Do You Need the New Mac Pro?

Let’s assume first of all that regardless of how many machines are in your rig, you are committed to using a Mac as the primary machine. Then the question becomes which Mac. I have always advised, “buy the fastest and most powerful Mac you can afford” and if money were no object, I probably would buy the new Mac Pro. But would I really be making a smart decision, unless I needed the tax write off?

In the past, Mac Pros were attractive to buyers despite their greater cost because in addition to being more powerful processors than other Macs, they had more drive bays, had some form of multiple pci slots that other Macs did not have, and could have more RAM installed.

So what is still true and what is no longer true?

Processor- Top of the line Mac Pro can be ordered with either a 3.7 quad Core, 3.5 six core, 3.0 eight core, or 2.7 twelve core, all with the new new E5 Intel chip. The top of the line iMac offers up to a 3.5 quad core i7, 3.9 with Turbo boost. Some reviewers claim that the E5 is twice as powerful, but while I can neither verify or refute that personally, I am sure it is faster than the E3 Haswell chip that the top of the line iMac sports.

Also, the Mac Pro will now have a user replaceable processor. This is the first Mac to ever have this and will be a powerful inducement for many users.

RAM – the top of the line Mac Pro can install 64 GB. The top of the line iMac can only install 32 GB.

So clearly, the Mac Pro will still be the fastest and most powerful Mac on the planet. The new dual GPUs will presumably make a big difference for video editors but not really a factor for us audio folk.

But does the new Mac Pro still have the advantages of providing lots of drive bays and pci-e slots? The answer is no, it does not. Apple has made a very significant paradigm shift towards being more modular, smaller, and more quiet. It also looks totally different and reactions to the “trash can” design compare to its aluminum predecessors has ranged from high praise to savage disparagement.

There is no more optical drive bay; no more four internal HDD bays; no more four pci-e slots. No mouse and keyboard either, by the way.

“Instead, the new Mac Pro clusters its three key components – a main board with the processor, flanked by four memory slots, and then two graphics cards, one of which is also fronted by the PCIe flash storage- around a central cooling core with a single fan, and then turns to external peripherals for any significant expansion.”

What it does give you is six Thunderbolt 2 ports compared to the iMacs two Thunderbolt 1 ports. Thunderbolt is daisy chainable ands so that supports up to 36 devices. There is some controversy as to how big an advantage Thunderbolt 2 will be over Thunderbolt 1 for streaming samples and audio, but certainly even original Thunderbolt for an SSD is as we say in Boston, “wicked fast”, essentially pci-e with a cable. It also has four USB 3 ports and that is also a pretty fast protocol, significantly faster than either Firewire or USB 2.

So if like me, you use pci-e cards that you don’t want to replace, you are going to need a chassis of some sort, like the Sonnet Echo Express Pro that I use, with either the new Mac Pro or the iMac.

Now no smart buyer is going to order much RAM from Apple, (although the newer RAM will still initially be very pricey even from third party vendors, so there may not be as big a price differential as in the past) but just for comparison, I went to the Apple Store and “shopped.” I chose the top of the line 27 inch iMac with 32 GB RAM, 1 TBGB flash storage and upgraded video card to make the comparison more fair. It prices out at $3,949.00 (before taxes and Apple Care.)

For the Mac Pro, first you need to decide which is more important to you, clock speed or number of cores. I split the difference and chose the 3.0 eight core, since the chip is faster than the iMac’s i7 anyway. I also chose 32 GB, in the interest of fairness again. I once again chose the 1 TB flash storage. I chose the lesser Graphics card, because once again, it is superior to the iMac’s. Even with those choices, it priced out at $6,699.00. With the better graphics card it is $7,299. And of course, it comes with no display. If I add the Thunderbolt 27 inch display, we are now up to $8,298, over twice as much as the iMac!

Let’s assume that you have SSDs and HDDs that you are happy with. Well, you are going to need to use some Thunderbolt capable chassis or USB 3 cases if they are Firewire so you better factor them in. Or you could daisy chain them and use a $29 Firewire to Thunderbolt adapter.

So essentially, lets say this comes down to $4,000 for the iMac and $8,000 for the Mac Pro. Does spending twice as much give you better performance? Absolutely. Does it give you twice as good performance? I don’t think so. Is it worth twice as much? That is for each person to decide, based on their money situation, taxes, workflow objectives, etc. It is worth noting that with the exception perhaps of the graphics cards, the iMac paired with an approximately $2,000 PC would give you more power and more available RAM than a single new Mac Pro, even the top of the line model maxed out. But a lot of people still want a single computer solution and for them, that is a big factor.

So what do you think?


  • jbro
    January 3, 2014 @ 5:01 pm

    hey jay
    well I have ordered the mac pro / quad core with 500gb drive, 32gb of ram.
    I’m sitting here with a 2005 mac pro. pushing it with my orchestral setup. It’s time for me to make the shift.
    fortunately, I have some eternal drives, monitors. have to purchase a chassis for my one pcie card.
    looking to stay ahead of the curve.

  • January 5, 2014 @ 8:15 pm

    I just ordered a maxed-out iMac after going through the same comparisons. Turned out that the iMac is adequate for my purposes, even though the Pro is decidedly better.

    Am I happy with my decision? Well the iMac does just what I want, but this is my first time purchasing a Mac where I feel more disappointed than excited. I can use the iMac… but I *want* the Mac Pro.

  • Tomasz
    January 17, 2014 @ 10:40 am

    Bravo!, well said!. .. I second that!.

  • Marc Silver
    January 27, 2014 @ 5:35 pm

    I completely agree with you David.
    I’ve actually decided to go with the maxed out MacBook Pro and Thunderbolt Display.
    For my photography/webdesign business, that’s all I really “need”.
    I think I’ll spend the money saved on a dirty weekend away with my wife :)

    I think I’ve got my priorities right.

  • Arielle
    July 21, 2014 @ 11:37 pm

    I think people are really forgetting that the Mac Pro is a workstation class computer. The specs might not be as impressive as the iMac, but you’re comparing an i7 processor with a Xeon. An i7 is much less expensive, by around half the price. It also doesn’t have ECC or Error Correction Codes, so if there’s a bug in the software, the computer won’t try and correct it, and as a result, it programme crashes. Xeon processors can handle tons of data all day and all night without a problem.

    I would compare it to say a car. You have your regular car which drives very well, and it can even handle a few spirited drives, but if you asked it to race other cars and perform at very high RPMs for any period of time, it would probably blow or explode. Same concept.

    I looked at the Xeon CPUs online and thought ok, the E5 can’t be that expensive, right? Oh no, the quad core is around $1,200-1,500 depending on where you’re shopping. It is no joke. Video editors editing say 4k video whom are editing all day and need that speed and dependability will use Xeon CPUs because they will most likely not crash.

    I just recalled that I worked on a dual core Xeon Dell machine at Purdue and that thing could fly. I had to scan many, many 600 dpi images, and watched streaming video at the same time, and it crashed a number of times (well Photoshop did anyway), but compared to say my home computer, it was a workhorse. I had also made a script to run probably 18 plugins for one macro command. I was telling the machine to do around 24 things and to do them all at once, over and over.

    The consumer level machine would’ve given up crashed multiple times and in its own words stated “I give up man, I wasn’t made for this shite! This is F**king torture!”

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