Putting the Mac Pro’s Price into Historical Context 

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Ed Cormany, co-host of the excellent podcast Simple Beep, which focuses on the history of Apple and the Mac.


When Apple announced the new Mac Pro last week, one of the things that got the most attention was its price tag: the base configuration will cost $5,999. The question is whether it’s an outlandish price for what is far and away the most powerful Mac ever sold. The fact is that Apple has definitely charged that much in the past for its hardware.

The graph above shows the base prices for 60 different Apple hardware lines, and how those values compare over time accounting for inflation.1 Of course, these computers didn’t actually become more valuable over time, except for collectors items, but this visualization allows for comparison of how much of an impact any given model had on consumers’ wallets. 22 of the models shown cost more than a Mac Pro when adjusted to 2019 dollars, and several of them cost more than $6,000 when they were launched.

Apple I and II – a bargain!

Apple launched their first computer in 1976 for the devilishly competitive price of $666.66. Adjusted to 2019 dollars, that doesn’t crack $3,000. On the other hand, you did have to supply your own case, monitor, keyboard, and cassette decks for data storage. The original Apple II came closest to Mac Pro prices, at over $5,000 in 2019 dollars. In the mid and late 80s, the Apple II line was an absolute bargain compared to Apple’s new product line: the Macintosh.

Early Macs – pricey and pricier

The 128K Macintosh launched in 1984 for $2,590. At the time people wondered: why would you buy this bizarre all-in-one computer with a black-and-white display and this thing called a mouse for the price of serious, “you can get real work done on it” computer hardware? That’s right, adjusted for inflation the original Mac just outpaces today’s Mac Pro, at $6,088. It’s the same story as it was 35 years ago: buying the future is never cheap.

In fact, no Mac released before 1990 finishes under the Mac Pro line, and a few of them started above it. The modular2 Macintosh II line was wildly powerful and wildly expensive, with models ranging from $5,500 and up in 1987. The all-in-one SE/30, often lauded as the Mac with the greatest longevity, launched at $6,500 and barely stays on our chart in 2019. The priciest Mac ever, the IIfx, started at $10K and achieves escape velocity sometime in the early 2000s.

It literally stands for “low-cost”

The 90s were a time of differentiation for the Mac product line. The Macintosh Classic put affordable components in the familiar Macintosh case, while the LC line delivered simple pizza boxes with color display support. The LCIII had the cheapest sticker price of any Mac for a long time — until the Mac Mini — at $750, or just over $1,300 adjusted for inflation.

Meanwhile, the Quadra line was the Mac Pro of the day, with prices to match. The Quadra 900 was the last ordinary desktop Mac to start above the Mac Pro line, at a whopping $7,200. And if you think that Apple is cheaping out now on its base SSD storage, think again. That base model had no hard drive whatsoever, just an empty drive bay for you to fill with even more of your hard-earned dollars. Even the LCIII had a 40MB hard drive.

Power for pros

At the dawn of the PowerPC era, Apple released “good, better, best” versions of its desktops: the Power Macintosh 6100, 7100, and 8100. They ranged from consumer3 to professional pricing, with only the 8100 topping our Mac Pro line after inflation. The high end went even higher with the 6500, 7500, 8500, and 9500 models a year later. The 9500 would be about $7,800 in 2019.

The later generations of Power Mac towers had less sticker shock, primarily due to the collapsing of product lines. The grid of four wouldn’t work with tons of numerical model numbers, so only the “good” models of G3, G4, and G5 towers are charted here; they all (even the Cube) retailed for under $2,000 and wouldn’t crack $3K today. Of course, the beefiest tower configurations cost far more than that.

Portables – got it in two

The first Macintosh Portable was not a good buy. It retailed for $6,500, had a lead-acid battery, and only weighed 4 pounds less than the similarly priced SE/30. The first PowerBook, on the other hand, got it right at $2,500 ($4,600 in 2019 dollars) and just 5 pounds. Most PowerBooks were good deals, and only a couple surpass the Mac Pro line, including the top-class PowerBook 5300ce, which started above the line at $6,800 in 1995.

Outliers

To close out, there are a couple expensive oddities that merit their own mention. The Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh is the latest machine that was introduced at over $6,000, but that comes with an asterisk as it was marketed as a collector’s piece and had its price slashed from $7,500 to $3,500 after just six months because nobody was buying them.

