The year was 2004. I was enrolled in ECE 466 at NCSU, a compiler optimization/scheduling class. I remember walking into the lecture hall and seeing far too many PowerBooks and white iBooks. This was the computer engineering department right? It wasn’t much later that I started my month with a Mac experiment. I spent most of my life at that point staying away from Apple hardware. I wanted to give the platform a fair shake so I bought the fastest thing Apple offered back then: a 2GHz PowerMac G5.

More recently, in 2012, I was talking to my friend Lyle who was setting out to build a new gaming PC. Without any coercion on my part, he opted for a mini-ITX build. I’d been on a mini-ITX kick for a while, but motherboard and case vendors kept reiterating as exciting as mini-ITX was, the sales volumes just weren’t there. I was surprised when my gamer friend settled on building a new desktop that was seriously small. He used a BitFenix Prodigy case, a great choice.

The last Mac Pro I reviewed was in 2010. Little had changed externally since the PowerMac G5 I bought years ago. I lamented the chassis’ lack of support for 2.5” drives. A year later I abandoned the Mac Pro entirely for a Sandy Bridge MacBook Pro. I was a late adopter for the notebook as a desktop usage model, but a lack of progress on the Mac Pro drove me away from the design.


From left to right: Apple PowerMac Dual G5, Apple Mac Pro (Mid 2006), Apple Mac Pro (Early 2009), Apple Mac Pro (Late 2013)

Apple tends to be pretty early to form factor revolution, but given the company’s obsession with mobile it’s understandable that the same didn’t hold true for the Mac Pro. When it finally came time to redesign the system, I’m reminded of the same realization Lyle came to when building his most recent desktop: why does a modern desktop need to be big?

The answer is, for a lot of users, that it really doesn’t. Notebooks already outsell desktops by a healthy margin, and there’s no room for expansion inside a notebook. You may be able to swap out a drive or fiddle around with some sticks of DRAM, but no one is adding discrete cards (at least internally) to a notebook.

The situation for Mac desktops is even more cut and dry. With the exception of the occasional aftermarket Mac video card and the more adventurous users who are fine with modifying/flashing PC video cards to work on a Mac, I suspect there’s little GPU upgrading going on in the Mac desktop market. That leaves other PCIe devices that get cut out if you go to a design with less internal flexibility. In the spirit of the of the MasterCard commercials: for everything else, there’s Thunderbolt.

You can do roughly 1.5GB/s over a single Thunderbolt 2 connector. The protocol passes unmodified PCIe and it’s a technology that Apple has strongly backed since its introduction. Other than a GPU, virtually anything you’d want to connect over PCIe you can do externally via Thunderbolt 2.

I think you can adequately make the argument for a smaller form factor Mac Pro desktop, after all, that’s where the market is headed. I remember coveting (and eventually owning) Super Micro’s SC830 chassis for my personal machine years ago. I wanted a huge desktop. Regardless of whether I’m talking about a Mac or PC today, I no longer want something massive.

The argument for even building a high-end desktop is easy to make. It all boils down to TDP. Regardless of what device you’re building for, assuming you have competent architects, you’re limited by power. The bigger the device, the greater your ability to remove heat and the more performance you can unlock. I’m surprised by how much performance you can cram into a 15-inch MacBook Pro, but there’s still room for more - particularly if you care about CPU and GPU performance.

Given how power limited everything else, it’s no surprise that Apple focuses so heavily on the new Mac Pro’s thermal core. It’s single, unified heatsink that is directly responsible for cooling the three major processors in the new Mac Pro: CPU and two GPUs. The thermal core is in the shape of a triangular prism, with each lateral surface attaching directly to one of the three processors. The shared heatsink makes a lot of sense once you consider how Apple handles dividing compute/display workloads among all three processors (more on this later).

A single fan at the top of the Mac Pro’s cylindrical chassis pulls in cool air from the bottom of the machine and exhausts it, quietly, out the top.

