4K Support

A huge part of the Mac Pro revolves around its support for 4K displays. You can connect two 4K displays via Thunderbolt 2/DisplayPort, and the third 4K display over HDMI. Alternatively you can connect up to six 2560 x 1440 displays using the Thunderbolt 2 ports at the back of the machine.

While the 2013 MacBook Pro with Retina Display can presently support outputting to either an 3840 x 2160 or 4096 x 2160 external panel, the maximum supported refresh rate is only 30Hz under OS X (and only 24Hz in the case of a 4096 x 2160 display). That’s acceptable for use as a video preview display, but extremely frustrating for anything else (try watching a mouse cursor animate at 30Hz). Contrary to what Apple’s own support documentation lists, these 4K resolutions at limited refresh rates are supported via both HDMI and Thunderbolt 2/DisplayPort 1.2 on the new rMBPs.

To support 4K at 60Hz, you need to properly enable support for DisplayPort 1.2’s Multi-Stream Transport (MST) feature. Originally conceived as a way of daisy chaining multiple displays together off of a single DP output, the current crop of 4K displays use MST to drive a single display. By sending two tiles, each behaving like a 1920 x 2160 display (one half of 3840 x 2160), you can get around the bandwidth limitations of the current crop of display hardware. Note that it is possible to drive a 4K display at 60Hz using a single DisplayPort 1.2 stream, the limitation today appears to be entirely on the monitor side. The first generation of 4K displays appear to be a bit of a hack. I’m not sure if the Mac Pro’s GPU hardware can drive upcoming 4K single stream panels or not as AMD specifically lists that as a feature of the new Radeon R9 series.

The 4K/MST support requires a software component as well. The GPU driver needs to know how to divide its frame buffer for output to the individual tiles, which can vary between monitors. MST topologies for single-display/4K60 support aren’t standardized unfortunately. Apple handles this by maintaining some sort of a whitelist for various displays they’ve tested. The Sharp PN-K321 that Apple sells alongside the Mac Pro (as well as the ASUS clone of it) ships with 4K60 support configured out of the box. All you need to do is ensure that DisplayPort 1.2 MST is enabled on the display itself (something that appears off by default) and plug it into the Mac Pro. OS X will automatically recognize the display, configure it for 3840 x 2160 at 60Hz and you’re good to go.

The same isn’t true, unfortunately, for other 4K displays on the market. Dell sent along its UltraSharp 24 Ultra HD display (UP2414Q) for this review, and unfortunately that appears to be a display that’s not supported by the Mac Pro/OS X at this point. You can get it working in SST mode at 3840 x 2160 30Hz, but forcing MST results in a 1920 x 2160 display spread across both tiles with a mess of garbled colors.

Update: Apple addressed many of my 4K issues with OS X 10.9.3.

The 4K Experience

For years I used a 30” 2560 x 1600 panel, but when the first wave of 27” 2560 x 1440 displays hit I was instantly hooked. I appreciated the reduction in desktop footprint and didn’t mind horribly the reduction in vertical resolution. I’m a big fan of Apple’s 27” Cinema, Thunderbolt and iMac Displays as they integrate nicely with the Mac (hooray for brightness controls on the keyboard), and I’ve grown to be ok (and maybe even prefer?) the look of the glossy cover glass. Moving to Sharp’s 32” 4K PN-K321 brought back memories of my 30” days. The display is absolutely huge. OS X (and Windows 8.1) running at 3840 x 2160 is incredible, but I find that text, menus and UI elements can be too small. My eyesight isn’t what it used to be and 3840 x 2160 on a 32” panel is just past the borderline of comfortable for me. For editing photos and videos it’s great, but for everything else the ~30% increase in pixel density was just too much.

Apple actually created a solution to this problem with the MacBook Pro’s Retina Display. On a 13 or 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display Apple renders the screen at full panel resolution (e.g. 2880 x 1800), but renders things like text, menus and UI elements at 4x their normal resolution (2x in each dimension). In supported apps, photos and videos are rendered at a 1:1 ratio with pixels on screen. The combination of the two results in a display that’s both incredibly high res and usable. In the case of the 15-inch MacBook Pro, you get the screen real estate (and corresponding text/widget size) of a 1440 x 900 panel, with the exception of any photo/video/other-special content that can treat the display like a full 2880 x 1800 panel.

