Why The Mac Pro Matters And Why It Isn’t Designed For Most Mac Users

Why The Mac Pro Matters And Why It Isn’t Designed For Most Mac Users

The Mac Pro is the most PC-like Mac, but it serves niches that other Macs and PCs can’t.

Apple quietly updated its Mac Pro line last week. The update was an important move even though the actual changes were so minor as to be barely noteworthy. The minor refresh gave high computing customers a sense of confidence that Apple wasn’t going to abandon the Mac Pro line anytime soon. That sense of confidence got a boost from New York Times columnist David Pogue, who was assured more substantive Mac Pro upgrades were in the works for 2013.

The Mac Pro is something of a relic when it comes to Apple’s current strategy. It’s the only Mac that features significant expansion options using industry standard hardware – a point made by Lifehacker columnist Adam Dachis, who compared the Mac Pro’s specs and costs to three hackintosh options. Looking at the Mac Pro as simply a series of specs, performance, and cost is appropriate for most users – but not for some important niche markets.

The overall argument is that you can create a PC with equivalent hardware and reasonably comparable performance that is capable of running OS X for much less than you’d pay Apple for a Mac Pro. Even the areas where Apple offers hardware combinations that aren’t easily replicated — such as in motherboard designs that accommodate a greater range of multi-core processors — Dachis makes a solid argument that such systems can still deliver comparable performance at a much lower cost.

That’s an argument that is difficult to refute. After all how many Mac users truly need 12 cores in a single system? In the same vein, how many Mac users are going to slap anything near 64 GB of memory (the maximum that the Mac Pro can handle) into a system?

The answer is almost no one. No matter how demanding the most advanced user is, he or she isn’t going to need that kind of processing power or memory. That doesn’t mean, however, that the capability is unimportant.

The Mac Pro is largely seen as the ideal Mac for media work. It’s a standard work station for design professionals, photographers, and professional video editors. For those users, Apple’s decision to make a minor update, rather than a redesign that includes features like USB 3 and Thunderbolt, is problematic. The current offering doesn’t move the Mac Pro as a professional workstation forward. If a major redesign is in the works, it will almost certainly address these needs.

Beyond that market, however, Apple has hyped OS X and the Mac Pro as solutions for large-scale computing clusters and scientific computing. Similarly, the Mac Pro serves an important niche in its role as Apple’s primary SAN and metadata controller option. It is also the most powerful Mac hardware to run OS X Server on the market. In situations like these, sheer computational ability — the ability to support up to 12 cores and 64GB of RAM — are the crucial complements that the Mac Pro brings to the table.

Will most Mac users use the Mac Pro in these way? No. Could many Mac users build a hackintosh equivalent and have it be functional? Yes. If you’re an organization purchasing Mac Pros specifically because of those unique options, should you go with an unsupported hardware and OS combination, like a hackintosh? Absolutely not.

The Mac Pro has never been a machine for every Mac user. With the demise of the Xserve, the Mac Pro serves as a high-end and very configurable Mac, a high-computing solution, and a server. Most users won’t push it to its limits, but for those users or organizations that do, it’s crucial part of Apple’s lineup.

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  • Steffen Jobbs

    I think that Apple makes enough money to keep the hardware updated every year whether the product is in high demand or not.  Personally, I believe that Apple just doesn’t care about the Mac Pro because it doesn’t return enough money for Apple.  Apple doesn’t work as a charity organization.  It’s almost hard to rationalize why Apple keeps it in the lineup if hardly anyone is buying Mac Pros.  They sure are some awesome looking computers but they certainly are hard for the average computer user to justify buying one.

  • Tallest_Skil

    They sure are some awesome looking computers but they certainly are hard for the average computer user to justify buying one.

    Thanks for not reading the article at all. They’re not for the average computer user. They’re not even for the above average computer user.

    If you’re buying it for looks, you have more money than sense.
  • Lane Jasper

    Will most Mac users use the Mac Pro in these way?”


    this way, not these way.
  • GH SHhe

    Apple is begging people even touting people to say F&@^ the Mac Pro, go build a hackintosh if you need that kind of power.  Really, Apple is still looking ahead when people build hackintoshes, the “App Store” business model, apple taxes it pretty heavily, so if there are more computers running OSX, Apple is still coming out ahead… 

    Especially for people that don’t mind ignoring the “end user agreement” (not illegal to ignore it, may be some low level of perjury or something of the sort) but do not want to pirate the software.  I know when I built my hackintosh, I purchased a copy of snow leopard and a copy of ilife.

    Hackintosh community, Apple has given us their blessing to “hackintosh” away by ignoring the Mac Pro for soooo long!!!  Can’t wait to have some thunderbolt on a Hack Pro before Apple does!  I mean, it was their propriatary F^*&ing cable format.  You would think Apple’s first thing they did with the technology was to put it on ALL of their own machines.

    It’s just very frustrating to be very ignored by the company that we helped build.  And by ignoring us (the pro crowd) you’re also creating hostility with users of your other products who may consider switching on both your OS and you iOS.

    It does seem Microsoft just announced their tablet, looks like it would compliment Windows 8 quite well!
    For not I am just going to HACKINTOSH it… or use my i7 quad-core Macbook Pro.  Thanks Apple!

  • MrPeabody

    “The Mac Pro is largely seen as the ideal Mac for media work. It’s a standard work station for design professionals, photographers, and professional video editors.” Well, since you put it that way I guess we now know how this’ll turn out. While I hear endless media splash about Apple making inroads into enterprise, the fact is that it becomes more a consumer platform by the year with no real aim toward professional application at all. I love Apple products, including in the workplace, but that doesn’t change the facts.

About the author

Ryan FaasRyan Faas is a technology journalist and consultant living in upstate New York who has written extensively about Apple, business and enterprise IT, and the mobile industry. In addition to writing for Cult of Mac, he is a contributor to Computerworld, InformIT, and Peachpit Press. In a previous existence he was a healthcare IT director as well as a systems and network administrator. Follow Ryan on Twitter and Google +

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