Apple's aging Mac Pro is falling way behind Windows rivals

The company could be waiting for faster GPUs and SSDs before releasing a new high-powered workstation

Apple's Mac Pro has components tightly organized in a cylindrical chassis. Credit: Apple

Apple's Mac Pro has components tightly organized in a cylindrical chassis. Credit: Apple

Apple's Mac Pro is aging fast, especially with screaming fast Windows desktops being announced in recent weeks.

Introduced in 2013, the Mac Pro was a top-of-the-line desktop at that time. It looked exquisite in its sleek cylindrical design, and it sported new features like Thunderbolt 2 ports, plus the latest CPUs, GPUs and NVMe storage.

More importantly, it was a signal that Apple had not abandoned the professional computing market. The latest Mac Pro was a relief to those clamoring for an upgrade from an older version of the computer, which last received a face-lift in 2010.

But the Mac Pro is again falling behind the competition, with powerful new workstations from Lenovo, Dell and HP carrying superior technology. The PC companies are waging an active campaign to tempt Mac Pro users, many of them creative professionals, to move over to Windows PCs with better CPUs, GPUs, and memory.

The new Windows desktops are targeted at video editing, professional applications and the creation of virtual reality content for headsets like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

Among the powerful new Windows machines are HP's new Z Workstations. Starting at US $4,363, the Z Workstations announced this week can be configured with Intel Xeon E5-2600 v4 chips, which have up to 22 cores. Two Nvidia Quadro M6000 GPUs in an SLI (scalable link interface) configuration can provide super-fast graphics performance. The desktop supports DDR4 memory, and there are multiple slots for SATA, SAS (serial-attached SCSI) and NVMe (non-volatile memory) SSD storage.

New Dell Precision workstations, announced last week, can also support the latest 22-core Xeon E5-2600 v4 chips, based on the Broadwell architecture and also introduced last week.

By comparison, the Mac Pro -- which starts at $2,999 -- supports up to 12-core Intel Xeon E5 chips based on the older Ivy Bridge microarchitecture, which started shipping in the third quarter of 2013. The desktop has older AMD FirePro GPU models and DDR3 memory. The Thunderbolt 2 ports are also outdated, and Thunderbolt 3 is two times faster, with its 40Gbps data transfer rate.

The Mac Pro is still a fast machine, but creative professionals want the latest and greatest hardware, said Bob O'Donnell, principal analyst at Technalysis Research.

"I compare it more to a low-end workstation," O'Donnell said.

The desktop is adequate for engineering applications and video editing, but faster computers will allow creative professionals to dabble in VR, O'Donnell said.

VR is a niche but emerging market, and workstations will need more horsepower for visual computing, O'Donnell said.

Apple hasn't indicated it is focused on VR, which still has an uncertain future. But earlier this month, Oculus founder Palmer Luckey said Rift headset support would come to Macs if Apple ever releases "a good computer” to handle the stereoscopic content. VR headsets require top-line CPUs and GPUs in desktops.

Apple has more than VR to consider if it wants to retain Mac Pro users. Apple may enter the fast-growing car market, and computer-aided automobile design will happen on workstations like Mac Pro, O'Donnell said.

O'Donnell also suggested Apple could opt to merge Mac Pro with the iMac. It's not an unprecedented idea; Apple in 2010 killed its Xserve product line and provided a guide for users to transition to the Mac Pro or Mac Mini.

But patience has its virtues. If Apple hangs on before upgrading Mac Pro, some breakthrough technologies could put the desktop leagues ahead of its Windows rivals.

Intel is developing super-fast Optane memory SSD products, which will come to high-end gaming desktops and workstations later this year. Intel claims that Optane, which is based on a technology called 3D Xpoint, is 1,000 times faster and durable than NAND flash storage.

Faster GPUs are en route as well. Apple has shown an affinity for graphics processors from AMD, which plans to release GPUs based on its Polaris architecture later this year.

AMD's rival Nvidia this week introduced a new GPU called Tesla P100, based on its new Pascal architecture and targeted at high-performance computing. Nvidia could also release Quadro GPUs, based on Pascal, for workstations later this year.

Apple could upgrade the Mac Pro if only to show evidence of its technological superiority over Windows rivals. There's no mantra like "good enough" computing for high-end desktops like the Mac Pro, O'Donnell said.

"It's about maintaining relevance," O'Donnell said.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags hardwareApplePCMac ProComponents

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Agam Shah

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?