For those users who still need more screen real estate and don’t mind trading off UI element size, Apple offers scaling modes that render the screen at an even higher resolution and then scale it down to fit the 2880 x 1800 panel. For example you can select a 1920 x 1200 equivalency mode, which gets rendered at 3840 x 2400 with text/menus/UI elements at 4x res and then scaled down to 2880 x 1800. Apple even wrote their own scaling and filtering algorithms to ensure a consistent user experience regardless of what GPU was active at the time (Intel and NVIDIA scaling/filtering algorithms apparently produce slightly different quality output).

I was fully expecting all of this to be available on the Mac Pro when connected to a 32” 4K display. By default, there’s only a single supported scaled resolution: 2560 x 1440. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like Apple is running the same supersampling routines when you pick this resolution, instead you get a 2560 x 1440 desktop scaled up to 3840 x 2160 (rather than a 5120 x 2880 screen scaled down). The result is a bit of a blurry mess.

You can use tools like SwitchResX (or Quartz Debug or the necessary Terminal command) to enable a 1080p HiDPI mode, but then you end up with insanely low point density of around 68 PPI. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear to be possible to define your own HiDPI modes in OS X, you have to rely on those that Apple officially supports. I tried creating a 5120 x 2880 (2560 x 1440 HiDPI) mode but I couldn't get it working under Mavericks. I'm not sure if I was limited by the OS or if Sharp's EDID-specified max resolution of 3840 x 2160 prevented OS X from accepting what I was trying to do.

Apple tends to be very focused on controlling the user experience so it can ensure a good one. Given that Apple hasn’t yet thrown its hat into the 4K display race, it’s not surprising that we don’t have a plethora of HiDPI scaled resolutions available for 3rd party 4K displays.

If Apple decides to stick to its traditional method of scaling resolution in pursuit of a desktop Retina Display I would expect to see a 27” 5120 x 2880 panel, and perhaps a 24” 3840 x 2160 option. The latter already exists in the form of Dell’s UP2414Q but my guess is Apple is waiting on panel readiness to do a 27” version before pulling the trigger.

The rest of the 4K experience under OS X was pretty good. The PN-K321 display seemed far more compatible with the Mac Pro setup than the UP2414Q. Wake from sleep wasn't an issue the vast majority of the time. I did have one situation where I had to disconnect/reconnect the DisplayPort cable after the display wouldn't wake up.

Gaming Performance SSD, Dual Gigabit Ethernet & 802.11ac WiFi
POST A COMMENT

269 Comments

View All Comments

  • wallysb01 - Friday, January 03, 2014 - link

    Actually, you can upgrade the CPU. What you can’t do is replace the monitor. Reply
  • Liquidmark - Friday, January 03, 2014 - link

    You can attach external monitors to the iMac. Reply
  • Liquidmark - Friday, January 03, 2014 - link

    "The problem with saying Apple's pricing isn't out of touch with reality is that you can't only compare this to high end workstation's from other companies..."

    This is a workstation. It has workstation components and is formally classified as such, so you kinda have to compare it to *gasp* OTHER workstations and match their spec as closely as possible to see if the price of the Mac Pro is reasonable or not. Anand is absolutely correct in comparing this to a HP Z420 which is HP's mid-range workstation right now.

    "this is Apple's only desktop-ish device."

    Ever heard of the Mac Mini?

    "Apple doesn't provide options for people who want a high end notebook or desktop for normal use.."

    Ever heard of the Macbook Pro or iMac?

    You can't discount the fact that the Mac Pro has Xeons under the hood just because you don't like the other options Apple offers. If the Mac Pro has Xeons under the hood, then you have to factor that into the price of the device. You don't get to ignore the engine in a Bently to claim that a Bently is thus overpriced when compared to a Toyota Corolla. You don't get to say that it should have an engine from a Toyota Corolla and that theuy shouldn't have the luxury features and hand-crafted attention to detail that come with a bently. If you want a Toyota corolla, go buy a Toyota Corolla. If you want a Dodge viper, go buy that. Don't tell Bently to make a Toyota Corolla or a Dodge viper and don't expect to buy a bently at the cost of a toyota corolla or dodge viper either because you seem to dismiss the facts that there are differences between the three.

