It’s been one day since Apple announced a new Mac Pro, so we are now safely within the time period in which we can go back to worrying about the product and its future.
Back in 2006 when the first Mac Pro was announced, we were already at the tail end of the era of desktop tower Macs. 17 years later, notebooks are more popular than ever, and in the age of Apple silicon, they are more powerful than ever, too.
That puts desktop Macs on thinner ice than ever before in terms of unique capabilities. That’s not to say that Apple is abandoning the category — other than the seemingly-forgotten 24-inch iMac and the lack of a larger all-in-one, things are firing on all cylinders.
The Mac Studio is the greatest example of this. I don’t think anyone had “New Pro Desktop” on their bingo card for 2022, not to mention an update a year into its life. In my brief ownership of an M1 Max version of the machine, I was blown away by the performance Apple managed to cram into what is basically a taller Mac mini.1
Sitting between the Mac mini and Mac Pro, the Mac Studio has probably taken customers away from both, but I have to imagine the Mac Pro is on the losing side of that equation.
The new new Mac Pro is powered by the same M2 Ultra chip as found in the new high-end Mac Studio, with all of the good and bad that brings. It is amazingly fast, and the SoC blows away the old Xeon + Afterburner arrangement in the 2019 machine when it comes to encoding video.
However, it also comes with all the downsides of being an SoC. Gone is the 1.5 TB RAM limit of the 2019 Mac Pro, but more importantly, gone is the ability to add RAM after purchase. The same thing goes for upgrading the GPU.
The truth in 2023 is that Mac Pro you buy today will be the same core machine in five years, and that’s just not something we’re used to seeing when it comes to this machine.
Upgradability, of course, is just one side of the coin. The other is expandability. For those who rely on capture cards, huge amounts of internal storage and other PCI-based solutions, the Mac Pro continues to be their only option in Apple’s line.
The number of 2019 Mac Pros sold cannot be huge, but the new one’s numbers are going to be even smaller. As a Mac Pro fan that worries me. Yes, there are users who are reliant on PCI solutions and I’m sure those folks will upgrade to this new machine at some point. Those who purchased a Mac Pro in the past to have a machine they could keep current over the long haul are seemingly out of luck.
Are some extra Thunderbolt ports and a bunch of open PCI slots enough to justify the Mac Pro’s $3,000 premium over the Mac Studio? For most users, my guess is no. The days of the Mac Pro being the most powerful, most capable Mac are over, at least for now.
If a future Mac Pro has an SoC unique to it, as it was rumored a couple of years ago, that would certainly be exciting. M3 Extreme, perhaps? Off-die GPUs, anyone?
Several of us who cover Apple have heard that there are those inside the company that did not want this machine to see the light of day, believing the Mac Studio to be enough to hold down the high-end of the Mac line. Seeing the machine that Apple announced this week, I think they may eventually get their way.
- The fan noise also blew me away. I ended up mounting the thing under my desk. ↩