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October 25th 2013 4:08 pm

The new Mac Pro: winners and losers

As those that have read my review of the now old Mac Pro already know, I was not pleased that Apple failed to keep the Mac Pro competitive with other workstations (i.e. systems with one to two socket Xeons). Tuesday's announcement did clarify things a bit.

The winners:
  • those in media production whose applications will take advantage of those GPUs
  • power users that want/need to drive a lot of displays and prefer OS X
The losers:
  • users that were using the Mac Pro as a technical workstation - there are now too few CPU cores on offer. Game over unless you can get versions of your applications that can substitute the GPUs for the CPUs.
On the fence:
  • developers and testers that run many OS in virtualization - the monitor options are great, but the the number of CPU cores is on the low side.
That doesn't seem like a lot of winners, but maybe I am underestimating the size of the media workstation market?

As to power users with more mainstream needs, the cost to benefit ratio has never looked less favorable unless storage IOPS have already pushed you into using high performance external storage.

Am I missing anything here?

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I'd love to know more about using the Mac Pro as a technical workstation (or what a technical workstation is). Are 8-cores too few? What are the applications for something with that much processing power?
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I'd imagine autocad and things of that nature. Or even people who need to run constant monitoring tools that may end up taxing the CPU.
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I hadn't thought of data acquisition and industrial or laboratory monitoring. I haven't been concerned with those aspects of computing in over 15 years. I'd be interested to hear from those with more current knowledge of this area.
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If you make heavy use of desktop virtualization, you can never have enough cores. The same applies to compute intensive tasks that can take advantage of threading - encoding and transcoding video comes to mind. However, in reference to encoding/transcoding, it may be that the GPUs can handle this better if your application supports that.

Technical workstation is a bit of an anachronism; but, for me, it covers those IT requests where a traditional desktop, notebook, server or some combination thereof is not the answer. Thus, some sort of specialty application or use case is involved; and, worse case, it may utilize some very old software that was recompiled for 64-bit expressly for the memory space. Thus, you may need large amounts of RAM and high clock speeds for this part of the workflow; and more common tools for everything else. In this case, two four core CPUs running at 3.7GHz may be far better solution than one eight core CPU running at 2.7GHz. It is not just the lack of CPU cores that bothers me; it is the complete lack of a second CPU socket. And, yes. I suppose the answer could be provisioning one Mac Pro for the resource hog part of the workflow; and then another Mac for everything else. But that is kind of a kluge, isn't it?

In some instances, the request revolves around highly paid technical staff (e.g. physicians, engineers and scientists) that just want to be treated special; and, if they prefer Macs, then I can certainly see the new Mac Pro meeting "political" requirements in some cases. Heh. I guess one might (in secret) refer to such setups as Political Workstations. ;)
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