Ultimately it’s the thermal core that the new Mac Pro is designed around. It’s the most area efficient dual-GPU setup I’ve ever seen. There’s little functional benefit to having a desktop chassis that small, but you could say the same about Apple’s recent iMac redesign that focused on making a thinner all-in-one. If the desktop market is to not just stick around but grow as well, it needs to evolve - and that also includes design.


Mac Pro Thermal Core - iFixit

The new Mac Pro is a dramatic departure from its predecessors. The chassis is still all aluminum (with the exception of a plastic cover over the fan) but it features a dark anodized finish vs. the bright silver finish of its predecessors. It’s a glossy finish but the good news is that unlike a mobile device it’s pretty easy to ensure that the system remains looking clean. The surface of the new Mac Pro is also incredibly smooth. There's a heft and quality to the design that is at odds with how small and portable it is. I'm hardly an art critic but I do feel like there's a lot to appreciate about the design and construction of the new Mac Pro. I needed to move the system closer to my power testing rig so it ended up immediately to the left of me. I have to admit that I've been petting it regularly ever since. It's really awesomely smooth. It's actually the first desktop in a very long time that I want very close to me. It feels more like a desk accessory than a computer, which is funny to say given just how much power is contained within this tiny package.

Thanks to its small size (9.9” tall with a 6.6” diameter), the Mac Pro belongs on your desk - not underneath it. The design doesn’t attempt to hide IO, but rather draws careful attention to it. All IO ports are located on the same side of the machine. There’s an integrated sensor that can detect tilt/rotation and illuminates the IO panel on the Mac Pro to help you plug in cables. Admittedly port density is so high back there that I don’t know if illuminating it helps all that much, but it’s a nice effect nonetheless. Otherwise there’s only the power button LED that indicates the system is on.

Internal expansion is more or less out of the question. The Mac Pro remains the easiest Mac to get into. There’s no special screwdriver needed, just a simple latch on the back that unlocks the external housing.

Lift it up and you’re presented with the backs of the CPU and GPU cards. Behind one of the GPUs is the removable PCIe SSD, and flanking the IO panel are four user accessible DDR3 DIMM slots. Push down on the lever marked with an arrow and you’ll release the angled DIMM slots, giving you access to remove/upgrade memory. The Mac Pro supports up to 64GB of memory, which you’ll want to install in groups of four in order to populate all memory channels stemming from the Ivy Bridge-EP CPU.


Mac Pro custom FirePro D300 GPU board - iFixit

Both GPU boards are custom, so it would appear that Apple has effectively killed the limited 3rd party Mac GPU upgrade market. It’s entirely possible that someone will clone Apple’s GPU card design here, but that seems like a lot of effort for very limited potential sales.

The CPU board is the only one fully obscured from view; it’s behind the IO panel. There’s only a single LGA-2011 CPU socket on that board, capable of supporting Intel’s latest Ivy Bridge-EP Xeon CPUs. Interestingly enough, Apple appears to be using unmodified Xeon processors with their integrated heat spreader attached. Long time readers of our Mac Pro reviews will remember that the Nehalem Mac Pro actually featured Xeons sans IHS, which made aftermarket upgrades a little trickier (and potentially dangerous). What this means is that you should, in theory, be able to upgrade the Mac Pro’s CPU down the road should you want to. It’s definitely not a simple task but at least feasible. Especially as Xeon pricing drops down the road, this may be a good way of extending the lifespan of your Mac Pro.


Mac Pro Main Logic Board - iFixit

All three boards connect to the main logic board (MLB) at the bottom of the mini tower. It’s on the MLB that you’ll find Intel’s C602 PCH (Platform Controller Hub) along with high density connectors (CPU board) and flex cables (GPUs) for all of the daughter boards.