    "it's at least 2x as expensive as it should be for it's base unit"

    Not according to actual price comparisons it isn't..
    Reply
  • Bobs_Your_Uncle - Thursday, January 02, 2014 - link

    I'm still wondering how that Nokia Lumia 1020 review is coming along !? Reply
  • p51mustang6 - Thursday, January 02, 2014 - link

    You should really do research, just a little, prior to making a review like this, you make a bold statement saying how the Mac Pro is so great and for so cheap, yet you compared it to two companies far from known for making anything professional. Try comparing the Mac Pro to The Origin Genesis Pro-X2 from Origin PC. It starts out with considerably higher specs with a LOWER price tag. They also offer up to dual Intel Xeon E5-2697 Dodeca-core processors (that's 12 cores each CPU for those of you who couldn't handle that) for a total of 24 cores (or twice that of the Mac Pro), up to dual 12GB NVIDIA Quadro K6000s (Apple doesn't even offer anything even closely comparable lol), up to 256GB of RAM (Apple offers up to 64GB), up to 4TB of SSD storage (compared to Apple's 1TB, granted PCI), comes standard with liquid cooling (Apple does not offer), up to an additional 12GB NVIDIA Tesla K40 (once again Apple offers nothing of the sort), Origin comes with one year warranty upgradable to 3 years but also comes standard with LIFETIME support with 24/7 United States based support (I wonder where Apple's support that you get 90 days of is based...lol) The starting price of the Origin is $3,712 compared to $3,999 of the Mac Pro which does not come with dual processors. The trash can is a complete rip off which requires you to go out and use their thunderbolt ports in order to do any real upgrading so you will have random things sitting on your desk, the Origin perhaps bigger, but at least all the goods will always be inside of it. Instead of spending all their time trying to make a computer a cylinder maybe Apple should have tried to compete with the real heavy hitters such as Origin PC. Reply
  • Louiek - Thursday, January 02, 2014 - link

    Hi, I am currently myself trying to compare a maxed out mac pro ~ $10k CAD with other OEM workstations of similar spec. I looked into origin but I can't seem to build a similar spec'd (i.e. single Xeon E5-2697v2 etc) that will cost under $11k CAD. Is there something I am missing as your comment leads me to believe that I can build a cheaper PC with origins with similar specs. Reply
  • Liquidmark - Friday, January 03, 2014 - link

    You can't the Origin machine only offers extreeeeme options that are ideal for gaming with neon lights. Its solution to things is to throw more cores at it and throw more ram at it even though the ram is slower... Reply
  • stingerman - Thursday, January 02, 2014 - link

    Sorry dude, triedto configure a comparable system and it costs more than the Mac Pro... Reply
  • Liquidmark - Friday, January 03, 2014 - link

    Ok, I'll bite...

    Mac Pro:

    2.7GHz 12-core with 30MB of L3 cache
    32GB (4x8GB) of 1866MHz DDR3 ECC
    256GB PCIe-based flash storage
    Dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs with 6GB of GDDR5 VRAM each
    User's Guide (English)

    $8000 and weighs roughly 11 pounds

    GENESIS Pro-X2

    ASUS Z9PE-D8 WS
    Dual ORIGIN FROSTBYTE 120 Sealed Liquid Cooling Systems
    Dual Intel XEON E5-2630 v2 Hex-Core 2.6GHz (3.1GHz Turbo) 15MB Cache (That's 12 cores at a lower clock than the Mac Pro build)
    1000 Watt Corsair RM1000
    Dual 6GB NVIDIA Quadro 6000 (Non-SLI)
    32GB Kingston ECC 1600MHz (4x8GB)
    Genuine MS Windows 7 Professional 64-Bit Edition
    250GB Samsung 840 Evo Series
    ASUS 24X CD/DVD Burner
    On Board Audio
    Onboard Network Port
    ORIGIN Wooden Crate Armor
    1 Year Part Replacement and 45 Day Free Shipping Warranty with Lifetime Labor/24-7 Support
    ORIGIN Recovery USB3.0 Flash Drive
    ORIGIN PC G8 T-Shirt XL
    Microsoft Internet Explorer

    $11,017 and weighs over 70 pounds.

    Now, before anyone says anything, the tee shirt was free and the water cooling was the only offer plus they give a free games offer that I didn't take. Tho I probably should since apparently workstations are all about pro gaming, neon lights and being extreeeeeme.
    Reply
  • Liquidmark - Friday, January 03, 2014 - link

    Also, if anyone wants to argue that you can get dual 12-core on the origin machine, I'll simply point out that, at spec, I'd almost be able to buy two 12 core Mac Pros. Just saying. Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now