’s obvious Apple is on a different path, and it doesn’t include Intel, AMD or Nvidia whatsoever, after all, could the Apple Vision Pro be made being tied to those three companies no it cannot.
    edited June 2023 freeassociate2Alex1Nwatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 71
    robin huberrobin huber Posts: 3,990member
    Perhaps Apple needs a “Racing Division” apart from consumer/prosumer products? They could afford to put a few engineers to work making geeky dream machines for aspirational and vanity purposes. Who knows, maybe some of their innovations would eventually trickle down to benefit us regular users?
    roundaboutnowmobirdAlex1Ndanoxwatto_cobrawilliamlondoncgWerks
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