And finally, I haven’t covered the most egregious line on the chart, the one at the top left, not color-coded in any category. It’s Steve Jobs’ biggest losing bet, the Lisa, which cost $9,995 in 1983. At over $25,000 adjusted for inflation, it’s the most costly computer Apple has ever sold. Anyone who has recently said, “Wow, I could buy 5 cheap iMacs for the price of that Mac Pro” might have said the same thing about the Apple II and the Lisa then.

Fortunately for today’s Apple, the new Mac Pro is not nearly the risk that the Lisa was. To be so daring, it would have had to be an all new architecture (maybe ARM-exclusive, leaving all Intel software behind without a compatibility mode) and costing something like $20,000 including the monitor. But the 2019 Mac Pro isn’t foolish bet; it’s a high-end Mac tower offered at a historically consistent price.


  1. Inflation data source: US Department of Labor Consumer Price Index 
  2. Some things never change. 
  3. The 6100 was my family’s first Mac, so it definitely could be seen as a consumer PC. 

Mac Power Users #486: Essential iOS Apps »

This week on MPU, David and I shared more than 30 of our favorite (and most-used) iOS apps, across a wide range of categories.

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The iMac Pro, in a Mac Pro World 

I think it’s fair to say that the iMac Pro — a Xeon-powered, multi-core monster in an iMac chassis — was Apple’s plan for the pro desktop market before the Mac Pro project was started and later shared in early 2017.

This week, we saw the fruits of that labor in the all-new Mac Pro, and we got a lot of questions answered, including one that has been on my mind as an iMac Pro user:

Is there still room for the iMac Pro in a Mac Pro world?

The answer is yes — a resounding yes.

With the Mac Pro, Apple has put a stake in the ground at the very highest end of the professional market. If you’re making the next Star Wars — or the music for it, the games based on it — this could be the computer for you.

With that power comes great flexibility in the form of PCI slots, waiting and ready for additional GPUs, the Afterburner video card and more.

We don’t have all the details yet, but that power will demand a high price. The base model with an 8-core Xeon, 32 GB of RAM, Radeon Pro 580X graphics and a 256GB SSD will run you $5,999.

In comparison, my $4,999 base-model iMac Pro came with the same number of cores, a better GPU, four times the storage and a built-in 5K display.

The iMac Pro trades away flexibility and upgradability for its thin enclosure and clean design, but if you’re looking at the entry-level models, it’s a far better deal than the Mac Pro.

Once you start customizing either machine the price will rise, and while we can’t obviously do a full comparison until later this year when Apple ships its new tower, I can imagine that the iMac Pro will remain the less expensive option in almost every possible configuration. The Mac Pro will top out far faster and more capable than its all-in-one sibling, but I think it’s clear that the iMac Pro hasn’t lost its footing in the product line.

This week on Mac Power Users, David and I spoke with Doug Brooks, the Mac Pro product manager. We asked him about the relationship between these two machines, and he said that he believes Apple’s pro Mac users are a self-selecting bunch, and will know if the iMac Pro or Mac Pro will better fit their needs. I think he’s right, and for many people, the iMac Pro will continue to be the best Mac to fit their needs.

The more I think about, the more I think that is true for me. The most intense parts of my workflow involving editing 4K video, and my iMac Pro easily does what I need it to do in Final Cut Pro X. That — combined with my love of the machine’s all-in-one design — may keep me in the iMac Pro Camp for years to come, despite the Mac Pro being relevant again.

Liftoff #100: There’s Nobody in Charge »

This week on Liftoff, we mark our 100th episode in person, covering the news:

Jason and Stephen discuss the debate around Starlink and its impact on astronomy, cover the latest GAO report and talk about the importance of Commercial Moon Landing Services.

My thanks to our sponsor:

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Connected #246: The Ultimate Dark Mode is a Crash »

Our live WWDC Connected episode is my favorite work event of the year, and 2019 did not disappoint:

Live from WWDC in San Jose, Federico, Myke and Stephen review their WWDC predications and prizes are awarded after an intervention. Then, iPadOS, Shortcuts and the Mac Pro are discussed before Federico’s surprise is unveiled for the world to see.

Federico’s surprise lived up to the hype.

