How good is the new Apple Mac Pro?

How good is the new Apple Mac Pro?

How good is the new Apple Mac Pro?

Posted: 11 Jan 2014 01:56 PM PST

Mac Pro is Apple’s contender for uncompromising workstations, which provide enough power for the most demanding users. The first Mac Pro was introduced on 7th August 2006 and then sported two Intel Xeon processors that quickly made them twice as fast as the then most powerful PowerMac. The first Mac Pro came along in a chic silver mesh enclosure that formed the housing of all Mac Pros until 2012. But in the middle of last year, the time seemed ripe for a new revolution and on 10 June 2013 Apple introduced the new Mac Pro which was so very different from its predecessors. Instead of simply using a tower case, chief designer Jonathan Ive decided to place the Mac Pro in a small black aluminum cylinder.

Apple Mac Pro

The new Apple Mac Pro design

Apple is known for unusual product designs but the new Mac Pro design was still a surprise to many. Historically, Mac Pro has never seemed to fit the strict design philosophy of the apple. Its flexibility was more the result of demand, and therefore the Mac Pro was the most extensible model to come from Apple’s design studios. However, Apple is not a company to be precious about its designs, so they started again from scratch with the question: Why should a modern desktop computer be so big?

Apple Mac Pro

Any halfway decent laptop nowadays has a powerful processor, which is more than adequate for most tasks. No wonder, then, that Apple puts its top hardware in a much more compact housing than before. And with the Apple Thunderbolt 2 interface it has a powerful ally for this strategy. After all, with around 1.5 GB/s bandwidth, the Thunderbolt 2 port will deliver a high rate of data from virtually any external device.

However, a small form factor is not always an advantage. The central problem in compact computers is the waste heat. The larger the component, the easier it is to control and dissipate the waste heat, but in highly integrated systems, such as MacBooks, the heat flow in the case must be taken into account in the first stages of the design process. Like the new Mac Pro, mounting its 3 main components amid a single prism-shaped heatsink which runs completely through the new housing. This is cooled by a single cooling fan, which is located at the top of the cylinder.

Apple Mac Pro

But the Mac Pro is not only beautiful on the inside. From the outside the little black cylinder with its shiny paint is a feast for the eyes. Purchasing an Apple Mac Pro brings not only a technical masterpiece into your home, but also an elegant accessory for your desk. The connections are all collected on one side and are illuminated when required by small LED strips, which aims to facilitate the connection of cables. This is activated by a rotation sensor in the housing which also works automatically.

Apple Mac Pro

The only other light on the housing comes from the Power LED to indicate the operational status of the Mac Pro.

The inner life

The whole truth about Apple’s new computer is only obtained when you take off the cylinder shell of the Mac Pro. Apple designed this process to be as simple as possible with only a single latch that can be opened without using a screwdriver. Under the cover hide the two GPUs and the CPU which are each housed on their own boards. One of the GPUs obscures the view of the internal SSD, which is connected through the PCIe interface. On the other side, next to the terminal strip, are the DDR3 RAM slots, which are accessed via a small lever. Thus, the replacement of the RAM will be a breeze. Overall, the Mac Pro has 4 memory banks, which can be equipped with a total maximum of 64 GB of memory.

Apple Mac Pro

Due to the unusual form factor of the Mac Pro, the printed circuit boards for the GPUs had to be specially developed. This has the consequence that you probably have to contact Apple directly with a defect. But the Mac Pro is a bit more flexible in terms of processor. The Apple Mac Pro has on its CPU board an LGA 2011 socket which supports Intel’s latest Ivy Bridge-EP Xeon CPUs. These are also used in its standard version with heatspreader so that future upgrades are definitely possible, although probably with some effort behind it.

The three large panels are all the Main Logic Board (MLB) connected at the bottom of the Mac Pro. On the MLB you will find find the Platform Controller Hub, which takes over most of the tasks of the internal data communication, and high-speed connectors for the CPU and GPUs.