The new Mac Pro still has an internal speaker. There's not much to say about it, it's ok in a pinch if you need audio and don't want to hook up external speakers. I've had one weird issue with the internal speaker: it occasionally produces a high pitched noise, requiring a power cycle to clear. I haven't been able to root cause the problem yet, it seems to happen while the speaker is muted (only to surface once I've unmuted the speaker) and after I've been torturing/benchmarking the machine. I'm not sure if it's tied to plugging/unplugging Thunderbolt 2 devices while it's on or if it's something in software that's triggering it. Either way if you see it on your system, know that you can clear it by a full power cycle (not soft reset).

Pricing and Configurations


Mac Pro (Late 2013) Default Configurations
  4-Core Config 6-Core Config
CPU Intel Xeon E5-1620 v2 Intel Xeon E5-1650 v2
Base CPU Clock 3.7GHz 3.5GHz
Max Turbo 3.9GHz 3.9GHz
Cores / Threads 4 / 8 6 / 12
L3 Cache 10MB 12MB
Memory 12GB ECC DDR3-1866 (3 x 4GB) 16GB ECC DDR3-1866 (4 x 4GB)
SSD 256GB PCIe SSD 256GB PCIe SSD
GPU Dual AMD FirePro D300 Dual AMD FirePro D500
GPU Memory 2GB GDDR5 per card 3GB GDDR5 per card
Network Dual Gigabit LAN + 3-stream 802.11ac Dual Gigabit LAN + 3-stream 802.11ac
Thunderbolt 2 6 x Thunderbolt 2 Ports 6 x Thunderbolt 2 Ports
Display Support 2 x 4K/60Hz + 1 x 4K/30Hz or up to 6 x 2560 x 1440 Thunderbolt/DisplayPort Displays 2 x 4K/60Hz + 1 x 4K/30Hz or up to 6 x 2560 x 1440 Thunderbolt/DisplayPort Displays
USB 3.0 4 x USB 3.0 Ports 4 x USB 3.0 Ports
Other IO Optical digital/analog audio out
Headphone jack w/ headset+mic support
Integrated speaker
Optical digital/analog audio out
Headphone jack w/ headset+mic support
Integrated speaker
Dimensions 6.6 x 6.6 x 9.9" (L x W x H) 6.6 x 6.6 x 9.9" (L x W x H)
Weight 11 lbs 11 lbs
Warranty 1 Year Limited 1 Year Limited
Price $2999 $3999

Apple offers two Mac Pro configurations with several upgrade options from the factory. The entry level machine remains a quad-core configuration with 12GB of RAM, while the high end model moves to a 6-core design with 16GB of RAM. Both ship with two GPUs by default, but you can upgrade the pair’s potency.

The Mac Pro’s pricing is point of contention given that the cheapest configuration starts at $2999 and can go all the way up to $9848 before adding in a display. Given the lower volumes we’re talking about here and the fact that Apple continues to only spec workstation hardware for the Mac Pro on the CPU (and somewhat on the GPU side, more on that later) I’m not sure we’ll see the same aggressive price drops that we’ve seen in other Mac segments.

The last time I did a Mac Pro vs. OEM PC comparison, Apple came out quite competitive on pricing although a DIY system wins by a huge margin. The same is true for the new Mac Pro. I poked around Dell, HP and Lenovo websites looking for comparable systems. It seems like Ivy Bridge EP systems are still a bit rare, with Dell not offering any. Both HP and Lenovo offered fairly comparable systems:

Mac Pro vs. HP Z420 vs Lenovo S30 Pricing Comparison
  Entry Level Mac Pro HP Z420 Lenovo ThinkStation S30
CPU Intel Xeon E5-1620 v2 Intel Xeon E5-1620 v2 Intel Xeon E5-1620 v2
Memory 12GB ECC DDR3-1866 (3 x 4GB) 12GB ECC DDR3-1866 (3 x 4GB) 12GB ECC DDR3-1600 (3 x 4GB)
SSD 256GB PCIe SSD 256GB SATA SSD 128GB SATA SSD
GPU Dual AMD FirePro D300 Dual AMD FirePro W7000* Dual NVIDIA Quadro K4000
GPU Memory 2GB GDDR5 per card 4GB GDDR5 per card 3GB GDDR5 per card
Network Dual Gigabit LAN + 3-stream 802.11ac Dual Gigabit LAN Dual Gigabit LAN
Thunderbolt 2 6 x Thunderbolt 2 Ports 1 x Thunderbolt 2 Port -
USB 3.0 4 x USB 3.0 Ports 4 x USB 3.0 Ports + 5 x USB 2.0 Ports 2 x USB 3.0 Ports + 10 x USB 2.0 Ports
Dimensions
(D x W x H)
6.6 x 6.6 x 9.9" 17.5 x 7.0 x 17.63" 19.0 x 6.89 x 18.8"
Weight 11 lbs ? 38.5 lbs
Warranty 3 Year Limited (w/ AppleCare) 3 Year Limited 3 Year Limited
Price $3248 $3695 + $795 for second W7000 GPU $4373

As I learned last time, there are typically some hefty discounts associated with workstation orders so take this pricing with a grain of salt. I also had to fudge the HP numbers a bit as I can only get a single FirePro W7000 in the Z420 configuration - I just doubled the W7000 adder in order to simulate what a theoretical dual GPU version would cost. There are other imbalances between the comparison (HP supports more displays, Apple features more Thunderbolt 2 ports, FirePro W7000 features ECC GDDR5, etc…), but the point here is to see if Apple’s pricing is out of touch with reality. It’s not.

The DIY PC route is still going to be more affordable. If we go the Ivy Bridge E route and opt for a Core i7-4930K, you get more cores than either of the options above for around $600 for the CPU. Adding in another $330 for a motherboard, $180 for 12GB of DDR3-1866 memory, $1400 for two W7000 GPUs and $220 for a fast SATA SSD (Samsung 840 Pro) we’re at $2730 for a configuration that would cost at least $3499 from Apple. That’s excluding case, PSU and OS, but adding another ~$350 takes care of that and still saves you some money. If you opt for Radeon HD 7870s instead of the W7000 you can knock another $1000 off of that total price. All of that being said, I don’t expect there to be a lot of cross shopping between DIY builders and those looking for a Mac Pro.

Setting Expectations: A Preview of What's to Come in Mobile
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  • Dandu - Friday, January 10, 2014 - link

    Hi,

    It's possible to use a 2 560 x 1 440 HiDPI definition, with a NVIDIA card, a 4K Display and the (next) version of SwitchResX.

    I have tested that : http://www.journaldulapin.com/2014/01/10/ultra-144...
    Reply
  • Haravikk - Sunday, January 12, 2014 - link

    The news about the USB3 ports is a bit strange, doesn't that mean a maximum throughput of 4gbps? I know most USB3 storage devices will struggle to push past 500mb/sec, but that seems pretty badly constrained. Granted, Thunderbolt is the interface that any storage *should* be using, but the choices are still pretty poor for the prices you're paying, and no-one offers Thunderbolt to USB3 cables (only insanely priced hubs with external power).

    Otherwise the review is great, though it'd be nice to see more on the actual capabilities of Apple's FirePro cards. Specifically, how many of the FirePro specific features do they have such as 30-bit colour output, EDC, ECC cache memory, order-independent-transparency (under OpenGL) and so-on? I'm assuming they do given that they're using the FirePro name, but we really need someone to cover it in-depth to finally put to rest claims that consumer cards would be better ;)
    Reply
  • eodeot - Monday, February 24, 2014 - link

    I'd love a realistic comparison with an i7 4770k and say, 780ti.

    You also compare 12 cored version to older 12 core versions that hide behind (fairly) anonymous xeon labeling that hide their chip age (sandy/ ivy bridge/haswell...). I'd like to see in how any real world applications does a 12 core chip perform faster. Excluding 3d work and select video rendering, I doubt there is much need to extra cores. You note how its nice to have buffer of free cores for everyday use, while heavy rendering- but I never noticed a single hiccup or a slowdown with 3d rendering on my i7 4770k with all 8 logical cores taxed to their max. How much of better performance then "butter smooth" one already provided with a much cheaper CPU can you get?