My thanks to our sponsors who made this very special live episode possible:

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Kbase Article of the Week: About the Upcoming Changes with iTunes on Mac »

Apple Support:

Here’s what to expect:

  • Music that you’ve imported or purchased will be in the new Apple Music app.
    The iTunes Store will still be available to buy music on Mac, iOS, PC, and Apple TV.
  • iPhone, iPad, and iPod backup, restore, and syncing will move to Finder.
  • Movies and TV shows that you purchased or rented from iTunes will be in the new Apple TV app.
  • Use the Apple TV app for Mac for future movie and TV purchases or rentals.
  • Podcasts that you subscribed to or added to iTunes will now be in the new Apple Podcasts app.
  • Audiobooks that you purchased from iTunes will now be in the updated Apple Books app.
  • Use Apple Books for Mac for future audiobook purchases.
  • iTunes Gift Cards and iTunes credits will be maintained and can be used with the new apps and the App Store.

While I am sure some people will miss iTunes, I’m excited by this new direction.

The Case for a 5K Thunderbolt Display 

Apple’s new Pro Display XDR is, in a word, incredible. Getting to see several of them in person on Monday in Apple’s demo area was a real treat.

It’s hard to describe how good the panel looks. It displays colors with a richness I haven’t ever seen before, and the brightness is just mind-blowing.

Of course, that should be true given the starting price of $5,999, with both the matte option and the crazy-pants stand each running another $999. Apple says this display is for the highest-level professional users working on top-dollar creative projects. I believe them, and in talking to people this week at WWDC, the high-end reference monitor market is about to experience real disruption at the hands of the Pro Display XDR.

I think this is an important product for Apple to make, but in releasing it, they haven’t met the market that I — and many of you — are in: the enthusiast/power user/Mac nerd market.

On my studio desk back in Memphis sits an iMac Pro. It’s the best computer I have ever owned. It’s incredibly fast, works in virtual silence and has an amazing 5K Retina display. My base model machine was $4,999, and I’ve been very happy with it since buying it a year and a half ago. I expect that to continue, but in the run-up to WWDC, I have been considering moving to a Mac Pro as a longer-term machine to edit my podcasts and videos on.

However, I have a problem: I don’t know what display I would hook up to it.

I don’t need what the Pro Display XDR offers. My workflow is not dependent on dead-accurate colors, and I don’t need the high levels of brightness the display can sustain. Not to mention the price puts it way out of my budget.

There are some good 4K monitors out on the market, but none of them integrate as nicely with macOS as the LG UltraFine 5K, which offered a nice panel in a somewhat compromised enclosure, and the new one doesn’t look much better.

What I want, and what I think many in the Mac community want, is a 5K Thunderbolt Display.

Sold for $999 from 2011 to 2017, the 27-inch Thunderbolt Display offered Apple’s ease of use in a beautiful design, all driven by a single cable.

It was effectively a 27-inch iMac without the computer, and that is exactly what I want today, and I think there’s clearly room in Apple’s product strategy for a less-bonkers display based on the current 5K iMac.

Just like before, it could use Thunderbolt to enable single-cable use for video and accessories, but this time even deliver power for notebook users, eschewing the MagSafe connecter the original Thunderbolt Display came with. A modern Thunderbolt Display could also bring P3 color, True Tone and Night Shift as well, matching the world-class display found in the iMac.

This display would meet the needs of many users who want a high resolution external monitor for their Mac, designed to match Apple’s current hardware, without the extras that make the Pro Display XDR what it is. Users with notebooks, Mac minis and even iMacs would benefit from a more attainable Apple display.

I’d gladly have one on my desk, with a Mac Pro purring away on the floor.

Mac Power Users #485: WWDC and Interview with the Mac Pro Product Manager »

Absolutely huge Mac Power Users this week, recorded in-person in San Jose:

Stephen and David have boots on the ground in San Jose for WWDC 2019. In this episode, they interview Doug Brooks, the Apple Product Manager for the new Mac Pro. Afterward, David and Stephen share initial thoughts on updates to macOS and the brand new iPadOS. David has some tough questions for Stephen about his future and the new Mac Pro, and they get to share the good news about the brand new “Sparky Button.” Finally, our hosts give you the lowdown on their WWDC experiences.

Interviewing Doug was real career highlight stuff, and I learned a lot about the Mac Pro as well as the Pro Workflow Team at Apple that helps shape the company’s products. I think you’re really going to enjoy this episode.

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