Quad-Core 6-core

Intel Xeon E5-1620 v2

Intel Xeon E5-1650 v2

CPU clock (Turbo)

3.7 (3.9) GHz

3.5 (3.9) GHz

Cores / threads



L3 cache

10 MB

12 MB


12 GB ECC DDR3-1866

16 GB ECC DDR3-1866





Dual AMD FirePro D300

Dual AMD FirePro D500

Video memory

2 x 2 GB GDDR5

2 x 3 GB GDDR5


2 x Gigabit LAN + 802.11ac

Thunderbolt 2

6 ports

USB 3.0

4 ports

Other connections

Optical audio output, headphone port


8.4 cm x 25.1 cm (R x H)


5 kg


$2999 (≈ $2999)

$3999 (≈ $3999)

Apple offers two different versions of the new Mac Pro, which differ slightly technically. The “beginner” model offers a quad-core processor and 12 GB RAM and is thus already more powerful than most PCs. For this reason, the price also begins at $2999. (≈ $2999) The larger model has a hexa-core processor and 16 GB of RAM, which together work through even the most demanding tasks easily. The performance upgrade can be purchased from Apple for $1000 (≈ $1000), so you have to put on the table for the big Mac Pro at least $3999. (≈ $3999)

But there’s more. Apple also offers the option to build in a 2.7 GHz 12-core CPU with 30 MB of L3 cache, but the costs $3000 (≈ $3000) charge. The memory can also be expanded up to 64 GB and the hard disk and the graphics card may be again, if necessary, improved. Thus, the Mac Pro costs with top features, but without a display, a whopping $9599. (≈ $9599)

However, the basic price is not too high: A comparable computer to the entry-level Mac Pro could not be had, for example, from Lenovo for under $4000. (≈ $4000) Of course, there are often heavy rebates with workstations often coming with game packages and the unique design of Apple is also difficult to compare with the competition, which is why you should not give too much trust in these figures. Nevertheless, the comparison shows that Apple’s pricing policy is quite realistic.

Mac Pro vs MacBook and Co.

Of course, the Mac Pro is aimed at the high-end users, but how great is the performance gap to the other Macs? Anandtech have the viewed more closely, with the publication extensive benchmarks. Interestingly, the new Mac Pro is not the fastest Mac in the single-thread performance. This is mainly due to Intel’s workstation publication policy.

Situation is quite different in the multi-threaded arena. Here the Mac Pro shines with its many cores and puts the other top models to shame. So the 12-core Mac Pro in the multi-threaded Cinebench benchmark is more than twice as fast as the fastest iMac. It depends primarily on the area of ​​application, whether buying a Mac Pro is really worth it.

Why a Mac Pro?

Now perhaps some readers may wonder why Apple ever built Ivy Bridge EP CPUs if they are in many ways slower than the newer Haswell desktop CPUs. The reason is of course closely related to the area of ​​use of the Mac Pro. Workstations such as the Mac Pro are often used for multi-threaded tasks like video editing, 3D design or simulations and are therefore optimized for this purpose.

The bandwidth of the PCIe interface is thought out in a similar vein. The Intel Haswell architecture provides default 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes that connect to the CPU, and a maximum of 8 PCIe 2.0 lanes on the Platform Controller Hub (PCH). In a dual-GPU setup, the 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes are typically divided in equal parts and the rest of the PCIe bandwidth for network data and possibly a memory controller.

By comparison, Ivy Bridge EP offers significantly more bandwidth. The CPU is connected via a full 40 PCIe 3.0 lanes and GPUs can also respond with full 16 lanes so both. The remaining data traffic runs over the remaining 8 PCIe 3.0 lanes on the processor, which are used by the Thunderbolt ports or 8 PCIe 2.0 lanes on PCH.

For games, the Mac Pro is less suitable. Although it does offer enough line to render the most current graphics with high resolution liquidity, but the same graphics performance is already out there at as much lower price.

4K displays

Most users have now upgraded to full HD resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels), but the industry is now preparing for the next resolution standard: 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels). Apple has not missed this development and has given the Mac Pro the same support for up to three 4K displays that can be connected via Thunderbolt 2 or HDMI. However, only one picture repetition rate of 30 Hz is possible by default, this might be fine for photos, but even with simple mouse movements such a low refresh rate triggers frustration. A frame rate of 60 Hz can be acheived currently only with the DisplayPort 1.2 Multi-Stream. This technique was originally used to operate multiple monitors on a single cable, however, recently it has been used to operate a 4K display as a combination of two 1920 x 2160 pixel displays. Unfortunately, this only works with selected monitors, such as the Sharp PN-K321, which Apple offers in its store.


The new Mac Pro is an impressive machine that is perfectly suited for its intended market. It’s many cores clearly point to use with such software as Final Cut Pro or Lightroom (both from Apple). The new focus on GPU power is a good move for the new Mac, as these are increasingly used for other calculations.

On top of the attractive design,  it is still functional. In particular, the cooling concept seems well thought out and keeps the Mac Pro pleasantly quiet. All in all, the Mac Pro a successful update for its aging predecessor.

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