    Also you compare non apple computers with same ridiculous CPU/GPU combinations. Who in their right mind would choose a 4core Xeon chip over a haswell i7? The same goes for silly "workstation" GPU over say a Titan. Excluding dated opengl 3d apps, no true modern workstation benefits from a "workstation" GPU, if we exclude select CUDA based 3d renderers like iray and vray rt that can benefit from 12gb of ram. GPUs included with Apple Mac pro have 2gb... Not a single valid reason a sane person would buy such a card. Not one.

    Also, you point out how gaming makes the most sense on windows, but do no such recommendation for 3d work. Like games, 3d programs perform significantly better under directX and that leaves windows as a sole option for any serious 3d work...

    I found this review interesting for design Apple took, but everything else appears one sided praise...
    Reply
  • pls.edu.yourself - Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - link

    QUOTE: "The shared heatsink makes a lot of sense once you consider how Apple handles dividing compute/display workloads among all three processors (more on this later)."

    Can anyone help point me to this. I think one of my GPU's is not being used.
    Reply
  • PiMatrix - Saturday, March 08, 2014 - link

    Apple Fixed the HiDPI issue on Sharp K321 in OS 10.9.3. Works great. Supported HiDPI resolutions are the native 3840x2160, and HiDPI: 3200x1800, 2560x1440, 1920x1080, and 1280x720. You can also define more resolutions with QuickResX but the above seem to be enough. Using 3200 x1800 looks fantastic on this 4K display. Great job Apple! Reply
  • le_jean - Monday, March 10, 2014 - link

    Any information on updated 60Hz compatibility concerning Dell's UP 2414Q in 10.9.3?
    I would be very interested to get some feedback in relation to:
    nMP & Dell UP 2414Q
    rMBP & Dell UP 2414Q

    I remember in anandtech review of late 2013 nMP there have been issues concerning that specific display, while Sharp and ASUS performed just fine
    Reply
  • philipus - Monday, April 14, 2014 - link

    As a happy photo amateur, I have to say the previous Mac Pro is good enough for me. I have the early 2008 version which I like because of its expandability. Over the years I have added drives, RAM and most recently a Sonnet Tempo Pro with two Intel 520 in order to get a faster system. As cool and powerful as the new Mac Pro is, it would cost me quite a lot to add Thunderbolt boxes for the drives I currently use, so it is not worth it for me.

    I do agree that it is about time a manufacturer of desktop computers pushed the platform envelope. It's been tediously samey for a very long time. I'm not surprised it was Apple that made the move - it's in Apple's DNA to be unexpected design-wise. But as much as it is nice to see a radical re-design of the concept of the desktop computer, I think a future version of the Mac Pro needs to be a bit more flexible and allow more user-based changes to the hardware. Even if I could afford the new Mac Pro - and I would also place it on my desktop because it's really pretty - I wouldn't want to have several Thunderbolt boxes milling around with cables variously criss-crossing and dangling from my desk.
    Reply
  • walter555999 - Saturday, June 07, 2014 - link

    Dear Anand, could you post how to connect a up2414Q to macbook pro retina (2013) ? I have tried a cable mini display port-HDMI. But there are no image in the dell monitor. Thank you very much. Walter Reply
  • Fasarinen - Saturday, August 09, 2014 - link

    Thanks for an excellent review. (And hello, everybody; this is my first post on this site.)

    I noticed, in the "GPU choices" section, what seems to be a very useful utility for monitoring the GPU. The title on the top of the screen is "OpenCL Driver Monitor"; the individual windows (which are displaying graphs of GPU utilisation) seem to be titled "AMDRadeonXL4000OpenCLDriver".

    I'm probably just being dim, but a bit of googling doesn't shed much light. If anybody could point to me to where this utility can be obtained from, I'd be most grateful.

    Thanks ....
    Reply

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